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General Motors was the great prognosticator of the personal coupe, forecasting the need for stylish, comfortable cars for a new generation of post-war professionals who were spending more and more time commuting from the ever-expanding suburbs.
The car that would become the Buick Riviera was the brainchild of legendary GM styling director Bill Mitchell and originally took the form of the Cadillac XP-715 concept vehicle in 1960. Cadillac took a pass on it and eventually Buick made a case that it fit within its near-luxury portfolio. With its long, low and lean design, the Riviera was hailed as an instant classic. It was a unique vehicle that didn’t share exterior components with other models, although it was built on Buick’s standard “cruciform” frame.
There have been eight generations of the Riviera, with the last bowing out of Buick’s lineup after 1999. Original Parts Group Inc. (OPGI) has the industry’s largest and most complete range of restoration parts and accessories for the first four generations – 1963-76 – that comprise the Riv’s classic era. From engine, transmission and exhaust components to the body panels, brightwork and interior trim needed to renew your Riviera to showroom condition, our comprehensive catalog has it all – and we’re added new parts all the time!
The 1963 Riviera set the mark for personal coupes with a 2+2 layout and a host of available luxury touches, including leather upholstery and real walnut wood interior trim. The car launched with the 325-hp Nailhead 401-cid engine and Turbine Drive two-speed automatic and proved to be an immediate success with 40,000 sold in its inaugural year. Perhaps the most iconic Riviera design debuted in 1965 with its hidden headlamps, giving the car a wider, sleeker and more advanced appearance. It was also the first year for the performance-oriented Gran Sport model.
Somewhat a victim of its success, the GM brands that originally shunned the Riviera concept wanted their own, so the basic body structure was redesigned in 1966 to accommodate the ’66 Olds Toronado and ’67 Cadillac Eldorado – cars with front-wheel drive. The rear-drive Riv was still built on the cruciform platform, but was wider, longer and heavier.
In 1967 a new 430-cid V-8 with 475 lb.-ft. of torque replaced the vintage Nailhead 425, while in 1968 an all-new nose was designed, helping the car set a new sales record of more than 49,200. However, the Riv’s signature hidden headlamps were replaced by a conventional front-end redesign in 1970, along with rear fender skirts that gave the car a heavier, more ponderous look. A new 455 engine with more than 500 lb.-ft. of torque offset the visual weight, but customers balked at the styling and sales skidded.
Enter the Boat-Tail
The 1971 third-gen Riviera was another landmark design – make that land yacht design – from Bill Mitchell’s design studio. A V-shaped, fast-raked motif carried through the rear window and culminated at a point at the edge of the deck lid. The car’s nose was slanted forward, too, for a totally unique look. The overall profile led to this generation’s nickname as the “boat-tail” Riviera. An early form of traction control, called Max Trac, debuted too.
A fourth-generation Riviera launched in 1972 and was based on the third-gen platform, but with new bodywork that lost the distinctive boat-tail styling, which had been blamed for the car’s precipitous drop in sales. A more formal appearance was crafted, with prominent, regulation-minded bumpers and a changeover from the sportier hardtop design to a coupe with B- and C-pillars. Also gone was the Max Trac feature, but another innovative safety system debuted: air bags. GM’s all-new Air Cushion Restraint System was optional on some Olds, Cadillac and Buick models through 1976 and only a few hundred Riviera customers selected it in those years.
Quad rectangular headlamps, which were sweeping the industry, found their way onto the ’75 Riv, along with a revised grille. In 1976, its final year for the generation, the Riviera was altered only slightly with a revised, crosshatch-style grille design. The 455 engine remained, with a respectable 345 lb.-ft. of torque, closing out the classic era of this distinctive personal coupe.