Over two decades ago, engineers at General Motors set out to create the personal luxury car that Buick truly deserved. They took Cadillac’s Northstar V8 and crammed it into a front-wheel-drive Buick Riviera. The car was supposed to be the future of the coupe but ended up being one of its last hurrahs.
Do you remember the Buick Riviera? No, not that Riviera, but one of the last dying breaths of personal luxury cars from General Motors. In the 1990s, an assortment of manufacturers were still catering to a dwindling market of buyers who wanted luxury cars, but in two-door flavor. General Motors was hitting the market from multiple angles with cars from a number of its brands. Buick went up to bat for the General with its Riviera.
The eighth-generation Riviera hit the road in 1995 to some strong competition. Cadillac had the Eldorado, BMW had its 8-Series and Lincoln had the Mark VIII.
The Buick had a lot going for it from its voluptuous exterior design and plushy interior.
It even came equipped with Buick’s venerable 3.8-liter V6 producing a respectable 205 HP when naturally-aspirated and up to 240 HP when equipped with a supercharger. This is a coupe that sprinted to 60 mph in under seven seconds and could get into the 30-mpg range on the highway.
Sadly, it didn’t translate to getting butts into seats. According to the Riviera Owners Association, Buick moved over 41,000 of them in 1995 before sales dropped to 18,000 the next year. Sales would never get anywhere close to the 1995 number.
In 1998, a group of General Motors engineers felt that what the Riviera needed was more power. And how would it get more power? More cylinders and more displacement, of course!
According to an old Mecum auction, the engineers took a Northstar V8 from Cadillac, polished it up, and dropped it into the engine bay of the Riviera.
While the Riviera never got a V8 from the factory, its G platform mates like the Oldsmobile Aurora and the Cadillac Seville did. It’s no surprise that the engine looks at home in the Riviera. Assuming the team picked up the more powerful L37 Northstar, we’re talking a 4.6-liter V8 delivering 300 HP to the front wheels. That’s more than enough to convert rubber into smoke and noise.
The engineers then gave the car teal paint and one-off Budnik wheels. The finished product was a prototype of the Riviera’s potential future and it was shipped off to SEMA with the hopes of convincing General Motors brass that the Riviera really needed to have a V8 option. It was a $150,000 bet on the Riviera’s future.
Unfortunately, not only did the prototype fail to convince General Motors that it needed to have a V8, but the Riviera died just a year later in 1999. As noted by the GM Heritage Center in a 2009 Mecum auction, the prototype wasn’t just authentic, but it was also the last V8 Riviera, period.
What happened to the car after SEMA? Not much is known about its whereabouts since then. It popped up on eBay and Mecum in 2009, then got shuffled away until popping up on Mecum again in 2015. It seems to have disappeared, and sadly I’ve found nothing about it. The car has a production VIN so it could be driven like anything else. Hopefully, someone out there is still enjoying it.
If you happen to know where this car is, email me at [email protected]. I’d love to know what happened to it!
Hat tip to Classic GM FWD Society!