Welcome to the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage, a regular feature which aims to expand the notion of what a muscle car is, and to learn about different cars while doing so. Buick has been known as the car that many people bought if they wanted the luxury of a Cadillac without the ostentation. It was the consummate “Doctor’s Car,” if you will. Something happened to Buick during the late 50′s and early 60′s though–it took on a car that Cadillac rejected as being too radical for the brand, and created a new category. Let’s take a look at the beautiful 1963-65 Buick Riviera, and see if it can be classified as Muscle…
The name Riviera was used as a sub-model other model names, mostly to differentiate “pillar-less” hardtop coupes and sedans until 1963, when it finally became its own model. The executives at Buick were paying close attention to the personal luxury car with the introduction of the Ford Thunderbird. The Thunderbird did really well at targeting a unique niche; its two-door sporty performance was similar to that of a Corvette or a Jaguar E-Type, but not to the extreme. When the T-Bird morphed into a 4-passenger coupe in 1958, it married both comfort and performance into a package that was highly sought after by the American public.
It was GM’s styling chief, Bill Mitchell, after having visited London and being captivated by the Rolls-Royce custom-bodied machines, who decided that a new type of personal luxury car from GM should be able to encompass both elegance and performance. Stylist Ned Nickles was tasked with creating this union, and it was adapted to a shortened cruciform frame. The first prototypes took the name LaSalle II, proposed as a companion make under Cadillac. When Cadillac rejected the idea, Buick was more than happy to grab it. There were only a few differences from the prototype version and the production versions. The most visual were the forgoing of the hidden headlights in an effort to keep costs reasonable.
This vehicle was unique; it did not share its body with any other GM product. It rode on a wheelbase that measured just 117-inches and had a length of 208-inches. Mounted under the elegant hood was a Buick V8 Nailhead engine that displaced 401 cubic-inches, mated to a Twin Turbine automatic gearbox. A 425 Buick V8 Nailhead engine was also available for those looking for slightly more performance. Aluminum-finned drum brakes were standard, as was the power steering, bucket seats, center console, and floor shifter. Popular options at the time were cruise control, power windows, power seats, AM/FM radio, wire wheel covers, air conditioning, and tilt steering wheel. Other options, such as leather, were offered but not that popular. Buick discontinued the leather option after 1963.
On October 4th of 1962, Buick introduced their Riviera as a 1963 model. It carried a base price of just over $4,330 with most customers adding optional equipment and driving the price into the $5,000 range. Production was limited to just 40,000 units. There were few competitors in the market at that time, but compared with its closest rival, the Ford Thunderbird, the Buick seemed much more modern. It had luxury, low weight, superior performance, and a unique sense of style. Motor Trend traveled from zero-to-sixty in eight seconds and reached the vehicles top speed at 115 mph. The large V8 engines did not help the vehicle’s gas mileage, which was about 14 mpg.
The Riviera’s second year of production saw little changes. The ‘R’ emblem now appeared on the Riviera and would stay there for the next thirty-six years of production. The most dramatic change was with the gearbox, which saw the Twin Turbine replaced for a three-speed Super Turbine 400, also known as the Turbo Hydra-Matic. The 401 engine was no longer available; in its place was the 425 cubic-inch unit which offered 340 horsepower. A second engine was available, the Super Wildcat, which used dual Carter AFB four-barrel carburetors which boosted the horsepower rating to 360.
For 1965 Buick introduced the Gran Sport which came standard with the Super Wildcat V8 engine, a 3.42 axle ratio, upgraded suspension, and dual exhausts. Styling changes for 1965 included the hidden headlamps per the original design. The scoops located behind the doors and rear wheel arches were removed. With the removal of the rear air scoops, and the hiding the headlamps as well as the taillights–they were now incorporated into the bumper–the Rivera was arguably one of the best looking car available. Tilt steering was now standard and a black vinyl roof was added to the list of options.
Production of the first generation of the Riviera lasted from 1963 through 1965 with a total of 112,244 units produced. 40,000 were produced the first year, 37,958 in the second, and 34,586 for 1965. Though production began to slow a little by the third year, sales were still relatively strong, especially considering the competition. Because of the success of the Riviera, new competition was just around the corner, and most of it was from General Motors itself. 1966 saw the dawn of the magnificent Oldsmobile Toronado; in 1967, The Cadillac Eldorado made its debut; and even Pontiac reintroduced a totally unique Grand Prix in 1968. At the dawn of the 70′s, a new expanded market took off, thanks in large part to the Buick Riviera.
Now comes the time for you to tell me if I’m off the wall with this choice. Is the 1963-1965 Buick Riviera, a car that is a true definition of a 1960′s personal luxury coupe, an Obscure Muscle Car, and does it belong in the Garage? Or, is this just a Luxury Coupe that is meant to be used for lazy crusin’ and could never be thought of as Muscle? Let your voices be heard.
Please Note: All Images are screen grabs from around the web. If you want credit for any image, please let me know in the comments section. Thank You!