This Low-Mile Riviera’s True Promise Lies Beneath the Surface

Hagerty Marketplace

The Malaise Era ushered in modern technologies, luxuries, and efficiencies into the American automotive landscape, and the sixth-generation Buick Riviera might perhaps be the best example of the period. It had all the style of a traditional personal luxury coupe, but with a fully independent suspension, space-saving front-wheel drive, and a bevy of technological upgrades set the tone for future luxury cars. The sales brochure for the all-new 1979 model even went so far as to suggest that

“Like an iceberg, most of its content lies beneath the surface.”

That statement has passed the test of time, as the GM E-platform underneath the 1979-1985 Riviera managed to position a new direction under a traditionally styled body. It even traces its radical roots back to the stunning 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado, most notably with its longitudinal-mounted engine powering the front wheels. The Riviera offered something for everyone seeking a premium automobile, and this particular 1985 model with less than 24,000 miles on the odometer is a perfect time capsule of a car that embodied its era.

This Red Firemist colored Riviera, currently listed on Hagerty Marketplace, looks showroom fresh and was clearly loved by its three previous owners. One of them was likely a member of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA): Back in 2019, that owner entered this Riviera in Class 27p (Production Vehicles; 1984-1985) and won first prize. There’s even an AACA emblem on the grille as proof of provenance.

The interior looks close to perfect, with nary a sign of wear on the driver’s seat leather. Notable features include an upgraded three-spoke sports steering wheel, standard Concert Sound audio system, and Buick’s lever-free “touch” HVAC control panel.

1985 buick riviera engine 307 oldsmobile
Hagerty Marketplace

Power is delivered by the standard 5.0-liter Oldsmobile V-8, and not the optional 5.7-liter Oldsmobile Diesel or turbocharged 3.8-liter Buick V-6. This motor is likely the best of the bunch for the luxurious Riviera, with smooth V-8 performance and a durable design. Perhaps our own Andrew Newton summed up this performance best in a review of the Riviera’s platform-mate, the Cadillac Eldorado, as he suggested these vehicles have a “complete lack of sporting pretensions, take-it-easy attitude, mild cost of ownership, and opulence per dollar [that] is seriously charming.”

1985 buick riviera fender
Hagerty Marketplace

This low-mile Riviera may be original, but newer whitewall tires suggest it can and should be enjoyed for shows and pleasure cruises. This isn’t a shrink-wrapped museum piece, and the touched up paint work on the front end proves the point. Flaws are minor and wholly forgivable, including an inoperative engine bay light and sun visors that do not “stay in the upright position without stays.”

A full complement of paperwork comes with this Riviera, including repair manuals, sales literature, owner’s manuals, and awards from the Buick Club of America. This car is a fantastic example of the sixth generation Riviera. And with a high bid of $4,750 at the time of writing, it’s clearly an underappreciated classic car. That 1979 sales brochure was right—the Riviera clearly offers much more than its vintage sheetmetal may suggest.


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    The Riv was more a product of Platform consolidation into the other two cars FWD platform. GM was going into a lot of cost cutting and merged models and engine into more corporate think.

    The Riv was the best of the three models they did on this platform. Some were interesting with a turbo V6 and even a convertible. The Turbo was the one before they perfected it and few survive today Most just have the Olds engine that is very durable.

    These were cars that were right sized. The models they replaced were just way too big and the models that followed these were just too small.

    The late 70’s and early 80’s were a time of panic and rushed change that left many crappy cars. There was wide spread fear of no V8 engines and more.

    To be honest since 1970 the auto industry has never had an easy ride. Even today the EV challenge is going to lead to some good things and many bad. I just wonder how many will survive the cost involved here.

    To be honest the auto industry has more trying times than easy years. The first two decades it was a lot of trial and error. Often too much error.

    Anyways the Riv was a special car and it was one of the better ones out there.

    As for lack of sport lets not forget the T type Riv. in 1984-85, Not many were made and in all black it looked good. It had 200 HP when the Corvette had not much more. It was not a BMW but it could handle well enough and had a better ride.

    I once saw a 1984 or 1985 Riviera convertible with the turbo-V6. I wonder if that was technically a T-Type, or just had the turbo engine? Could it be either way, or did only the T-Type have the turbo?

    The convertible turbo Riviera isn’t badged as a T-type though they do have the alloy wheels like the T-type. The T-type was only a coupe, they are very rare 49 for 1985 and 58 in 1984. They had a few specially modified ones that were used as part of the Olympic torch relay for the 1984 LA Olympics.

    My Mom had one for over 12 years putting on close to 250k miles on it. Daughter of mechanic it had regular oil changes and maintenance.

    She also enjoyed the skinny pedal but unfortunately the usual 80s trim began to suffer in Texas heat.

    She still talks about that car. One of the few gems of the 80s

    Note this transaxle was a down size of the early cars and not what we got later. These had a diff that was external much like a normal car but it ran off of the transmission.

    These were very solid units and not the type later that had weaker diffs internal to the Tranny,

    These were OK cars, but the Eldo (weak engine from 1982-1985) and the Toronado were better-looking, in my opinion. What was great about the Riv was the convertible version, which the Toronado did not have.

    Funny, to me the Tornado was the least attractive of the 3, still good looking, but a distant 3rd compared to the Riviera and Eldorado.

    I can’t say I enjoyed this generation of Riviera. It’s not underappreciated, few are interested in it.

    My dad bought a new in 1979 Riviera T-Type with the Turbo 6 and it was actually pretty spunky.
    However, if you got into it it would spark knock like crazy and we didn’t know enough about the engine that we should have been putting premium gas in it.

    Owned a ’83 Riv vert for awhile. Used it as my rainy day car for car runs. Redid the dash with an analog speedo & better gauges to eliminate the non repairable digital crap these came with. Nice car but needed paint & wasn’t worth the cost. Sold it for $6500 so if somebody gets this one for $4750 that’ll be a deal

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