Curbside Classic CA Vacation Edition: 1968 Buick Riviera

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
curbside classic ca vacation edition 1968 buick riviera

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.

More New Curbside Classics Here

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2 of 17 comments
  • Nikita Nikita on Dec 29, 2009

    The ugly bumpers and boring dash were the direct result of the new 1968 Federal safety standards. Thin, but ineffective, bumpers were out. Dashboards had to get heavy padding and flush switchgear.

  • Gsnfan Gsnfan on Dec 29, 2009

    Glad to see you're in the Bay Area. There are a lot of CC-worthy cars here in San Jose. On the street next to mine is an old Isuzu Trooper, and on the main road there is a Chevy Bel-Air and a DeSoto. I know there are more, but I only recently began paying attention.

  • Alan The Prado shouldn't have the Landcruiser name attached. It isn't a Landcruiser as much as a Tacoma or 4 Runner or a FJ Cruiser. Toyota have used the Landcruiser name as a marketing exercise for years. In Australia the RAV4 even had Landcruiser attached years ago! The Toyota Landcruiser is the Landcruiser, not a tarted up Tacoma wagon.Here a GX Prado cost about $61k before on roads, this is about $41k USD. This is a 2.8 diesel 4x4 with all the off road tricky stuff, plus AC, power windows, etc. I'm wondering if Toyota will perform the Nissan Armada treatment on it and debase the Prado. The Patrol here is actually as capable and possibly more capable than the Landcruiser off road (according to some reviews). The Armada was 'muricanised and the off road ability was reduced a lot. Who ever heard of a 2 wheel drive Patrol.Does the US need the Prado? Why not. Another option to choose from built by Toyota that is overpriced and uses old tech.My sister had a Prado Grande, I didn't think much of it. It was narrow inside and not that comfortable. Her Grand Cherokee was more comfortable and now her Toureg is even more comfortable, but you can still feel the road in the seat of your pants and ears.
  • Jeffrey No tis vehicle doen't need to come to America. The market if flooded in this segment what we need are fun affordable vehicles.
  • Nrd515 I don't really see the point of annual inspections, especially when the car is under 3 years (warranty) old. Inspections should be safety related, ONLY, none of the nonsensical CA ARB rules that end up being something like, "Your air intake doesn't have an ARB sticker on it, so you have to remove it and buy one just like it that does have the ARB sticker on it!". If the car or whatever isn't puking smoke out of it, and it doesn't make your eyes water, like an old Chevy Bel-Air I was behind on Wed did, it's fine. I was stuck in traffic behind that old car, and wow, the gasoline smell was super potent. It was in nice shape, but man, it was choking me. I was amused by the 80 something old guy driving it, he even had a hat with a feather in it, THE sign of someone you don't want to be driving anywhere near you.
  • Lou_BC "15mpg EPA" The 2023 ZR2 Colorado is supposed to be 16 mpg
  • ToolGuy "The more aerodynamic, organic shape of the Mark VIII meant ride height was slightly lower than before at 53.6 inches, over 54.2” for the Mark VII."• I am not sure that ride height means what you think it means.Elaboration: There is some possible disagreement about what "ride height" refers to. Some say ground clearance, some say H point (without calling it that), some say something else. But none of those people would use a number of over 4 feet for a stock Mark anything.Then you go on to use it correctly ("A notable advancement in the Mark VIII’s suspension was programming to lower the ride height slightly at high speeds, which assisted fuel economy via improved aerodynamics.") so what do I know. Plus, I ended a sentence with a preposition. 🙂