Rare Rides: A 1996 Buick Riviera, Last Gasp of Personal Luxury

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides a 1996 buick riviera last gasp of personal luxury

Today’s Rare Ride is a very unique example of the final generation Buick Riviera. A holdout in the personal luxury coupe space, the Riviera was the last large two-door the company ever produced.

This is the third time we’ve featured a Riviera in this series; we covered the fifth-generation model in 75th Anniversary (of Buick) Edition guise and followed it up with an equally Brougham sixth-gen example from 1983. That one was the super brown Twentieth Anniversary (of Riviera) model. Riviera’s sixth-gen also represented the changeover to front-drive.

The seventh-generation Riviera was a sad moment in the model’s history when downsizing made it a smaller car than ever before. We’ll cover it in a separate article. It remained in production through the 1993 model year. At that point, Buick had a Riviera rethink in a big way.

Emphasis on big. After it took the ’94 model year off, the Riviera returned with its eighth generation in 1995. It transitioned to the G-body platform that was used for the large Buick Park Avenue of 1997. Riviera’s wheelbase grew to 113.8 inches (from 108), and overall length increased from a paltry 187.8 inches to a more proper 207 inches. It was also a couple of inches wider and taller than the outgoing model.

Styling was a relative revolution for a contemporary Buick, with flowing curves and an imposing look overall. The Riviera wore more upscale styling than it had in a long time, and now had more performance to back up the looks. Unfortunately, though the Riviera’s interior was mostly unique to that model, it was built to a pretty low price. Then the whole car was assembled sort of loosely in Michigan.

All final-gen Rivieras were powered by two versions of the Buick 3800 V6, and that was a very good thing. The base offering was the 205-horse naturally aspirated L36 version. Customers who felt spendy opted for the SC L67 version (available 1996+), where power increased to 225 horses via supercharger, just like the Park Avenue Ultra. The supercharged version evolved eventually: It made 240 horses from 1998 onward and became the only engine choice at that time. Sellers these days like to tout later run cars had the “optional supercharged engine” that was in fact standard.

Aside from the engine switch-up in ’98, there were suspension changes in 1997 to cut the car’s hefty 3,700-pound weight, and an update to the four-speed automatic. By then the writing had long been on the wall for the personal luxury coupe, and GM decided to cancel the Riviera without replacement after the 1999 model year. In its final year, 1,956 Rivieras were produced. In GM tradition, the final run of cars (200 in this case) were all Silver Arrow editions. They sported silver paint and interior trim and had special embroidery in the seats. After that Riviera was gone, and few missed it.

Along the way in 1996, some customers longed for the convertible Riviera of decades ago. Happy to oblige, a couple of dealers sent new Rivieras off to Florida for customization. Completed by Coach Builders Limited, the company chopped the roof and installed an enormous convertible top. Apparently, about 10 examples of Riviera cabriolet were made and distributed primarily via today’s selling dealer, Toth Buick in Akron, Ohio. The work looks decently well done if you’re into that sort of thing, but no word on structural rigidity effects with that huge hole where the roof used to be. Yours for $29,900.

[Images: GM]

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  • Johnster Johnster on Jul 31, 2021

    At the time these were new, there was a fair number of complaints about the interior being cramped and specifically about a lack of headroom in an otherwise large car. They were also unfavorably compared to the Lexus SC coupes, although they were really quite different in concept, there was a bit crossover appeal among potential buyers. When the end of road was near, there was talk of prototypes being seen with little clam-shell rear doors similar to those on later Saturn SC and Ion Coupes and on the Mazda RX-8. There was also a lot of talk about having a 4-Door Riviera. Supposedly, Buick executives were afraid that a 4-door Riviera strayed too far away from original Riviera concept. Although the first generation Oldsmobile Aurora sold well, they might have been discouraged by the poor sales of the 4-Door Thunderbird and 4-Door Continental Mark VI. The idea of a 4-door Coupe hadn't really happened just yet, although, arguably the first generation Olds Aurora might be considered one. The Riviera died. The second-generation Aurora was a car that had originally been planned as the Oldsmobile Antares (a replacement for the Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight). The Antares was a step below the the Aurora and originally intended to accompany a new second-generation Aurora, before it was given the Aurora name late in its development. Still, you can't help but think, "What if"? What if there had been a new Buick Riviera 4-door sedan (and a second-generation Aurora that was closer in concept and styling to the first generation model)?

  • Cool1 Cool1 on Aug 07, 2021

    I‘ve driven one of these for the last 11 years - the exact color supercharged 96 in the photo. I like it because in that color it’s a work of art, - yet anyone can drive one if you can find one and fix it up. I restored mine and it’s been done for about 8 years. It has a rare car feel to it and people usually don’t know what it is, which is a very nice trick. I replaced the rear air shocks with non-air spring and it raised the rear end up. And it just feels right now. And the mauve colored interior is very nice. I had to replace some parts because the previous owner was a big smoker and there were some burn holes. It’s been a cool car to drive.

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