Note: This post was originally on Car Lust on May 23rd, 2012. This one does vary slightly from the original, and the images are a little larger as well.
Things 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 chauffeured everywhere, had our meals taken care of, we paid no rent, and, oh yeah, had the swimming pool at our disposal. In the cold months, there was the game room with a nice pool table and juke box. Plus there were all the milk and cookies we could eat, brought to us by the lovely Miss Thelma.
I 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.
Inside 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 seat back, was a chrome grille covering the car’s rear speaker.
I 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 both 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.
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.
I’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 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.
So 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.
– – Chuck Lynch
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.