The Buick Riviera was already sort of a legend as it rolled off assembly lines for the 3rd season of production. The crisp, clean lines that married Bill Mitchell’s vision of Ferrari meets Rolls Royce had seduced a diverse cross section of discriminating buyers. Where direct rival, the Ford Thunderbird, promoted a more inviting, welcoming and decadent private world; the Riviera promoted hushed exclusivity that doubled up on the Buick brand cachet.
What was the Riviera to do in a world that didn’t exclusively value exclusivity? After all the sales of the Riviera still fell behind the Thunderbird, despite contemporary reviews heaping praise on the way it carried itself through the world. Granted, Buick did limit production in 1963 to 40,000 units to heighten desirability, and the Riviera sadly didn’t offer a convertible variant. Thankfully, 1965 genuinely had some new surprises in store.
Typical for Detroit, the biggest difference to be noted for 1965 was surface change. When the Riviera was designed as a proposed concept LaSalle revival, it had been initially styled with hidden headlamps behind the rakish fender grilles. Due to cost constraints, the 1963-64 models wore a modestly bespectacled face with the quad headlamp arrangement nestled in the grille. The profitable pay off of the first 2 model years allowed for the addition of the feature to make the 1965 models one of a few times the Riviera would carry an exclusive, one year only look.
Although this example has a few custom pieces, The 1965 Riviera did away with the majority of bodyside trim it had the first two years on the market. In a nod to the revolutionary de-chromed looks of the 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix, The Riviera followed the “less is more” calling card, bringing a heightened sense of uniqueness to the most exclusive Buick.
All of the change wasn’t surface however. Although it started off as a people pleasing performer, the Riviera wasn’t comfortable to sit resting on the laurels of previous season’s praise. The modifications were quite numerous for a car that had a lot of great things going for it to begin with. New for 1965 was the Gran Sport package, shared as a new designation with the top of the line Skylark option package in the burgeoning Muscle car segment. The Riviera was never a slouch in base trim. With lighter weight and the plenty robust Buick 401 Nailhead V8, a base Riviera could make a mile a minute in under 8 seconds and break no sweats all the way to 125 mph.
The Grand Sport package not only bought the upsided 425 Cube version of the Nailhead, it also bought dual 4 barrel carburetors for a very grand total of 360 horsepower. To handle that robust output, the suspension was tamed even further to truly turn the Riviera into the grad tourer it strove to be, and rarely fell short of.
Even if you didn’t opt for the all out Stud in a suit Gran Sport, you did get an updated Turbo-Hydramatic with a flexible variable pitch torque converter for more responsive performance, no matter what flavor of Riviera you decided to choose. No matter which flavor suited you best, you were getting the pinnacle version of perhaps one of the finest American Automobiles on offer.
Few cars did strive to improve so rigorously when they could have rested in the actual greatness that they embodied when they came to market. This indeed makes the Riviera a rare beast among American cars, especially General Motors cars. In the same time frame that the Corvair was being dragged to the mat for its shortcomings, the Riviera rewarded its well heeled customers some of the best details on offer in a mass produced American Car.
Even the Riviera couldn’t continue it’s unique brand of rarefied richness, as the redesigned 1966 model started to share basic details with the all-new Oldsmobile Toronado, and with the Cadillac Eldorado that debuted in 1967. Indeed, the first Riviera line is one exquisite machine, perhaps like none other we’ll see from General Motors ever again.