1981 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham 301 CU IN V8 from Australia and New Zealand


They sure don't build 'em like that anymore


Hand brake cable snapped.

Transmission problem in reverse gear.

Air-con unit failed.

General Comments:

I purchased an '81 Sedan in Dark Blue with white walls in New Zealand as an import from Hong Kong. It had been converted to right hand drive by Honda in Hong Kong in the 1980's.

I was impressed with its elegant lines and stylish interior, with many luxury appointments.

It is possibly the only one in New Zealand. There is an '86 Bonneville that was imported by the Canadian Embassy, and stretched 1980 that was owned by the King of Tonga and imported into New Zealand.

The ride is certainly old school. Not a large engine for the size of the car, but enough power all the same.

I sold it due to nowhere to store it a few years ago, and I'm now looking another one. These have to the best value for money cars in the world right now; a good one goes for only a few thousand dollars !

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 4th December, 2007

1981 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham Sedan 4.9 Liter (301 cid) 4-bbl V8 E.C. from North America


Last of the real Pontiac V8's, truly classic


Note that many of these problems were due to sitting idle for nearly four years:

Completely rebuilt carburetor.

Replaced heater core.

Replaced fan clutch, radiator, and water pump due to minor leaks.

Replaced catalytic converter and exhaust, added a performance dual cat-back system.

Replaced master brake cylinder and front pads/rotors.

Although the engine still has a lot of life left, I'm doing a complete rebuild at the moment, transmission also. Getting tired of cleaning up little oil spots on my garage floor.

Replaced and recharged A/C compressor.

Replaced coil springs due to wear and 4 shock absorbers.

Valve cover gaskets leak.

Oil pan leaks.

General Comments:

I acquired this car from my great-aunt, whose husband died of cancer in 2001. He purchased the car new in 1981 and they mainly drove it on long trips in the summer. They had a smaller car that they used for winter driving. The car sat in a garage from the fall of 2000 until the summer of 2004, not being started or driven at all during this time. I bought it from her because I couldn't bear to see her sell it cheap or trade it in for pocket change. The body was nearly immaculate when I picked it up, no rust at all, all trim intact, but the two-tone blue paint had faded and cracked over the years, especially on the hood and trunk. The dark blue interior was in nearly showroom condition and had that typical 70's/80's used car smell of old perfume mixed with a hint of cigars.

When I picked up the car I hoisted it onto a trailer and pulled it home. After an oil change, draining and refilling the gas tank, flushing out the radiator, changing the spark plugs, and squirting some oil and wd-40 into the cylinders, the car fired right up on the second try. Even with worn out springs and bad shocks, the car rode and drove beautifully. The carburetor was out of adjustment and made it run a little rough during warm up, typical of most undermaintained cars of this vintage still on the road.

I planned to do some minor maintenance to this car and at sell it for my great aunt, and at least give her back her money's worth. Most people who came to look at it were either young kids or people looking for demolition derby racers. I was asking a non-negotiable $1400 for it and got the same typical responses. After a few months of driving, I fell in love with it and took the for sale sign out of the window. By the fall of '05 the body had already been stripped and repainted a deep metallic blue.

This car is a real creampuff, loaded with every option except a sunroof, and one of the last customer spec'd big bonnies to roll off the assembly line in the winter of '80-'81. The performance of this car is surprisingly quick and snappy off the line. I am told by my neighbor, and old GM mechanic, that this particular motor was rated at 150 HP, but was actually closer to 170. This is much better than the Oldsmobile 307 and Chevy 305 of this era, and even better than the last of chevy's fuel injected 305's, which I don't think ever made it to 170 HP in a caprice. This engine is also lighter than the Chevy and Olds motors, which also makes it that much quicker. I own one of the few full size carberated cars from the 80's that can actually burn rubber, and my performance exhaust only seems to help matters, while added a nice rumble at idle and a throaty snarl when you really step on it. After 1981 Pontiac stopped V8 production for good, and used Chevy and Oldsmobile engines in their few remaining V8 cars. I give Olds smallblocks kudos for reliablity and strength, I've seen more than a few Olds smallblocks go beyond 400,000 miles before finally self-destructing.

I think the reason I love this car so much is that it combines styling hints from the 60's and 70's with fuel economy, reliability and comfort better than many modern new cars. I get around 16 MPG in the city and and between 21 and 24 and the highway. Today we have V6 pickups and SUV's that can't even manage 18 MPG on the highway.

This car also has character, unlike the modern corporate blobs manufactured today. You can tell just by sitting in it and driving that designers actually sat down and designed a sensible car, unlike the modern plastic econoboxes that are falling apart at the seams after a few years.

Cars of this vintage too often are given a bad reputation because of their "massive" size, and many of them are very rusty or belching smoke. The very fact that they're still driving at all speaks volumes about how tough these cars really are. Let's see how many 2007 Honda Civics, Chevy Colbalts, Ford Fusions, Toyota Corollas and BMW's are on the road in 25 years. Cars of this vintage (Full-size Ford's and Chryslers of this era also) are very easy to maintain, cheaper to maintain, and much more durable than new cars. Even if a transmission fails you can usually find a good used one in a junkyard for pocket change compared to upwards of $3,000 on new cars. And many of them aren't completely controlled by computers. If you purchase one, just like me you will probably spend a moderate amount of money getting it to run and drive the way its supposed to. If you take reasonably good care of these cars, you will never be dissapointed. :-)

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 19th February, 2007

19th Feb 2007, 21:18

Well written review. I own a two door 1987 Caprice and the downsized 1983 Bonneville. The 305 in the late 80's Caprices was actually rated at 170hp from the factory, starting in 1986 I believe, and this was two years before it was fuel injected. These are wonderful cars. I think they have the best interiors GM ever put in a car and a timeless, clean-cut body style. Good luck with yours.