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Riviera History

Riviera Choices Page

Every Riviera lover knows that the Buick Riviera was an automobile produced between 1963 and 1999.

Originally it was not offered as an "individual model" like we think of it today, but as a "body style" for some of the other Buick models.

The Origins of the Riviera

The name Riviera was first seen in the Buick line of 1949 as the designation for the new two-door center pillarless hardtop, which was described in advertising as "stunningly smart." The Roadmaster Riviera along with the Cadillac Coupe de Ville were the first mass produced models to use this body style. It was a body without a "B" pillar; a pillar between the front windshield and the rear roof pillar.

It was the first time any American car was ever offered with what would be eventually called a "hardtop".

According to Buick, it offered: "...the racy look of a convertible with the suave and solid comfort of a fine sedan." The "B" pillarless body style would become extremely popular for all automakers and exists to the present in almost every manufacturer's model lines around the world.

The 1949 Riviera body style was chosen by the Milestone Society for its historical significance as the first production hardtop in American car history.

In 1951 the "Riviera" designation was also used on a version of the Super 4-door sedan. The 1951 Buick Super Riviera 4-door sedan featured a more plush interior trim and a wheelbase (and overall length) that was 4 inches longer than a regular Buick Super 4-door sedan. The Buick Super Riviera 4-door sedan was still an inch shorter in wheelbase and length than the larger Buick Roadmaster. Although designated as a Riviera, it was still a "B" pillared sedan.

First Buick 4 Door Hardtop

Starting in 1955 GM offered a four-door pillarless hardtop body style, and the "Riviera" designation was also applied to these models. The Riviera style was available on the Buick Roadmaster, Buick Super, Buick Century, and Buick Special. Because it was a body style and not a model the Riviera name did not usually appear on the car.

The last usage of the term "Riviera" to describe hardtops was in 1963, as the formal designation of the #4829 Electra 225 Riviera four-door hardtop. 1963 was the same year the Riviera would become a distinct car all by itself.

The Riviera as a Unique Car

On October 4 1962 Buick presented it's newest addition to it's stable of cars, the Riviera, as a 1963 model. It would run continously through the years and would remain until 1999.

As a full-size coupe it has always been considered a "Personal Luxury" car. It was targeted as a direct competitor to the Ford Thunderbird. The early models of the Riviera were praised by automotive journalists and writers as one of the best new innovations in many years.

Base price was $4,333, although typical delivered prices with options ran upwards of $5,000. Production was deliberately limited to 40,000 to increase demand during this first year.

With a total production of 1,127,261 vehicles, the Buick Riviera ended it's 36 year run in 1999.

The Riviera Generations:

  • 1963-1965 1st Generation
  • 1966-1970 2nd Generation
  • 1971-1973 3rd Generation
  • 1974-1976 4th Generation
  • 1977-1978 5th Generation
  • 1979-1985 6th Generation
  • 1986-1993 7th Generation
  • 1994-1999 8th Generation

First gen: 1963-1965 The Classics

When the production Riviera came on line, it was unusual because it had no equivalent body style with other G.M. models. It was a unique body style all of it's own and would remain so for many years. It rode on a cruciform frame similar to the standard Buick frame, but was shorter and narrower, with a 2.0 in narrower track. Its wheelbase of 117 in and overall length of 208 in were 6.0 inches and 7.7 in shorter, respectively, than a Buick LeSabre but slightly longer than the contemporary Thunderbird, it's primary competition. Inside,it was a four person car with bucket seats front and rear and a center console.

At 4190 lb , it was about 200 lb lighter than both the LeSabre and the T-Bird. It used the Buick 401 cu in. or 425 cu in. and the Twin Turbine automatic transmission. Brakes were Buick's standard "Al-Fin" (aluminum finned) drums of 12 in. diameter. Power steering was standard equipment, with an overall steering ratio of 20.5:1, giving 3.5 turns lock-to-lock.

The Riviera's suspension used the same basic design as standard Buicks, with double "A" frame control arms in the front, coil springs front and rear,and a live rear axle controlled by trailing arms with a lateral track bar, but the design roll center, both front and rear were raised to reduce body lean.

With it's lighter weight than the larger Buicks it's springs were designed to be slightly softer. This still enabled the Riviera to have a stif ride but it was still biased towards understeer to keep the rear under control. Of course with it's powerfull engine the rear could be made to break loose just by using the throttle.

Using the same engines as the larger Buicks and with less weight, the Riviera had great performance. It could do 0-60 mph in 8 seconds or less, the (standing) quarter mile in about 16 seconds, and a top speed of 115 mph, although 125 mph was attainable on a longer run. During everyday driving however, fuel economy was low at 13.2 mpg - U.S.

Inside, the Riviera featured a four-person cockpit with front bucket seats. A center console with floor shifter had a storage compartment built into the instrument panel, and bucket seats in the rear. Upholstery options were all-vinyl, cloth and vinyl, or optional leather.

1964 was the first year that the stylized "R" emblem was used as a logo for the Riviera, a trademark that would continue from then on to the end of the Riviera's 36-year production.

1965 offered the Gran Sport option, which included the dual-quad, dual exhaust Super Wildcat 425 V8, a lower (numerically higher) differential gear ratio at 3.42:1, and heavy-duty suspension. The 401 cu in remained the standard engine and the Super Turbine 400 tranny came with a variable pitch torque converter.

Body changes included headlamps that were behind clamshell doors in the leading edges of each fender where the parking and turn signals were before, the side scoops between the doors and rear wheel arches were gone, and the taillights were moved from the body into the rear bumper. A vinyl roof became an option, and the tilt steering wheel was now standard equipment.

Second gen: 1966-1970

The Riviera was a lot different in it's 2nd Generation style. It had a longer, wider, and more curvacious body that it shared with the Toronado and in 1967, with the Eldorado. The grille was divided vertically at the center, had thin vertical bars and had a shallow center "W" shape and the grille no longer included the parking lights but was separated by a painted indent in the fascia. The fenders extended past the center "V" by quite a lot and and housed the squarish but still rectangular parking/turn signal lights which were angled back toward the grille. It retained it's hidden headlights.

The rear sheet metal had the shallow "V" shaped "W" look as the front only it was directed towards the back. The fenders had a rear rake above the bumper and a forward rake from the bumper line to it's bottom. Divided by the recessed license plate area, the tailights would have have been full width, but that would have meant putting the license in the bumper. It turned out beautiful and the bumper looks great as it is.

The door vent windows were gone, which would eventually become an industry standard. Although the Toronado and the '67 Eldorado were FWD, the Riviera still had it's rear wheel drive layout. It was 200 pounds heavier than the 1st Gen, so acceleration was somewhat less than before.

One big change to the cockpit was the availability of the new "Strato" bench seat option with an armrest making the Riviera a six person car or the "Strato" bucket seats. You now had a choice of bucket seats or bench seats as standard equipment. The bucket seats could be had with either a short consolette or a full-length console with a "horseshoe" shaped floor shifter and storage compartment. Both the buckets and bench seats were available with a reclining seat option for the passenger's side.

In 1967, changes to the body only amounted to a change in the grille and front fascia. What was a shallow "V" in the center became more pronounced In addition,the grille now had a wide, full-width, centered horizontal chrome bar running across the width. Buick's new 430 cu in. 360 HP, 475 lb/ft torque engine replaced the 425 "nailhead". The new engine, with more power and torque, was a significant performance improvement. Gas mileage even improved a little with this engine, though not by a lot. Bendix four piston disc brakes became optional for the front wheels but most Rivieras would still be built with Buick's "Al-Fin" drums which were almost as good.

1968 models had reshaped front and rear loop-type bumpers that encased the vehicle's recessed crosshatch grille and tail lamps, respectively. The headlamps remained concealed, but they now rotated up above the grille when off. Outboard parking/turn signals and the grille were surrounded by the one piece bumper. Hidden wiper arms were installed and would become standard on almost all domestic cars in later years. The interior was restyled but the instrument panel suddenly became the same one used with the other large Buick cars. Mechanically there were few changes, but once again the transmission lost its variable pitch torque converter.

For 1969, minor styling changes took place. The grille now had finely-spaced, narrow vertical bars with two wide horizontal bars, The grille was divided vertically at the center, had thin vertical bars with two slightly larger width horizontal bars. which jutted forward at their inboard edges. The back-up lights were moved from the rear bumper into the new 3-section tail light lenses in the rear sheet metal.

The 1970 Riviera featured exposed headlamps and the new front bumper surrounded the new vertical bar grille, but at the bottom of the grille went under the outboard monted headlights. The rear wheel cut-outs came with standard skirts, but exposed wheels were an option. At the rear, a new rear bumper/taillight motif was seen. The engine was upgraded to 455 cu in, the largest engine Buick offered to date, rated at 370 horsepower gross, 245 hp net, and over 500 lb/ft of torque.

Third gen: 1971-1973 The "Boattails"

With the possible exception of the 1st Gen "Classics" the so called "Boattail" Rivieras are the most distinctive of all. They are some of the most admired and most unliked models of the Rivieras. The designers tried to incorporate the tear drop shaped fastback of the 1963 to 1965 Corvette Sting Ray with a large car. Looking at the rear from above, or any oblique angle from above, the rear straight on, or the rear profile, the designers pulled it off.

But when you look at the whole car including the whole profile, it just doesn't work together. If the front had a different profile and the belt line didn't slope down (a "notched" beltline reminiscent of the '50's) and then kick up in the rear it may have been a very beautiful profile.

NOTE: I hate the term "boattail" but it's there and has been for the last 40 years so I'm stuck with having to use it.

Fourth gen: 1974-1976

The "Love it or Hate it" boat-tail didn't last for this next Generation of Rivieras as well as its forward angled front sheet metal. The Riviera began to resemble the rest of the Buick cars.

Although it weighed in the same as before, its standard 455 engine lost more power, dropping to 210 HP for the standard and 245 HP for the Stage One engines. The Stage One was dropped for 1975, and the standard engine's output dipped to 205 SAE HP. at a curb weight of 4,572 lb,

The Big Block 455 would be around until 1978 when it was replaced by the Small Block Buick 350 and Oldsmobile 403 engines.

Fifth gen: 1977-1978

A big change came in 1977 when GM put the Riviera on the smaller "B" platform until the all-new FWD E-Bodies would be ready for 1979. While the other E-Bodies were front wheel drive since 1966 (1967 for Eldorado), the Buick E platform used a B-body undercarriage. All B-bodies were downsized for the 1977 model year which prompted the short-lived 1977/78 generation.

It was reduced to a wheelbase of 115.9 in, down 6.1 in, and an overall length of 218.2 in, down 4.8 in. Weight dropped to a little more than 3900 pounds. The 455 was replaced by the Over-Bore 350 cu in (5.7 L) Buick V8 engine with 155 hp or the Oldsmobile-built 403 cu in (6.60 L) with 185 hp. California models had a 170 hp Oldsmobile 350.

1977 and 1978 Rivieras are considered rare because of the low production numbers and the short two year production run.

Buick Riviera: 75th Anniversary Package

For 1978, 2,889 special "LXXV" edition vehicles were built to commemorate Buick's 75th anniversary. These special limited edition cars were painted in silver & black and the interior came in gray leather with black trim and brushed chrome. Deep pile carpeting and special LXXV name plates complimented all.