The Buick Riviera was produced by the mighty Buick from 1963 to 1999.
One of General Motors’ most striking post-war designs began as a tribute to the La Salle brand–a fashion trendsetter in its day, thanks to the work of a young designer named Harley Earl.
The trim, taut lines of the now-iconic 1963-’65 Buick Riviera were even spearheaded by a pair of miniature La Salle grilles in the front fenders, and the car was originally dubbed “La Salle II.”
Its profile was meant to evoke a feeling of coachbuilt luxury, and the car’s patron, GM design chief William “Bill” Mitchell, imagined the car complementing Cadillac’s lineup.
It was one of Buick’s first luxury cars.
It really was General Motors’ first attempt to break into what became known as the prestige market. While early models stayed close to the original form, subsequent generations varied substantially over the Riviera’s thirty-year lifespan.
Buick built the Riviera on a sturdy new frame, but adapted existing parts-bin components to the chassis and powertrain.
Special attention was paid to chassis geometry to ensure that the car would:
Ride low and have a low center of gravity,
Keeping body roll in check while maintaining that soft ride.
1,127,261 were produced.
The Riviera became front wheel drive in 1979.
The plan from the beginning was to build 40,000 cars a year, which Buick did in 1963.
The number dwindled to 37,658 in 1964 and 34,586 in 1965.
Ford built 63,313 Thunderbirds in 1963; 92,465 in 1964; and 74,972 in 1965–this includes convertible and roadster body styles.
The idea was to keep the Riviera somewhat exclusive in hopes of driving up demand; plus, the 40,000-unit target made the production of Riviera bodies more manageable for the Cleveland Fisher Body plant.
The name Riviera comes from the Latin for coastline.
It was chosen to evoke the allure and affluence of the French Riviera.
It was first used in 1949, as the designation for the new two-door pillarless hardtop.
The Buick Roadmaster Riviera coupe (along with the Cadillac Coupe de Ville and Oldsmobile 98 Holiday coupe) constituted the first mass production use of this body style, which was to become extremely popular over the next 30 years.
Buick added a two-door Riviera hardtop to the Super the following year, the Special in 1951 and the Century upon its return, after a 12-year absence, in 1954.
1951 to 1953
From 1951 to 1953 the Riviera designation was given to the existing long wheelbase versions of the four-door Buick Roadmaster and Super sedans.
The 1951–53 Buick Roadmaster and Super four-door Riviera sedans feature more standard features including:
Increasingly plush interior trim
A wheelbase (and overall length) that is 4 inches (102 mm) longer than a regular Buick Roadmaster or Super four-door sedan.
The 1951–52 Buick Super four-door Riviera sedan is still 0.75 inches (19 mm) shorter in wheelbase and length than the regular Buick Roadmaster and 4.75 inches (121 mm) shorter than the Roadmaster four-door Riviera sedan.
In 1953, with the move from the Fireball straight-eight to the more compact Nailhead V8 engine, the Roadmaster and Super four-door Riviera sedans became the same length.
In the middle of the 1955 model year, Buick and Oldsmobile introduced the world’s first mass-produced four-door hardtops, with Buick offering it only on the Century and Special models, and the Riviera designation was also applied to these body styles.
Four-door Riviera hardtops were added to the Roadmaster and Super lines at the beginning of the following model year.
From 1959 until 1962 The Riviera name was only used to denote:
A premium trimmed six-window hardtop style which it initially shared exclusively with Cadillac (the Oldsmobile 98 would receive it in 1961)
It was available only on the Electra 225.
The Luxury Car Debut
The last usage of the term Riviera to describe to describe a luxury trim level was 1963.
In the late 1950s, GM needed the Riviera to be the personal luxury car to compete with the successful Ford Thunderbird—with its unique style and its domination of the two-door, 4 passenger car market.
The XP-715 was therefore created.
Its angular styling was inspired by GM styling Chief Bill Mitchell’s visit to London during this period.
He was struck by the sight of a beautiful Rolls Royce. He wanted that “knife-edged” styling with a lower profile. The design itself was penned by stylist Ned Nickles.
In 1960 Buick enlisted the aid of the McCann-Erickson advertising agency to create its presentation.
Buick won, and the finished design was adapted to a shortened version of Buick’s cruciform frame. The design had:
Hidden headlightsIn 1963 it was introduced as the Buick Riviera Silver Arrow.
First Generation 1963-1965
The production Riviera’s distinctive body shell was original and unusual for a GM product.
It rode a:
Cruciform frame similar to the standard Buick frame, but shorter and narrower, with a 2.0 in (51 mm) narrower track.
Wheelbase of 117 in (3,000 mm) and overall length of 208 in (5,300 mm) were 6.0 inches (150 mm) and 7.7 in (200 mm)
At 3,998 lb (1,813 kg), 210 it was about 390 pounds (180 kg) lighter than either.
A standard Buick V8 engine
401 cu displacement in (6.57 L) or 425 cu in (6.96 l)
Unique continuously variable design twin turbine automatic transmission
Standard Power brakes
Buick’s massive “Al-Fin” (aluminium finned) drums of 12 in (300 mm) diameter.
Power steering with an overall steering ratio of 20.5:1, giving 3.5 turns lock-to-lock.
The Riviera’s suspension used:
Buick’s standard design
Double wishbones front with a live axle located by trailing arms & a lateral track bar
Although its coil springs were softer than other Buicks, the Riviera’s lighter weight made its ride somewhat firmer.
The new Rivera sported new “Coke bottle styling”, with the middle of the body exhibiting a tapered tucked-in appearance.
On October 4, 1962 The Riviera was introduced, as a 1963 model, with the 325 hp (242 kW) 401 cu in (6.6 l) “Nailhead” V-8 as the only available engine,
It was fitted with:
Dual exhaust as standard
A turbine drive as the only transmission
The Buick was sold for $4,333.
With options the price ran upwards of $5,000.
In December 1962, the availability of a 340 hp (254 kW) 425 cu in (7.0 l) version of the Nailhead was an option.
The production was limited to 40,000 vehicles (in a year that Buick sold 440,000 units overall)
This was to emphasize its exclusivity and to increase demand.
2,601 of them were delivered with a 425 cu in (7.0 l) engine in the 1963 model year.
The Riviera had sparkling all-around performance:
0–60 mph (0–97 km/h) in 8 seconds or less,
An observed top speed of 115 miles per hour (185 km/h).
However Fuel economy was a meagre 13.2 miles per US gallon which was not very impressive all told.
The Riviera’s interior had:
A four-place cabin with front bucket seats separated by a centre console with floor shifter and storage compartment that was built into the instrument panel
Bucket-style seats in the rear.
Upholstery choices included;
cloth and vinyl
There was a deluxe interior option which included:
Real walnut inserts on the doors and below the rear side windows.
Popular extra-cost options included:
Tilt steering wheel
Power driver’s seat
A remote-controlled side view mirror, & white sidewall tires.
The Riviera continued with minimal trim changes for 1964 including the discontinuation of leather upholstery from the option list, differing mainly in substitution of the old Dynaflow-based twin turbine for the new three-speed Super Turbine 400.
The 1964 version used a:
Two speed “D.L” selector
However the driver could automatically downshift from third to second and then downshift to first.
This was the first year that the “R” emblem was used on the Riviera.
Under the hood, the 401 cu was dropped to 340 hp (254 kW) 425 cu in (7.0 l) V8.
A ‘Super Wildcat’ version was available.
Dual Carter AFB four-barrel carburetors,
Rated at 360 hp (268 kW).
Changes for 1965 included:
The introduction of the “Gran Sport” option
The dual-quad Super Wildcat 425 V8
A numerically higher 3.42 axle ratio, and stiffer, heavy-duty suspension.
The stock dual exhaust pipes were increased from 2.0 inches (51 mm) to 2.25 inches (57 mm)
The 401 cu in (6.6 l) V8 returned as the standard Riviera engine
The Super Turbine 400 transmission retained the variable pitch torque converter, and fitted with a three-speed gear selector.
The headlamps were concealed behind clamshell doors in the leading edges of each fender, as in the original design.
Non-functional side scoops between the doors and rear wheel arches were removed
Taillights were moved from the body into the rear bumper
A vinyl roof became available as an option, initially offered only in black
Tilt steering wheel optional in previous years was now standard equipment.
Total sales for the three model years was a respectable 112,244.
The Riviera was extremely popular and considered a great success. It gave the Thunderbird a real run for its money.
It rapidly earned Milestone status from the Milestone Car Society.
Jaguar were impressed its founder and designer Sir William Lyons said that Mitchell had done “a very wonderful job”.
Sergio Pininfarina declared it “one of the most beautiful American cars ever built; it has marked a very impressive return to simplicity of American car design.”
At its glorious debut at the Paris Auto Show, Raymond Loewy said the Riviera was the handsomest American production car. The first-generation Riviera is considered a styling landmark, and is quite collectible today.
Second Generation 1963-70
The Riviera was redesigned for the 1966 model year.
It retained its:
Cruciform frame & powertrain,
It had an elongated and wider, more curvaceous body that modernized the “sweep speared” inspired beltline introduced in the previous generation.
It had various stylistic elements including:
The absence of vent windows,
Conventional rear wheel drive layout.
It was 200 pounds heavier, so acceleration was slower.
The Gran Sport package remained available as an option. Rear seat belts and AM/FM radio were optional.
There was a choice of bucket seats or conventional bench seats as standard equipment (the Riviera a full six passenger car for the first time).
A Strato-bench seat with armrest or Strato bucket seats with either a short consolette or a full-length operating console with a “horseshoe” shaped floor shifter and storage compartment.
Both the buckets and Strato-bench seat were available with a reclining seat option for the passenger’s side.
Sales for 1966 were 45,308, a new high for Buick.
1967 changes included:
The adoption of Buick’s entirely new V8 of 430 cu in (7.0 L) displacement, 360 horsepower (270 kW) and 475 lb·ft (644 N·m) of torque to replace the old 425 “nailhead”.
Improved gasoline mileage
Powerful disc brakes with Bendix four-piston calipers became optional for the front wheels (most had Buick’s aluminium brake drums which were almost as good).
Addition of a wide, full-width, centre-mounted horizontal chrome grille bar that stretched over the headlight doors and outboard parking lights.
Sales slowed to 42,799 for 1967.
1967 also saw U.S. mandated safety equipment to improve occupant protection during a crash
An energy-absorbing steering column
Non-protruding control knobs,
4-way hazard flasher
Soft interior surfaces
Locking seat backs (on 2-door models)
Dual-circuit hydraulic braking system (with warning light)
Shoulder belt anchors.
Design Changes for 1968
1968 Design Changes included:
Reshaped front and rear loop-type bumpers that encased the vehicle’s (recessed crosshatch) grille and tail lamps
Hidden wiper arms
Federally mandated side marker lights
Circular Rear marker lights
Interior Re-Styles 1968
The interior was restyled and included shoulder belts for front outboard occupants.
There were very few mechanical changes in 1968, but the transmission lost its variable pitch torque converter.
In 1968 49,284 units were sold.
Interior Re-Styles 1969
In 1969, there were minor styling changes such as:
Grilles being changed to a pattern of slim vertical bars overlaid by two wider horizontal bars, which jutted forward at their inboard edges.
Front marker lights became shorter, and square in shape.
Front outboard passengers received new headrests.
The ignition switch was moved to the steering column, and it now locked the steering wheel and selector lever when the key was removed.
Chrome side trim was revised
In the rear, the reverse lights were moved from the rear bumper into the 1969 Riviera’s new three-section tail-light lenses.
Sales again for 1969 improved to 52,872.
Again in 1970 the Riviera was re-styled.
The new styling included:
Exposed quad flush-mounted headlamps,
A new front bumper wrapped around and over the new vertical bar grille,
A newly optional side trim feature accented the large coupe’s flowing lines.
Skirted rear wheels became standard, with exposed wheels an option.
A new rear bumper/taillight motif was seen.
The largest engine Buick offered was upgraded to 455 cu in (7.46 L), rated at 370 horsepower (280 kW) gross, 245 hp (183 kW) net, and over 500 lb·ft (680 N·m) of torque.
Despite the fact that 1970 sales dropped to 37,366,
The second-generation Riviera proved more successful than the first, with 227,669 units sold over five seasons.
Third Generation 1971-1973
The Riviera was radically redesigned for the 1971 model year with a flowing “boat-tail” styling, under Bill Mitchell’s direction.
It was penned by Jerry Hirshberg, future head of design for Nissan, mating the two-piece vee-butted 792 fastback rear window, inspired by the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray split window coupe, to the Riviera’s platform.
The design was originally intended for the smaller GM A platform, and the use of the Riviera’s body produced controversial looks.
It was a much more visual representation of the “sweepspear”, with a more faithful representation to the version that appeared on 1950s Buicks in both the side moulding and beltline.
To meet EPA emissions requirements, The 455 engine had a lower compression ratio reducing power.
It had a 0–60 time of 8.1 seconds for the GS, however its sporty image was rapidly fading.
The Max Trac was introduced, a traction control system that prevented wheel spin during acceleration on slippery surfaces.
The 1971 Riviera also features GM’s “Full-Flo” ventilation system and two large deck lid louvers are prominent on the trunk lid.
However this bizarrely caused a vacuum that sucked rain and exhaust back into the car and the “Full-Flo” ventilation was therefore revamped and the louvers removed from the trunk lid for the 1972 model year
Riviera sales for 1971 dropped to 33,810 by 798 for 1972 the lowest to date. (PT CHECK)
There were no real changes on the 1972 model only the 455 engine switching to net power ratings, 225 hp (168 kW) or 250 hp (190 kW) with the Gran Sport, although the actual drop in net power was only 5 hp (3.7 kW).
Sales remained diabolical at 33,728.
876 only For 1973
The 250 hp (186 kW) engine became standard, with 260 hp (190 kW) with the Stage One package, which also included a limited slip differential and a chrome-plated air cleaner.
Gran Sport Package
The “Gran Sport” package was still available as a separate option package.
This consisted of a ride-and-handling package that included:
A rear stabilizer bar
JR78-15 whitewall steel-belted radial tires,
A specially tuned “radial road ability” suspension
Additional sound insulation
Special “Gran Sport” badging.
Diabolical sales of the third generation Riviera led GM to believe that the boat tail deck lid was too extreme for most customers’ so in 1973 it was made shorter.
However there was no real sales increase stalling at 34,080 for the model year.
Buick Riviera Colours 1963-65
Blue Cloth & Vinyl
Blue Leather & Vinyl
Silver Leather & Vinyl
Sandalwood Cloth & Vinyl
Granada Red, Diplomat Blue
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