Time to visit the the in-laws and old friends in the Bay Area. When the women and kids head for the mall, and the men turn on the game, its time for me to slip out and prowl the streets of San Mateo. Like most older Bay Area cities, it’s densely built, and an ideal hunting ground for Curbside Classics. And the climate here is about the best possible for street-side car preservation: less rain than Oregon, but not too much intense hot sunshine either. I’ve bagged a whole bunch of interesting cars that I haven’t seen in Eugene, so let’s take a look at them this week starting with this very excellent 1968 Riviera.
Since it is vacation, and I don’t want to be branded anymore of a social outcast than I already am, I’m going to keep the commentary pretty short this week. We covered the genesis of Buick’s T-Bird fighter pretty thoroughly in the 1964 Riviera CC. The ’68 – ’69 Riviera are the middle of the three-part gen2 series, beginning with the quite clean and dramatic 1966, and ending with the increasingly blobby 1970.
Buick was clearly having a bit of an identity crisis with the Riviera. While the ’66 and ’67s tried to maintain, and even supersede the gen 1’s Motorama styling, this ’68 shows a tendency to come down to earth. The heavy wrap-around bumpers front and rear lost the delicacy of it predecessor’s details, and it just doesn’t look quite as exclusive anymore, with a greater resemblance to the rest of the Buick family.
It’s not just imagined either: Buick was letting the price (and standard content) slip in relation to inflation. The interior on this car makes that pretty clear; it’s anything but very special anymore. It looks straight out of a garden-variety Buick, having lost its dramatic dash, console and high quality materials (buckets and console were now optional). If the effect was to increase volume, it was working. These ’68 and almost identical ’69 models sold some 50k units per year, setting a high water mark until 1985, when buyers were grabbing the last semi-big Riviera before it was mutilated for the 1986 “Deadly Sin” version.
The 1968 Riviera was a healthily-engined car. The all-new Buick V8s had come out just the year before, with better breathing heads then the odd “nail-head” design. The 430 CI version in the Riviera pumped out 360 (gross) hp; it was an engine who’s lusty side I had thoroughly explored in a GF’s 1967 Wildcat. My homage to it’s effortless ability to accelerate a sofa down the road, as well as my take on the 1971 boat-tail Riviera can be found here.
The Riviera of this vintage was about as good as it got for big American fast cruisers, especially in GS trim, which brought a firmer suspension and a few other goodies. The engines were smooth, and still breathed before the smog controls choked them in another couple of years. GM’s suspension development work was paying off, especially if the right option boxes were checked. If you wanted to fly down the freeway at triple-digit speeds in comfort and style, this was about as good as it got, until the Mercedes V8s showed up a few years later.
This particular Riviera is a true CC; it’s got just the right balance of patina and preservation, and in the benign Bay Area climate, it will still be sitting here on the street thirty years from now, looking ready to take on all comers.