(Image of a 1966 Buick Wildcat)
The origins of the Buick Riviera started in 1959, when GM designer Ned Nickles created some sketches of a new vehicle that stylist Bill Mitchell envisioned. Bill said he got the idea when he was in London, and saw an elegant Rolls Royce in the fog. He took the idea and added some "knife-edged" style, lowered the profile, and added some power for performance.
Mitchell wanted to name the new model the Cadillac LaSalle, but Cadillac did not need a new model. Nickles was involved in designing many GM vehicles, including Buick's first pillarless hardtop, the 1949 Roadmaster Riviera. The new Riviera started out in the styling studio, and after it was chosen as a model to be produced, it moved to the engineering department. This created some problems, as we will soon see.
Buick Riviera cars for sale
GM needed a model to compete against the new Ford Thunderbird, which was a big hit when it was released in 1958. Cadillac and Chevrolet were doing well, so Buick, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile battled for the rights to build the new model. Buick won out because of its low sales figures, and they had to agree not to make any changes to the design. The new project was titled "XP-715", and was awarded to Buick in April, 1961. The model name Riviera was chosen over others such as the Centurion and Drake.
The original drawings had hidden headlights behind the fender grilles, but because of the unconventional track from the styling to engineering areas, there was not enough time to engineer a way to produce this economically. At the end, the headlights were placed onto the grille itself. Unlike most models of this time, Buick shied away from using too much chrome. The Buick Riviera would soon become the flagship model of Buick, and continue for 3+ decades.
The Buick Riviera debuted on October 4th, 1962 as a 1963 model, with plans to only produce up to 40,000 models to keep demand high. Buick reached 40,000 sold that first year. Although this was built as a luxury type vehicle, it was no slouch in the performance department. Engine choices were a 401 or 425 V8, and 0-60 seconds could be achieved at around 8 seconds.
1964 had minimal changes, such as the Turbo Hydramatic replacing the Twin Turbine transmission, and some trim changes. The 401 engine was dropped, and the 425 could be teamed with another 4 barrel carburetor for an extra 20 horsepower. 1965 had a GS, or Gran Sport option, and more minor tweaking of the exterior and trim. 1963 through 1965 is considered the first generation of Buick Riviera's.
The 2nd generation ran from 1966 to 1970. Buick completely redesigned the Riviera, moving the headlights behind the grille, where they moved up above the grille when not being used, and had a longer body. The hood was extended, and the rear styling was similar to a fastback design. The engine remained the same in 1966, and the added 200 pounds of the new design hindered the performance of the 1966 Riviera.
The only change for 1967 was the use of new engines. The old 425 ci Nailhead engines were replaced with the newly designed 430 ci. 1968 and 1969 models had a reshaped nose, and 1969 sales were the highest for any model year of the Riviera, at 52,872. The 1970 model was restyled with headlamps that were exposed for the first time, and rear fender skirts. Although the 1970 Riviera new standard engine was the 455 ci, ¼ mile times actually went up due to the increased weight of the model. Sales plummeted in 1970, and the new redesign was not very popular with most customers and Riviera fans.
Boat Tail Design
The third generation of Buick Riviera's started out with quite an odd look. The rear end, including the rear window, was shaped with a flowing curve, nicknamed the "boat tail". This was a knock off of the 1963 Corvette Stingray fastback rear window, except it was on a rather larger body frame. The design was originally supposed to be on the smaller GM "A" platform, but instead it was built on the larger "B" body, giving what many said were really odd looks. Even the designers and engineers have admitted the look was not what they planned or wanted. The boat tail design was used through 1973, and each year the design got wider, making the speedboat look like a tugboat, to quote Bill Mitchell.