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The 1958 Pontiac Bonneville: A Noble Attempt at “The Boldest Advance in Fifty Years”

The late '50s are generally regarded as one of the most stable periods in American history, but a closer look at the events of 1958 shows that the undercurrents of the change that sweep across the country over the next decade were already coming into focus. Unemployment was high, reaching 5.2 million, Nikita Khrushchev became Premier of the Soviet Union, NASA was started, and in the car world, Datsun and Toyota cars became available in the automotive market.

Some American automakers were already adapting to the changing times. Pontiac introduced the Bonneville as a standalone model in 1958, rebuilding the car from the ground up in an attempt to win consumers back after a slow sales year. Hemmings, the popular car collector marketplace, stated in its profile of this classic model that "the '58 models represent a turning point in GM's bold new post-war way of thinking regarding styling and design."

Still, ahead of curb isn't always the best place to be. Pontiac's executives were so confident in the model, they called it "the boldest advance in fifty years," giving the car an impossible standard to meet.

And because the car was looking to make advances, the automaker created some problems for owners. The '58's "Ever-Level" air suspension was offered for an additional $175, but after a year of maintenance issues, it was discontinued. Likewise, the Bonneville's fuel-injection engine's high price tag of $500, dissuaded many buyers.

The good news for collectors though, is that the alternative engine was acclaimed. The 370ci Tri-Power engine helped the car go zero to 60 mph in just over eight seconds, and pace in the Indianapolis 500.

Still, while the mid-'50s and early '60s models tend to be preferred by collectors for their sleeker designs and heavier builds, the '58 Bonnevilles are still a widely regarded classic. Hemmings reports that some models have sold for as much as $121,000 at auction, and while this is rare, most models from this era retail for far more than their original asking price.

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