Automotive Mileposts  

1963 Buick Riviera
Production Numbers/Specifications

1963 Buick Riviera Wildcat engine: 325 or 340 hp
October 4, 1962
40,000 (Limited)
4747 Riviera 2-dr Sport Coupe $4,333
Weight: 3,998 Built: 40,000
(Built: 37,374/93.4%)

Built: 2,601/6.5%)

(Built: 25/0.06%)
Wildcat 445 Engine
Displacement: 401 CID
Horsepower: 325 @ 4400 rpm
Torque: 445 lbs.-ft. @ 2800 rpm
Compression ratio: 10.25 to 1
Carburetor: Rochester 4GC
Exhaust system: Dual

Wildcat 465 Engine
Displacement: 425 CID
Horsepower: 340 @ 4400 rpm
Torque: 465 lbs.-ft. @ 2800 rpm
Compression ratio: 10.25 to 1
Carburetor: Carter AFB
Exhaust system: Dual

Wildcat 445 Engine
Displacement: 401 CID
Horsepower: 315
Compression ratio: 8.75:1 (Low compression for export)
Carburetor: Rochester 2GC
Exhaust system: Dual
Automatic Turbine Drive
3.23 to 1 or 3.42 to 1
7.10" x 15"
Disc-type wheels, 15" x 5.50", "K" type flange
Hydraulic, self adjusting
Total lining area: 197.32 sq. ft.
Finned aluminum front drums
117 inches
Front Tread: 60 inches
Rear Tread: 59 inches
Length: 208 inches
Width: 76.4 inches
Height: 53.2 inches
Fuel Tank: 20 gallon capacity
Cooling System: 18.5 quarts (with heater)
Transmission 1963 was the only year the Riviera used the Twin Turbine Dynaflow automatic transmission, which dated back to 1948.

1963 Buick Riviera right rear quarter view

Bill MitchellIf credit is to be given anyone for the Buick Riviera, it must be given to William (Bill) Mitchell. Mitchell joined General Motors in 1936 in its Art & Color section, and worked his way up to head of design from 1958-1977. He had a strong personality, and the designers who worked under him either thought he was the best man they'd ever met, or they despised him with everything they had. A known womanizer and heavy drinker, Mitchell was not unfamiliar with criticism. At times, profanity poured from his mouth, yet at other times he could toss out a one liner with no notice and have everyone within earshot laughing.

For all his faults, Bill Mitchell was a car guy. He had an eye for car design that was uncanny. He could picture an image in his mind and express what he wanted well enough for a designer to put that design down on paper. There are a handful of cars attributed to Bill Mitchell, most notably the Chevrolet Corvette and the Buick Riviera. When Ford introduced its Thunderbird in 1955, it was a two passenger car that Ford referred to as a "personal car." Designed at the time to compete with Chevrolet's Corvette, which was introduced in 1953, the folks at Ford would quickly decide to take the Thunderbird in a new direction. And they did. In 1958, Ford introduced the new four passenger Thunderbird, and by doing so they created an entirely new market segment, known as the personal luxury car. Smaller than typical luxury cars of the day, the Thunderbird was called a compact by Ford, although true compacts wouldn't be marketed until 1960, with the introduction of the Ford Falcon. The T-bird was defined by its elegant yet sporty styling, bucket seat and console interior, good performance, and luxury features. The new T-bird was one of only two cars in the country to show a sales increase for 1958, a recession year in America.

The 1958 Thunderbird was a huge hit with the public, and its popularity took General Motors by surprise. They had nothing to compete with the new car, and nothing that was currently under development would fit in that new market niche. Back in those days, the major car makers felt they needed to compete with each other model for model, so a program was quickly instituted at GM to fill the gap. The first attempt was the 1961 Oldsmobile Starfire, which included a high performance V-8 engine, front bucket seats and console, and unique interior and exterior features that set it apart from other Oldsmobiles. For all its unique touches, the Starfire was still basically a full sized Oldsmobile underneath, and shared basic body styling, instrument panel, and drive train with other Oldsmobiles. It was not as unique as the T-bird, which did not share body parts or interior trim with any other car. Plus, the Starfire was available only as a convertible, and the majority of T-birds sold were hardtop models.

For 1962, the Starfire was available in both convertible and hardtop models, and was joined by the 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix (which was only offered in a hardtop body style) to compete with the Thunderbird. The Starfire and Grand Prix were both distinctive and sold well, but their main fault was they were basically full sized cars with unique interiors and special exterior styling touches. They were missing the unique, compact size of the T-bird, as well as its instantly recognizable and distinct styling. Realizing that the Starfire and Grand Prix would not be the answer, Bill Mitchell envisioned a completely new car, likely a Cadillac, to represent GM's first true personal luxury entry.

It is said that during a trip to England, Mitchell spied a custom bodied Rolls Royce parked on the curb. It was a misty, foggy night, and the profile of the car from Mitchell's vantage point appeared sharp and crisp. It was at this point he determined that GM needed something that would be both sporty, yet offer sharp, razor blade lines and a crisp profile. Ned Nickles had already been working on a personal luxury car design, but Mitchell wasn't impressed with what he'd come up with so far. Given this new directive, Nickles began to work on what would become known as XP-715. Mitchell referred to it as the LaSalle II, in recognition of Cadillac's junior nameplate that was retired in 1940. As such, the new car would need some design touch that was reminiscent of the LaSalle for recognition, and two rounded upright grilles were placed in the leading edge of each fender, each containing narrow horizontal chrome vanes that were inspired by the old LaSalle grille design. Mitchell loved it immediately!

As work continued on the car, a problem developed. Cadillac Division didn't want it. They were currently selling everything they could possibly build, and were at this point working with Oldsmobile on a new front wheel drive platform, with plans to introduce their own spectacular personal luxury car before the end of the decade. So, GM's top brass decided to open up a competition for the other divisions to see which one came up with the best ideas for the new car. Oldsmobile did very little, as they had already invested quite a bit of time and money in their joint venture with Cadillac on the front drive platform, which left Buick, Pontiac, and Chevrolet to compete against each other for the new car.

At this time, Buick really needed something new more than the other divisions, as its sales had been trending downward for several years. A new personal luxury car would be just the spark needed in showrooms to ignite new sales. So, Buick asked its ad agency to move quickly on a complete marketing proposal for the new car, including advertising mock ups, brochures, the whole bit. When this presentation was made to GM executives, it was obvious which division had done the most to earn the new car, and it was awarded to Buick.

Buick chose to name the car Riviera because that name was already identified with Buick, as it had been used previously to identify certain upper level models in the Buick line up, as well as a way of identifying cars with the hardtop body style. The last car to use this designation was the 1963 Buick Electra 225 Four Door Hardtop, which of course was the same year the Riviera become a separate model. After 1963, the name Riviera was used exclusively to identify Buick's top of the line personal luxury coupe.

Buick announced that first year production would be limited to just 40,000 cars, and Buick dealers sold every one of them. Bill Mitchell's design was an instant classic that didn't look like anything else on the road. Finally Buick had a distinctive car that would bring people into the showrooms, and many of them left with a new Buick, so the Riviera was a huge success for the division.

The Riviera featured a high level of standard equipment, which included a V-8 engine, automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, front and rear bucket seats with soft vinyl upholstery, full wheel covers, carpeting, a fully lined trunk, and much more. Ford's Thunderbird outsold the Riv by a wide margin in 1963, but it offered 4 different models and received a lot of press due its mid-year 1963 Monaco Event, where the Limited Edition Landau was introduced with an hour long television special and a spread in Vogue Magazine.

For classic Riviera purists, the 1963 model is the way to go. Improvements for 1964 and styling refinements for 1965 also have their admirers, but many feel the 1963 best represents this series. Originally, Bill Mitchell wanted the Riviera to have concealed headlights, but they weren't ready to go until 1965, so for that reason alone many think the 1965 front end is the best. The clamshell covers can be troublesome at times, but it's an amazing sight to watch them open and close.

It's interesting to note that 1963 was the only year that a leather interior was offered on a Riviera until 1974. For some reason, Buick felt that offering a leather interior as an extra cost option somehow made the Riviera appear to be too expensive for some people. Buick intentionally priced the Riviera close to the T-bird, which was priced at the low end of the luxury scale, and was noted for retaining its resale value very well. It's odd that this one item would be identified for deletion, but it indeed was.

No matter its vintage, Rivieras of the classic era have always been easily identifiable as a Riviera, and all of them maintained their distinctive styling touches, even though no one styling feature was carried through successive body styles. And this is perhaps the best indicator that the classic look established in 1963 was a flash of inspiration, capable of surviving through many years, all thanks to the brilliant guidance of Bill Mitchell.