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Old 01-15-2007, 12:46 AM   #1
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Default 81 bonnevilles?

I'm looking at an 81 Bonneville Bougham, apparently it'* in really good shape and well maintained, under 100K miles. Do ya'll know much about these? Is it a bad idea to get such an old car?
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Old 01-15-2007, 01:04 AM   #2
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Personally, I think the newer cars are easier to troubleshoot driveability problems..just my 0.02
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Old 01-15-2007, 04:48 AM   #3
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Really depends on condition. Can you find out what engine it has? There'* a large number of engines that these cars could come with. The third letter of the VIN indicates the engine. (Or maybe it'* the fifth, anybody remember?) I know that code X is the Buick 350, because I had that in my 78. These cars are actually super easy to work on, and parts are very easy to find. The drivetrains were utterly common to all the ChevoPontiOldsmoBuickCadillacs, so you can always get inexpensive rebuild kits. If the rest of the car holds up, you can keep them running quite literally forever. Expect an engine or tranny rebuild as you near 200,000 miles.

They also make very good cars for towing, if you have one of the larger engines. They aren't so good on gas, I typically got around 12 MPG on my 78 with the Buick 350 engine.

As they get older, you need to pay attention to all wear-related parts like ball joints, tie-rods, & pitman arm in the steering, all of which you can easily replace by yourself. Pay attention to shocks, radiator, and emissions control devices too. Especially anything under the hood operated by a vacuum diaphragm, since they tend to rot.

Around 200,000 miles, engine wear became an issue too, I had a head gasket wear through, and there was a significant wear ridge on all the cylinders, so I had the whole engine rebuilt. But again, with a nice big engine bay, these are easy to work on yourself. I pulled the engine, had it rebuilt, then I reassembled the block to the heads, intake, and manifolds and put it back in on my own.

Given attention like you would any car, they're very reliable. I'd say the typical cause of death for them is rust, so if you're considering one, make sure it isn't rotting out, and if you do get one, make sure to deal with any rust quickly.
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Old 01-15-2007, 08:03 AM   #4
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Default Re: 81 bonnevilles?

Quote:
Originally Posted by zuper8
Is it a bad idea to get such an old car?
Depends on what it needs and how junkyard savy you want to be. All the mechanical parts are still easy to come by, but the body and trim parts are going to be difficult to find spares for should you ever need them. There'* nothing inheirently wrong with it just because it is 26 years old, there are even older ones running around.

The driveline is pretty standard, and motor swaps on it would be a piece of cake should the original ever give you any problems. (think fuel injected Chevy V8 if you go down that road, they can be run in the low to mid 20mpg range)

As bugsi pointed out, the most un-reliable parts are going to be rubber..Vac hoses especially (they breakdown over time..doesn't matter who'* old car you buy, they all do it.) Most performance problems of cars from that era revolve around vac leaks in the hoses and plastic parts of the emmissions control gear. Knowing that, it'* pretty easy to find and fix. If it is a carb V8, budget a new replacement carb (very few people are around that rebuild Rochester Q-Jets and replacement Edelbrock and Holleys are fairly cheap)

Otherwise, if the price is right for you, have at it.
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Old 01-15-2007, 01:04 PM   #5
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Thanks Yeah, what I love about this car is that it has NO visibile rust (!). Someone really took care of it. I think it has the 301- or at any rate, it'* a 4.3L V8.
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Old 01-15-2007, 01:31 PM   #6
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definitely. as long as the car doesn't rust away, the only problem will be rubber things that dry out. you replace those? it wil go forever and ever.
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Old 01-15-2007, 04:27 PM   #7
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Yes, second and third all the warnings about rubber. Vacuum diaphragms, hoses of any kind, belts, all should be renewed in they are not in new condition.

I agree that the most difficult thing is trim parts, and that got a little frustrating in the latter years of my 78. For example, someone broke off my hood ornament. Finding a replacement was difficult, even at junk yards. I kept losing hub caps too, and would buy spare ones any time I saw any at a hubcap dealer. That little round handle on the window cranks kept breaking off, I kept buying the "Help!" replacement ones at Pep Boys.

Make sure the heater core works and isn't plugged or leaking, check the AC for operation or leaks. The cruise control would fail every few years and need a new modulator and a speedometer cable once. I had to replace the headliner at one point too. Typical old-car stuff.
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Old 01-15-2007, 04:58 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zuper8
Thanks Yeah, what I love about this car is that it has NO visibile rust (!). Someone really took care of it. I think it has the 301- or at any rate, it'* a 4.3L V8.
The 301 is a 5.0 V8. Not sure where you saw 4.3.
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Old 01-15-2007, 05:56 PM   #9
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Oh yes, I just wanted to add that the earlier comment was also absolutely correct that if you ever need a new engine, finding a replacement would be a piece of cake, since these cars were produced with a wide range of different engines. My personal favorite was the one I had, the Buick 350, but larger and smaller engines were available. We actually replaced mine after a catastrophic failure shortly after getting the car used. (Somehow my Dad drove it some distance with no oil.) -a shop put an identical Buick "X" engine in it. The replacement engine was from a 76, my Bonneville was a 78. Everything worked perfectly, but the timing was different on the 76 engine than the 78 books called for. The timing degree marker on the 76 marked completely different degrees than the 78 did. (I think the 78 was centered at 11 degrees, and the 76 was centered at 15 or something like that.) I had to get an exemption sticker on my door to allow the different timing for the California smog certificate. That'* the engine I had rebuilt, too. (It'* still running out there somewhere.)

And yes, you may need your carb rebuilt at some point, but I'd say it'* worth learning to re-jet a Rochester 4 barrel with a rebuild kit. If you can swap up to a fuel injected intake, that would obviously be an advantage, but I don't have any personal knowledge of how easy or difficult that is to do.

Find your engine code letter, I'm curious if your 301 is a Pontiac, Olds, Chevrolet, or Buick engine.
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Old 01-15-2007, 07:43 PM   #10
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the 301 v-8 was a pontiac motor for i believe 79 thru 81. my aunt had a 79 firebird with one and it was a good little runner. my only concern would be it was not the most powerful motor in the world, i question it hauling that big *** body around. if you can take it for a drive racheal, see how it performs for the type of driving you normally do.

i've always driven big cars like that, usually older and have found if you have a trusted mechanic or are good at fixing things yourself, they are a cheap running vehicle. as has been mentioned before, the driveline'* usually last forever, its just the small nickel and dime stuff that goes with age and that'* where it can get expensive if you are constantly running back and forth to a "full rate" shop trying to stay on top of things.

as far as gas mileage goes, i never had a 301 myself, but had a 79 belair and 80 caprice both with 305'*. as i remember they ran me about 17-18 miles to the gallon just running around.

having said all that, after writing the above paragraph, i went and dug out my dealers catalogue for 1981 pontiacs. here in canada i believe the equivalent to your bonneville would be our pariesienne and interestingly enough, the 81 pariesienne did not come with the 301( or 4.9L )....it came with the 4.3L (265) or 4.4L(267), both v-8'*. so you maybe on the money with the 4.3L after all!

the catalogue give the engine codes as : 265 - vin code *
267 - vin code j
301 - vin code t

it might bear some checking as at least from my experience i never heard many kind words about either the 265'* or 267'*. now that i've thoroughly confused you ( and myself!), i'll sign off and let someone else take a crack at it!

best of luck, bill
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