This week has been a busy one, as I am working on auto history research at the College Park, MD, National Archives. On Wednesday evening, however, I took a break and visited my old friend S.W. "Bill" Leslie, a professor at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Bill has taught auto history from time to time, and is well-known for his book, Boss Kettering (Columbia, 1983). Bill reminisced after dinner about his favorite car and the experience he had with it as a young man, fresh out of high school in 1971 -- a blue 1964 Buick Riviera. It was during the summer of 1971 that Bill went to Europe with his grandfather, a WWI veteran who thought that aviation technology had been in decline since 1918. Accordingly, they took a boat across the Atlantic, and the pair also took along grandpa's 1964 Buick Riviera, which was unloaded at Naples. Contrary to one might think about anti-foreign feelings concerning American cars, Bill and his grandfather encountered admiration where ever they went during their European trip. It was almost like two men from Mars had landed in a small rural Italian village! The big Riviera held its own while on the Autobahn, only being flashed to move over a few times by faster cars. In the small towns and villages, however, its large size left no room for anything else.
Inside, the Riviera featured a four-place cabin with front bucket seats separated by a center console with floor shifter and storage compartment that was built into the instrument panel, and bucket-style seats in the rear. Upholstery choices included all-vinyl, cloth and vinyl, or optional leather. Popular extra-cost options included a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power windows, power seats, air conditioning, AM/FM radio, and wire wheel covers.
The Riviera was introduced in October, 1962, with a base price of $4,333, although typical delivered prices with options ran upwards of $5,000. It was an all-around performer, capable of 0–60 mph in 8 seconds, and a standing quarter mile in about 16 seconds. In 1964 the stylized “R” emblem was introduced, a trademark that would continue throughout the remainder of Riviera's 36-year production run. Under the hood, the 401 was dropped in favor of the 425 cu in with 340 hp. A 'Super Wildcat' version rated at 360 hp was an option, with dual Carter AFB four-barrel carburetors.
Between 1963 and 1965, 112,244 were sold. All in all, the Riviera was extremely well-received and considered a great success, giving the Thunderbird its first real competition. A styling tour de force, it is a collectible classic today.