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1969 Buick Riviera

Buick 2 frontThings are different when you're 12. Especially when you're really beginning to notice cars... and other things. When I was a dozen years old in early 1969, the original Star Trek series was still on, and we had not yet landed on the moon. As a nation, we were still recovering from the horrific events of 1968, including the public murders of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.

And despite the bad times, we really had no idea how well we had it back then. During the Summer, we got chaufeurred everywhere, had our meals taken care of, paid no rent, and, oh yeah, had the swimming pool at our disposal. In the cold months, there was the game room with pool table and juke box. Plus all the milk and cookies we could eat, brought to us by the lovely Miss Thelma.

Buick 1I guess I'm getting a little "The Wonder Years"-ish here, so lets move on to cars. And the car I remember most from this time was the one my best friend's father brought home one night... a brand new '69 Buick Riviera.

Everything about this car was a class act. From the outside, its gold paint and tan vinyl roof made its clean yet modern lines look elegant but simple. Its proportions were perfect, save for just a little extra overhang behind the rear wheels. But that's the only styling criticism I have of this car.

The fastback profile more than made up for that. This was a car you not only wanted to ride in, it was one you wanted to be seen in. When Miss Trudy picked us kids up in this, we knew the fun had just begun.

Buick 3 InteriorInside the Riviera was where it shined the most. Everything inside this car was deeply padded... the doors were pillowy soft... and seemed to sink in several inches when you poked them. The dash was also soft and squishy... when the feds dictated padded dashboards on cars the years before, Buick took that to heart and made a cushion. Even the A-pillar trim and sun visors had an amazing plyability to them that I have not seen matched in any car since.

The rear seating area, which was where we munchkins rode most of the time, was a parlor in itself. Each side had a power window switch set in, once again, deeply padded vinyl. There was a strip of wood just above the soft arm rest, and between the rear passengers, on the seatback, was a chrome grille covering the car's rear speaker.

Buick ad 2I did my best to find images of the car I knew for this post. I wish we had our own pictures of the grand Riviera, but I can't recall taking any. Many of these gold Rivieras had a black top, as in this ad image, but I thought the top matching the interior was a better way to go. And though some people today cringe at the thought of a gold or beige-colored car, I think these hues best suit the '69 Riviera then and now.

If memory serves, the car stickered for about $6,500. Their family also got a new Buick Electra 225 shortly thereafter, and I believe it stickered at $6,900. The Dad was a travel agent and real estate entreprenuer, and was obviously having a very successful year.

For comparison, a '69 Cadillac or Lincoln retailed for about $7,200 - $7,500. And though the 4-door Electra was nothing short of a limousine in itself, the Riviera was definitely my choice of their Buicks.

So the Riviera was what GM did best at that time or at any other... they built a magnificent large luxury car, and even made it sporty looking. Not so much sporty handling--it drove like any other Buick of the time--but at least it had a sophisticated youth appeal. Maybe it was really an upscale Camaro that looked right at home at the country club.

Buick engineThe hidden headlights were amazing; we used to ask somebody to raise the hood, then we'd turn the brights on and blind them. We might even blast the horn as well. Typical 12-year-olds, eh?

The lights looked so cool in the "off" position... they resembled eyes staring up at you when you raised the hood and saw that huge Buick V-8 staring right back at you as well.

I think the Riviera had the 430 cu. in. (7.0 L) V-8 with 360 horsepower, but it may have had the optional 455 cu in (7.5 L) V-8. I do remember that it drank gas. It did have a 3-speed automatic, and was the first car with cruise control and a tilting wheel that I ever rode in.

Buick 1970 egadI'm glad they got the 1969 model and not the 1970. The changes just killed its coolness... it looked like a manniquin with way too much cheap jewelry. The car was no longer fun, it was just tacky. Its futuristic front end was gone, replaced with one grafted from a lowly Buick Special.

The '70 model's skirted hind quarters (open wheels were an option) made it resemble the "Corvorado" from "Live And Let Die," though that movie was still four years away. Sadly, the car's unique mix of sport and luxury was gone.

The gold '69 Riviera stayed in their family until it was a derelict. It was passed down to the two sons, and time and neglect took its toll. A couple of minor crashes, then time spent parked in a cow pasture, finally ended my time with the Buick because one day it just disappeared.

Buick rearSo now, when I see a classic gold and tan Buick Riviera, or even images of one, it takes me back to 1969. I'm a kid again, playing with electric window switches, tilting steering columns, cushy door panels, and other marvels. I'm sitting in an extraordinary car, dreaming to drive this magnificent machine some day, and engaging my imagination with awe... and wonder.

Cue Joe Cocker.

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

Image Credits: The Riviera front/side image is from Assets.Hemmings.com. The Riviera profile shot is from Blogspot.com. Buick's interior image is from BluntGraffix.com. The 1969 Buick Riviera ad is from VintageAdsAndStuff.com. The Riviera engine and headlights image is from FineCars.cc. The 1970 Riviera montage was found at BarnFindsAndDeals.com. The Riviera heading off into the sunset photo is from Blogspot.com.

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I'm in total agreeance, I think 69 was the best year for the Riviera as far as looks and overall coolness - and yes, the 70 by comparison was butt ugly, and I never actually was a fan of the 71-73 boattails either (I know, I'm one of the few).

It's funny you point out the head lights because that's the thing that kills this for me. The nose/head lights on these always seemed to throw the whole front view off for me. It worked on the Corvette, but not on this boat. You can see a lot of the later Monte Carlo body in these Riviera's as well. But the Riviera is much better looking in my opinion.

And the fender skirts on the '70 just kills it for me. On this car I do prefer the open wheel arch. There's a place for them being covered, but for me it is about 2 decades before this car was made.

Have to agree on most of what's been said. Although I do like the boattails it does looks a bit ungainly compared to earlier versions (frankly, I prefer the earlier 1960s Rivieras myself).

Interestingly, I kind of keyed on the Electra part of the post. My family had the Wildcat, which I think was a '68, and looked very similar to the Electra. I have rather fond memories of that car, just a big beautiful American luxo-family-barge with plenty of room for us kids to create imaginary boundaries that the other could not cross while on long road trips ("Mooooom, he's looking at me again!").

We had a tan '65 4-door Wildcat and a '71 4-door Centurion, which was the exact colors of the '70 Riviera above.

Seems the Electra was almost identical to either the Wildcat or Centurion, except that the rear quarter panels were more pronounced, the rear bumpers and taillights were different, and the roof rear/backlight was more formal. Other than that, the dashboards were the same, the front ends were virtually identical, etc. I'm sure there were some seating/interior upgrades on the more posh 225 as well.

The Centurion actually (more or less) superceded the Wildcat in 1971. The Electra 225 was the top-of-the-line Buick, had a slightly bigger body with a bit more glitz and more of a spruced up interior compared to a Wildcat or Centurion (or LeSabre, for that matter).

Yes, they ruined it in 1970, along with the Toronado, the Caprice, the Bonneville, the DeVille, and countless others. Well maybe not countless others, but probably a few others. :-)

I never really understood why Buick built the Wildcat/Centurion while also offering the LeSabre. They were just too close in appearance and equipment to justify both models, I thought.

But I guess Buick had its reasons. And the LeSabre lived on well after the other car(s) departed.

What a beautiful car. One of the great classics, and along with the Olds Tornado, one of the pioneers of front-wheel drive, at least in American cars of the era, if I am not mistaken.

Reminds me of my dad's '75 Buick Regal. I was a little kid when he had that car, but I loved it. It was huge, and gorgeous, a dark emerald green with gold flecks and black leather interior. When I was old enough (long after the car was gone) to know more about cars and ask my dad about it, he told me it was a custom order that some guy made through the local dealer, but GM screwed up and forgot to install the factory A/C, so the guy didn't want it. My dad got it at a deep discount as a result. The paint job I explained earlier was one special feature, it also had a dual-carb 350, leather, power everything, and "Body by Fisher" complete with placards on the runners inside the door frames. The long hood and short decked look of that car was a classic, and it was the last model year with the proper round headlights, not the ugly stacked rectangular ones that came out in '76. One of my all time faves.

TCG, the Wildcat was supposed to be a 'sporty" version of the LeSabre, in the same vein as the Mercury Marauder was supposed to be a "sporty" version of the Marquis and Ford's XL a sporty version of the LTD/Galaxie.

When the Centurion replaced the Wildcat in 71, however, the Centurion was little more than a dressed-up LeSabre with a few subtle styling differences - a cool car, mind you, as I've always liked them, but I agree, there really wasn't enough difference to justify both models. And I guess Buick eventually felt the same way since it killed off the Centurion after only a 3 year run.

^^^I can't help but laugh any time the words "sporty" and "LTD" manage to get into the same sentence...

My almost experience with the Riviera was a few years before the '69. I had a '62 T-Bird convert that ran well, but was succumbing to rust just five years into its' life. I was driving by a Buick dealer, so I went in to check out a Riv'. It was appealing, but not a convert,and the windows were just one piece. If I remember correctly, it was around $4,000.00, with the GS option, which was a stronger engine and tires with a red stripe rather than whitewalls. This was in '67, and I bought a new '66 Ford 7 Litre with a four speed trans for under $3,000.00. As is the case/lament with several of the respondents to this website, I wish I had it now.

Actually I owned a Riviera once, an fully-loaded 83 - beautiful car with leather, power moonroof and all the other bells and whistles. Had the Olds 307 motor in it that could barely get out of its own way - hard to believe that was actually the more-powerful motor choice - I can't imagine the V6 models being any faster than a 40-ton Kenworth tractor-trailer :-O

My folks had a '67 Riviera that featured a cleaner grill and turn signal design and no side markers to busy up the lines like the '69 was forced to wear.

The 1967 Riviera also featured this cool precursor to a digital speedometer where the red gauge pointer stayed still and the numbers rolled up underneath 50,60,70!! Much like a bathroom scale of the time

Do any of you remember a tv commercial for the 1969 Buick Riviera? It started running in later 1968. Gold Riviera with a white roof. There was a father and his 2 sons, driving, camping ... it was my husband, his brother, and their dad. I never saw it, but would love to see it and get a video link for them. I've searched online - no luck!

I remember that commercial. Have you tried youtube and vimeo for it? Might get lucky.

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