BIG RED TOW SLED
Story and Photos by Owner Dennis Jensen
note: The 1971 model year ushered in the new body style of the full sized
B-Body as well as names changes to Pontiac's full sized model line up. The
Bonneville and Bonneville Brougham was displaced by the new Grand Ville as
Pontiac's top of the line model. Gone was the Executive name plate, being
replaced by the Bonneville as the "middle" model between the Grand Ville and
lower line Catalina series. Dennis Jensen's 1971 Bonneville is one of
16,393 4-door hardtops produced that year, far outselling the Bonneville 4-door
sedans and 2-door models. Pontiac ended model year 1971 3rd place in
sales thanks in part to their restyled full sized cars. PontiacsOnline
would like to thank Dennis Jensen for sharing this story about his beautiful 71
Bonneville. - JC
I purchased the Bonneville from a used car dealership known for quality cars back in 1986. The original owner had traded it in on a new Ford Crown Vic and this particular dealer purchased it from the Ford Dealership to put on his lot. The original owner was an elderly gentleman who special ordered the car with minimal options. Just the black vinyl Cordova top, AM radio, full tinted glass, and white wall tires on the Cardinal Red body with black cloth interior. Bonnevilles in the latter 1971 model year came equipped with 455 2-bbl motors, Turbo 400 automatic transmissions, and full wheel covers as standard equipment along with power steering and power disc brakes. I happened to see the dealer's ad in the newspaper that had a small color picture and description and knew I had to go check it out. I was in the market for a tow vehicle and maybe this car would fill the bill.
When I got to the dealership, it was in the back row with the lower cost cars and had big individual numbers stuck on the windshield displaying the price of $4995.00. I asked for the keys to check it out and was amazed to find that it had only 39,000 miles, was super clean and had no A/C! The seats had the proverbial senior citizen seat covers that preserved the original cloth perfectly. The body was rust free and the paint was 100% original. It was plain to see the Bonneville had been garage kept and driven minimally in the winter. I made an offer for $3000.00, which was accepted without hesitation, making me wish I had started out with a lower figure, but I bought it anyway.
After inspecting and driving it for a little while, I found a complete 1971 Granville that was toast, but had a great running 455 4-bbl. I stripped the Grandville of its good parts and sold the carcass (that was totally rusted and wrecked). I kept the engine, transmission, 15" Rally II wheels, and the factory gauges. I then proceeded to install the #66 big valve heads, 4-bbl intake and Q-jet from the donor onto the original 455 short block. I restored the Rally II's and had the white wall Michelin's mounted on them (still on the car). I installed a cheap dual exhaust system that, admittedly, could be cleaner and better flowing, but it was better than the single exhaust that originally came with the car. The original 455 short block still has the 066 cam (273/282 @ 0.407"/0.408"). I thought about installing a 067 cam, but it has the same intake duration and only 7 degrees more of advertised exhaust duration, so left the 066 cam in.
Since it was to be my tow car for my '70 Cardinal Red Judge, I installed a Trans Go shift kit, heavy duty rear springs & gas shocks, air bags, and a custom removable trailer hitch rated at 10,000 lbs. I also installed the rebuilt 4-core radiator from the donor Grandville as well to aid in the cooling department. I left the original 2.73 rear gears alone and it never needed steeper gears for towing.
Today, it has 56,000 miles and is still in excellent original condition. I plan on rebuilding the motor eventually, and relieve it from towing duty since I sold my car trailer and vowed to drive my other Pontiacs (the aforementioned '70 Judge and a '73 Brewster Green 4-speed SD455 Trans Am). I also removed the old seat covers to enjoy the look and feel of the original seating for a while before I recover them again. The paint needs a good clay bar cleaning and wax, but it drives like a big old Bonneville should, soft and floating. Also in the works is a new and better 2-1/4" dual exhaust system that flows and sounds better. I really like the look of the 4-door hardtops and feel they have better proportions than the 2-doors. Even though she weighs 4500 lbs, it's amazingly quick out of the hole with all the weight over the rear axle putting all 480 lb. ft. of torque on the pavement.