The most expensive car in the Buick lineup for 1979, the Riviera was the brand’s first production vehicle to offer front-wheel-drive.
For 1979, the Buick Riviera joined its E-body siblings at General Motors, the Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado, and adopted front wheel-drive. The three E-body vehicles at GM already shared internal structure and components, but for reasons of its own, the Buick division at first rejected the Toronado front-drive system introduced in ’66, sticking with its tried-and-true rear-drive hardware. When the Riviera finally embraced fwd for ’79, it became the first front-drive Buick production model in the company’s (then) 76-year history. Many more would soon follow, of course.
The RIviera arrived in the midst of an aggressive downsizing program at GM. The company’s full-size B and C-bodied cars (Chevy Impala et al) were the first to go under the knife in the ’77 model year, followed by the A-body intermediates in ’78. When the E-body personal luxury platform got the shrinking treatment for ’79, the longitudinal-V8 front-drive system pioneered on the ’66 Toronado was retained, but with a smaller. lighter transaxle unit, the THM 325.
On the RIviera, the L-form front-drive module was paired with a choice of two engines: an Olds-sourced 350 CID V8 with 170 hp, or Buick’s 231 CID turbocharged V6. With 175 hp, the turbo V6 (then equipped with a carburetor and no intercooler) was one of the most powerful cars produced in America that year, odd as that may seem today.
There were two basic models for ’79, the standard Riviera Coupe (Z57) and the mildly sport-flavored Riviera S Type (Y57), in which the Turbo V6 and some blacked-out exterior trim pieces were standard. As befitting a personal-luxury coupe of the period, each was fitted out with lush interior appointments (above) in the buyer’s choice of rich velour or leather. (Read our feature on the velour era, “Life In a Trombone Case,” here.) Priced at $10,664 for the standard coupe and $10,960 for the S Type, the Rivieras were by far the most expensive cars in the ’79 Buick lineup, topping the big Park Avenue sedan by nearly a thousand bucks.
At more than 50,000 units in MY 1979, the sixth-generation Riviera was a respectable seller for Buick, and the basic package was carried forward with regular changes and additions (including GM’s ill-starred 5.7-liter diesel V8) through 1985. The Riviera badge would continue through two more design generations before it was finally retired in 1999. A bold Riviera concept car, complete with gullwing doors, was unveiled at the Shanghai Auto Show in 2007, and if the Riviera name does reappear, it will probably be in China, where Buick now sells far more cars than it does in the USA.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.