The Buick Riviera began life as a premium version of Buick Roadmaster back in 1949. But by the late 1950′s the success of the Ford Thunderbird made GM think that there mght be some money to be made in the Personal Luxury Car. So GM began work on a Thunderbird fighter and commissioned that 2-door 4-passenger premium car be developed. It was intended to be manufactured by Cadillac, but Cadillac was satisfied with its current lineup and rejected the car. The other GM divisions each tried to get that car for their own. Buick was the lucky winner and the Riviera, as a separate model was born.
1963 Buick Riviera
The 1963 Riviera shared its bodyshell with no other GM model, which is hard to believe considering the badge engineering that GM did in the 19070s and 1980s. The Riviera rode a cruciform frame similar to the standard Buicks, but with a 2.0 in narrower track. The wheelbase was 117 in with an overall length of 208 in. The Riviera was 6.0 inches shorter in wheelbase than a Buick LeSabre and 7.7 in shorter overall. However, it was slightly longer than the Ford Thunderbird. The Riviera tipped the scales at 3,998 lb. It shared the standard Buick V8 engines, with a displacement of either 401 or 425 cubic inch, and a unique continuously-variable design Twin Turbine automatic transmission. It has standard power brakes which used Buick’s massive “Al-Fin” (aluminum finned) drums of 12 in diameter. Also standard was power steering, 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 wishbones front and a live axle located by trailing arms and a lateral track bar, but the roll centers were raised to reduce body lean. The coil springs were slightly softer than other Buicks, but with the lighter overall weight, the Riviera had a firmer ride than the standard Buicks. Although still biased towards understeer, the Riviera was considered one of the most roadable American cars, with an excellent balance of comfort and agility.
Inside, the Riviera featured a four-seat cabin with front bucket seats separated by a center console with a floor shifter and storage compartment that was built into the instrument panel, and bucket-style seats in the rear. Upholstery was standard all-vinyl or cloth and vinyl. Leather seating was optional. The optional deluxe interior included real walnut inserts on the doors and below the rear side windows. Popular extra-cost options included a tilt steering wheel, power windows, power driver’s seat, air conditioning, a remote-control side view mirror, and white sidewall tires.
1964 Buick Riviera
With its success in 1963, the 1964 Riviera continued with minimal trim changes. The leather upholstery was discontinued from the option list, a new three-speed Super Turbine 400 transmission was available. The stylized Riviera “R” emblem was introduced on the Riviera, a trademark that would continue throughout the remainder of Riviera’s 36-year production run. Under the hood, the 401 cubic inch was dropped as the standard power plant in favor of the previously optional 340 hp 425 cu in V8. A ‘Super Wildcat’ version was optionally available, with dual Carter AFB four-barrel carburetors, rated at 360 hp.
1965 Buick Riviera
A Gran Sport option was introduced in 1965, which included included the dual-quad Super Wildcat 425 V8, a numerically higher 3.42 axle ratio, and stiffer, heavy-duty suspension. Other changes included increasing the stock dual exhaust pipes from 2.0 inches to 2.25 inches inside diameter. The 401 cu in (6.6 L) V8 returned as the standard Riviera engine and the Super Turbine 400 transmission now had a variable pitch torque converter like the old Twin Turbine Dynaflow had two years before. Changes to the exterior included concealed headlamps behind clamshell doors in the leading edges of each fender, as in the original design. The non-functional side scoops between the doors and rear wheel arches were removed. The taillights were moved from the body into the rear bumper. A vinyl roof became available as an option, initially offered only in black, and the tilt steering wheel optional in previous years was now standard equipment.
The Riviera would be all new in 1966. Combined sales for the first generation Riviera was 112,244, not bad for a niche car. This generation of the Riviera was extremely well received and considered a great success, giving the Thunderbird its first real competition. It is considered a styling landmark, and is quite collectible today.
To read about another Buick see our post on the 1982-1987 Buick T-Type, Grand National and GNX.
For other classic personal luxury cars, see our post on the 1969-1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III.