By on November 11, 2019

Riviera. The mere mention of the name brings to mind visions of luxury. Perhaps of a CRT that glowed brightly on a stormy night, as your grandmother drove you home from a 4:55 p.m. dinner at Old Country Buffet. Or perhaps of the GM 3800 V6, maybe in elite supercharged form.

Today’s Rare Ride predates either of those anecdotes, and is special for a very different reason: It’s a last-of moment.

Riviera stayed true to its personal luxury coupe purpose over the 30-plus years Buick used the nameplate. As it joined the lineup in place of the outgoing Super model, a new type of car was in its infancy. It was a car which coddled its occupants in style and taste. GM was chasing Ford and its lead with the 1958 Thunderbird, which happened to create the personal luxury coupe segment.

Large and in charge, the Riviera had its engine at the front and driven wheels at the rear, as was appropriate for personal luxury in times before the Oldsmobile Toronado did a front-drive mix-up. Riviera’s first generation (arguably the most desirable) lasted from 1963 through 1965. 1966 saw continued use of the E-body platform of the original, and GM produced a revised rear-drive Riviera and front-drive Olds Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado concurrently (Eldorado switched in ’67).

Riviera continued with its short product cycle, and a third generation debuted for model year 1971. Engines were pared down to a single offering then, the largest one from the outgoing generation. It was a 455 cubic inch (7.5L) V8, mated to a three-speed auto. A fourth generation still utilized the E-body platform, and was ready in 1974. By that time, Riviera was looking less like a Buick and more like a Pontiac. Ho-hum styling carried Riviera through 1976, as big changes arrived to Buick personal luxury.

For 1977 Riviera swapped over to the full-size B-body platform, joining lots of other GM offerings that were not personal luxury coupes. Notably, Toronado and Eldorado continued as E-bodies without major revision as Riviera diverged and downsized. Buick’s big coupe lost about five inches in length and nearly a liter of displacement as its largest engine offering became the Olds 403 (6.6L) V8. In this era, Riviera transformed into a somewhat more formal version of the LeSabre coupe. Sales immediately fell off, but a replacement was well underway.

In the meantime, 1978 was the final year of the B-body Riviera, and indeed the last time the Riviera would be rear-wheel drive. To commemorate the end of an era and the birthday of the Buick brand, 2,889 Rivieras were fitted with a 75th Anniversary Edition trim package. All were painted silver and black, with matching gray upholstery and black piping. The special Rivieras also received four-wheel disc brakes, nicer carpets, and additional chrome trim.

In 1979 the trio of GM’s personal luxury coupes returned with all-new versions on the E-body platform. All were much modernized over the outgoing versions, and all were the in-demand setup: front-wheel drive. Overall length shrunk a full foot, and the largest engine available was the ubiquitous 350 (5.7L) Olds V8. To give credit where it’s due, the GM triplets managed their malaise disadvantages better than many of their contemporaries. But it was downhill for Buick personal luxury from there.

Today’s Rare Ride has just 34,000 miles and is located in Colorado. In excellent condition, this beacon of malaise personal luxury asks $19,500.

[Images: seller]

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48 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Very Special 1978 Buick Riviera 75th Anniversary Edition...”


  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    Sorry, but it was cars like this that caused me to go German when I purchased my first car for myself in 1978, replacing the 1964 Riviera that I had received from my dad earlier that year when I turned 21. The Riviera went back to him, and he continued to drive it until 1996.
    Rivieras were about style, and in my opinion, this car had none.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      How GM made the 1964 Riviera is a bit of a mystery when you consider everything that followed it. I didn’t even know this was a Riviera until I read the caption.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        The original Riviera was designed for Cadillac, when Cadillac turned it down it was given to Buick, thus began it’s slow decline with the above being about the half way point.

        The one bright spot was the boat tail Riviera of ’71-’73, but it’s looks being rather polarizing scared Buick into taking the Riviera mainstream (boring) where it remained

        This Riviera is nothing more then a re-bodied Electra 225 2-door. Nothing special about it at all

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “taking the Riviera mainstream (boring) where it remained”

          Love it or hate it, I don’t consider the look of the ’95-’99 to be “mainstream”.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            True, Riviera’s last gasp wasn’t terrible, but any prestige it once had was long gone. Another GM too little too late attempts at saving a once grand name

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            My dad had one of those last-gasp Rivieras. It had a supercharged 3800 and decent road manners, but everything else *was* terrible, from the craptastic interior to the bizarre styling.

            It was a “last year’s leftover special” my dad picked up for a song at the same time he was starting a new business and needed something fairly inexpensive. As I recall, he had it for maybe a year.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Always had something of a soft spot in my heart for Rivieras. My favourites being in order the 1st generation, the 3rd generation (boat tail) and the 8th generation.

    This generation is not one of my favourites, looking much like a ‘stretched’ Grand Prix.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      I actually think the pre-facelift 2nd-gen Rivieras (’66 and ’67) may be the best looking ones after the 1st-gens, but they suffer terribly by dint of the fact that they’re clearly not as nice as their immediate predecessors. (I’m reminded of a pretty girl at my university who had the mixed fortune of being the younger sister of a supermodel. The most common observation about her was “She’s not as pretty as her sister.”)

      I think the boat tails and the 8th-gens are odd in a good way.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    My preccciouussss.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Ha.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      If you liked that, you’re gonna LOVE this:

      https://www.ebay.com/itm/1996-Buick-Roadmaster-Roadmaster-Estate-Wagon/133229519885

      Same seller, and it’s down the road from me a bit.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Lol, $12K for a big old Buick station wagon

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Maybe a bit pricey, but talk the guy down a few grand, and now you’re looking at +/- $10,000 for a big, comfy, well equipped car that you should give you another hundred thousand miles or so of fairly bulletproof service. That ain’t such a bad deal. And when you get tired of it, do the LS swap, and then you have the Buick Roadmaster From Hell.

          Think of it this way: it’s a cheap alternative to something like a full-size crew cab pickup, and if you ask me, we need as many alternatives to those things as we can get.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      And you’re REALLY, REALLY gonna love this…again, same seller.

      https://www.ebay.com/itm/2012-Cadillac-CTS-CTS-V/133216654864

      Oh, yes. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    It reminds me of the 1980 Ford Thunderbird Silver Anniversary Edition
    http://i.wheelsage.org/pictures/ford/thunderbird/autowp.ru_ford_thunderbird__silver_anniversary__2.jpg

    I always thought the T-bird as it was based on the Mustang II Ghia, but maybe the Buick was their benchmark.
    https://mustangattitude.com/mustang/1975/1975_00015_01.jpg

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    This is the weakest Riv outside of the abomination in ’86. Basically, a two-door LeSabre, but without the value.
    My understanding is that the ’77 & ’78 Toronado and Eldorado E-bodies were able to make MPG ratings because they were FWD, but the RWD Riv couldn’t. Rather than switch the Riv to FWD, they cobbled together this Caprice-in-drag, which only lasted two years (wasteful!).
    In ’79 the Riv got back on the program and went FWD anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      No, it’s not the worst Riv…not by a long shot. The ’76 was far, far worse. How bad? It’s the automotive equivalent of a deformed love child sired by Barry White and Tammy Faye Baker.

      http://automotivemileposts.com/auctions/images/riv1976sr.jpg

      So, so, so bad. And I’d say that mid-’90s one they did gives it a run for its’ money. At least the ’77-78 models were clean looking.

      Man, how can you hate on a car that old that’s in this shape anyway?

    • 0 avatar
      Whatnext

      Hardly. The bloated 69-70, the bland 75-76 , the downsized ’85 Riv..all much worse.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    One feature on this car you no longer see- the turn lamp that gives you extra light when taking a corner. It was usually an option and rarely came stock on anything but the top of the line.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Old-school cornering lights were awesome in cities. When you turned across sidewalks or crosswalks, or into alleys, they lit up pedestrians perfectly. Current adaptive headlights (or in some cars, fog lights that turn on with the turn signal) don’t replace that function, and I still miss it from my ’89 Taurus SHO.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      My 2017 Buick Lacrosse has cornering lamps – no big fender-mounted lens and bezel. I wish more cars had them, super helpful in gray, soggy, Seattle.

    • 0 avatar
      redgolf

      My 72 Limited (225) had those cornering lights, oh how I loved that car, bought it used in 74 with 27k miles from a retired GM exec. for $3200.The Deuce and a Quarter! Always loved the boat tail Riviera’s

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I love cornering lights, one of the things I really like about my old Panthers. Great out here in the woods where there aren’t many street lights. Also good when maneuvering in tight places in the dark.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        My 2018 Regal TourX has the uplevel headlight package that will “look the way the steering wheel is cranked”. Pretty nifty and the best headlights I’ve experienced. Worth the price of the upgrade that included the BOSE stereo.

    • 0 avatar
      Whatnext

      My 2016 CC has them.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Some kid in high school had one of these, rumor was it had a 455 dumped in place of the stock engine. The guy was a grade-A jerk so I never talked cars with him to see if it was true.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Haters gonna hate and I don’t care…I love it, if for no other reason than the fact that it was so incredibly well cared for. The *headliner* doesn’t sag onto your head, and for GM cars of this vintage, that’s a miracle roughly on the level of a virgin birth. Hallelujah.

    And if you think this is bad, consider this: it’s a massive improvement over the eyesore that came before it.

    http://automotivemileposts.com/auctions/images/riv1976sr.jpg

    (Yes, the price is nuts.)

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I have one nice thing to say: that brushed metal dash looks a hell of a lot better than the excuses for wood finish that were common around that time.

    Other than that, if you don’t have anything nice to say…

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      The brushed metal dash and the two large round gauges with a small round center gauge were homages to the original ’63-4 Riviera, though the dash was ribbed on our ’64. The higher trim packages had wood grain instead, but ours did not.

      To this day, I still go with metal look dashes instead of wood grain, they look sportier to me.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    Oh good lord. I was hoping to get through this article without reading the word “malaise”. So sick of seeing that word every time there is an article about 70s cars. Enough already.
    As for this Riviera. It’s beautiful. I would take it in a heartbeat.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Concur, this is a beautiful car and I would take it as well. Much easier to criticize something before your time. This was a personal luxury coupe which was the ultimate vehicle during this time. I myself bought a new 77 Monte Carlo with swivel bucket seats, power windows, power locks, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, rear window defogger, landau top, rally wheels, factory front and back GM floor mats, and light under the hood and in the trunk in Buckskin with tan interior and tan landau total cost $6,578). Today that would be considered a base equipped model but in 77 that was a fully loaded car and one of the few with all those options combined. Had that Monte for over 18 years a beautiful riding and driving car for its time–wish I still had it.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    and it had cold cold air, power steering, and power brakes.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Wasn’t this body style available with the 403 V8 as well?

    Now some would sniff at that because the 403 is an Oldsmobile engine but I wouldn’t sneeze at 185 hp vs the 155 hp that was available with the Buick 350 V8. Although the torque spread was likely much smaller.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Per the listing it does have the 403.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I never click through to the listing, I don’t need the temptation. :-)

        Corey mentioned the old 455 as no longer available and mentioned the 350 V8 as being the largest available in the 1979 models but it took me 3 times reading it to find reference to the 403.

        Forgive.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          A friend in high school had a 1979 Oldsmobile 98 with the 403. It could just about get out of its own way. It beat a six cylinder 1957 Chevrolet 4-door in a drag race, but I assumed it was a 307 until we lifted to hood to investigate emanating steam one day. It was slower than another friend’s 350/4V Impala wagon.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Eh at least the Firebird version of the 403 was pretty well known for being able to wake it up with a timing adjustment and some other minor tweaks.

            I have a sickness for wagons so I would have loved a 1977-79 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser with the 403. My Grandmother had a 1979 Oldsmobile 98 coupe with 403. She got a fair number of tickets while owning it but then she was a fairly young widow at age 42.

          • 0 avatar
            ponchoman49

            Sounds like that 403 was pooped or way out of tune. A good friend had this engine in his 78 Olds 88 pace car that was stock and fiddled a little with the timing and carb and that sucker would lay rubber for blocks! Also drove one just like this featured car and it was anything but slow.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    Easily the best coupe of GM’s downsized B and C body models. The interior was better than any contemporary domestic. Option it with the right engine and suspension and you had a great American road car.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    When I was a kid, a neighbor had a twin to this car and I thought the black/silver 2 tone was just about the classiest thing I’d ever seen. I’d own it today just for the comfort and space for my kids.

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