Classic Potential: 1990 Pontiac Bonneville SSE

Jeff LaveryBy Jeff Lavery

Although these cars have been ignored for decades, GM’s H-body platform vehicles seem like solid candidates for mild price maturation in the coming years. Vehicles like this 1990 Pontiac Bonneville SSE and its top-trim stablemates from the LeSabre and Olds 88 lineups were packed to the gills with features and a venerable powerplant that provided a mildly entertaining driving experience. Find this project-grade Bonneville SSE here on eBay for $775. 

Yes, these were throwaway cars for many years, but the trend towards folks in their 40s beginning to pay good money for their high school rides isn’t just for Honda CRXs and BMW 3-Series. The Bonneville SSE checked all of the right boxes for teenage sensory receptors, from the factory bodykit to the color-matched twist-style wheels to the rear decklid spoiler and smoked taillights. Basically, aside from adding a LeBra to the front end and tinting the windows, Dad’s hotrod was just as teenage you would have spec’d it out.

Factor in that GM’s long-lived 3800 V6 could provide plenty of entertainment to adolescent minds and you have a recipe for success. This is not to say most teenagers of the 80s didn’t pine for a Fox body Mustang GT or an IROC, but if your old man brought home the range-topper SSE, a LeSabre T-Type or an Olds Touring Sedan, there was no way you wouldn’t attempt to sneak that out of the house when he was asleep. This Bonneville is a non-runner at the moment, but given the seemingly limitless parts availability, a fix shouldn’t be too hard to find.

And the buttons: who can forget the buttons! The Bonneville almost became known for this feature and nothing else, as the steering wheel offered numerous distractions for things to push while driving, and the console offered every seating position option known to man. Overall, the Bonneville and its platform siblings often get lumped into the undesirables category due to the wide availability of lower-spec models, but the high-end trims like the SSE were a legitimate attempt by GM to capture the hearts of younger buyers – something they’re still trying to do today.

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Comments

  1. sir mike

    Classic??? Really???

    17+

  2. Rx7turboII

    If it were an SSEI I would take it..but this model is just plain boring to me….no supercharger no fun

    10+

    • Tuneman1984

      SSEi didn’t come out until the next generation Bonneville in 1992.

      3+

  3. Steve O

    Careful you don’t pull something with that stretch.

    8+

  4. Poppy

    Decent cars when they were new. But since this one is a mess, I would look for a better one of the next generation Bonneville/LeSabre/88 for more content like better power window mechanisms, dual airbags, safer seatbelts that aren’t attached to the window frames. The ones with the sport suspension like this and the Olds LSS and Touring Sedans do handle surprisingly well for large cars and will get an honest 30 mpg on the highway without much babying.

    5+

    • Keith

      The Olds 88 LSS is a blast to drive, but they are very very hard to find in good condition.

      0

  5. Stang1968

    These are still throw away cars. Contrary to their slogan, Pontiac did not build excitement in those days.

    13+

  6. XMA0891

    3800 is hands-down one of the best motors GM ever came out with. This car is clearly tired, I’d bet the motor isn’t.

    12+

    • Jaygryph

      The 3800 is one of those engines I list with some of the other ones I consider great in their own ways. The Toyota 2JZ and R series engines (20R, 22R, etc), Slant 6, 289-302, 350, cummins diesels, etc are engines that will run badly longer than many engines will run.

      4+

    • Jesse gonzalez

      Yes a true clasic I have one in mint condition 1990 pontiac bonavill sse all leather int fully loaded and spke rims withsun roof 52k for miles

      3+

  7. Miguel

    I learned my lesson with these cars.

    Never again.

    The transmissions don’t last long especially if the car has been sold a few times to different people.

    No thanks.

    7+

  8. F.A.G.

    I love it

    2+

  9. Erik S

    OMG this does NOT belong on here. A 90 Pontiac 4 door sedan will NOT be a classic. No one is sanely going to “restore” this in the next 20 years…

    6+

    • DweezilAZ

      Erik: I have heard that comment about cars from the 50s, 60s, 70s and on.

      It will never be a “classic” for you. But for others out there this might be right up their dark dank alley.

      Robert Gottlieb in his “Classic Car” column in a Motor Trend circa 67-68 said almost exactly the same thing in his response to a reader who wanted to put his then new 67 Mercury Cougar XR-7 in storage as a future collectible.

      I thought he was wrong then and I was 10 years old.

      No one considered the possibility that compact cars from the 60s or 70s would have any desirability on the collector market. Have you priced any of them lately ? What sane person would spend the time and energy ? Seems like many do.

      They’ll find their niche. Quite popular on the classic GM FWD society on Facebook.

      I’m currently in the process of refurbishing an 86 Calais that I owned from 92-00 and has been in the family since. Why ? Because I like the car. It has personal meaning. Zero “collector value” and I don’t care. There are lots of people like me out there who will do the same. Love the one you’re with, I guess.

      Personally, I’d have a lot of respect for the person who did exactly that, because it would be out of affection and personal satisfaction rather than following the mob or profit.

      I have to commend BF’s inclusion of cars like this. Makes the whole site more interesting.

      3+

    • Keith

      Just like a 55 Chevy 4 door will never be a classic? I recall my dad saying his dad back in the 60’s and 70’s would laugh at cars from the 50’s and say “come on, those aren’t classics. Packards are Classics, Auburns are classics, Model T’s are classics. A 53 Chevy? hahaha”. Times change.

      1+

  10. Jim Marston

    lee. uglee ! 👀

    4+

  11. S Ryan

    I was certain there would be an Eclipse on here today. Not a car that looks like it drove on the sun.

    9+

  12. James

    Nope, not a chance. These cars were horrible back then and even worse now. Terrible torque steer, miserable build quality and they ushered in the age of the jelly bean cars that all looked alike. No thanks. Up the content quality a bit. There are still plenty of cool barnfinds out there to post.

    8+

  13. Bmac Bmac Member

    I’ll keep ignoring them, thanks

    9+

  14. Matt St

    Dad had a white 88 SE. Broke a couple ball joints, coil pack went out (runs on 3 cylinders), got hit a couple times, got a Maaco paint job before it was sold in 96 for $2k with just under 100k on it. Sold it to the neighborhood high schooler who beat the piss out of it. Don’t remember what happened to the car after that. Overall, good car, good memories.

    1+

  15. Adam

    I agree. May not seem like the most exciting car, but look how excited we get for falcons or old wagons.

    2+

  16. GrantL

    Classic potential? Mildly entertaining? Naw man. If restored completely this would certainly have the potential to be less hideous (but still hideous) and torque steer like a mo-fo. Can’t pass hard enough. Wouldn’t take this for free even if I had the storage space to spare.

    Pull the engine (as someone else mentioned, these engines are actually kinda cool – though that could be my own high school nostalgia talking), crush it, melt it down and build something actually useful out of it.

    4+

  17. Andrew Tanner Staff

    Jeff, I like the way you think! I love the early ’90s GM cars, and I love the 3800. I bought a 1993 Buick Regal GS (W-body) with 239,000 miles on it last year and a 3800. I drove it almost 4,000 relatively trouble free miles after changing the oil, plugs, and rear shocks and sold it for what I had in it!

    1+

    • Jeff Brown

      Andrew:

      I have a 1991 Pontiac Grand Am two door with less than 125,000 miles I would like to sell. Thought I would mention it since you love the early 90’s cars. I took pictures of it a while back with intentions of listing it on this site as an exclusive, but business has gotten in the way of me putting together a good write up and selecting the best images. Please let me know if you are interested in learning more.

      0

  18. Keith

    Supercharged C-bodies and H-bodies certainly have their appeal. I’d take another, but nice ones have been hard to come by for several years already.

    My last one was a ’95 Park Avenue Ultra, triple black and well-kept, which I picked up for peanuts with a seized AC compressor. I kept it polished to within an inch of its life at all times, swapped in FE3 suspension, and miled it up without shame. I’d probably still have it today had it not been destroyed in a hailstorm.

    For several months after I was bent on finding another, but eventually gave up when I realized that attrition had turned it into a unicorn. To pay “real” money for one, much less one hundreds of miles away, seemed pointless. End of an era, I guess.

    4+

    • Poppy

      Keith:
      I picked up a nice LSS off ebay a few years back. Supercharged like your Ultra. Elderly “snowbird” woman owned so super clean inside and out, as it stayed in the garage when she wintered in FL. That car is a joy to drive. Yes, it torque steers like crazy, but that beats the alternative of not having any torque to speak of. I’ve owned (and currently own) several of these mid-’90s C-H bodies and never had any issues with the engines or transmissions. Usually ball joints and the occasional wheel hub are about the only recurring mechanical issues I have. Junkyards are full of them (at least the LeSabres and 88s) so replacement trims parts and option upgrades are plentiful.

      2+

  19. Superdessucke

    I love how everybody says it’s not worthy but it has gotten more comments than most of the cars here, lol!

    I personally love seeing cars from the 1980 and 1990s here. It’s cool to see them like this because I remember when they were brand new and desirable.

    The fact and history is not been kind of them is no reason to ignore them. Keep posting them!

    7+

  20. Gregory J. Wilkins

    From personal experience (and having owned GM, German, and Japanese cars of this vintage) they all have their issues. GM built some pretty neat cars, especially the supercharged models. The last one I had was at 240K miles when i sold it. The 3.8L were pretty bulletproof. I never had transmission issues, but I, also a maintenance fanatic. I knew lots of people who did though. Lots of the GM cars were pretty nasty as far as paint, body and trim, plastic everywhere. Drive what you like, keep it running, and unless you get a lemon, you’ll be happy.

    5+

  21. Peter

    For us served its purpose as a highway cruiser for a while. We also had an 88 Camry at the same time. In comparison to the Pontiac the Toyota felt 20 years ahead of its time. The Bonneville interior cracked and warped and managed all manner of contortions. I’ve never installed so many exposed screws to keep an interior together as I did in the Bonneville.

    3+

  22. Jim

    I had a 85 Olds 98 Regency Brougham I bought new for the wife and sold all these models both 88’s and 98’s throughout the model run. Nice driving cars of the era but becoming a collectable I doubt will happen.

    0

  23. Rustytech

    My experience with the 3.8l has been mixed. I had a 1986 Lesabre with the all aluminum engine, it lasted forever. Then I bought a 2004 Lesabre and it had a plastic intake manifold. It wasn’t two months out of warranty when the intake warped and filled the cylinders with coolant. When I complained to GM they basically told me to jump off a bridge. I traded that car within a week, and have never bought another GM product. As far as this car is concerned, it’s a parts car.

    0

  24. Fran

    Anything more than one sentence on this car is a waste. There I did it! Opps!

    2+

  25. Kevin

    I’ll take two of em. One to s**t on, and the other to cover it up with. Lol.

    0

  26. Jubjub

    I saw this gorgeous, supercharged Olds 98 Touring sedan on a little car lot in Lincoln, Nebraska a few months ago for four grand. 75K miles and black leather too.

    6+

    • Peter Boyle

      kill it with fire.

      2+

    • Poppy

      Can you post the name of the lot? I’m interested in following up if they still have it.

      0

      • Jubjub

        It was W O St. @ W 20th St. Believe it was Bigler auto sales. Hope it’s still there.

        0

  27. PAPERBKWRITER

    V6 auto. 4dr. A real chick magnet.If you want to drive an old car, fine. BUT these semi- old 4dr’s will never turn heads at a car show.

    1+

  28. Frank C Macnak

    I have a 95 SSEi like the one I had in high school. Done a bit of mods to it. My wife doesn’t get it but it sure is fun to relive the day of racing. Ah, small town fun!

    0

  29. Peter Boyle

    was junk when new, still is.

    2+

  30. Peter

    Jeff,

    Please don’t take this personally, because I’ve enjoyed your finds/write-ups in the past, and I’m not an “ageist,” meaning I’m not against seeing ’80’s-’90’s (or newer?) cars here.

    But re: this POS?

    FWD? Simply put, it’s a DISGRACE to a great Pontiac name like Bonneville–and that’s when it was NEW! Big Pontiacs should be RWD–end of that discussion (for me, at least).

    On another GM topic (which is related, in that it shows, just like this FWD Bonneville, just how out of touch GM was/is with it’s customers):

    GM KILLED Pontiac and Oldsmobile, but KEPT Buick? BUICK? The sound one makes when “praying to the porcelain ‘God'” after a rough night out? Ugh….

    And the rationale for doing so was that “Buicks are hugely popular in China….” Well, guess what? GM is BUILDING (at least some) Buicks in China as you read this. So why not build and sell Buicks IN China, but let us keep our beloved Pontiac and Oldsmobile brands alive, here in the US of A?

    IF Pontiac HAD to have a FWD, they should have retired the great names (like Bonneville) and saved their FWD-tech for new models, as they did with the Pontiac J2000–remember those?

    Full disclosure: I’m a foreign car enthusiast, and fairly bored with most American cars, but do like certain, vintage Pontiacs, Fords, Cadillacs, Jeeps, Oldsmobiles, and C2’s and C3’s. And some American trucks.

    But American FWD crap, starting with the Chevy Citation, just disgusts me, now, as much as when it first hit the streets.

    And as for FWD’s (limited) advantages in snow? Sorry, but that’s why God invented STUDDED SNOW TIRES. I can’t tell you how many FWD cars (foreign and domestic) I blew by, me “crossed up” and making huge “rooster tails” with studded snows on my ’77 Granada (2 door, 4-on-the-floor with factory overdrive) as the Hondas, etc…, slowly scrabbled up a certain hill, in grad school. To their credit, they WERE moving, but at about 5 mph–their low ground clearance wasn’t helping any, either.

    For this *cough* Bonneville to become a sought-after car, I would think all the good cars would have to be hidden away in private collections. Just my .02.

    3+

  31. newfieldscarnut

    Call the junkyard . Oh yeah , no title , you have a problem .

    1+

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