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The 1957-1958 Buick Caballero/Special Riviera Estate were Buick's entry into the new (and short-lived) hardtop hauler market. The Riviera Estate Wagon was a $3,167 entry in the low-priced Special series, all but identical with a pillared counterpart costing $120 less.
The colorfully named Century Caballero was much the same thing save a $3,706 price tag, four instead of three front-fender "portholes" (as used on Centuries since 1955), and a more potent version of the division's newly enlarged 364-cubic-inch V-8 with 300 instead of 250 horsepower.
On all three, the rear half of the roof bore longitudinal indentations, inspired by stylist Carl Renner's crosswise ribbing on the Nomad/Safari, and an aft superstructure with a slightly curved liftgate window mated to a graceful hardtop-style main greenhouse.
Though pleasantly breezy and as practical as any wagon, the Caballero and Riviera Estate suffered the usual hardtop handicap of noisy air leaks with the side windows up -- reflecting the relatively greater flexibility and poorer weather-sealing of pillarless bodies -- and Buick's growing reputation at the time for poor brakes and indifferent workmanship.
Neither model was much help in a year when Buick fell from third to fourth in the industry on volume that fell to half of what it had been in banner 1955. Of course, wagons have never sold as well as closed models with trunks, but these Buicks were harder to move than most. The Riviera Estate attracted only 6,817 buyers, versus 23,000-plus for its pillared sister. Perhaps because of its better performance, the Caballero saw 10,186 built -- still nothing to rave about.
Output fell even further for 1958: just 3,420 and 4,456 respectively. The reason wasn't so much their faults as either hardtops or wagons as the "Air Born B-58 Buicks" in general -- as wrong for that recession year as any medium-price car. Not that it mattered, because the public quickly tired of hardtop wagons -- which only makes Chrysler's belated early-1960s models seem all the more curious. Buick bailed out after 1958 as new managers began bringing General Motors to its senses -- and more sensible cars.
Despite higher production, the Caballero has greater collector appeal than the pillarless Special because it's a Century, though like all wagons it's less desired than a convertible or hardtop. Still, these Buicks are worth seeking out as a nostalgic reminder of a time when Detroit thought it could get away with almost anything.
Go to the next page to read the specifications of the 1957-1958 Buick Caballero and Special Riviera Estate.For more information on cars, see: