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1963 Buick Riviera
Wouldn't you really rather have a Buick...Riviera?

1963 Buick Riviera


1963 Riviera Auctions


Exterior Paint Colors

Interior Trim

Standard Equipment

Optional Equipment

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The 1963 Buick Riviera was General Motors' first true competitor for the Ford Thunderbird [links in this article will open in a new window], which was introduced in 1955 as a sporty personal car but evolved into a personal luxury car for 1958. In fact, the 1958 Thunderbird created the personal luxury car market segment. The Riviera was intended to appeal to the same type of buyer who up to this point only had the Thunderbird to consider. The Riviera was designed to attract car buyers who desired something special, something more unique than their neighbors Cadillacs or Lincolns. This buyer recognized quality when they saw it, but quality wasn't enough. This buyer also demanded styling that stood apart from all other cars, and required a level of standard equipment sufficient that the base package was impressive without a lot of extra cost options, but every option imaginable should be offered on the car, so it could be custom ordered to the exact preferences of the buyer.

The GM Design Staff, Buick Research and Development, and the Marketing Group all worked in concert to come up with the unique Riviera package, which had originally been envisioned as a Cadillac. But Cadillac didn't want or need the Riviera, as it was already selling everything it made, and was in the early stages of developing its own personal luxury car, which would be introduced in just a few years as the 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado. The Riviera was assigned to Buick Division after Buick pulled out all the stops to get it. Buick sales had been down for several years at this time, and Buick desperately wanted something new and fresh to bring customers into their dealer's showrooms, and the Riviera was it Buick hoped.

The new Riviera featured a somewhat compact wheelbase for the luxury market at 117 inches. For comparison, this was nine inches shorter than the Buick Electra. The Riv had an overall length of 208 inches and an overall width of 76.4 inches. Its curb weight weighed in at a hefty 4,140 pounds, which was 285 pounds lighter than the Electra.

Frameless side glass was introduced on the 1963 Riviera. This new innovation eliminated the metal trim that outlined the edge of glass on hardtop models. Elimination of the metal band gave the Riv a cleaner look, and many other cars would utilize this design in the coming years.

Performance was an important consideration in the personal luxury market, and the Riviera's power source was the 401 cubic inch "Wildcat 445" V-8 engine with 325 horsepower at 4400 rpm. It developed 445 lbs. ft. of torque at 2800 rpm. An optional engine was available for those who wanted even more enthusiasm in the form of a bored-out 425 cubic inch "Wildcat 465" V-8, which produced an impressive 340 horses at 4400 rpm and 465 lbs. ft. of torque at 2800 rpm. The 1963 Riviera engines were painted Silver (the only time this color would be used), and featured an oversized air cleaner painted in Wrinkle Red. The Buick Turbine Drive Dynaflow Transmission, a Buick staple since 1947, transferred the momentum from the engine to the drive shaft.

The Riviera had a base price of $4,333, which was expensive compared to other two door hardtops at the time, but was less than other traditional luxury cars. An impressive level of standard equipment was provided in order to compete item for item with the Thunderbird. Standard items included at no additional charge were a 401 cubic inch V-8 engine, Turbine Drive automatic transmission with floor shift, power steering, self-adjusting power drum brakes, front and rear bucket seats with center console, heater and defroster, 2-speed windshield wipers with windshield washer, smoking set with rear seat ash trays, Riviera steering wheel, parking brake signal light, safety buzzer, map light, electric clock, Riviera full wheel covers, automatic trunk light, license plate frame, trip mileage indicator, vinyl upholstery, deep-pile carpeting, and a lined luggage compartment.

A total of three different interiors were available for the 1963 Riviera. One standard, and two optional. The standard interior featured all-vinyl bucket seats in three colors: Blue, Silver, or Sandalwood. Standard interiors featured shorter armrests on the front door trim panels, which featured a brushed aluminum plate with Buick Tri-Shield ornament centered over the armrest. The center console was covered in a black camera-case crinkled veneer material.

The two optional interiors were the Custom Fabric and Vinyl Trim, or the Custom Leather and Vinyl Trim. While the basic layout was identical to the standard interior, the seats were upholstered in either Baronet Cloth and Vinyl in Black, Blue, or Sandalwood, or Soft Top Grain Leather and Seville-grain Vinyl in Blue, Silver, White, Red, Black, or Saddle. The interior door trim panels in the upgraded interiors featured distinctive appointments, with full-length armrests and door latches for rear seat passengers. A wood veneer panel ran the length of the door and quarter trim panels, and both front door panels featured a round ornament with black background mounted in the center of the wood veneer. Inside the ornament, the name "Riviera" appeared in script.

1963 Buick Riviera console - view from rear seatEarly production Rivieras differ somewhat from those made later in production in that the metal instrument panel featured a smooth satin finish until November 1962, when tooling for an updated ribbed metal panel was completed and went into production. Buick felt the plain metal was not attractive enough, especially considering that competitor Thunderbird featured a ribbed anodized aluminum trim on its console and side trim panels. At the same time the panel trim was changed, a Riviera script emblem was added to the face of the glove compartment. Early cars also used a 120 mph speedometer, which was taken from the Electra parts bin. It was replaced during production with a 140 mph unit unique to the Riviera.

The spare tire was initially placed in the well of the luggage compartment, which wasted space and made it difficult to load and unload items around it. During production it was moved forward and mounted over the rear axle area to provide more convenient and usable space for luggage and other items. Around the same time, the mirror on the driver's door was also moved forward, toward the front of the car, to improve visibility. These differences make it easier to determine the early production cars from later production.

Several items were unique to the 1963 Riviera, and help to identify it from later models. The Buick Tri-Shield button which featured a black background was used as a hood ornament, and it also appeared on the wheel covers and tail light lenses as well. Beginning in 1964, a stylized "R" emblem would appear in these areas instead. 1963 would also be the only year that the heater-defroster and optional air conditioning controls would be suspended under the center of the instrument panel pad. This design created a somewhat confusing array of push-pull control levers to direct air flow where desired. A much simpler and user friendly design appeared for 1964 and 1965.

Buick Division announced that production for the Riviera's debut year would be limited to just 40,000 units. Of course all were sold, and production going forward would not be limited by anything other than demand. In its very first year, the Riviera introduced an industry first: flush glass. The unique manner in which its windscreen and rear window were sealed directly to the body allowed the glass to fit flush, and eliminated the bulky metal and rubber framework required on other automobiles.

The personal luxury market would become increasingly competitive in the years to come, with new challenges in the form of the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado, 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado, and 1969 Continental Mark III. The 1963-1965 Rivieras are considered to be one of General Motors' landmark designs, and most collector car enthusiasts list them among their favorites.

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