Driveway Find: 1971 Buick Riviera

The year 1971 was a big one for GM. The full-sized “B” body cars became even fuller-sized, the Vega (and its on-going saga) was introduced and power started to trend downwards in compliance with the newly legislated Clean-Air Act. One new for ’71 GM vehicle that sometimes got overlooked was the Buick Riviera. In a time when many domestics were barge-like and generic-looking, the Riviera stood right out the way a Motorama vehicle from a by-gone era did, capturing richly deserved attention. That being the case, this example, located in Garden Grove, California and available here on eBay, is worth a closer look. It is available for a current bid of $1,025, reserve not yet met.

I don’t live in California but I have a family member that does and I take fairly frequent trips to the greater LA area. The variety of cars that you find there, whether still in daily service, or squirreled away in someone’s driveway is amazing. Southern California really is a mecca for all things automotive, new and old. Now this example Riviera has a Washington state plate adorning both ends but this Buick really has the, “I’ve been sitting out in the hot, dry sun too long” look about it. The seller states that he has had this car for five years but there is no detail regarding what amount of time that it spent in what location.

And while the finish has that sun-baked look about it, the front fenders are exhibiting rust-through which indicates this Buick has had other residences (Washington State or more) besides SoCal. While the rust is notable in the fenders and a bit in the quarters, it’s not too pervasive based on what is revealed by the images. There is no word regarding the underside (frame) or floor integrity but I would imagine that it’s still sound. Based on C-pillar trim, I would say that this Riviera had a one-time vinyl roof covering; it’s probably best that it’s gone considering what happens, over time, to the steel roof panel underneath. Speaking of the C-Pillar, the first time I laid my eyes on a ’71 Riviera, I thought C2 Corvette inspired, I still see that influence in the rear portion of this car. Finally, notice the vents in the trunk lid. That was the new for ’71 GM creation of Flow-Through Ventilation. Essentially, you couldn’t turn off the HVAC fan and it ran constantly when the ignition system was on. It circulated air in through the cowl and out through the trunk lid via the vents. For the most part, but not entirely, the vents disappeared from GM cars in ’72 but not the ventilation system.

Under the hood is Buick’s big 455 CI V8 engine which developed 330 gross HP. The seller claims that the carburetor needs to be rebuilt, based on the last motoring event, but there’s no word on how long ago that was or how this Riviera ran and drove. I would assume that the engine will have the usual issues encountered in a car that has been sitting for a while. The sole transmission employed in ’71 was the Turbo-Hydramatic 400, three-speed automatic. The only other mechanical reference made regarding this Buick is that the suspension has play. That could mean a myriad of things that could be minor or a bit more involved.

The interior continues with the sun-stroke vibe. The upholstery and door cards are coming apart and the glue holding up the rear-view mirror is now unglued – a sign of sitting in the sun too long. There are no comprehensive images of the interior provided, just snippets, but it would appear that the carpet is intact but dirty and worn. While there is no clear view of the dash pad, there is a telling image of the tops of back seat backrest and the sun, green-housing its way through that big panoramic rear window, has worked its magic on it. I would expect the same for the dash pad.

This Buick Riviera is a nice find! It needs some identifiable work and I’m sure there is plenty that is unknown too but it’s trending at a pretty low bid value at this point so this car could be a good basis for a restoration project. This version of the Riviera was pretty spectacular on introduction, it showed what domestic auto builders, with some imagination, could still design and build in spite of tightening Federal regulations. The seller has included some images of what this Riviera could be; I think I’d like to return it to its original form and just enjoy it as Buick intended. So what do you think, still salvageable and worth the effort?

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  1. Angel Cadillac Diva

    Definitely worth the effort. And $.
    I consider these to be one of the most beautiful cars on the planet. But, to each his own . I had a ’70 (completely different) a ’71 & a ’72. The great thing about this era was you could “specialize” these cars to your preference or budget. This one has a bench seat and colum mount shifter. Mine was sportier with buckets and floor shifter/console. Can’t tell if this one has p/w and locks. Love those Buick rims. I must have had 4 or 5 sets of them back in the ’90s.
    Really wish I had space for this one.

    Like 10
    • Angel Cadillac Diva

      First time I saw one of these I was 17, working at my uncle’s gas station. Two customers came in at the same time (friends or neighbors I guessed). One had a brand new ’71 Oldsmobile 98 and the other guy had a brand new ’71 Buick Riviera. It was love at first sight.
      Took me about 22 years but I finally got one of my own. Actually, two.

      Like 13
    • John

      Had a 71 Electra Limited and a friend with the 71 Riv. Beautiful cars, loved the rims too. Vents in the deck lids a 71 only design. Limited was great car, even pushing it to the pump on an ‘odd’ day during the gas crunch

      Like 4
    • charles Flowers

      “Worth the…$”? not sure about that.
      Depends, i guess, on what and how the expected ‘value’ is realized.

      I see lots of $$ to get to respectable/presentable, even driver, condition.

      What’s the value of a #3 condition of this vehicle?

      Do like the big block and parts are available.

      Like 1

    Dad had a new one in 71. I just turned 16, and he also had a “Company Car” so I often got to drive the Riv. Ashamed to say, it easily buried the speedometer more than a few times. It would also burn the right rear tire, for as long as you held the pedal down or 70 mph, whichever came first.
    They are a love it, or hate it car, I obviously love them. The back end styling, came from Bill Mitchell, also the designer of the C2 Corvette.
    If my Dad was still around, I would apologize for how hard I punished that car…. but it really loved to go fast.
    I hope somebody saves this one.

    Like 15
  3. Jamie

    Just curious…. can that back window be used in a C2 Corvette? Looks to be almost the same size…. I love this car. Great find! Good luck to the new owner

    Like 2
  4. JoeNYWF64

    The vega had those vents too on the trunk lid.
    & impala
    but not nova or camaro or chevelle.
    Didn’t they let water into the trunk?

  5. Cattoo Member

    Been in love with this body style since I was a teenage and first saw one. Still on my list to get many years later.

    Like 5
  6. CCFisher

    I recall reading that the ’71 Riviera was originally to be based on the mid-sized A body. I’ve never seen any sketches, but I think it would have looked much better on a smaller platform. I’m 320lb, so I can say this: It’s like a fat guy in a half-shirt. The sexy top just does not belong on that big fat body.

    Like 1
  7. b-rad jeepster

    the trunk vents had a drain to back so no water in the trunk I owned two of these and would buy another if it was closer By far the best car on the planet

    Like 6
  8. ken tillyUK

    By far the best design of very few, of ANY make post 1970 American cars IMO. To me, most American designers lost the plot from 1970 until the present day.

    Like 5
  9. Allegro37 Member

    A wonderfully bizarre design and lots of attention if you own one. Assume 116,000 miles plus, the rust is not generic California, the car has been elsewhere obviously with Washington plates, and if you have the time and the money to save it you’ll love it. You will be way North of its market value if you are concerned about that issue; the way to look at this is simply say I’m going to keep it. Give it what it needs and enjoy.

    Like 1
  10. John Oliveri

    I’m in NY unfortunately, if it was closer I’d definitely be interested

  11. YourWirelessDJ

    THIS was the car to cruise in or to show up at the disco in! This or a 74-75 Monte.

    Gotta have bucket seat version though, nothing like forcing your passenger along to your preference with just the bench.

    I got Trammps on the mind as I’m studying this Riviera’s lines… “Discohhhh! That’s where the hap-py people go..”

    Ooooh, yeahhhh! ;)

    Like 1
    • John Oliveri

      Were you riding along with us during the blackout of 77, cause we were cruising around the boros of New York in the 13th of July, when the only light was the light up in the sky, and we knew that for a fact cause the factory sunroof was open on my buddies 72 Coco Brown Riviera, w tan interior and tan top and spoke wheels and nice whitewalls and The Trammps playing Disco that’s where the happy people go on the 8 track cause the radio stations were dead, you must’ve been in that car somewhere

      Like 2
      • YourWirelessDJ

        Who knows? ;)

        You guys must have lifted a lot of peoples spirits riding by with those songs coming out that fine car!

        Sunroof ehh? I wouldn’t own a car without one! Plus, you never know when you might need to use it as an exit!

  12. Angel Cadillac Diva

    Some cars……. You just don’t worry about the value. I am SO tired of hearing “it’s not worth the $. You’ll be upside down if you restore it.”
    Not everything is about money. This hobby used to be fun. Cars got restored for the love of the car. Then the flippers and profitiares took over.
    This is my opinion.
    I’m not made of money, as some of you think, but, I have purchased vehicles, fixed them up, driven them and then sold them for as much / or less than what I paid for. This does not include cost of time and parts purchased. Why? Because the car SHOULD be restored and used and enjoyed. That WAS the purpose of this hobby.
    Example:. I purchased a ’70 Riviera for $600. Put about $4000 into it for suspension, mufflers, tires,
    brakes, etc. Drove it for a couple of years and enjoyed it. Then, because I was moving and couldn’t take it with me, I sold it for………. $600.
    So for you “profitiares” I’m out $4000. No I’m not. I got thousands in enjoyment. Thousands in satisfaction. Thousands in knowing I saved a good car.
    That’s just my opinion.
    I’m never going to be rich, but I’m going to be happy.

    Like 14
    • chuck Member

      Making a little money for your time and trouble of fixing up something is not mutually exclusive of “enjoying, satisfaction, knowing and saving”.
      In fact, it takes money to do what you are doing, so why not pick a vehicle with more upside for a project so that you can have money for another.
      Being rich doesn’t equate to being happy, agreed!
      But being frugal or entrepreneurial isn’t a sin either.

      To each his own, i say.

    • John Oliveri

      I have a 30,000 73 Grand Prix, car is beautiful, I own it 16 yrs and have had everything done when I had the money, I paid 3800.00 for it cause it was a SJ sunroof car, had the wrong motor but good bones, quarters were new, frame solid, it’s still not perfect, gonna need new Vogues soon just because they’re older, lil freshen up on the plastics of the white interior, but when I pull into a car show in my New York areas, and people ooh and ah over it, that 30 grand was well worth it

      Like 1
    • ken tillyUK

      Good on you Angel.

      Like 2
  13. Tonywa28 Member

    My prom ride and later my commuter to college. My dad was a prince to let me have the beast. So cool then and now…..

    Like 1
  14. JimmyinTEXAS

    Current bid $2,200. Appears the reserve is met.

  15. Jcs

    From 1988 through 1996 I daily drove a gorgeous, super clean 1972 Boat-tail Riviera GS455 Stage 1, identical to the one in the lead advertisement in the informative link below, same color and everything (other than the year but only minor trim differences between the two years) and mine had the beautiful Riviera specific rims like the one on offer here….

    Talk about an attention getter! If you lived in the N Atlanta area you may even remember seeing it — it was that striking. It seemed like not a single day went by without someone wanting to talk about it, and talk about offers — unreal. And yes, I was very fond of that car. In 96 it was stolen, never to be seen nor heard from again.

    She was a runner, too. Torque for days. Put some pressure on that huge giddyup pedal and it seemed she would never stop, easily burying that speedo with plenty of room to spare. Really nice driving cars as well.

    This one is not a GS and obviously needs a lot of work but for the right person it will eventually make for a nice cruiser.

    Don’t write these off. If you can find one that suits your needs, as our buddy Ferris once said “if you have the means, I highly recommend.”


    Like 5
  16. Gary

    As is the case with 63-73 Rivis, this car begs to become a low low.

    • John Oliveri

      No No junk it first, it doesn’t deserve some horrible paint job and lil tires and chain steering wheel

  17. Angel Cadillac Diva

    @Wireless DJ
    I love a good sunroof also, but I’ve heard over the grapevine through the years that every one of these early 70s GM cars with sunroofs leak.
    Every ad I’ve read for a ’71 – ’72 – ’73 Riviera with a sunroof always says the sunroof leaks. Or it doesn’t open. Either way…….

    Like 1
    • John Oliveri

      My 73 Grand Prix factory roof cables break every few years , lotta work cables are rare and expensive but I need my roof for the true effect

      Like 1
      • YourWirelessDJ

        Man, that sucks. Sunroof(and later moonroof) tech has evolved a thousand-fold since those days, with leak and binding complaints down to a fraction of what they once were.

        I’m like Karl Malden and American Express when it comes to my moonroof – I wouldn’t leave home without one!

        Like 1

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