Revival of the Buick Riviera: 1977-78 Edition

If there’s one thing the 1977–1978 Buick Riviera was lacking, it would be its distinctiveness, and that can be an issue for an expensive luxury car. Historically, consumers of luxury cars have sought out ways to stand out from the crowd in addition to appreciating its luxurious features. In a word, prestige. In his 1889 book The Theory of the Leisure Class, American economist Thorsten Veblen dubbed it “conspicuous consumption.”

The original 1963 Riviera was a fashion phenomenon when it debuted at the Paris Auto Show, and later versions of the Buick personal-luxury coupe mostly carried on this heritage. Customers purchasing Rivieras could anticipate unique style since even the comparatively plain ’74–’76 notchback coupes were present. However, the new Riviera that debuted in 1977 kind of vanished into the background. It was strikingly similar to the LeSabre, the entry-level full-size vehicle from the Buick brand.

The 1977 Riviera was built on GM’s newly reduced body-on-frame B-body platform with a 115.9-inch wheelbase, similar to the LeSabre, rather than the bigger Electra C-body or the E-body architecture of earlier Riviera models. Furthermore, while having surprisingly little exterior sheet metal in common, the LeSabre and Riviera differ just slightly. The more elegant grille and front fascia, the arched quarter panels, and the cushioned landau top with opera windows are the most noticeable Riviera variations. If the cars weren’t parked next to one other, the typical consumer car buyer might have problems differentiating between them.

Although the Riv’s interior trimmings were at least as luxurious as the Electra’s, with plush ’70s velour everywhere (vinyl is also an option) and all the standard luxury-class amenities, the dash and instrument panel layouts of the LeSabre and Electra were also shared. Standard equipment was a 350 cubic inch Buick V8 and a Turbo-hydramatic transmission; an Olds 403 CID V8 producing 185 horsepower was an option. The base price was $7385, which was only $352 more expensive than an Electra Limited Coupe but over $2,000 more than a LeSabre.

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Except for the LXXV trim package, which was added in honor of the car’s 75th anniversary, the Riviera remained largely unchanged for 1978. Features featured four-wheel disc brakes, a distinctive two-tone paint job in silver and black, and an interior composed of platinum-gray vinyl with black piping.

Surprisingly, the 1977–1978 models did not do poorly at all in Buick dealerships, maybe to illustrate how little we know about it. In fact, sales increased from the 20,000 units of the Riviera in 1974–1976 to almost 26,000 in 1977, then returned to the typical 20,535 units in 1978. The advertisements said, “Riviera rides again.” However, a completely redesigned vehicle with front-wheel drive debuted in 1979 and quickly shot to the top of the sales rankings, becoming the best-selling Riviera ever.

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