1963-1965 Buick Riviera Engine

Buick’s 401-cubic-inch “Wildcat” V-8 fit the 1963 Buick Riviera concept exactly. Phil Bowser’s group showed graphically that this engine provided just the right power to match engineering guidelines. However, bore size was increased by 1/8 inch to produce a new 425-cubic-inch engine, which was offered as an option.

Buick’s Turbine Drive automatic transmission, a refinement of the old Dynaflow, was used only for the first-year models. The Turbine Drive automatic transmission offered smoother performance thanks to a unique “switch-the-pitch” stator blade angle feature, plus manual low gear selection. Shifting was fluid and not felt, while one was quite aware of gear changes on the 1964-1965 cars.

The two-position stator blade changed to a high or “performance” angle in full-throttle acceleration, thus allowing the engine to reach relatively high revs on upshifts. Riviera was the first car to use “flat ribbon” wiring for its electrical system, which made it easier to fit interior components together.

Buick Riviera's big 425 V-8 (shown here) put out 360 bhp.
Buick Riviera's big 425 V-8 put out 360 horsepower.

Bowser delivered the fully production engineered 1963 Buick Riviera right on schedule. Chief Engineer Lowell Kintigh, whom Bowser stresses had the ability to discover engineering flaws by simply driving a car, was impressed with this one’s performance.

Even before Bowser’s group had completed their assignment, Carl Hedeen and his team had begun to determine what was needed to make the Riviera a production reality, operating under the now-familiar “no compromise” dictum from Bowser, Mitchell, and Glowacke. Hedeen always considered his “don’t touch the design” run-ins with Mitchell to be a lot of fun, but in the case of the Riviera, “It was not evolution -- it was revolution!”

Hedeen was satisfied that the Buick Riviera represented a break with what he calls the “jukebox age.” “Usually Ned Nickles’ designs were much better than the final product,” he notes. In this case, however, he was determined to deliver the design intact to the production line.

The Riviera had found yet another advocate. Fisher Body Division also maintained the excellence of the original design. Indeed, the only significant change was the hood. It was determined that the planned “pancake hood” would be too expensive, so a more conventional unit was substituted.

Continue to the next section to find out how the 1963 Buick Riviera overcame numerous design and engineering obstacles to become a "new international classic."

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