1963 Buick Riviera
2dr Sport Coupe
8-cyl. 401cid/325hp 4bbl
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The Buick Riviera started as a pillarless two-door hardtop in 1949 and set a trend that spread throughout the U.S. auto industry. The peak year was 1955 when 738,414 Buicks were sold and the majority were two- and four-door Hardtops. By 1959, sales had dropped to only 232,579 and the Riviera was down to one four-door hardtop model.
Ford’s Thunderbird, however, had morphed into a four-seat “personal luxury car” in 1958 and Buick’s Bill Mitchell was determined to counter that. Legend has it he was in London when he spotted a Rolls-Royce outside Claridge’s at night, and was struck by the combination of curves and angles. He resolved to produce a car with such a combination of design elements, and a fiberglass mockup with the name LaSalle was created in 1960.
Mitchell loved the tall, thin LaSalle grille of the late 1930s but after the Edsel debacle, vertical central grilles were out. Cadillac was selling all the cars it could and Oldsmobile and Pontiac wanted a new model, but they wanted to change Mitchell’s concept. Buick was desperate, and promised to leave it alone.
The new Riviera rode on its own 117-inch wheelbase chassis and the standard engine was a 325 bhp, 401 cid V-8. All Rivieras had the 2-speed Turbine Drive automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes, while air conditioning was a $350 option. A tilt steering column was fitted, along with cruise control.
The body was remarkably like the original show car, a combination of curves and planes with very little brightwork. Side widows were frameless and the doors built with a separate skin, so the mechanism could be precisely adjusted. Door were so long they had two interior handles, one for the rear seat passengers.
The interior was luxurious with vinyl, cloth and vinyl or optional leather bucket seats in front, mirrored in the rear with a depressed center section. Two separate pods of gauges came from the Electra, but the dash swept down to a center console where the gearshift, headlight and wiper switches were located along with front and rear ashtrays, lighters and courtesy lights.
Mitchell’s exact target was the Thunderbird and the Riviera was 3.8 inches longer, 197 pounds lighter and cost $4,333 against the T-Bird’s $4,445. First year 1963 Buick Riviera sales totaled 40,000, against the Thunderbird’s 56,945, counting 42,806 Hardtops and 14,139 Landau Hardtops. However, the Thunderbird also offered a Convertible (5,913) and Roadster (455), while a convertible Riviera was still 19 years in the future.
Buick offered 16 colors for the 1963 Riviera, including Regal Black, Arctic White, Silver Cloud Metallic, Spruce Green, Marlin Blue, Glacier Blue, Willow Mist Metallic, Burgundy Metallic, Teal Mist Poly, Twilight Aqua Poly, Desert Sand, Bronze Mist, Fawn Mist Metallic, Granada Red, Diplomat Blue Poly, and Rose Mist Poly.
Buick concluded 1963 in seventh position in the U.S. auto industry with 479,399 units sold. Car Life tested a 340 bhp, 425 cid Riviera, recording 0-60 in 7.7 seconds. The 401 V8 powered model took 8.1 seconds and covered a quarter mile in 16 seconds.