It is said that in the 1950s American automobile culture has had an enduring influence on the culture of the United States, as reflected in popular music, major trends from the 1950s and mainstream acceptance of the "hot rod" culture. The American manufacturing economy switched from producing war-related items to consumer goods at the end of World War II, and by the end of the 1950s, one in six working Americans were employed either directly or indirectly in the automotive industry. The United States became the world's largest manufacturer of automobiles, and Henry Ford's goal of 40 years earlier - that any man with a good job should be able to afford an automobile - was achieved.
A new generation of service businesses focusing on customers with their automobiles sprang up during the decade, including drive-through or drive-in restaurants and more drive-in theaters (cinemas).
The decade began with 25 million registered automobiles on the road, most of which predated World War II and were in poor condition; no automobiles or parts were produced during the war owing to rationing and restrictions. By 1950, most factories had made the transition to a consumer-based economy, and more than 8 million cars were produced that year alone. By 1958, there were more than 67 million cars registered in the United States, more than twice the number at the start of the decade.
As part of the U.S. national defenses, to support military transport, the National Highway System was expanded with Interstate highways, beginning in 1955, across many parts of the U.S. The wider, multi-lane highways allowed traffic to move at faster speeds, with few or no stop-lights on the way. The wide-open spaces along the highways became a basis for numerous billboards showing advertisements.
The dawning of the Space Age and Space Race were reflected in contemporary American automotive styling. Large tailfins, flowing designs reminiscent of rockets, and radio antennas that imitated Sputnik 1 were common, owing to the efforts of design pioneers such as Harley Earl.
The Pontiac Bonneville was built by the Pontiac division of General Motors from 1957 to 2005. It was introduced as a limited production performance convertible during the 1957 model year. The Bonneville and its platform partner, the Grand Ville, are some of the largest Pontiacs ever built; in station wagon body styles they reached just over 19 feet (5.8 m) long, and were also some of the heaviest cars produced at the time (2.5 short tons, 5,000 lbs or 2,300 kgs).
The Bonneville name first appeared in 1954 on a pair of bubble-topped GM Motorama concept cars called the Bonneville Special. It entered the production lineup as a high-performance, fuel-injected luxury convertible within the Star Chief line in the 1957 model year and was loaded with every conceivable option as standard equipment with the exception of optional air conditioning and continental kit. This put the Bonneville in a Cadillac-like price range of $5,782 - more than double the base price of a Chieftain four-door sedan. A fully equipped Bonneville could cost more than a Cadillac. Only 630 units were produced that first year, making it one of the most collectible Pontiacs of all time. The following year it became a separate model, and it would endure until 2005 as the division's top-of-the-line model. The name was taken from the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the site of much early auto racing and most of the world's land speed record runs, which was named in turn after U.S. Army officer Benjamin Bonneville.
The Bonneville remained Pontiac's costliest and most luxurious model throughout the 1960s and was instrumental in pushing Pontiac to third place in sales from 1962 to 1970.
The Bonneville featured here is a 1959 model “second generation” car owned by Chanaka Jinasena. A collector of many classics, Chanaka bought this car virtually as it is and has not yet been through a proper restoration. Most of the biggest American cars of the time including this one was sold in the U.S.A. with V8 engines. However, for the Asian markets they built cars with six cylinder engines; and that’s how such a big car ended up in Sri Lanka with a 6 pot unit. While it was available with a “Hydramatic” automatic transmission in the U.S. A. this car has the three-speed column shift gears as was popular at the time in this part of the world. The car is seen regularly at Classic Car Club events and becomes a talking point at every event as its giant proportions make it stand out from the rest.