COAL: 1982 Buick Riviera

(Today’s COAL was kindly submitted by Charley Connolly)

When I was 24-years old I met the woman I would marry. At the time I was driving this 1982 Buick Riviera, a car to this day she chides me about calling it an “Old Man’s Car”. Much to my delight, the other night we watched “La La Land” on Netflix and Ryan Gossling’s character, “Sebastian” drives a 1982 Buick Riviera.

Sebastian’s Riviera was a convertible while mine was a hard top but seeing one of the leads in a big Hollywood movie driving the same year, make and model of car I once did was, through my foggy goggles, vindicating. And it was delicious.

I bought my Riviera in January of 1988 after I wrecked my 1975 Chrysler Cordoba on an icy morning just after Christmas. I really wanted a Camaro, Trans Am or Mustang, but with my driving record chock full of speeding tickets and accidents, I couldn’t touch the insurance payments on anything remotely construed as a performance car. In hindsight, I should have bought some inherently practical four-cylinder whatever, but young turk I was, not unlike Sebastian in “La La Land”, I couldn’t drive no stinkin’ economy car. I had my standards. As misguided and\or convoluted as they may have been.

My Riviera and Sebastian’s were part of the sixth generation of Riviera’s that were all new for 1979. Sharing its chassis, body shell and much of its running gear with the also new-for-1979 Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado, Motor Trend magazine thought so highly of the turbocharged, sport suspension tuned Riviera “S”, they awarded it their highly sought after, “Car of the Year” honors.  Encompassing the spirit of the magnificent if not seminal 1963 Riviera, the 1979 Buick Riviera foretold a future full of blue skies and sunshine for General Motors through the 1980’s and beyond. Spoiler alert, like Sebastian and his love interest Mia’s (Emma Stone) future that once shined so brilliantly, GM crashed and burned. My wife and I fared much better.

In a major motion picture, “car casting” doesn’t happen by accident and can be a most important set design element. In “La La Land”, producers, undoubtedly, were looking for the automotive equivalent of Sebastian – something big, unique and flashy. Whether they realized it or not, seeing what a heartbreaker that generation of Buick Riviera was, trust me on that one, it fit Sebastian perfectly in more ways than they probably ever thought possible.

What’s more, the differences between a big, gas swilling old Buick and the Toyota Prius Mia drives underscores the vast differences between the two of them. As opposites do sometimes attract, these two self-absorbed dreamers worked as a couple. That is, until their dreams get in the way of “them”.

There are some parallels between Sebastian, Mia and my wife and I too; my wife is more than happy to say she’s “just like Mia”, and I wholeheartedly concur. Whereas I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit I have more than my fair share of Sebastian in my DNA. Well, what can I say? We both drove a 1982 Buick Riviera.

I think fondly of my Riviera now although, frankly, I know I love the idea of it relative to my life at the time more than the car itself. My Riviera was slow, handled like a bathtub full of water, was sloppily assembled and broke down so often I was on a first name basis with the counter people at Hertz and Avis. Still, much like at the end of “La La Land” when Sebastian and Mia ponder what their lives would have been like together “for the long haul”, it being the car I had when I first met my wife, my getting another one is wonderful to think about. And if I was to get another one, it’d be a red convertible just like Sebastian’s.


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: 1983 Buick Riviera Convertible – The Rare Ragtop Riviera

Curbside Classic: 1985 Buick Riviera – A Ray Of Light In The Darkness