1966 Buick Riviera: Maximum Swank
The American personal luxury coupe really took off in the ’60s. The Ford Thunderbird got things started. It first appeared as a two-seat convertible but very quickly adapted to the long, low, and luxurious coupe format by the 1958 model year—though the convertible remained popular and lasted through 1966. Also in ’66, Buick debuted its first redesign of its own PLC, the Riviera, which first came on the scene in 1963 and, after a false start as a revived LaSalle, was given to Buick and became Flint’s top-of-the-line two door.
Starting in 1966, however, the Riviera had a corporate cousin with the all-new front-wheel-drive Oldsmobile Toronado. But while the Toro had front-wheel drive, the Riviera stuck with its traditional rear-drive configuration.
It appeared longer and lower than the 1963–65, with a near fastback roofline, wider hips on the rear quarters and headlamps concealed above the grille. But it was in reality only slightly longer than the ’65, 209-inch compared to 211.3-inch on the new car; wheelbase was unchanged at 119 inches. While the ’65 Riviera had its lights hidden behind clamshell doors in the fender peaks, the 1966-and-newer models dropped down from above the grille.
As the 1966 Riviera-only brochure stated, “The first of the Rivieras … the 1963 … was greeted with instant acclaim. In 1965 … with the honeymoon long since over … the Riviera was earning still higher praise from some of the toughest of all critics, the automotive press.”
“Now, for an encore, Buick presents an even greater 1966 Riviera … a totally tuned car. Know how well your car runs after a tune-up? Buick tuning has the same effect on the whole car. Not just the engine … everything. Styling. Performance. Ride. Handling. All work in harmony. That’s what the tuned car is. Buick.”
Standard engine in all 1966 Rivieras was the “Wildcat 465” 425-cubic-inch V-8 with 340 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 465 lb-ft of torque. It breathed through a four-barrel carburetor, had a 10.25:1 compression ratio, and required premium fuel. Standard transmission was the three-speed Super Turbine automatic.
The GS model returned, of course, and extras included a chrome-plated air cleaner, cast aluminum rocker arm covers, heavy-duty suspension, Positraction, GS badging (naturally!), and your choice of redline or whitewall tires. An optional 360-hp 425 V-8 was available on both the Riviera and the Riviera GS and had dual four-barrel carbs.
Base price for ’66 Rivs was $4424 ($36,757 today). They weighed in at 4180 pounds and 45,348 were built for the model year. As befitting not only a Buick but the sole personal-lux Buick, standard equipment was ample. In addition to the aforementioned 425 V-8 and automatic transmission, the following all came standard: power steering, power brakes, tilt wheel, dual exhaust, electric clock, deluxe wheel covers, dual horns and padded instrument panel.
But as any self-respecting domestic manufacturer would do back in the ’60s, there were still plenty of options to ladle on, if one were so inclined. Extras included power windows, a six-way power seat, AM/FM radio, air conditioning, cruise control, Soft-Ray tinted glass, cornering lamps, and a power trunk release.
And for the first time a bench seat was seen in a Riviera, though of course you could still get bucket seats with a center console.
I spied this gorgeous example at the final cruise night of the year in Coralville, Iowa. Held by the Classy Chassy car club, it is usually held on the last Friday of the month between April and September. I usually make the hour trip on I-80 to attend and meet up with my aunt and uncle, who are locals. But on September 30, 2016, the day of the show, Dave and Lori had houseguests and couldn’t make it. But that didn’t keep me from going, of course!
I had already checked out all the cars, taken dozens of pictures and was leaving the Coral Ridge Mall, heading for a restaurant before I drove home, and lo and behold, this was in the turn lane.
Great Caesar’s ghost! Aqua? Riviera? White interior? Change in plans! So here you are: 1966 Buick Riviera. It was, as you can see, a beautiful car, very original. Sold new near me, at the long-gone Schwind-Boeker Buick in Davenport, Iowa.
In later years the dealership became Williams Buick-VW. I remember driving past in 1997 or ’98 and seeing a black VW New Beetle in the showroom. Not long after, it closed its doors. John Keady Pontiac Cadillac got the Buick franchise, and Lujack Auto Plaza got the VW line. But many, many years earlier, you could have walked in and ordered a Turquoise Mist, 425 V-8-powered personal luxury cruiser. And at least one person did!