Producing and marketing automobiles in the 1950s
and 60s was as exciting as it was unpredictable. The pace was fast and
furious, with new styling, features and technology constantly finding
their way into production. It all moved so fast that one never knew what
the competition was going to unleash. Such was the case in 1958 when
Ford took its sporty Thunderbird and reconfigured it into a personal
luxury car. Neither Chrysler nor General Motors had anything to compete
directly with this new direction in the American world of cars.
Market planning at GM was concentrating more on making technologically
advanced compact cars with the 1960 introduction of the Corvair,
followed in 1961 by the medium priced Buick Special, Oldsmobile Cutlass
and Pontiac Tempest. However, after these cars were brought to market (a
market in which Ford more than stayed even with the conventional
Falcon), the powers that be could not ignore the fact Ford had an
uncontested winner with their luxurious T-birds, and there was money to
be made in that market.
Initial planning for GM's first personal luxury
entry was to bring back an abandoned nameplate, La Salle. Hopes were
that the Cadillac Division would latch onto this car and make even more
millions for the biggest corporation in the world. However, things
changed and in late 1961 it was decided that this new car would be given
to the Buick Division. Buick had more production capacity, plus a larger
and more anxious dealer body waiting to sell and service these new cars.
Drawing on a name that had first been attached to Buick's premiere
pillarless hardtop convertibles, the new luxury coupe would be
The Riviera Debuts
Released in the fall of 1962 as a 1963 model, the
Buick Riviera was an instant success. Mounted on its own 117"
wheelbase/platform, the creative genius of GM Vice-President of Styling,
Bill Mitchell, was never presented in a more positive light. Depending
on a simple, clean form rather than the customary add ons of chrome, the
Riviera managed to be both elegant and bold at the same time. Under the
hood a standard 401cid V8 delivered 325 horsepower, while an optional
340 horse, 425cid V8 was also available.
1963-64 models have horizontal quad headlights.
While the '65 got hidden vertical units.
Classic lines from the rear.
To many, this author included, when they first saw
the Riviera as a new car, it made them think of Cadillac. Evidently
General Motors didn't mind that conclusion, as the prominent front end
with two large grilled pontoons and the vee'd egg-crate grille were kept
for all three model years. The only major change was placing the
headlights behind the outer pontoon grilles in 1965, a design cue that
had been planned for the car's introduction but was delayed to due to
production and engineering issues.
Offered in just one body style, this luxurious
two-door hardtop came standard with such items as power steering and
power brakes, heater-defroster, AM radio, and an automatic transmission.
The interior was downright sumptuous, with richly appointed bucket seats
with a center console (standard), a silver background dash (63 and 64),
contrasting woodgrain inserts throughout the cabin, and lots of courtesy
lighting. Popular options included air-conditioning, power seat and
power window controls and a decor dress-up package which could include
full leather seats. Base model prices were in the same range as the
competition, $4,333 for the Buick against $4,445 for the base
Thunderbird hardtop. While the Riviera didn't come near the luxury
Ford's total of 63,313 sales for the 1963 model year, the reported
40,000 units did come close to the T-bird's sales of 42,806 two-door
For 1964, the 425 cid V8 became the standard
powerplant, and available at extra cost was the Gran Sport edition with
a dual four-barrel set-up that delivered 360 horses. The other
significant mechanical change was the replacement of the “Turbine Drive”
automatic with GM’s modern 3-speed automatic. Minor trim changes, (a
stand-up hood ornament, a series script replacing the B-U-I-C-K
lettering on the rear-deck and revised side trim) made 1964 virtually a
continuation of the 1963 model year. Prices rose to $4,385, presumably
due to the former optional engine now being standard, while production
dipped slightly to 37,958. Over at the Ford camp, Thunderbird had come
out in all new sheet metal and even with a near $100 premium in price,
sold over 83,000 hardtops alone that model year.
Bringing out the front-end design that Mitchell had
originally wanted for the Riviera in 1963, the 1965 models continued the
same basic body lines and luxurious appointments. With the headlights
concealed behind two vacuum operated doors, this year's Riviera really
looked like a custom-built car with lots of pizzazz and luxury. To the
rear, the taillights were taken from the rear body panels and placed
into the back bumper, while script and trim details were given a slight
revision. On the sides, the fake rear brake vents were removed. Inside
the dash received a black background, toning things down substantially.
The option list now included AM-FM radio, an
improved air-conditioning system, and an new interior decor option.
Still popular with many buyers was the 360 horse Gran Sport package
which added about $450 to the price tag. The base price for 1965 dropped
to $4,318, but so did production, falling about 10% to 34,586.
For 1966, Riviera got an entirely new body and the
original classic looks were gone, but not forgotten. Almost from the
start, those who owned the 109,544 examples produced between 1963 and
1965 cherished and cared for their cars. As a collectible, the Riviera
was the first Buick from the 1960s to be recognized by many car clubs
and organizations. With the exception of the 1953-54 Skylarks, the early
Rivieras are the only Buicks recognized by the Milestone Car Society.
One of the best interiors of the day, elegant and sporty.
As a result of this interest and enthusiasm, the
price of prime examples of these luxury Buicks has never fallen to
rock-bottom. In the past few years, a renewed interest in luxury cars
from the early 1960s has started to drive prices of all vehicles in this
category upward. These Rivieras appreciation has been running ahead of
the cruve for the segment in general. Prime, fully optioned examples
today can approach the $20,000 mark. Without exception, the more options
the better. Working factory air-conditioning, power windows and seats
and original decor items are a requirement in the collector market for
any top-dollar Riviera.
What to Consider
With a relatively limited number of engine options,
the possibility of transplanted engines with higher than factory
horsepower is not too likely to happen, so the study of block numbers
and smaller details are not as important to collectors of these
automobiles as they are with the muscle-car crowd.
What is important here is authenticity and condition. The lower the
miles, the more pampering a luxury car has been given, the higher in
value it will be in the collector car world. Any collector car benefits
from an active club behind it and the Riviera is very lucky in this
vein. Helping out thousands of Buick owners from around the world is the
Buick Owners Club, and for those looking for nothing but a "Rivi" club,
try the Riviera Owners Association. Both of these clubs maintain active
websites on the Internet.
Rivieras that have been, or will be, abused are a money-pit. Items such
as the fragile trim parts can be hard to find, and repairing mechanical
woes may soon clean out even a well-funded restoration budget. When
looking at a Riviera that needs a little fixing up, be sure to leave all
emotions at the door before considering any example that needs more than
minor cosmetic help. There are not a lot of reproduction trim parts
available, and NOS and excellect used parts are quite expensive.
What does the future hold for these first
generation personal luxury Buicks? The Riviera’s timeless elegance
assures that it will always be one of the more desired models in the
collectible personal luxury segment. Its unique and beautiful styling
and wonderful cruising capability combine to reign in those looking to
bring a little style and indulgence into their hobby. It is a car that
when well cared for and maintained, will do you right through your
ownership experience and at sale time.
Riviera Owners Association
Buick Club of America
Box 360775, Columbus, OH 43236
Legendary Auto Interiors
Clarks Corvair Parts
(upholstery, weatherstip, carpet for '64-'65 Rivieras)
This profile first appeared in the
July 2002 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide
Photos (C) copyright and courtesy GM
Media Archives, used with permission.