So here it is. After nineteen articles and a few hundred cars profiled, I’m declaring this to be my favorite of all the vehicles I saw in January in Scottsdale at three auctions: a 1966 Buick Riviera GS. I would not necessarily expect anyone who is not me and wasn’t there to agree as it’s entirely based on my particular tastes and experience there. I’ll try to explain why this car captured my attention so intently.
As a car enthusiast, I can appreciate all sorts of cars from most every maker and every era. Though an equal opportunity car lover, the sweet spot for me for as long as I can remember has been Buick. Perhaps it was the influence of my beloved great uncle who always drove Buicks. I’ve always liked the styling and premium-without-being-extravagant vibe, and at least in their golden era, ample power. Four of my couple dozen cars over the years have been from Flint, though sadly none of them Rivieras.
Buick’s personal luxury cruiser has been a favorite of mine. I can honestly say that I like every generation except the last, even the unloved ’74-’76 and ’86-’93. Of course, examples from the first ten years are much preferred. I wouldn’t argue against the first gen being the most attractive, but I’ve always thought the second gen was just a masterful design. Interiors, while not quite as gorgeous, are still unique and sixtiestastic. Engines were very competitive during the height of the horsepower wars. This Riviera exemplifies what GM did best in its most prosperous and dominant era: it was beautiful, fast, comfortable and generally well engineered and built. It was big and bold, but every square inch tasteful. Paul also wrote a very appreciative CC several years ago on the ’66 Riviera.
Unlike in 1963-65, the ’66 Riviera was only available with one engine: the previously optional 340hp “Wildcat 465” 425cid nailhead. Buick dropped the dual carb 425cid “Super Wildcat” for the nailhead’s last year. However, they did sell the parts through dealers, who could then install them. Buick also put 179 Super Wildcats in Riviera GS’s late in the model year, even though they weren’t in the catalog. This car does not have one of those, but is one of the 5,539 (out of 45,348) Rivieras with the GS option and standard engine.
The GS option was even less consequential for this year. They had a chrome air cleaner, aluminum rocker covers, specially calibrated version of the Super Turbine 400 transmission, limited slip 3.42:1 differential, heavy duty springs and shock absorbers, white or red line tires and GS emblems. A faster 15:1 steering ratio was also optional only on GS’s.
Buick’s consistency was shown by offering a GS package on Rivieras through 1975, well into the malaise and brougham eras.
The car’s owner was present, and he let me take a shot of the interior. When I opened the door, I was hit with the Scent of the Sixties. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. It’s an aroma, I assume of period vinyl, that I’ve smelled from time to time when I peer in an open window of an immaculate car of that era or a few times when I’ve been able to sit in them, particularly when I was a kid in the ’70’s/’80’s and original cars from the ’60’s and early ’70’s were still seen around occasionally. I suspect it’s more present on cars with original upholstery. One reason I love old cars is my tendency towards nostalgia for past eras, even ones before I was born (like the ’60’s). Smells can be emotionally powerful and that one takes me to a different time and a very nice place in my mind.
The interior is rather understated, especially when compared to Thunderbirds and earlier Rivieras. Bucket seats were a no-cost option, but a center console with shifter was extra-cost, which didn’t flow into the dash like before. The speedometer is drum style, like the Toronado’s, and unlike other full size Buicks, a full compliment of gauges is provided. This one has the optional Strato-notchback bench, wood steering wheel and air conditioning, since it was originally from Florida.
Chrome wheels were optional, though it seems most ’60’s/’70’s vintage Buicks you see these days have them. That’s certainly not a bad thing, as they are some of the best looking wheels anywhere. So good looking, in fact, that the division kept them available on their rear wheel drive cars until they went all FWD in the mid-’80’s. Here’s a trivia question for the CC scholars out there: what was the last year Buick offered this style of wheel?
Finned aluminum brake drums are visible through the front wheel slots. These 12 inch drums were steel lined, and the rears were just steel. The early Toronado and Eldorado are infamous for having barely adequate brakes (a topic covered on CC), but I have not heard that about the Riviera so much. Was this because it was rear wheel drive? The first generation Rivs were considered to have quite good brakes for being an all drum system, having 197 square inches of swept area and aluminum drums. The new 1966 model was down to 193 with about 200lbs more weight to stop. Front disc brakes would be optional for 1967 but not standard until 1971.
My favorite cars to see are unrestored originals that have managed to come down the years to us in great condition through unlikely combinations of light use, good care, ideal storage or favorable geography. It never ceases to amaze me when I see a beautiful survivor. Restored cars are great, too, don’t get me wrong, I just love the originals which are relatively rare, even in Scottsdale. They are like a direct connection to the past. While not sporting hallmarks of superhero originality like paint and tires, this Riviera is a 15,000 mile mostly original creampuff (that you could actually drive some without feeling bad!).
Something else I love about this car is the color. It’s unusual and attractive and I’m not sure I’ve seen another example in person. This car has been repainted in the original Riviera Red Poly, one of six unique Riviera hues and fifteen total available. Unbelievable from a modern perspective is the ten interior choices, which dictated the color of nearly every interior surface.
Here’s the brochure page (from OldCarBrochures.com) for the Riviera GS. The woman in the picture doesn’t seem concerned, probably because this car is so capable and distractingly beautiful that being stuck on a rock in the middle of a rising tide is no reason to worry.
I estimate I had about 2,700 vehicles pass before my eyes in Scottsdale. I’ve spent the last several months writing gushing articles on many of the great cars I saw. It may seem a bit implausible that I could pick one favorite, but looking at this car on my last day (then going back and looking some more) there was no doubt in my mind that this was the car: it was simply breathtaking for me.
Surprisingly, this car was at Silver, the most humble and modest of the Scottsdale auctions. The event is actually at a casino on the Ft. McDowell Indian Reservation outside Scottsdale, set apart geographically and attitudinally from the more famous events. Average sale price was $17,620, versus $38,197 at Russo and Steele and $65,692 at Barrett-Jackson. They had some really cool cars there, though, including some not likely to be seen elsewhere in Scottsdale. As I’ve stated before, the auction has not made results available, so unfortunately I don’t know if this fine car found a new home. If so, I hope it is a good one that will treat it with the loving care it deserves.
So this is it for my series on cars I saw during my trip to Scottsdale this year. What I figured would be a handful of articles over a couple of months turned into twenty articles and nine months worth of writing, as I had time. A large car event can be a bit overwhelming and you find yourself desensitized to amazing cars. A car you would normally ooo and aah over if seen on its own can lose its impact when surrounded by tons of other great cars. Going back and revisiting my favorite finds and considering them individually has been fun. The process of picking cars, researching them, then writing about what makes these cars great has been rewarding. It turned three days of entertainment into an educational experience!
If you missed any of them, here are all the articles: