Harley Earl & Bonneville…
Hot Rods have been influencing Detroit car designs since the early 50’s- Hidden door handles, hide away headlights, frenched head & tail lights, even chopped and sectioned bodies on production cars usually look back towards a hand-built custom creation that preceded it. One of my favorite examples of hot rod inspiration was in the Motorama concept Pontiac Bonneville Special of 1954. GM head designer Harley Earl visited the Bonneville Speed Trials (presumably in 1952 or 53) and took enough of this inspiration away to want to design a small sports-type racer and name it after the iconic Wendover week. It would be Pontiac’s first showing of a small wheelbase, Corvette type speedster, meant to convey the excitement and romance of high speed (even with a flathead straight 8 under the hood). The bubble top canopy, winged doors, jet turbine-inspired rear end and stealthy 48 inch height (3″ lower than a production ’53 Corvette) were eye raising to say the least. It makes me wonder which streamliners or lakesters Mr. Earl saw that Bonneville week that may have helped set the design in motion.
There were only two Bonneville Specials ever built: The bronze car would debut in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf in New York and the green one in the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. The green Bonne would later tour major Pontiac dealerships around the country, and it sold at Barrett Jackson’s 2006 auction for $2.8m. The bronze car is owned by General Motors, now fully restored, and was displayed at Pebble Beach in 2008.