(Found In) Visitacion Valley (San Francisco): 1965 Buick Riviera

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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.

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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.

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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.

12087411_10153085548292201_1693582590_nThe 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.

12080718_10153085548242201_1938252282_nFew 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.

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4 comments

  1. -Nate · October 6, 2015

    SO nice ! .

    I cannot imagine anyone choosing a Thunderbird over this .

    I have experience driving old Buicks with the ‘ Switch Pitch ‘ torque converter , they were .

    -Nate

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  2. Joseph Dennis · October 27, 2015

    Excellent write-up, Laurence. While I liked the headlight fix, I wasn’t a fan of the taillights in the bumper. I’m acquainted with a retired Buick autoworker who probably helped build this very Riviera in Flint, where the transmissions were fitted. Glad Paul directed me to your new site – I have missed your contributions and know now where to find them!

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  3. Jose Delgadillo · May 22, 2016

    While I have owned the third gen, 1971, and several examples of the second gen 1966, I have never owned the original series. These are the cars that really formed the base of the Riviera Owners Association. These cars had many details that were exclusive to the Riviera alone which really makes them special and desirable. Uncle Tom McCahill really loved these cars and his enthusiastic write ups are a joy to read. These cars were true four seat luxury touring cars in the most beautiful and distinctive styling ever wrought by Buick. While I owned my later versions the value of the first gen cars had climbed steadily so I don’t know if I will ever have one. I loved the Motorama show car look of the 1966 model. Mine had the Strato Bench semi bucket front seats which was the standard El Dorado set up. The arm rest was very comfortable with the separate seat backs. Very sporty, luxurious and comfy. It also allowed six passenger seating. I sold my last ’66 to a young guy with four young kids who wanted a car to take to shows that could hold the whole family. I have missed the passing of the great American personal luxury/sport coupe. I don’t think that a gussied up truck really fills the bill.

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