(first posted 4/13/2015) Westbound afternoon rush hour traffic on Jackson Blvd. in the Loop can move very slowly. The glacial pace of traffic enabled me to catch up to this glacier-blue 1969 Buick Riviera as it glided slowly forward. It looked like royalty among the nondescript boxes inching along next to it. This car’s a star.
Model year 1968 was likely the year many fans of the Buick Riviera (and related Oldsmobile Toronado) probably said, “Dang it.” Compared to the suave and swoopy 1966 & ’67 models, the frontal styling of the 1968 & ’69 Rivieras looks almost Muppet-esque when their headlamps are exposed. I can’t be the only one who sees closely-set eyes flanking a prominent beak when looking at the front of this car.
Buyers clearly liked it, though, with the ’69 models racking up 52,872 sales – a high-water mark that remained unsurpassed until ’84, when 57,863 were sold, all-up. Only the ’85s sold in bigger numbers than these two model years, with Buick moving 65,305 units prior to the big shrink of ’86. (Production figures are courtesy of the Encyclopedia of American Cars from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide.) Even with its slightly cartoonish face, this car has a regal quality amid the surrounding traffic – not unlike an aging-but-still-gorgeous film star among the sidewalk shoppers and tourists on Michigan Avenue. I could only imagine the quiet purr of the Buick 430 c.i. V8 burbling as this car idled slowly forward against the sonic backdrop of the Loop.
I always wonder what it’s like to drive a car this large in city traffic, especially in a place like Chicago. Streets in the Loop are almost exclusively one-way, and there are areas of Lake Shore Drive off Lake Michigan with lanes that seem narrow even for a Toyota Camry or Ford Fusion taxi cab, let alone a full-figured beauty like this Riv. The pretty gals piloting this car, however, seemed completely at ease (save for noticing the lunatic on the sidewalk following them and snapping pictures). There’s a certain knowing look of acknowledgement from one car enthusiast to another – a look that says, “You get it”, and we did exchange those glances. (Or maybe their glances were asking, “Are you done with the pictures yet?” It was hard to tell in the midst of my enthusiasm.)
I’ve always been partial to the Buick variant of GM’s E-Body platform, as many were built in my hometown of Flint, Michigan, also the former home of Buick World Headquarters. As such, the Riviera was our halo car – the one of which many of us were the most proud. True automotive royalty. If it had been a possibility, I’d have loved to get this star car’s autograph, if only to pay it some reverence.
Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Thursday, June 13, 2013.