12 May 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #6

I'm going to be spotlighting cars from the 1960s for a while longer, mainly because there were so many good ones. They may not meet any criteria for being "great cars," but they were stylish and appealing, and for the most part were still being put together pretty well (a quality which would become less common in the '70s).

One of the big trends of the '60s was the rise of the "personal luxury" car, a two-door that was either based on an existing full-size model or, more desirably, had its own distinctive bodywork. Ford pioneered this category when they enlarged the Thunderbird from a two-seater to a four-seater for 1958. It took General Motors and Chrysler a surprisingly long time to react and come to market with their own variations on this theme.

One of GM's early efforts was the 1961 Oldsmobile Starfire, like the Thunderbird a large, luxurious convertible (a coupe was added a year later) with bucket seats and a console, followed in the middle of the 1962 model year by the Buick Wildcat and in '63 by Pontiac's Grand Prix.
But GM had another surprise for '63: the Buick Riviera. It mimicked the T-bird more closely by using a slightly shortened version of the full-size platform and wearing unique body panels that set it apart from Buick's other full-size cars.
The original Riviera is a beautiful car, but for me the second generation, which arrived three years later, is even more attractive. Its lines and proportions were sportier, in keeping with the general styling trend toward more sharply angled rear windows and rooflines, yet still very clean.
It was one of the first American cars to eliminate front vent windows. It had a really cool hidden-headlight treatment. I feel like this is the car Don Draper should have instead of his comparatively bland 1965 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.
I'm confining my fantasy-garage choice to either a 1966 or '67 Riviera, preferably in GS trim, and definitely with bucket seats. There are only very minor differences between the '66 and '67 Riviera models, but while the '68 retained the same basic body, Buick started fiddling with elements of the design, keeping the hidden headlights but making the front end appear chunkier and less elegant, and the extremely cool drum-style speedometer also was eliminated after only two years.
By 1970 the hidden headlights were gone, the rear of the car had been elongated, and it was given fender skirts that combined with the enlarged rear portion to make the formerly sleek lines look dowdy. (1971 would see the introduction of the polarizing "boat-tail" design, but I think we'll save that for another time.)

(Images from Old Car Brochures. If you'd like to read a more in-depth treatment of this car, head to Curbside Classic.)

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