In ’58, so the story goes, GM’s design supremo Bill Mitchell was entranced by a Rolls-Royce he saw hissing past a London hotel. “What we want,” said Mitchell, “is a cross between a Ferrari and a Rolls.” By August 1960, he’d turned his vision into a full-size clay mock-up. One of the world’s most handsome cars, the original ’63 Riviera locked horns with Ford’s T-Bird and was GM’s attempt at a “Great New American Classic Car.”
And it worked. Separate and elegant, the Riv was a clever amalgam of razor edges and chaste curves, embellished by just the right amount of chrome. Beneath the exquisite lines was a cross-member frame, a 401cid V8, power brakes, and a two-speed Turbine Drive tranny. In the interests of exclusivity, Buick agreed that only 40,000 would be made each year. With ravishing looks, prodigious performance, and the classiest image in town, the Riv ranks as one of Detroit’s finest confections.
The Riv was America’s answer to the Bentley Continental, and pandered to Ivy League America’s obsession with aristocratic European thoroughbreds like Aston Martin, Maserati, and Jaguar.
The fender line predated the R.R. Silver Shadow by three years.
Superbly understated, razor-edged styling made for a clean, crisplooking machine.
Relatively compact, the Riviera was considerably shorter and lighter than other big Buicks.
One optional extra was a remote-controlled trunk lid, which was pretty neat for ’64.
Hefty rear pillars made for tricky blind spots.
Optional whitewalls and Formula Five chrome-look steel wheels made a cute car even cuter.
CLASSIC RIV FRONT
’63 and ’64 Rivs have classic exposed double headlights. For reasons best known to itself, Buick gave ’65 cars headlights that were hidden behind electrically-operated, clam-shell doors.
The grille was inspired by the Ferrari 250GT.
’64s had a 425cid Wildcat V8 that could be tickled up to 360 horses, courtesy of dual four-barrels. Car Life magazine tested a ’64 Riv with the Wildcat unit and stomped to 60 mph (96 km/h) in a scintillating 7.7 seconds.
Buick sold the tooling for the old 401 to Rover, who used it to great success on its Range Rover.
’65 saw a Gran Sport option with 360 bhp mill, limited slip diff, and “Giro-Poise” roll control.
The purposeful W-section front could have come straight out of an Italian styling house. The classy Riviera soon became the American Jaguar.
High-rolling price of $4,333 was actually $153 cheaper than Ford’s T-Bird.
The sumptuous Riv was a full four-seater, with the rear seat divided to look like buckets. The dominant V-shaped center console mushroomed from between the front seats to blend into the dashboard. The car’s interior has a European ambience that was quite uncharacteristic for the period.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Buick Riviera (1964)
PRODUCTION 37,958 (1964)
BODY STYLE Two-door hardtop coupe.
CONSTRUCTION Steel body and chassis.
ENGINE 425cid V8
POWER OUTPUT 340–360 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Two- or three-speed automatic.
SUSPENSION Front and rear coil springs.
BRAKES Front and rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 120–125 mph (193–201 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 8 sec
A.F.C. 12–16 mpg (4.2–5.7 km/l)