Clamshell Barn Find! 1965 Buick Riviera

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The Riviera was Buick’s entry into the personal luxury space, something akin to the Ford Thunderbird…but–dare I say–better. It was bigger, had more power, and arguably better styling. The Riviera began as a trim level on Buick’s earlier models denoting a pillarless hardtop design, but spun off into its own model in 1963. This 1965 model was the only model year that featured designer Bill Mitchell’s preferred method of road illumination: massive clamshell headlights. You can find this barn find example here on eBay.

Now, everyone has different preferences. Some people like pepperoni and anchovies on their pizza, while I just like a simple Margherita with garlic. In a similar vein, my favorite year of Riviera is 1964. That year was the debut of the Riviera R-in-a-circle logo hood ornament, but retained the underappreciated headlights mounted in the grille from the 1963 model. 1965 was the last year of the first-generation model, kept the Riviera hood ornament, but changed the headlights to be hidden behind massive clamshells on the tips of the fenders. The clamshells don’t work on this example, but the parts are there. That seems to be par for the course for this barn find. It’s got clean floors, and almost no rust in any of the places where it matters.

Under the hood is a 401 cubic inch Wildcat 445 Nailhead V-8 engine with a four-barrel carburetor driving the rear wheels through a three-speed automatic transmission. Slick, laid-back styling hiding serious performance has always been a Riviera trademark, all the way up to the end of the line with the supercharged L67 3800-powered eighth-generation models. Importantly, it does run, albeit not well. The seller mentions it needs a rebuild due to knock and tapping. The whole car will likely need a rebuild, but they do mention it’s solid, except for a dent here and there. Without a doubt, this will be a rewarding project for anyone who has an appreciation for the finer things in life.

Inside, you have comfortable leather seats, classy wood trim, air conditioning, and power everything. The 1965 model is sought after because of those distinctive headlights. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for hidden headlights. I don’t know what it is about the Riviera specifically, because I love Rivieras too, but I’ll take a ‘64 over a ‘65. If you’re not an idiot like me, this is a classic car bargain and is bound to appreciate in value, but more importantly, is guaranteed to turn heads.

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  1. alphasudMember

    Ben, you can add me to the list on the hidden headlights vs. the exposed. One of the most handsome GM cars for 65 and one of the coolest dashboards as well. There sure is a lot going on under the hood with the A/C being the most of it. The size of the receiver and expansion valve make me chuckle.

    Like 5
    • Terrry

      if you want to see a really cool dashboard (and the Riv’s isn’t half bad), see the one on the ’55 Studebaker President Speedster or the one on the ’61 Chrysler Newport/New Yorker.

      Like 3
  2. Rex Kahrs Rex KahrsMember

    The exposed headlights on the Riviera are more “logical”.

    Like 21
  3. Terrry

    Sadly, America will never build cars that come even close to the style and substance these cars had. it’s a shame. Between corporate greed, government interference and a lack of imagination and ingenuity, America’s golden age of automotive manufacturing is long gone.

    Like 27
    • CCFisher

      I see it a little differently. If car buyers wanted cars like this, manufacturers would build them. It’s the buyers who aren’t interested, not the manufacturers. There are exceptions, of course, but today, cars are less about style and more about function. They’re just another appliance, like a toaster, a dishwasher, or a mobile phone. The way I see it, the golden age of the automobile is over.

      Like 11
    • Bill Hall

      Absolutely, I find it tough see what might be around twenty years outside of some exotic import?

      Like 0
    • Dave

      I’ll tell you what happened: we went from “how fast will it go?” to “Does it have Bluetooth and WiFi?”

      Like 9
  4. 86_Vette_Convertible

    Take care of the rust around the rear window, the rest looks good overall. To me, when this came out it looks virtually like a custom came directly from GM. I thought those headlights were some of the most sexy items out at the time.

    Like 6
  5. Vance

    You had me at hidden headlights, I love them on almost any car, there is something sexy about them. I never knew how nice the interiors were on these, I like the slant it has, and nice gauge set up as well. The A/C compressor looks like it could cool a walk in. These were fantastic looking cars that had power to go with the appearance. Very cool ride that will get noticed everywhere.

    Like 9
    • markp

      Buick AC rocked back then. I drove a 72 Lesabre that I swear could spit out ice cubes.

      Like 3
      • Chuck Dickinson

        The chrome center vent on my 65 WC would get frost on it!!!

        Like 1
  6. CCFisher

    The original Riviera was Bill Mitchell design at its finest. The sharp edges on the roof were inspired by Rolls-Royce, and the twin grilles in the front fenders belie Mitchell’s original intent: he conceived it as a reborn LaSalle for Cadillac. The grilles were meant to recall LaSalle’s signature slim grille. Ned Nichols was the designer who masterfully interpreted Mitchell’s concept and brought it to life.

    Despite Mitchell’s prodding, Cadillac didn’t want it, nor did they have production capacity to produce it. Chevrolet was the same. So, it came down to the three middle nameplates, and Buick won out.

    Like 5
  7. Angel_Cadillac_Diva Angel Cadillac DivaMember


    Is that pic from “Road House?” With Patrick Swayze

    Like 1
  8. Maestro1

    Everybody read Terrry’s remarks. I could not have said it better myself. Except to add the destruction of technology.
    Everybody stay well.

    Like 3
  9. Chuck Dickinson

    FYI. In 63, leather was an option on Rivs. It was not available again until the “LeSabre-ized” Rivs of 77. Also, this car has the standard interior (short armrests w/o built-in pw controls). Even if leather had been available on this year, it would only have been an option on cars w/the Custom trim.

    Like 1
  10. BigDoc BigDoc98783

    I really like the car overall. I’m just not crazy for the brown exterior but I do like the interior. I would have to paint it white to go with the interior.

    Like 0
    • Chuck Dickinson

      The exterior isn’t “brown”. It’s gold, GM name ‘Saddle Mist’. Int. is saddle to match.

      Like 1
  11. george mattar

    A landmark Mitchell design and when GM ruled the world. Today, it makes junk that breaks down almost every day. All their products are butt ugly garbage that don’t even do a good job of getting from Point A to Point B. 20 years ago, 65 Rivs were cheap. Today, they are ridiculous. About time. People are finally starting to appreciate them for what they are. The calm shells are gorgeous and like every hideaway headlamp car, there are problems. To date, the vacuum operated ones on my 73 Corvette work perfectly. The comment about what stupid Americans want in their cars is what the car makers do. Today’s idiots want only Bluetooth and the biggest TV screen they can get. They care nothing about style, design and fuel mileage. Think I’m wrong? Look how fast they drive. Tailgating, cutting in and out of traffic, slamming on the brakes, etc. No wonder where I work, every car needs brakes and rotors. Nobody takes care of their cars anymore, despite payments I see where I work at a car dealership of more than $1,000 a month for 84 months. Just plain STUPID. The cars come in after three to four years trashed with cigarettes, dog hair, food, garbage, used diapers and tampons. Money all over the place. I cannot make this up. Yes, we will never see cars like a 65 Riv AGAIN, except at a car show.

    Like 9
    • JoeNYWF64

      When was the last time you seen a “modern” driver waxing his vehicle? Plenty of peeling clearcoats here & fogged up headlites – especially on older Hondas.

      Like 1
  12. Rex Kahrs Rex KahrsMember

    George, you have hit on several topics, and are correct on each one. I do not sense the pride of ownership with the current generation. In fact, they barely have an interest in owning cars…they just order everything online and have it delivered. Well…maybe that isn’t a bad thing, at least that’s less cars on the road.

    My buddy’s son pulls up on the jobsite recently with a 2-or-3-year-old Dodge pickup, dually, hemi, the whole 9 yards. It’s a massive truck. In my 1970s disbelief, I ask: “So, what do you pay for a rig like that?”. The answer? 54,000 dollars. Now, I’m no financial wizard, but why the hell would anyone pay 54 grand for a pickup truck? How many payments of $1000/month will it take to pay that thing off? I still drive my 2003 F-150 after 18 years. It has no cameras, bluetooth, or even a CD player. Oh, and it has an 8-foot bed!! Don’t get me started on these “poser douchebags” with their monster trucks and a 6-foot bed, trying to carry lumber….it’s laughable.

    Like 12
  13. t-bone BOB

    Item location:
    Memphis, Tennessee,

    Like 1
  14. HCMember

    The 65 Riviera clam shell headlight car was definitely one featured in Roadhouse. Love this yr Riviera looks pretty solid and all is there for a smart rebuild. Nail head would be sweeter with alluminum heads and intake along with an Edelrock 4bbl.

    Like 4

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