Sale of the Week

This Pontiac Bonneville SSE Supercharged is a tribute to the automotive underclass of the 1990s

by David Zenlea
24 February 2023 3 min read
Photo by Cars & Bids

I grew up in a family that exclusively bought General Motors vehicles. Why this was the case, I can’t really say. We lived on the east coast, and no one we knew worked for any of the Big Three. Nowadays any kind of loyalty carries a tinge of hyper-partisanship; back then, it felt more like a simple fact. Just as we happened to be Jews and happened to be from New England, so we happened to always have a front-drive GM blob in the driveway. I was brought home from the hospital in a Chevrolet Celebrity, which was traded for a Pontiac Sunbird and then procession of Bonnevilles. I spent middle school climbing into the back seat of a Chevrolet Monte Carlo (the two-door Lumina variant), which was upgraded—thrillingly to me at the time—to a Pontiac Grand Prix GTP.

All of this is a long way of explaining my joy at seeing a 1993 Pontiac Bonneville SSE Supercharged sell for $6061 (including fees) on Cars & Bids. “Supercharged,” in this and practically every other case for General Motors in the 1990s and early 2000s, referred to a boosted version of GM’s venerable 3.8-liter V-6. It was, even in 1993, far from state of the art—an OHV, iron-block engine that dated back to 1960s Buicks. Yet it produced 205 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, which was a whole lot in 1993. By the time the 3800 officially left the scene, in the 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix GT, it made 260 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Readily available bolt-ons, namely a smaller pulley, easily pushed past 300 hp with little risk to the engine (the transmission was another matter). I’ll come right out and say it: These were great engines.

Photo courtesy Cars & Bids

Lest I get ahead of myself (or in case I already have), it’s worth adding that the Bonneville SSE was not a great car, and neither were any of the other GM front-drivers of the era. By 1993, Japanese automakers had utterly perfected the family sedan—one could make the case that the 1991–96 Toyota Camry, a Lexus in all but name, is the greatest front-drive family sedan of all time. Ford had battled back with the best-selling Ford Taurus and even Chrysler, under the auspices of Bob Lutz, was rolling out slick-looking, “cab-forward” LH-platform cars. GM was otherwise occupied. In the 1980s the General had thrown billions at front-drive cars that, even when new, failed to match the refinement of class leaders. It entered the 1990s posting losses that were, at that point in the company’s history, unprecedented. The hard times manifested themselves in hard interior plastic panels and overall poor fit and finish. (I can recall, even as an eight-year-old, noticing paint runs in our white 1993 Bonneville SE).

Although practically all GM brands and cars suffered, few fared worse than the once-proud Pontiacs, which continued to be marketed as performance cars but increasingly failed to keep up with competition. These Bonnevilles accelerated well and cruised the highway with languid ease but lacked the agility of a contemporary Nissan Maxima, to say nothing of the era’s BMWs.

Not that my parents—or hundreds of thousands of other parents—were really cross-shopping 5-series and the like. GM was losing market share, but still built more than one out of every three cars sold in the United States when this Bonneville found its first owner. Since then, this beige and brown family sedan has clearly lived a pampered existence, racking up 167,000 miles and showing only minor wear to its heavily bolstered driver’s seat. The 1990s GM gimmickry gadgetry, including a head-up display and primitive trip computer, now lend a distinct time capsule feel, although it’s hard to say if they all work going just by the photos.

Photo courtesy Cars & Bids

Hagerty fielded only a handful of calls from people interested in insuring 1992–1997 Bonnevilles in the past year. The median value cited is $6000, making this sale right on the money. Even the best American cars of this era have by and large been left behind as 1990s vehicles appreciate. These front-drive GM sedans, far from the best, are and remain an automotive underclass of a sort. And yet, they were always there, serving honestly in the background and, more specifically, in my family’s driveway.

It’s nice to see you, old friend.

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  • Gary Bechtold says:

    The supercharged 3800 motors were lots of fun. Best example I drove was in the Buick Regal GS.

  • Rob says:

    I had two of these brand new……Best car on the planet.

  • Michael Gussin says:

    I think this is an SSEi. I thought the SE wan NA. I hade a 94 and a 98 SSEi. Love hate relationship. Loved the performance, luxury and ‘high-tech’. Hated burning through multiple alternators…

    Also, the 98 lost the headlight squirters which were great in the winter…

    First thing I did was swap the pulley and add a K/N.

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