Car number two on my “Great 28” lags infinitesimally behind my favored Continental, and in some ways outpaces it, largely because of its relative attainability. Alas, my window of opportunity has nearly closed, leaving a pinpoint of light at the end of a Buick-shaped tunnel. People have, unfortunately, finally come to the realization that the early Riviera is what I’ve known it to be all along, one of the most beautiful American cars of the postwar era and a dazzling collectible.
It’s not that I’ve circled the sun 37 times without ever being in just the right position to purchase my dream vehicle. I’ve test driven and examined four early Rivs over the last 14 years, each example more expensive than the last, each seeming just a little too time-worn to shell out anywhere near the asking price. The last one I stupidly turned down was a green-on-green ’65 with little rust, mediocre paint, ancient tires, and non-working headlamps for nine and a half grand. I should have pulled the trigger, because even today, less than two years later, that price seems cheap.
It may be that owning a Riviera just isn’t in the cards for me. That in no way extinguishes the discernible pangs of desire every time I see one, especially a ’63. Silver-on-silver. This one closely replicates my dream Riviera. I prefer the base wheelcovers over wires, and a silver interior is so out-of-this-world that I can’t help but fancy it over the seemingly more garden-variety black decor.
Over the years, I’ve taught myself to differentiate a ’63 versus a ’64: the ’63 (as pictured above) has block Buick lettering on the trunklid, as compared to a Riviera script on the ’64s (see baby blue example above); and the ’64 has a hood ornament where none exists on the ’63. Mechanically, the ’63 is 401-propelled (425 optional) through the last of the Dynaflows, whereas the ’64 ushered in the first of the Super-Turbine 400s anchored to the rear of a standard 425 Nailhead.
Of course, the ST400 ameliorates a Riviera “Achilles’ Heel” in some respects, as the Dynaflow was arguably less responsive (albeit much improved over earlier models, including the one under the transmission tunnel of my ’53 Special). For some reason, however, my heart lies with the ’63.
Strangely enough, given my screen name and my penchant for purchasing almost anything from the 1965 model year, the ’65 Riv is my least favorite of the first-generation trifecta. Most likely, I’m in the minority in that opinion, as the hidden headlights, uncluttered quarter panels, and more elegantly integrated rear bumper certainly tidied up the original.
Additionally, ’65 was the first year for the Gran Sport (the Riviera with muscles on its muscles, according to the ads) and its dual-quad 425, perhaps the most attractive and sporting Riviera ever built. In Midnight Blue, a case could be made that it’s among the most attractive GM cars of all time, a litany that includes scores of beautiful pieces of Americana. Under the hood, the 401 curiously became, again, the standard engine for Rivieras in ’65, Gran Sports notwithstanding.
Like most American cars, the Riviera began to slowly lose its original initiative after the ’65 models faded from dealer lots. The ’66-’69 Rivs were still spectacularly attractive, but they were larger and less “European.” Bench seats became more common, and Rivieras evolved into typical American plushmobiles, slightly miniaturized Electras. Styling was still the Riv’s calling card all the way through the last of the “Boattail” ’73s, but with each generation, the car became marginally less special, marginally less a flagship.
But that doesn’t diminish the impact of the sensational original Riviera. While I may forever continue my search in futility for the Riviera that’s right for me, I will always stop in my tracks in the presence of Buick’s inarguable masterpiece.
My #3 car is any Buick Hardtop or Convertible from the 1949 through 1953 model years, but especially ’49 and ’53. I think I covered this car reasonably already with my COAL regarding my ’53 Special.