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Buick Riviera

Published: 8th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buick Riviera

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One of the most stylish and highly rated cars to be built in the USA during the 1960’s.

What is a Buick Riviera?

One of the most stylish and highly rated cars to be built in the USA during the 1960’s. The Riviera name was first used by Buick back in 1949, but this brand new designed top of the range Riviera with European styling influence was introduced in 1963 and proved an instant huge success. Available only as a two-door hardtop coupe the Riviera with its eggcrate style grille, low roof line and frameless side windows was an extremely imposing car, and a pretty large one too, measuring in at 17ft. 4-inlong and now less than 6ft plus wide! There was ample interior room for four adults and a good sized boot too. Powered by a 401ci V8 engine rated at 325bhp and a torque of 445lbft @ 2800rpm performance was exceptional fir its time, delivering a 0-60mph time of 6.9 seconds, and top speed of 125mph, though for braking you had to rely solely on drums all round! The wire wheel hubcap option served to increase the overall appeal of its razor edged lines.


The Riviera was masterminded by GM’s head of styling Bill Mitchell, which was originally intended to join the Cadillac range as a La Salle, but ended up at Buick, just at a time when their fortunes were rather inthe doldrums and as some competition to Ford’s Thunderbird which had been enjoying runaway success for years. Both models were marketed with a strong emphasis on personal-luxury car lifestyle. Featuring independent front suspension with wishbones and coil springs and a live axle and coil springs at the rear, with two or three-speed automatic transmission options, some 40,000 Rivieras sold in the first year and the clean design remained rightly mostly unchanged for 1963-1965. The more powerful 425ci V8 Wildcat engine was an option for 1964-1965 which for an additional $50 got you 360bhp along with a truly prodigious thirst for petrol as well! For 1965 the quad headlights became stacked in front of the wings and hidden away behind clamshell doors, while the tail lights became even further stretched horizontally and resided in the chrome bumper. The Gran Sport package for ’65 comprised of the 425ci engine TH400 automatic transmission, larger tyres and Posi- Traction rear axle with relatively tall 3.58:1 gearing. The Riviera was well received by the buying public and 112,244 were sold before the second generation arrived in 1966. Although now sporting a totally restyled body along similar lines of its prede-cessor, though incorporating a fastback, it inevitably got bigger and slightly heavier, the Riviera had lost none of its overall beauty and its popularity continued. At the front the headlights were back to being grille mounted, but still the ‘hide away’ variety behind electrically operated doors, a novel feature of the era, slightly predating the ‘pop up’ type. For 1967 the base engine for the Riviera was the 430ci V8 which was more refined than the 425ci. There were a few subtle changes to the model until 1970 when it underwent another major redesign, much to the detriment of everything that had gone before. With rear wheel arch skirts and a new front end with horizontal quad head lights again, it had grown in weight and looked gawky to say the least. Its 455ci V8 engine rated at 370bhp with the tree-pulling torque of 510lb could only muster around 12mpg on a good day. Yet despite this some 37,366 cars sold in 1970. What followed in 1973 could be deemed either stunning or simply awful, depending on your viewpoint. The Riviera appeared with boat-tailed styling to the rear that came to a point and a rear window something reminiscent of a midsixties Corvette Stingray. Love it or hate it, the boat-tailed Riviera made an exceptionally bold statement. Sales dropped to 33,810 and the Gran Sport model was powered by the 455ci V8 rated at 330bhp. This design continued up until 1974 when the Riviera underwent another restyle, but by now had long since lost the plot and sales dropped again to a lowly 20,129. While the model name continued for many more years, the concept and beauty of the first and second generation Rivieras had long gone, which was a shame as the car had initially been such a success.


The comfortable bucket style front seats are quite springy with the huge V shaped centre console being a dominant feature. The interior is definitely more European than American and conjours up images reminiscent of Jensen and Gordon Keeble. For what is ostensibly quite a large car that’s over 40 years old, the Riviera holds the road extremely well for a heavy two tonner Yank, and the power steering feels extremely light but not too lifeless. The Gran Sport package comprises of stiffened coil spring suspension which has lead to a much better handling car. However, go over a large bump in the road and there’s still the ‘bounce’ effect - it’s no sports car although. even in such a heavyweight, with a V8 engine, dual four-barrel carbs and 360bhp on tap, performance remains strong. The gearchanges from the TH400 automatic transmission are very smooth, it’s the same ‘box as used by Rolls-Royce. There’s no getting away from the fact that still fitted with fade-away drums all round, braking is definitely not one of the Rivieras most redeeming features, so don’t expect too much from them! Nowadays front disc conversion kits are available, so if you plan to drive your car on a regular basis and cover many, hard miles, they are worth considering


Entry level for a 1964/65 Riviera in running order, but requiring further work would be around £7000 - £8000. A car in fine condition and having undergone some restorative work and free from and significant faults, though may still require a little tidying and detailing would be £11,000 - £12,000. Concours cars will be in the £25,000 - £30,000 price range, some may fetch even more - so budget well.

What To Look For

  • Originally built to a very high standard, the Rivieras bodywork has stood the test of time quite well, and the normal areas to check for rot are at the bottom of the rear quarter panels, wheel arches, the front wings just below the stacked headlamps, floorpans, and suspension mounts.
  • Other places susceptible to rust are at the front of the car where the wings butt up against the panel below the grille. Water can also sit under the brightwork trim that runs along the bottom of the side windows that can eventually leads to rusting and bubbling paintwork.
  • Another area to check for water ingress is around the brightwork trim of the rear window, which can sometimes result in rusting around the lower roof pillar, and rotting out the rear parcel shelf. By now most shelves have seen better days and replacements made from GFRP are available.
  • Fortunately front wings, bootlids and doors are still available, but bonnets are more scarce and can prove difficult to source.Make sure that the chrome brightwork is in good order as those huge bumpers will be extremely expensive to rechrome.
  • Those huge and lazy V8 engines enjoy excellent longevity provided they have been properly serviced, so check for obvious rattles, excess smoking and signs of neglect. Ditto check the auto trans and power steering fluids; if okay they should be clean and not brown in colour (or smell burnt) - other than that these components are rugged and long lasting.
  • Ensure that the electric hideaway headlight clamshell doors are fully functional. These are operated by rods from an electric motor positioned behind the bumper and can be temperamental if the rods are not kept well lubricated and the motor can burn out. When the motor fails, owners tend to lock the doors in the open position so they can still use the headlights. Rebuilt motors are available but they are expensive to replace.
  • A novel feature is the interior boot release control which is found in the glove compartment that works by vacuum. If it’s not working, check to see if the rubber hose is leaking or has come loose.
  • The long thin horn bar located on the spokes of the steering wheel can snap with age and only work towards the centre of the boss, depending on where it has broken.
  • The thin rimmed steering wheel may look to be wooden, but it’s actually resin made to look like wood. If cracked these are available via various sources including eBay, though can be quite expensive to replace.
  • Interior trim is fairly hard wearing, but it’s reassuring to know that there’s many reproduction parts now readily available, and right now the exchange rates are very favourable so splash out while you can.
  • The Deluxe interior on the 1965 Gran Sport has a four-way electric seat adjustment and electric windows, so it’s worth making sure these are still operational; many are not.


Definitely a well built and seriously stylish coupe from the 1960’s that has lots of luxury features, excellent comfort and performance, lots of room inside and plenty of space for luggage in the boot. The cost of petrol is always going to be a huge outlay, and an important issue to consider, but on a limited summer mileage hopefully it shouldn’t break the bank. So buy this interesting alternative to a common Mustang now before it gets too simply expensive to consider?

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