By on November 30, 2016

1995 Buick Riviera

Let’s play a game: I’ll name a few cars and you tell me if you think they’ll ever be found plying the roads of their real life namesake. Ready? Sebring. Ha! Corsica. Pfft. Monaco. Nope. Colorado. Wait, hang on; that one actually works.

You know another one that works? The Buick Riviera, especially in its first and final iterations. Not unlike the stunning Avista concept unveiled back in January, the 1995 Riv dropped jaws with its curvaceous  sheetmetal when it debuted at auto shows in the mid-90s. Unlike the Avista, though, they actually built the Riviera. The gamble paid off because once in production, it piled up first-year sales like cordwood.

After a year’s hiatus from the Tri-Shield lineup, this redesigned version of Buick’s luxury coupe went on sale early in 1994 as a 1995 model. The new Riviera was nine inches longer, almost two inches wider, and a couple of hundred pounds heavier than its stodgy predecessor.

Base price in 1995 was $27,632, which is a shade over $40,000 in 2016 dollars. There were no trim levels, only option boxes to select. Foremost among those boxes was the option for GM workers to slap a supercharger on top of the 205 horsepower 3.8-liter V6 engine for an extra eleven hundred Simoleans. It was only good for an extra 20 horses, but torque increased substantially to 275 lb-ft.

No matter the option set, buyers got one of the best-looking interiors GM had to offer during that era. Yes, I know, that’s like saying your three-legged dog is the best runner in the school for three-legged dogs, but the styling effort put forth by the Riviera team in the mid-90s is nothing short of remarkable. Yes, their design efforts were largely scuppered by flinty-eyed accountants and poor build quality, but the sweeping dashboard and Flying Bridge theme still look good today. Replace the stereo and ventilation controls with a touchscreen Jumbotron infotainment system and the upper half of this interior wouldn’t look too out of place in a modern vehicle. Arcane trivia: a cloth bench seat was standard equipment until 1998. Many opted for the let-them-eat-cake Sierra Grain leather bucket seats, naturally, though I find the concept of a Dark Ruby Red bench in a base-model Riv to be massively appealing.

1995 Buick Riviera

The onslaught of SUVs, which still shows no sign of abating, took its toll on the sales of big coupes and claimed the life of the Riviera. After selling more than 41,000 copies in 1995, total deliveries were cut in half during the next twelve months. GM put it to sleep after the 1999 model year, when fewer than 2,000 of the big coupes left the showroom floor.

Having poked fun at the absurdity of finding a Corsica in Corsica, I still prefer these monikers to the alphanumeric soup currently polluting the automotive landscape. Namesake appropriateness be damned; cars are better with real names. As for the 1995 Riv, barring the price of its supercharger option, the voluptuous exterior and xxx interior are enough for me to include this personal luxury coupe in the Ace of Base series.

Older metal from years past which looked good in base form? They help make automotive history a lot better. Any others you can think of, B&B? Let us know in the comments. Naturally, feel free to eviscerate this selection.

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120 Comments on “Ace of Base Redux: 1995 Buick Riviera...”


  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    Would this vehicle be the top Diety in the church of the 3800?

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    I too vastly prefer place names to alphanumeric and propose more truth in naming. For example, little crampy cars might be:

    Mitsubishi Mumbai
    Peugeot Port-Au-Prince
    Opel Orangi
    Kia Kibera
    Chevy Chicago

    Like that.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      I detect a challenge! (City names chosen by their infamous characteristics, such as murder rate, air pollution or general poor quality of life. All the good city names, except for perhaps Sydney, have already been taken.) Some of these cars, if they actually existed, could reasonably be expected to bee seen in some of these cities.

      Audi Acapulco
      Subaru Shanghai
      Cadillac Caracas
      Lancia Lahore
      Saturn St. Louis
      Chery Cape Town
      THINK Tripoli
      Dacia Delhi
      Tata Tijuana
      Pontiac Peshawar
      Ultima Sports Ulan Bator GT
      Jaguar Jakarta
      Holden Harare
      LandWind Lagos
      Datsun Damascus

      And last, but not least, the
      Chrysler Chernobyl

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        Buick Baghdad and Kia Kandahar

      • 0 avatar
        Erikstrawn

        I happen to like the GMC Mexico City SUV. Especially when it’s up-armored with dark tinted windows.

        There’s another BMW Midland/Odessa repo on the used car lot.

        Unfortunately SAAB went defunct before they could import the Portland.

        Look! Another Dodge Baton Rouge bro-dozer rolled over in the ditch!

        I went on vacation and rented a Vespa Waikiki.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Sign me up for the Jaguar Jakarta please.

        I also find the Cadillac Caracas to be quite ironic given the huge fail now occurring there and also with the brand.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Love the minimalist look of the dash here. Simple and elegant with a touch of cheapness. What can you do. But.. Bench seat, column shift? Hell yes. I’ll be near death by the time they make a comeback.

    • 0 avatar
      JimWalewander

      I always thought that dash, though minimalist, was an attempt to evoke the great ’63-’65 models. It’s there in the round vents and instrument bezels.

      One of the earliest, if not the very first, attempts at “retro” styling. Too bad they forgot the nut cooler.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    Still looks great today. I wouldn’t kick it out of my garage.
    I’ll take one of these Rivs and a Mark VIII please.
    The Riv for the winter – because FWD – and the Mark VIII for the summer.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Luv those long doors.. usually somebody parks too close and I can’t get in.

    I liked the rear light/reflector design on these. Reminds me of a Gerry Anderson puppet car.

  • avatar
    formula m

    This guy obviously thinks these are worth money.

    http://www.kijiji.ca/v-classic-cars/vancouver/1995-buick-riviera-3-8l-supercharged-23800/1205723319?enableSearchNavigationFlag=true

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “No matter the option set, buyers got one of the best-looking interiors GM had to offer during that era.”

    GROSS. The interior was piecemeal and poorly assembled, with uneven gaps all over the place. There was not enough wood. The Eldorado had a better GM interior for an equivalent model year.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Meh, the Eldo had real wood and nicer leather, but the plastics were the same Rubbermaid garbage GM put in everything else.

      For my money, the Aurora had the best interior of the bunch at that time.

    • 0 avatar
      bryanska

      My Dad had both: a 1998 Riv and three Eldo company cars of that generation.

      The Eldo interior, especially the later revision, looks good even today. Very tasteful design. The Riv in person was… ambitious. With the Eldo, the plastic was mostly straight and didn’t look unusual. The Riv drew enormous attention to the dash, and somehow looked more plastic because of its ostentatiousness.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    This was my first car! 1995 Riviera supercharged, light metallic blue outside with jade leather interior. I hated the OBD-1.5 computer that nobody could scan but a dealer, it had lots of little problems every time I came home from my first year of undergrad where we couldn’t have cars as freshmen, you could absolutely not reach the rear spark plugs, and it was terrible on fuel, but it’s smooth and extremely torquey.

    I put a 4″ fenderwell intake on it, properly plumbed down into the fender, and you could hear it scream from a mile away. Absolute favorite part of that car is that I could not park it in the same garage bay as one of our friends parks his ’07 Odyssey. A car designed for two people would stick out of the garage door rail where a car designed for eight people parks at night. Hilarious.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Speaking of swoopy coupes, I saw a new Q60 Coupe in traffic for the first time yesterday – pearl white. Oh man that thing looks like money.

    http://pics.niello.com/00086524/01029887f.jpg

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    Not just appealing but “massively” appealing. Millennial internet writers sure do love that word.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    The Riviera’s sister car the Oldsmobile Aurora was equally as gorgeous.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    In the flesh the proportions of this car were terrible. The overhangs were too long and the car was underpowered for the segment, especially by 1996. I will always give props to anyone trying to sell a two door car – be it 1995 or 2016. It just missed the mark.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Here is a list of vehicles this thing is longer than:

    – Tahoe
    – Pacifica
    – Benz S550
    – LWB Range Rover

    Who on Google Earth was buying these things, and what are their market equivalents buying today? Did this thing have a trunk in the engine compartment?

    • 0 avatar
      IBx1

      As I mentioned above, it’s also longer than an Odyssey, designed for eight people. Part of what they fit in all the length was a crash structure so stout that it destroyed the testing rigs and had to be moved to the light truck facility. Back in 1995, the frameless doors still opened, shut, and locked after crash testing. The trunk would also hold a few wheelchairs, luggage, and a grocery run, while the backseat had as much legroom as a mid-size sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Anecdotally, working women in their 50s. They’re all in retirement homes or driving Encores now, and their Rivieras are BHPH or junkyard fodder.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    My dad had a supercharged ’97 or ’98, and it was a runner. Plus, this platform was amazingly solid.

    Too bad the interior was utter crap.

    • 0 avatar
      Tandoor

      “Too bad the interior was utter crap”
      A GM trademark lol. I’ve driven Chevys, Buicks, Olds, Pontiac, and Caddys. All hard, cheap, creaky, cracking plastic. And if you go to the salvage yard to find replacements, the exact same junk will be broken on nearly every example you find.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    Unlike a used 1990s BMW 2 door, or a used 1990s Cadillac 2 door , a used 1995 + Riviera could actually be used for daily transport without requiring $5,000 or more in overhaul costs.

    To me, a cheap interior beats the hell out of “expensive service costs”, but maybe I’m just crazy.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I had much lust for these as a high school senior in 1995. Car and Driver actually referred to the shifts as “imperceptible” and they were surprised by the quickness of the 1/4 mile time given the lack of drama with which the car did it.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      If there’s one thing GM really got right is how smooth their 4T65E shifted (and in general many of their autoboxes). Paired with the torque rich OHV motors, it was a very nice drivetrain. The motors were always a bit rough around the edges refinement wise, but that can to a degree be chalked up as “character.” Even the A-body 3.1/3300 motors were really satisfying to drive around town. They way it’d squat back on that mushy suspension made the low end torque feel even more impressive.

      • 0 avatar
        xcalibur255

        They were smooth until you started having trouble with the solenoids. After that not so much.

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          Or had the transmission power-flushed, as my father-in-law just did to the 2001 Lesabre that I gave him a month ago. The tranny fluid was perfect in it (I had done multiple drain/refills) so I have no idea why he did it.

          Now, he is complaining that it shifts funny . . .

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    http://thinkbeardmore.com/details/1996-Buick-Riviera-NBellevue-NE/16599703?cid=0

    It was excellent in green with green leather and green dash and gold emblems! I can’t find a Silver Arrow for sale to make Kyree very excited.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Funny about the Riviera, I loved these when they debuted, and would have liked to own one. I used to practically drool over one in the neighborhood, it was so appealing!

    Interestingly, on Car Talk’s website they used to have a questionnaire you could fill out to see what kind of vehicle would fit you best based on what you currently drove, how neat and clean you kept your car, etc, etc.

    Their answer for me: A Buick Riviera!

    I must say I had to agree with them.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    My uncle had one of these – my dad always called the rear “constipated looking”.

    After this my uncle was an Olds Aurora man, buying a ’99 brand new. And my dad followed suit, still (!) owning one, now with 120k miles on the clock. I recently got to borrow the Aurora and it was still a good driving car. The suspension is only slightly worn out and the performance is pretty laughable now, but a good highway cruiser.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    I’ve never seen this generation of Riviera in that brownish color and it looks great. Most of the ones around here were white, grey, light blue or black. All those round vents and gauges on the dash look space-age cool but I never liked that big slab of one piece bath and shower plastic. Changing the serpentine belt on the supercharged engine is a huge P.I.T.A requiring supporting the engine and removing an engine mount bolt.

  • avatar
    xcalibur255

    I owned one of these for a few years. ’97 with the supercharger. There is a vacuum bypass on the supercharger so it doesn’t function during light throttle inputs. Toe into the gas and you could feel when it kicked in, very much like turbochargers felt from that era: wait…. wait…. wait…. TORQUE.

    I absolutely loved that car. It reminded me of my grandfather who had passed away some years prior. My example was very poorly treated by the previous owner and needed a lot of TLC. Somehow that person had run the supercharger out of oil. According to the service manual it never needs to be changed/filled for the life of the vehicle under normal conditions. I thought the bearings would be fried, but after putting oil I could actually feel the engine smooth out while driving it around the block.

    I miss that car. Finally had to let it go because it had too many issues from the years of abuse it suffered before I owned it. If I could find another one in good condition I’d buy it just to have one again.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      The supercharger running out of oil is very common – the rotor shaft seals fail and the oil is sucked out from the inside (which is at a vacuum at low RPMs).

      I’ve rebuilt one of these 3800 superchargers a few years ago, which should be done prior to reaching 200K miles, and preferably sooner.

      • 0 avatar
        IBx1

        That S/C oil is some satanically FOUL smelling stuff.

      • 0 avatar
        xcalibur255

        All I can say is once I filled it up (it was bone dry) it never used a drop of oil under my ownership. I would check it every now and then but the level stayed full. How it ended up dry was always an oddity to me.

        And yes, it’s one of the worst smells I’ve ever experienced in my life. Like rotting eggs but somehow worse.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    I think that were I to need a big domestic coupe from this era the Mark VIII would have been my choice though it was a bit more spends than this.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    I know I’m a Ford guy, but cmon, why buy this over a 4.6L Intec RWD Mark VIII LSC? I have driven those and they are wonderful. The interior quality also makes the Riv’s look like a 1994 Kia Sephia RS.

    I’d buy a 98+ Conti if I had to have FWD for some reason, even if it isn’t the stunning PLC the Mark was. But the Mark’s interior was amazing, it really does look modern IMO. And the 98-02 Conti with floor shift wasn’t bad, very cool instrument cluster. Would have looked good in the Mark.

    To be honest, the broad flat dash of this Buick is remenicent of lots of older cars, it doesn’t look new-style to me, it looks like it was intended for customers who had some money and who wanted a PLC instead of a LeSabre. Its quite similar to the 2008 Grand Marquis parents had, only with floor shift, so I guess you could say it does look as “recent” as 2011…or 1978 when it was actually modern.

    I’d say even a V-8 Cougar XR-7 was a better choice than this. Still RWD with IRS and an OHC V-8 that made it quick and surprisingly good on fuel. I had a 1994 Thunderbird LX V-8. A very nice PLC, and the Cougar with its gangsta formal roof/rear windows was even better.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Surely you jest. MN12 had both electrical and air ride issues, at least early on in the build cycle. This Riv, in L67 form, offers something similar minus previously mentioned issues and of course RWD glory. I realize they competed but in my mind they offered two very different answers to the same question and neither is expressly “wrong” per se.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        Buy a Thunderbird and engine swap it, no air ride!

        Of course, you have to buy a new hood…

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        I agree with that. For me, the Riv would be settling when I could’ve had a V-8 (and RWD). But, for others, I wouldn’t argue with them. To each his own.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        In 1995 the Mark VIII would set you back a minimum of 39,000 bucks compared to 29000 for the Riv. Different beasts.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I was going to say, I remember watching the MotorWeek test of the Mark VIII, and I couldn’t believe how expensive it was. That was quite a lot of money back then.

      • 0 avatar
        Johnster

        I’ve always heard that the Mark VIII had a lot of electrical problems with their black boxes and that Ford stopped making replacement black boxes years ago, which has led to some fairly low mileage Mark VIIIs in surprisingly good condition being junked before their time.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          Why would the black box be different from one used in the Navigator or Mustang Cobra?

          • 0 avatar
            Johnster

            I don’t know why, but I’ve posted a link to a story by Ralph Vartabedian in the L.A. Times dated May 16, 2007 about a guy who had this problem. (Sometimes when I post links, they don’t show up.)

            http://articles.latimes.com/2007/may/16/autos/hy-wheels16

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      While I am a fan of the Mark VIII, so long as we are spitballing here I’d rather have a Mark VIII LSC and spend the money I save on a T5 manual swap. Get the rare diesel LSC for the win!

    • 0 avatar
      Exfordtech

      Problem with the Continental is the AX4N attached to it. If you could adapt a 6F50 to the Intech I’d be all over it.

  • avatar
    geo

    The most amazing thing about these Rivieras is what the stylists could do with the ridiculous constraints they were under; for instance, GM had decreed that the wheels had to be tucked under the car, giving it a wimpy stance, so rocks wouldn’t damage the paint (this had long been rectified with special primer used on the bottom section of the car).

    Bob Lutz wrote that he had a Chrysler LX series parked in the GM design studio, and he asked why they couldn’t build a car as beautiful. GM designers covered the vehicle with sticky-notes indicating the design features that GM would not allow.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      No matter how you prime something, rocks will still damage paint. This is fact.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        My buddy has had a terrible experience with this fact on his Nissan Frontier. Instead of proper plastic fender flares, they decided to integrate them into the sheet metal, and they’re a prime target for rocks whenever he’s on dirt/gravel mountain roads. I’ll have to ask him if he ever got any of the coatings he’s tried to stand up to the abuse. I haven’t visited him since he began reproducing, and whenever he’s in town they’ve got the CX-5.

        Though it certainly is possible to have decent wheel fitment without causing exterior paint damage.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Could he coat them with Rhino Liner, or something similar?

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            I know he tried at least a couple different coatings. I can’t remember any details though. I remember thinking that such coatings should do the trick, but at least one didn’t work out well. I had since forgotten about it until your post reminded me. Now I’m curious. I’ll wait until he’s around for the holidays to find out how he resolved that, if he did.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    These were O.K. for their time. The thing that bugged me at the time was that in road tests and magazine interviews Buick people kept saying that they thought the Riviera was an alternative to the Lexus SC400 and SC300 in particular and it really wasn’t anywhere near that good.

    I will say, though, that the Buick 3800, even in non-turbo form, had a lot more low-end torque than the SC300 and would certainly beat it in a stoplight showdown.

    At the same time, Oldsmobile was comparing their new Aurora with the Lexus LS400 and while the Aurora wasn’t as good as the LS400, the comparison was closer than the Riviera compared to an SC.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      The Riviera was an alternative to those cars just at a lower price point. If the Riv cost the same as the Lexus cars I’m sure it’s interior and tech would have been much better. You usually get what you pay for. Those 3800 engines would sure go the distance if one replaced the troublesome upper intake manifold when they failed. We have sold quite a few of these with well over 200K and still running strong.

  • avatar
    Sorted Corty

    I had the good fortune to work for GM (as a contractor) during the development of the “G” platform – what a great insight into how a car is developed. I always thought the interior could use further refinement and didn’t like how the headlights met the grille – but overall thought it was a cool car. I recall development body shells (used to verify dies?) constructed completely of carbon fiber. I am sure they were destroyed but that would make a sweet ride!

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The 3800 makes these worthwhile over a Northstar or Shortstar. Interesting factoid: These Rivera’s came with a standard bench seat and a column shifter in 96-97 but most people upgraded to the buckets and floor shifter. The supercharged 3800 became standard in 98-99.

    As a MN12 T-Bird owner I am obviously quite partial to the MN12 Mark VIII over one of these. The Mark VIII suspension as 28 Cars notes is a issue but easily remedied with the $500 coil kit.
    Last year I replaced the rear shocks on my MN-12 with a pair of KYB’s and it handles quite fine.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    LOL I love all the constant carping about GM’s lousy interior build quality on this site despite that fact that many manufacturers suffered the same thing and it is still alive and well today.

    We looked at a total of 10 new cars the past few weekends and out of those 10 8 had misaligned interior or exterior bits including a 60K Mercedes, a 24K Honda Civic who’s side lower window belt moldings were so misaligned you could spot it 30 feet away, several brand new Lincoln’s with poor carpet and dash to door panel fits plus a new Sonata Limited that had a lower chrome strip on one side of the car but not the other! And these were all brand new 2017 models with plastic still on the touch screens and floors! Yes the materials are far better but the fits and build quality is still off on many makes today.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      You really should take photos of all these terrible cars which are accessible only to you on dealer lots and 0% of the rest of the population. The manufacturers would love to find the special black hole town you live in where all the new cars are damaged.

    • 0 avatar
      xcalibur255

      The digs are pretty justified. The interior of the Riv was Fischer Price bad. Acres of plastic and it all has a cheap looking sheen/finish. EVERYTHING squeaks and creaks when touched and it all rattles despite the cushy ride.

      Somehow, though, in this particular car it just doesn’t seem like a big deal. The car has personality, which is rare for a GM vehicle of this era, and things about this car that would have annoyed me if it were any other car just……… didn’t somehow.

      Rivs have this weird quality that makes them easy to love.

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