By on July 27, 2021

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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47 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1996 Buick Riviera, Last Gasp of Personal Luxury...”


  • avatar
    C5 is Alive

    Corey, the only other new G-body in 1995 was the Olds Aurora. The Park Avenue didn’t move over to the G platform until 1997.

    My only experience with this generation of Riviera was pulling a mildly-beaten 1996 off the used lot of the dealership I worked at to drive 250 miles to get some contracts resigned and back. It was an excellent interstate cruiser, but the interior felt woefully cheap as was the GM style at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      How could he make such an egregious error!

      • 0 avatar
        C5 is Alive

        The error itself isn’t egregious, but the repeated lack of fact checking certainly qualifies as endemic.

        • 0 avatar

          I fixed it, so we can all return our BP levels back to normal.

          • 0 avatar
            C5 is Alive

            My BP was just fine, and FWIW I happen to think this feature is the best thing TTAC has left going for it.

            Take this however you will, but as someone who also wrote for a blog (a long time ago) and who also had to self-edit his articles, believe me when I tell you that it’s worth taking an extra 10-15 minutes to review your “facts” one more time than you think you need to – even the ones you’re absolutely sure about – before hitting “Send” or opening the CMS.

            You won’t get paid any extra for that diligence, unfortunately, but you will rise above the typical blogger fray and your audience will remember you for that.

          • 0 avatar

            Thanks for the compliment. I definitely do self-review. Just not going to catch everything.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree

      To be fair, the GM lore is that the C-, G-, H- and K-body platforms of that era were closely related. Even if the original 1991-1996 Park Avenue, which was designated a C, wasn’t a G, it was close to one.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    “personal luxury coupe space” Space? Really? When did “category” or “class” become “space”? It does not make you come across as more sophisticated.
    Always loved this generation of Riviera and it’s sister the Oldsmobile Aurora (first generation). Such beautiful cars.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    L36 only produces 205bph @ 5200 rpm, not 225.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buick_Riviera

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Back at the General, they called it the “Grouper” based on the fishmouth front end.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The base model Riviera came with a spilt bench seat and a column shifter. Later in its cycle the buckets and console became standard.
    The dashboard on these look very much like the one on the Bill Mitchell designed 63-69 Riviera though not up to the same level of quality. Nonetheless they are nice cruisers but I would still take a Lincoln Mark VIII over one.

  • avatar
    ajla

    It’s an interesting design. I wouldn’t call it beautiful but I wouldn’t call it ugly either.
    I think I’d still rather have a Park Avenue. Until the last few years I’d have rather had the Aurora, but as time piles on the 3800 becomes more appealing versus the N* family offerings.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    I was wrapping up my college experience around this time in Cincinnati (go Musketeers) and was valeting cars for some extra money at this time. Her reputation is kind of in tatters now, but at the time it wasn’t – I used to see and park Marge Schott’s (old owner of the Cincinnati Reds before she was forced to sell) Rivera – from Schott Buick (of course). It was the same color and style in the pictures.
    I remember the first time, and keep in mind that I’m 5’10” and she’s maybe 4″10″ on her toes, trying to get behind the wheel. Her heavy smoking habit (she was quite the cigarette enthusiast) was on full display as every crevice was filled with ash, cigarette boxes, and butts.
    The second time was just a quick moment. I hop in the car and one of her beloved St. Bernards was in the back seat. Massive dog. Schottzie. She said “Leave the window cracked hon, I’ll only be a minute.” So I got to meet the dog as well.
    She was a good tipper as well. Even worked an event at her home in Indian Hill.

    • 0 avatar

      I met that dog once circa 1995!

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Sounds like Schott’s Schott Buick was pretty well shot ;-)

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        The amount of ash, dog fur, and drool stains had to be seen to be believed. After she died, I can’t imagine what happened to her fleet of Buicks. I believe it was her husband who started the dealerships all over Cincinnati, and then when he died young, she took over being the first woman to run a chain of dealers in the area and then the first woman to own a baseball team. But her attitude and comments towards and about Black players and WW2 got her in a heap of trouble and she sold both the dealers and lost the Reds. So much of her money went to the Cincinnati Zoo – probably her favorite place.

        And her dogs were awesome. Not so much fun for the players who she forced to clean up the poo off of the Astroturf though… Everywhere she went, including the car dealers, there would be her dog.

        • 0 avatar

          Her dealer in Montgomery was renamed I believe, then shut down and torn down by early 2000s.

          That land right there is too pretigious/valuable for a Buick-Chevy dealership anyway.

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            Wasn’t it right where Cross County meets Montgomery Road? Not sure if it’s where I’m thinking, but it was still an open lot. Given the area, I’m surprised it isn’t some kind of upscale store.

          • 0 avatar

            Yep, right there. Still empty I believe, oddly.

          • 0 avatar

            https://www.google.com/maps/@39.2248778,-84.3557016,3a,75y,127.72h,86.04t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1siSn4hLQd3NH0tMfzLZpNkA!2e0!5s20110601T000000!7i13312!8i6656

            Both buildings (might have been one Buick-GMC and the other Chevrolet) were torn down after July of 2011. You can see in the window of the building on the left that it had been renamed Montgomery Chevrolet. Still a vacant lot for sale there. Prime spot for expensive townhomes, but I’m guessing they are asking a mint for the land.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Nice Schott, man.

  • avatar
    Kyree

    As you know, I have quite an affinity for these eighth-gen Rivs, and we even had a couple in the family (both Supercharged).

    Worth noting is that, in addition to having the older Series I N/A and supercharged engines, the 1995 models had a slightly different dashboard with no wood trim, and older electronics (keyless entry system/key fob, HVAC controller, radio). Crucially, the 1995 models also had the strange and difficult-to-use OBD 1.5 setup, versus the OBD 2 that was deployed industry-wide in 1996.

    I agree with you that, as fresh as the design was, it was hamstrung by haphazard build quality and materials on GM’s part. These are not enduring cars by anything other than their powertrains, and by the time they were ten years old, it was rare to see one without peeling paint, discolored plastics, mismatched door handles donated from another GM car, and various interior pieces missing. Not only were the FoMoCo MN/LN12 cars better drivers, they were built to a far higher standard…not that Ford didn’t lose its shirt on them, profit-wise.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I have no idea whether wood trim was an option on this model or not, but this particular car’s wood was of the glued-on variety.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree

        Absolutely.

        The only “wood” there that’s original and factory-installed on that car is the thin border around the HVAC/radio modules, and the surface around the gear selector. And, even then, I’m sure it’s fake. But 1995 models didn’t even have *that* going for them; GM added it in 1996.

        The rest of it is a set of stick-on plastic pieces from a kit, one that owners commonly bought for their eighth-gen Rivieras. GM itself resorted to using such a kit when it did the 1998 Riviera Northstar Concept—which was a one-off show-car used to demonstrate the idea of putting the Northstar (as used in the related Aurora) into the Riviera.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      In the early 80’s a friend of mines father, a long time Buick and Oldsmobile guy bought a new 83 Riviera convertible in red firemist. The convertible for some reason was only offered in red or white. ASC did the conversion and finishing on these after they were pulled off the E-body production line. The quality and fit and finish was quite good and he owned it for a number of years.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Nice looking hardtop, but that convertible is pretty hideous. Some things are better left alone.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Corey – Offer $5K, will be able to get back out of it in 24 mos if you keep it garaged.

    https://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/cto/d/grove-city-2001-firebird/7353194399.html

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Having owned a wonderful ’69 Riviera and a not so wonderful ’86 Riviera by the time this version rolled off the line I had long lost interest in anything Buick/GM. As always, taking a storied name and then beating it to death before retiring it is on par for a lot of auto manufacturers, but mostly GM

  • avatar

    I vividly remember the debut of this car, and my first time seeing one. I felt the same way about the Aurora, but it had a Cadillac badge when I first saw it.

  • avatar
    aquaticko

    These have always been beloved cars to me. I like ’em long and swoopy, as evidenced by my likewise now-beloved ’20 Sonata hybrid, even if that can come across as piscine or cetacean. My best friend said that cars like these remind her of oceanliners and I could hardly have asked for a higher compliment. Of course, upon finally getting a chance to drive one of these Rivieras a few years ago as a loaner car, it felt exactly as generic and crap-built as everything else ’90’s GM, but it’s still the kind of car that’ll turn my head if ever I see one on the road.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    My dad sold our 1964 Riviera in 1996, but he did not get one of these. He ended up with a Monte Carlo (another “Silver Coupe”), but he did not see the need to spend top dollar to impress anyone in his ’80’s. His eventual regret was that he bought another 2-door coupe, as his elderly friends had difficulty getting into and out of the back seat.

    Now as I age, I notice the same thing, so I may have to switch from an A5 to an e-Tron GT next time I am in the market. Or perhaps just a four door A5, I suppose.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I remember seeing one of these (an early one) when it was a new. The owner (a GM zone service rep) popped the hood, and I spied one of the hood hinge bolts, sticking out by half an inch.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    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)?

  • avatar
    cool1

    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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