Some features of the 1964 Riviera were more Bentley than Buick.
Thick planks of wood trim on the doors. Chrome-ringed gauges housed in a brushed aluminum dash. The owner's name engraved on a gold plaque below the air conditioning controls. Embroidered floor mats. An upholstered spare tire cover.
The 1963-65 Riviera combined performance, luxury and high style to create what many car fans consider to be the finest Buicks of the post-Word War II era. The cars gave General Motors a strong position in a growing segment in the 1960s, luxury performance coupes.
The Riviera's price, around $4,500, was steep at the time, but Buick sold every one it could build.
Today, as GM plots Buick's comeback, those first-generation Rivieras could serve as the blueprint for the division's quest to recast itself as the American equivalent of Lexus.
Retired Buick Chief Designer Bill Porter, who helped style many incarnations of the Riviera, says the first generation "had its own special identity - the perfect combination of elegance and performance."
"I think the car is very beautifully proportioned," Porter says. "The key ingredient is the combination of sexy muscularity of a Ferarri with those crisp edges of a Rolls-Royce."
Under the hood resided a big, 425-cubic-inch V-8; the engine could be ordered with two four-barrel carburetors and 360 hp.
One true test of a car is how the style holds up. And in that regard the first generation Riviera has lived up to its original billing, based on high resale values and the amount of interest by classic car buffs.
There was a feeling that the 1963 Riviera was a classic from the moment it was launched, says longtime Buick public relations executive Lawrence Gustin, who co-authored a book on Buick history.
Italian jewelry manufacturer Nicola Bulgari, a passionate collector of classic and modern Buicks, has several Rivieras in his collection of 50 Buicks.
Says Ray Knott, president of the Riviera Owners Association, of the first-generation Rivieras: "For many years they were the most coveted. It was really the first Buick that offered unique styling. It was different from the rest of the market."
Buick last offered the Riviera in 1999. It was a stylish car, but large two-door luxury coupes had fallen out of favor and slow sales forced Buick to end production. Buick sold more than 1.1 million Rivieras in the car's 35-year run.