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

If 1976 was the death of the American convertible, 1982 was the resurrection, starting with Chrysler’s rather plucky move to sell a convertible version of its new luxo-K-car, the LeBaron. Chrysler made a lot of hay out of claiming it to be the first of its kind since the death of breed in 1976. The convertible Riviera came very late in the model year; deliveries  planned for April were pushed back to July.

The Riviera was almost twice as expensive as the LeBaron, so it’s not surprising that its sales were significant lower, never exceeding the 1,750 of the 1983 model. In that same year, Chrysler moved some 10k LeBaron ragtops. But there’s no doubt that the long-nosed and gently curvaceous Riviear was a lot more attractive than the stubby little Chrysler.

This 1982 flyer for the new convertible and T Type indicates that the convertible will be “A Limited Edition – Only 500 Will Be Built”. According to my Standard Encyclopedia of American Cars, it actually 1,248. Initial enthusiasm and apparent demand exceed expectations, and Buick upped its plans for the year.

The Riviera convertible wasn’t actually built fully by Buick; those destined to become convertibles were built without a rear seat or headliner, and were painted in either White or Red Firemist paint with a Claret (dark red) or Maple (light brown) interior. These coupes were then shipped to American Sunroof Corporation (ASC) in Lansing, Michigan, where the extensive conversion took place. This involved cutting off the roof, strengthening the body, adding a smaller rear  seat and fitting the white vinyl top and related electronics. The whole process took over 300 parts as well as ten hours of labor per car.

The convertible was priced at a zippy $23,944 ($65k adjusted) in 1982, or 56% higher than the coupe. This was a much higher premium than back in the day when convertibles rolled off the lines along with coupes and sedans. The result was that the number of buyers willing to plunk that amount down was significantly less than those that expressed initial enthusiasm. Thus Buick built 1.750 convertibles in 1983, and not all were sold that year. So production was screwed back to 400 for each of its last two years, 1984 and 1985.

In 1983, Buick’s Riviera was the pace car for the Indy 500, and of course it was specially trimmed and outfitted for the job.

Under the hood was a 410 hp twin-turbo 4.1 L (252 c.i.) V6, feeding the front wheels of course, through the revised version of the FWD drive train first seen on the 1966 Toronado. Both three and four-speed versions of the TH-325 automatic were used during this generation of the Riviera.

Technically, the 41. L V6 rated at 125 hp was standard, but apparently most (if not all) convertibles were built with the 307 c.i. Olds V8, rated at 140 hp. As thus, it was a cruiser, with no sporting ambitions.

The interior in this example seems to be still in fine nick. It’s pretty safe to assume that most of these convertibles lived relatively pampered lives.

This one has seen just enough sun to disintegrate the fragile bumper fillers. Or maybe they don’t even need sun in order to crumble away.

The Riviera convertible really needs the top down to show off its…occupants.