GM design chief Bill Mitchell's "personal luxury" land yacht set sail as a sophisticated merger of Ferrari GT car style with Rolls-Royce luxury


Although Buick was primarily a luxury line, in 1963 it issued a sports model, a beautiful coupe called the Riviera. It was America's answer to the Ferrari GTs, a car for Buick's most affluent customers. As such, it was delivered with a host of standard features, including two-speed wipers with washers, back-up lights, glare-proof inside mirror, parking brake signal light, safety buzzer, wheel covers, electric clock, license frame, padded instrument panel, trip mileage odometer, smoking set, front and rear bucket seats, courtesy lamps, deep pile carpet, center console, heater and defroster, and frameless side windows.
The 1963 Riviera was immediately recognized as a timeless design and Buick saw little need for change in 1964. A new, stand-up hood ornament and revised Riviera scripts on the front fenders and right hand deck were the major changes.
The 1964 Riviera on offer here was purchased in April 1973 by an employee of a Buick dealership in Westwood, NJ. The man was working there as a mechanic when the first Riviera was introduced. He fell in love and vowed to own one someday, and his opportunity came when this car was traded in with just 59,421 miles showing. It was in very nice original condition, and after two years of driving it, he decided to store the car until he had time to restore it.
The Riviera sat virtually untouched until 1996, when he started the restoration process with complete disassembly, including removing the hood, fenders, doors, grille, and deck lid. The parts were then stripped to bare metal and painted the original color. Most of the interior was so nice that it wasn't restored; it remains in very nice original condition today. The carpet needed to be replaced, so new original factory carpeting was located and installed.
Presently the odometer shows 68,000 miles, which is assumed to be original. After its restoration, the car was shown at local car shows and won several awards, and in the spring of 1999 it was the cover car for the national Riviera Owners Association's publication.
The Buick Riviera is a car that has continued to rise in popularity, both as a collector car and as an investment. They represent a rare example of excellence from the period and are considered by many to be a true daily driver with stylish appeal and solid engineering.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1964 Buick Riviera
Years Produced:1963-1965
Number Produced:112,244
Original List Price:$4,385
SCM Valuation:$18,000-$22,000
Tune Up Cost:$250
Distributor Caps:$22
Chassis Number Location:plate riveted to cowl at left of center
Engine Number Location:top left of block, forward of valve cover
Club Info:Riviera Owners Association, P.O. Box 27412, Ralston, NE, 68127
Alternatives:1961-1966 Ford Thunderbird, 1961-1963 Dual Ghia, 1963-1964 Studebaker Avanti
Investment Grade:C

This 1964 Riviera sold for $30,800, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Amelia Island sale, held on March 13, 2004.
Nominally existing since 1949, the Riviera was just a Buick body style through 1962. At first the moniker denoted a two-door hardtop, but later became a roofline style on a four-door Electra 225. In 1963, however, GM design chief Bill Mitchell’s “personal luxury” land yacht set sail, with the Riviera squarely aimed at Ford’s big Thunderbird in the four-place sports coupe marketplace. Mitchell had spent some time in England in 1959, and while there he decided that the Riviera would have to be a sophisticated merger of Ferrari GT car style with Rolls-Royce luxury.
The Riviera design was originally intended as an entry-level offering for Cadillac and an opportunity to revive the LaSalle name, but corporate machinations located the car at the head of the Buick class instead. Its styling and engineering made it a hit from the get-go. Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated called it “the greatest forward stride Buick has ever made. a truly fine-handling car, as good as any made in this country today.”
In keeping with its European inspiration, the Riviera’s Ferrari-esque egg crate grille was flanked by four headlamps with vertical in-fender grilles for the parking lights, and Rolls-Royce-style knife-edge creases graced the trunk and rear fenders. But the overall effect was entirely American. Though shorter than many domestics of the day at 208 inches in length, the new Buick was still a big car, riding on a 115-inch wheelbase and weighing about 4,000 pounds.
In 1963 the Riviera was fitted standard with Buick’s 325-hp, 401-ci “Nailhead” V8, and could be ordered with a 340-hp, 425-ci V8 as an option. Both were coupled with Buick’s “Super Turbine 400” automatic transmission. Contemporary testing showed the 425 good for an 8.0-second 0-60 mph sprint, with a top speed of 125 mph. Though muscle car fanaticism was in its infancy, the Riviera hinted at the sort of power that was to come later in the decade. A “Dual Quad” performance option became available in 1964, with two four-barrel carburetors lifting horsepower to 360.
Rivieras (and Buicks in general) are an increasingly attractive alternative as certain Bow Ties and Wide Track muscle cars become astronomically priced. Still a’60s coupe with a big V8, the Riviera offers the collector luxurious performance today, just as it did when new. Parts availability is good, maintenance is cheap, and the marque has a well-organized club.
Production numbers were high, with 37,658 cars built in 1964 alone, but most of these have long since been driven into the ground. Examples in very nice condition are surprisingly hard to find, and as they are often owned by dedicated aficionados, rarely come up for sale.
Most price guides put excellent Rivieras just above $20k, while I’ve seen some saying as low as $12k. Based on these numbers, I regarded the pre-auction estimate of $20,000-$30,000 for the car pictured here as optimistic. The SCMer that sold the car, however, was far from surprised with its $31k selling price, as he was sure that the dearth of low-mileage, properly restored, original interior Rivieras would pay off-and it did.
Why the big difference in value from the price guides? In this case, it’s likely that none of the guides have really tracked enough transactions of #2 or better cars to be accurate.
The other factor that played into this Riv’s big price was that most ’60s American cars are being pulled along with the rapid rise in muscle car prices. And as collectors of American machinery from that era mature, more of them are going to start spending adult money for some of the best designs of the time, not just the best-selling models with the biggest motors. After all, what’s $30k for a loaded luxury cruiser, with classic, tasteful lines, when we’ve seen countless run-of-the-mill Impalas making twice the money? I’ll take the sophisticated look anytime.
(Historical and descriptive information courtesy of the auction company.)

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