Split Personality

Sporty & Luxurious in a designer package

Riviera is Italian for coastline. It is also the name of the coastal region in the south of France known for its azure water, white sand beaches, luxury hotels and a hangout of the rich and famous. While the word had been used by Buick to denote some trim levels over the years, the 1963 Riviera would be the debut vehicle bearing the Riviera model name.

Buick wanted affluent customers and was willing to pull out all the stops to get the product that would attract them. The 1963 Riviera was Buick’s first entry into the personal luxury car market segment that was created and dominated by the Ford Thunderbird. The car was and still is considered one of the best designs executed by GM Chief designer Bill Mitchell. The Riviera managed to be both sporty and luxurious at the same time. Sergio Pininfarina is quoted as saying the Riviera is “one of the most beautiful American cars ever built, it has marked a very impressive return to simplicity of American design.”

Mitchell originally offered the car to Cadillac, but that division passed in favor of their own car in development that would become the 1967 Eldorado. Buick lobbied GM management and Mitchell very hard to win the right to produce the Riviera. The division was seeing sluggish sales and desperately wanted the Riviera to bring in new traffic to dealer showrooms.

With a 117 inch wheelbase and overall length of 208 inches, the car was larger than the Special and Skylark but smaller than all other offerings from Buick. It was also just slightly larger than its main rival, the Ford Thunderbird. The standard engine was the 401 cubic inch V8 used in all Buick’s that model year. An optional 425 cubic inch engine eventually became available. The standard equipment was impressive, as would be expected for a luxury car, including power steering, power brakes and automatic transmission. But, the options available also allowed buyers to make the car their own with 3 different interior styles in multiple colors, power driver seat, air conditioning and a long list of convenience options.

At a time when Buick was producing and selling 440,000 cars per year, they promoted that the production of the Riviera would be limited to 40,000 vehicles. The base price of $4,333, at a time when the average price of a new house was $19,300, made the Riviera nearly the most expensive Buick offered that year. Most cars sold at prices approaching $5,000 with typical options, putting them squarely into Cadillac pricing and they sold every one of the cars they produced.  

1963 Buick Riviera - Bronze Version

1963 Buick Riviera - Bronze Version