In GS form, with two four-barrel Carter carburetors, the Riviera put out a mighty 360 hp and generated an equally hefty 475 ft-lb of torque

Legend has it that the 1963 Riviera (originally supposed to be a revival of the LaSalle marque) was the result of a trip that Bill Mitchell took to Europe in 1960. Particularly impressed with a Ferrari 250 PF coupe and a custom-bodied Rolls-Royce with styling that he characterized as "knife-edged," Mitchell vowed to build an American grand touring car. Stylistically, the 1963 Riviera was brilliant, but dynamically, it was far from a GT in the European mold.

Since it shared its bodyshell with no other GM product, Mitchell's Riviera was around for just three model years before giving way to a new car that shared the GM E-body with the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado and the upcoming 1967 Cadillac Eldorado. Strangely, the 1966 Riviera got a conventional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, while its two siblings were front-drivers.

The thing that strikes any observer on first glance is that the 1966-70 Riviera is simply enormous. And indeed, at nearly 18 feet long and 4,700 pounds, frankly, it is. Road & Track observed that the doors were so large and heavy that an errant strike with one would likely total a Bugeye Sprite.

One of the more handsome American cars of the 1960s

But the long hood, short rear deck, fastback styling, hidden headlamps, slim taillights, and styled steel wheels worked like no Buick (other than perhaps the 1953 Skylark) since the 1949 Roadmaster. Although perhaps not as fresh as the 1963 car, there is no denying that it was one of the more handsome American cars of the 1960s, even if its impact was somewhat blunted by its visual similarity to lesser GM intermediates that came later.

The 1966 Riviera came to market with the 425-ci "nailhead" V8 from the outgoing car. In GS form with two four-barrel Carter carburetors, it put out a pavement-atomizing 360 hp gross and generated a tugboat-like 475 ft-lb of torque. A new 430-ci V8 appeared in 1967, which ballooned to 455 ci by 1970. Power outputs remained about the same.

Contemporary testers spoke highly of the Riviera's interior. Strato-bench or Strato-bucket seats were available in cloth, leather, or vinyl. Full instrumentation was a welcome relief from the usual idiot lights. The speedometer was an unusual revolving drum design. Effective a/c was a common option, along with Positraction, dual exhausts, and cruise control.

Understeer and howling bias plys

Dynamically, it was largely business as usual for an American car. Steering was a relatively quick three turns to lock; however, "comfortably numb" pretty much describes things. As Road & Track noted, dead steering tells no tales, and the driver's first clue of the approaching limit was terminal understeer accompanied by howling Goodyear Powercushion bias plys. Overall, though, R&T thought that in speed, power, equipment, and road manners, the Riviera in Gran Sport form was quite impressive. This from a magazine that was notoriously hard on American-built cars.

Performance was more than adequate for a nearly 5,000-lb car, with 60 mph coming up in about eight seconds, the quarter mile in 16.7 seconds, and a top speed of over 120 mph. Whether ordered with optional Bendix four pot front discs or drum brakes, the binders got an "A" for adequate. Fuel economy was largely theoretical, with most owners lucky to see more than 10 mpg.

Other than extreme thirst and the difficulty in finding a good one, there are few impediments to owning a second-generation Riviera. Most fans seem to prefer the 1966-67 version over the mildly restyled 1968-69 and the ghastly, skirted 1970 model, which seems suitable only for bad low-rider conversions. With its separate body and frame design, severe rust can be fatal. And while mechanical items are NAPA-common, trim pieces are unobtainable.

Fans of large, stylish American coupes have a lot to choose from, including the Riviera's own siblings, the 1966-67 Toronado and 1967 Eldorado. As a collectible, the 1967-70 Riviera is like a middle child, while the 1963-65 version is already established as a desirable car. The 1971-73 boattail has been making future collectible lists seemingly since 1973, but little has been written or said about the second-generation cars. This works for buyers who can still pick up a 1966 GS for about half the cost of a 1965. The later car will never achieve the milestone status and the value of the 1965, but some feel it's at least as attractive. And it is undoubtedly a better driver.

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