Rare Rides: The Very Special 1978 Buick Riviera 75th Anniversary Edition

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the very special 1978 buick riviera 75th anniversary edition

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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2 of 48 comments
  • Whatnext Whatnext on Nov 12, 2019

    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.

  • MiataReallyIsTheAnswer MiataReallyIsTheAnswer on Nov 13, 2019

    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.

  • Grein002 I hope you meant "take the Ranger out behind the *barn*" rather than "bar". I think something completely different happens "behind the bar".
  • Cprescott Suddenly there is no reason to buy ugly anymore. The Silverdodo is dead. Long live the less hideous Colorado.
  • Cprescott Portable BBQ's for everyone!
  • Lou_BC The 2023 ZR2 is burdened with GM's 8 speed. It's been allegedly "fixed" so it doesn't gear hunt and shudder. I still won't trust it. The turbo 4 cylinder should address the lack of torque found in the V6. I test drove a full-sized Trail Boss. I could make it gear hunt. The turbo 4 didn't seem to be lacking in power, at least for an empty crewcab with a 6.5 box. It lacked anything resembling character. It had next to zero compression braking even with tow/haul engaged. Chevy should have continued offering the VM Motori based inline 4 diesel that's in the older Colorado trucks. I do like the fact that the 2023 comes with 33's standard and IIRC the wheel hubs/axles etc. have been beefed up to handle the larger rubber. The bolt pattern (IIRC) is shared with fullsized 1/2 tons opening up one's choice for aftermarket wheels.
  • EngineerfromBaja_1990 That's a >$50K truck right there. I don't need to have the build sheet, it's just way over the top. I'd keep it simpler in LT or Z71 trim. If I wanted to spend $50K I'd have gone full size already