Buick during its heyday was an upscale car brand that fell just below Cadillac and was slightly above Oldsmobile in GM’s hierarchy. Buick solidified this position in the 1950s and by the early 1960s Buick was really emphasizing its almost countless luxury features and options on its higher trim models. Unfortunately Buick didn’t have a sporty 2-door personal luxury car to compete with the extremely successful Ford Thunderbird. Pontiac introduced for 1962, the Grand Prix which was the Thunderbird’s first competitor in the 2-door personal luxury car segment. Buick would follow suit for 1963 by introducing the Riviera.
The first generation 1963-1965 Buick Rivera was a beautiful and extremely modern car. Its styling was among the best of this era and was just what Buick needed to invigorate its image and the styling of its other cars. Within a few model years some of the Riviera’s exterior and interior styling cues could be found on Buick’s other models. With the Riviera, Buick now had a car that brought many new younger car buyers into Buick dealerships. Ironically the Riviera was originally intended to be Cadillac’s 2-door personal luxury coupe, it was code named the Cadillac La Salle XP-715 concept car during its development. Bill Mitchell who was head of GM design at the time, instead gave the car to Buick. Upon receiving the car and a green light for production, Buick added a few of its styling touches before production. One of which was the move from twin headlamps to four headlamps for the 1963-1964 Riviera. For 1965 the four headlamps were moved behind retractable covers where they were stacked vertically on opposite sides of the front end. The hidden headlamps added a very sporty touch to the 1965 Riviera’s front-end.
The brilliance of the Riviera’s design was that its front-end had a forward lean instead of the tradition upright vertical design and the rear area of the Riviera also had the same angle slant. Add to that it had a sporty roofline which wasn’t a fastback but wasn’t an upright formal roofline, it was somewhere in between. Not to mention the stylish exterior curves and sharp creases along with just the right amount the exterior chrome made the final product a great looking luxury sport coupe with ultra futuristic styling.
When it came to the 1963-1965 Riviera’s interior things got even better. Hands down Buick had all its American luxury competition beat. It had the perfect blend of sportiness with a sporty center console which housed the automatic transmission lever, the perfectly shaped sporty round dash gauges, and sporty bucket seats. Its dashboard layout was simply a work of art. Overall the interior was the perfect blend of luxury and sport. The Riviera also had a long list of standard items and a long list of luxury, power, and convenience options that would make any high-end Cadillac buyer envious.
Buick gave the 4,000-lb 1963-1965 Riviera plenty of power under the hood. All of the Rivera’s engines were high-performance V8s which provided muscle car acceleration. Standard for 1963 and 1965 was Buick’s 401 cubic-inch V8 which was factory rated at 325 gross horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque. The standard engine for 1964 and optional engine for 1963 and 1965 was the 340 gross horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque Buick 425 cubic-inch V8. Also optional for 1964 and 1965 was Buick’s ultra performance motor from this era, the 360 gross horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque 425 cubic-inch V8 equipped with dual 600 cfm Carter AFB 4-barrel carburetors. All these Riviera engines were standard with dual exhaust.
Falling in line with its luxury car image, Buick only offered the first generation Riviera with two automatic transmissions. For 1963 it was the 2-speed Dynaflow and for 1964-1965 it was the 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic 400. Buick also made sure the Riviera was standard with a good handling suspension, with nimble steering, and had very good braking ability from its large 4-wheel aluminum-fin drum brakes. For 1965 Buick offered its H2 suspension which improved the Riviera’s handling due to a better steering box and a stiffer suspension. Ironically the H2 suspension was not available on the 1965 Riviera Gran Sport which was the more sporty version of the Riviera.
In retrospect Buick’s first entry into the personal luxury coupe market was a massive success. The 1963-1965 Riviera’s styling is considered by many to be among the best of its era. Yet it was also the best Riviera in terms of performance with its genuine muscle car acceleration, handling, steering, and braking. This first generation Riveria was such a great car it made the “Riviera” a legendary car name which in turn ensured Buick success in the luxury car market for another 30 years.
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