Finished in Sea Foam Green, this Riviera Gran Sport was equipped with 20 factory options, including an AM/FM radio, cruise control, air conditioning, custom-trim vinyl bucket seats, and the desirable ride and handling package, taking the Riviera’s $4,408 base price to a staggering $6,191.39.

The original window sticker indicates that it had been used by Buick Motor Division “in company business” prior to being sold at retail. In this case, “company business” meant a pre-delivery visit to Max Balchowsky’s Hollywood Motors Inc. Famed for his home-built Old Yeller racing cars, Balchowsky was a talented mechanic who worked wonders on Buick’s mighty Nailhead V8.

This three-owner Gran Sport remains in impressively original, unrestored condition and is offered with important documentation, including the original window sticker, Donald McKinney’s check to Max Balchowsky, an Owner’s Guide and Owner Protection Plan, as well as copies of period literature.

(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Company.)


SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1965 Buick Riviera Gran Sport
Years Produced:1963–65
Number Produced:3,354 (’65 with GS package)
Original List Price:$6,191, as equipped
SCM Valuation:$18,000–$35,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$14
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on plate attached to left front door hinge pillar
Engine Number Location:Stamped on driver’s side front of block, in front of valley pan cover
Club Info:Riviera Owners Association
Alternatives:1961–66 Ford Thunderbird, 1962–68 Pontiac Grand Prix, 1961–66 Oldsmobile Starfire
Investment Grade:B

This 1965 Riviera GS, Lot 109, sold for $52,250, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding’s Scottsdale auction in Scottsdale, AZ, on January 19, 2013.

This car had absolutely everything going for it, and I think it was a smart buy at the price paid. Here’s why.

Style and influence

In 1965, if you wanted a sporty, comfortable, roomy, well-equipped car to turn heads, the Riviera was the car for you. But the driving force behind the Riviera didn’t start at Buick, or even at GM. The personal luxury market was created when Ford added a couple of extra seats to its Thunderbird in 1958. The Riviera was one of GM’s attempts at stealing some of that spotlight.

GM design chief Bill Mitchell looked across the Atlantic for inspiration for the design. Why? He wanted the new car to be a cross between a Ferrari and a Rolls-Royce — a car that offered luxury as well as sport, which was something the T-bird had arguably lost when it gained those extra seats.

The roofline is said to be derived from a custom-bodied Rolls that Mitchell saw while on a trip to London. Features included knife-edge lines, a pillarless hard top, curved glass and more. The resulting car was unique in the American market, and it influenced pretty much everything else that came from Detroit after it, at least into the 1970s. In terms of historical significance, there isn’t much from the time that rivals it, except for the ’63 Split-Window ’Vette.

A balanced package

The first-gen Riviera was faster and better handling than the pudgy T-bird, but the Thunderbird still dominated in sales through the early 1960s. Just 40,000 Rivieras were built in 1963, 37,958 in 1964, and 34,586 in 1965 — that’s around half of total T-bird production for each year.

Still, the Riv’s crisp, classy design and competent road manners drew praise from nearly everyone in the automotive world — both in the U.S. and overseas. Sergio Pininfarina, the legendary Ferrari coachbuilder, reportedly called the Riviera “one of the most beautiful American cars ever built,” while Sir William Lyons, then head of Jaguar, said that Mitchell had “done a wonderful job.” That’s pretty high praise for a Buick, and the sentiments seem to be shared by collectors today — even if they don’t like other American cars from the 1960s.

Great model, even better example

The initial Riviera design included headlights hidden behind clamshell doors in the front fenders. Cost cutting kept them from production until ’65, and since a completely new model was introduced in ’66, they became a one-year only feature. As such, buyers tend to gravitate toward the ’65. Score one for our subject car.

Also new for ’65 was the Gran Sport option, fitted here. The GS option cost $306 and included the Super Wildcat 425-ci 360-hp Nailhead V8 with dual fours, a 3.42 gear ratio, larger diameter exhaust for greater flow, and heavy-duty suspension components. Only about 10% of the cars sold in ’65 were Gran Sports, including this one. That’s another point for the Buick.

This car is unrestored and documented, and heavily optioned with a/c, cruise control and an AM/FM radio. Score three and four.

Finally, our car’s paper trail leads to Max Balchowsky — a well-known Nailhead guru and sports-car-racing giant killer who used his home-built Buick-powered Old Yeller racers to take on Maserati and Ferrari in the 1950s and 1960s. What exactly Balchowsky did to the car is unclear, but the paperwork (and a canceled check) show him as a private party seller of the car in 1965. The auction catalog text suggests he performed subtle upgrades on the car, which is more than likely, as he was a hot rodder to the core and knew Buick engines inside and out.

The deal

The ACC Pocket Price Guide places the value of a ’65 GS at between $18k and $35k, depending on condition. So how can I call this one a smart buy at over $50k?

These first-gen Rivieras have an international appeal that most other American cars from the 1960s just can’t reach. Collectors who go for vintage European cars don’t see a Riviera the same way they see a GTO or even a Thunderbird, partially because of the car’s sophisticated style and partially because of its balanced overall package. Those collectors tend to play at a higher average price point for their cars, and as some of the comps to this car on the right show, prices can and do rise into the mid-$40k range on a fairly regular basis. While high, this price wasn’t a record for the model. Another, similar car made $73,450 in 2005 (ACC# 40032).

The current market loves originality and documented history in every segment – muscle car, truck, sports car, etc. That translates to value. This car was unrestored and still in fantastic overall condition — and don’t forget it’s the ultimate-spec model with the best options.

And if that wasn’t enough, it was owned, and likely modified, by the guy who used hot-rodded Nailheads to embarrass the big boys of Europe on the international sports-car tracks of the 1960s.

I’d say all this makes it among the best of the best in first-gen Rivieras, and every last penny of the price paid was justified, even if it was slightly ahead of the market. Well bought.

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