THE RIVIERA IS BOUND to change the driving habits of thousands of Americans - they no longer will have a window-vent frame to cling to.
This may distress many, but Riviera has more than enough that's new to make up for this reversion to the past. Three types of seating are now available: standard bench seats for 6 passenger capacity, optional buckets with center console that holds a new shift handle, and the new "Strato-Bench" notchback seats with center arm rest and bucket-like looks.
The dash, also redesigned, uses real gauges pus a new drum-type speedometer. However, we do wish they'd put some markings (like numbers maybe) on gauge faces to permit accurate readings. Except when the tank is "1.2" full, you can only guesstimate its content. A bin-type glove compartment doesn't spill things on the floor when opened, but, like the trunk, it's a bit small and lacks real carrying capacity.
The "Strato-Bench" seats proved quite comfortable for long or short trips. There's an optional reclining feature for the passenger's side, and our test car's 4-way power plus tilting steering wheel gave a wide range of driving positions. Headroom, leg room, and knee- and foot room were adequate, front and rear, with nice, wide-opening doors and tilting seatbacks to allow easy rear-seat entry and exit.
These same doors, though, create problems when parked close to another vehicle in a parking lot. They're very heavy and getting in or out in close quarters is a chore. Opening them uphill takes a real effort.
Looking back for parking or backing turned up another problem - that of rear vision. A smallish rear window, plus large rear-quarter blind spots and optional head rests restrict your view severely.
But the real joy of owning the Riviera GS (that's "Buickese" for heavy-duty suspension, 15-1 quicker steering, a 3.23 performance axle with positive traction, and ornamentation) comes from driving it. It's fast - should top 120 mph easily.
It handles very well for a 4400 - pound automobile on a 119-inch wheelbase. And its big, 12-inch brakes, with finned aluminum drums in front and finned cast-iron drums in the rear, give it excellent stopping control. Add to this a set of 8.45 X 15 premium red-line tires with 32 psi up front and 30 psi in back - and you've got a luxurious 6 - seater that'll adhere quite well to a winding road.
Buick doesn't offer the twin'4'barrel setup as a factory option this year, but 340 is still a lot of horses when all 4 barrels of the single big Rochester are open. Zero to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds and an 84-mph quarter-mile run in 16.4 seconds spell performance with a capital "P". Buick calls this a "tuned" automobile, and it's very well tuned indeed, with all components working toward a common goal - a very uncommon automobile.
We've mentioned its ability on corners. On fast straightaways it tracks unswervingly, actually feeling better as speed increases. And, when the end of the straight is reached, those husky, finned brakes give a great feeling of security as they bring this 4400 - pound fastback to a straight stop, time after time.
Whisper - quiet at 80+mph, the ventless Riviera gives good ventilation via new intake openings and exhaust vents just behind the back window. It works best when all windows are closed.
A real attention - getter, it attracted admiring glances wherever we went. No one asked if it was a Tornado. Comments such as "sharp, wild, and sexy" were heard about its new styling. We also received many compliments on the car's tastefully executed interior.
Stretched out to 63 inches, the wider rear track aids handling. The car is also 3 inches, longer, 2 inches wider and has gained 2 inches in wheelbase, plus more inside room.
The Riviera GS is one of the most exciting new cars for 1966. It's a driver's car that handles, stops and goes like it seated two in the open rather than six in relaxing, closed comfort. How about that, sportscar fans? - RM