Falling In Love With A Bonneville As A Second Pontiac Love Interest

dougbonnieleadartSometimes love comes at first sight, and other times it takes a little familiarity for it to blossom. Such was the case with Doug Schneider and his 1964 Pontiac Bonneville.

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Doug and his brand new Bonneville.

Returning to the States from Nha Trang, Vietnam on October 1, 1966, a twenty-one year old Doug had something on his mind after two-and-a-half years overseas. “I had one main goal in life at that point, and that was to purchase one of those new ’67 GTOs with the his/her shift transmission,” Doug said.

Arriving home in Spokane, Washington, one of the first things Doug did was to head over to Utter Pontiac-Cadillac downtown. He was crushed to discover that the ‘67s were some time away from hitting the showroom floor, and that all of the ’66 GTOs had been sold. The GTO was just a couple years old at that time, but already had received a lot of recognition, thanks to an ad that GTO Godfather Jim Wangers had campaigned in 1964.

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After a few years, the car was starting to show its age.

Undeterred, Doug and his brother, Dennis, spent the next week driving from dealer to dealer, only to find that GTOs were seemingly as rare as Dodo birds.

Then, after a week of car hunting, Doug and Dennis spotted a black 1964 Pontiac Bonneville in the used lot of Becker Buick. Though not a GTO, the Bonne wasn’t lacking much in the thrills department.

“There she was,” reminisces Doug, “Tri-Power, 3-speed tranny, 348hp, power windows, power seats, and a red interior that would make a young man weep.”

Doug’s initial attraction was well justified. For 1964, Pontiac had given the Bonneville, it’s top-of-the-line model, a fresh new look. Out went the prior years’ straight lines, and in came a Coca-Cola bottle shape with swelled rear haunches that gave the car a more muscular profile.

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This is why they call it a frame-off restoration, because the body is removed from the frame. Everything was touched during this restoration, from the ground up, inside and out.

The grill was also restyled for ’64, appearing more deeply set and featuring three horizontal chrome bars to add a distinctive touch. The interior was given premier touches such as an instrument panel with walnut veneer trim, carpeted lower door panels, courtesy lights, a passenger-side grab bar and a rear armrest.

1964 Bonnevilles could be had in four-door hardtop and four-door station wagon configurations. But it was the two-door convertible and hardtop versions that were considered the line’s crown jewels, and it was the latter that Doug was eyeballing on that fall day.

Doug hopped in the driver’s seat with an unsuspecting salesman riding shotgun, and headed out on the interstate. Pushing the car up to 115mph, Doug began to feel his heartstrings being pulled, as the salesman likely felt his lunch beginning to leave him! By the time they got back to the dealership, Doug was completely smitten, and agreed to a purchase price of $2,385 – $1,500 down, and $55 per month. Thus began a half-century love affair that continues to this day.

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Rust and minor dent repair work was done, then it was time for a new coat of paint after the primer coat was laid down.

In January 2013, with 100,000 miles on the clock, and the Bonneville decidedly showing her age, Doug felt the time had come to give the car some freshening up. After doing some research, he brought his ’64 to Chance Blevins at Blevin’s Automotive & Upholstery in Brooksville, Florida.

Blevins gave Doug’s baby a thorough going over, and although it was clear that Doug had treated the Pontiac with love and care over the years, he recommended a frame-off restoration to bring the car back to its former glory. Doug agreed, and Blevins shortly began the process of tearing the car down.

“It was a complete frame off restoration.” Blevins recalls. “No bolt or part went untouched. We totally disassembled the car and had the frame and all suspension pieces sandblasted and powder coated. Next, we completely rebuilt the entire drivetrain, added new steering parts up front, new brake shoes all around and were able to have original brake drums turned.”

Of particular difficulty was the rebuilding of the transmission, as the 1964 Saginaw three-speed had long ago stopped being built. Blevins had his work cut out for him finding all the parts necessary for the rebuild, but eventually tracked them all down.

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The interior got the same treatment and it was brought back to showroom condition.

Next, Blevins turned his attention to the body.

“Once it was totally stripped to bare metal, we discovered quite a lot of the car was solid other then around the bottoms of doors, fenders and quarter panels,” Blevins says. “Metal had to be replaced where moisture was able to set in, as was the case on the trunk floor and behind the chrome trim that runs on the bottom of the entire car. Once the metal and bodywork was done, the body went through the stages of priming and block sanding, and then the original Lucite 88 Tuxedo Black color and four coats of Axalta Chromaclear were applied.”

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Doug may look a little different this time around, but the car looks just as it did when he fell in love with it the first time.

The interior was given equal care, as Blevins recalls. “It was completely re-done using original, date-coded material. We redid the headliner and door panels, and reworked the 6-way power bench seat. Considerable time was spent rebuilding all the power window motors and regulators,” he said.

“All the interior chrome was re-plated, and the stainless and aluminum parts were straightened and polished. We replaced the front and rear windshields as they had seen better days, but were able to have the original side glass polished out. Then we added air conditioning to it so Doug and his wife could enjoy it in any weather.”

Upon completion of the two-year project, Doug and Chance showed the car at The Goodguys Nationals, where it was a much talked-about build. Doug has nothing but praise for Blevins’ work, calling it “an indescribable, better than factory restoration!”

Blevins, too, remembers the build fondly. “It was an interesting car. A 389 triple deuce with a three-on-the-tree shifter, and eight-lug drum brakes,” he said. “There were less then 1,200 made that way, and probably less then that in black with the red interior. It’s one of my favorite builds to date simply because you don’t see a lot of them on the road, let alone looking like the day it was new. I’m really glad that we got to restore it.”

Since then, the Bonnie has lived a life of luxury, for the most part being a Sunday driver. And as for Doug, well, he got to fall in love with his ’64 all over again.

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For a 50+ year old ride, this Bonnie is sure showing her beauty in a perfect setting. It’s easy to see why he fell in love with the Bonneville, even if it was his second love.

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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