The 1957-1958 Buick Caballero and Special Riviera Estate are prime examples of a short-lived and little-loved Detroit trend: the pillarless hardtop wagon.
The all-steel station wagon and the pillarless hardtop were the two major body innovations of the early postwar years. Both found a ready market -- hardtops enormously so -- though for different reasons.
Steel wagons were nowhere near the hassle their structural-wood predecessors had been, demanding much less upkeep and proving far more resistance to squeaks, rattles, and loosening-up with age. Bereft of B-posts, hardtops offered the sort of style and airiness associated with convertibles, plus sedan-like safety and weather protection -- a well-nigh irresistible combination.
It was thus only a matter of time before these two influential ideas were combined in one car, and it didn't take long. General Motors, which pioneered mass-production "hardtop-convertibles" in 1949, showed the way with its new Chevrolet Nomad and Pontiac Safari for 1955. Though both had B-posts, they were the sleekest wagons ever: two-door models with thin C-and D-pillars and vast expanses of side glass wrapped around to one-piece tailgates with drop-down windows.
But it was tiny American Motors that offered the first true hardtop wagon: the four-door Rambler Custom Cross Country of 1956. It was a logical follow-up to the 1955 arrival of pillarless hardtop sedans -- another GM innovation -- though AMC had already planned the Cross-Country as well as Rambler four-door hardtops.
Other makes fielded hardtop sedans for 1956 -- most everyone, in fact, save Lincoln, struggling Studebaker-Packard, and Nash/Hudson at AMC. A few followed AMC by venturing into pillarless wagons for 1957, among them Oldsmobile and Mercury -- and Buick.
Buick, of course, was no stranger to hardtops. It had shared honors with Oldsmobile and Cadillac for the first series-production pillarless coupes of 1949, with Oldsmobile for the first four-door hardtops of mid-1955. In the process, Buick helped start the period practice of special names for hardtop models, which produced such romantic appellations as Victoria (Ford), Bel Air (Chevrolet), Catalina (Pontiac), Belvedere (Plymouth), Starliner (Studebaker), and of course the original trio of Holiday (Oldsmobile), Coupe de Ville (Cadillac), and Buick's own Riviera.
Go the next page to read more about the features and styling of the 1957-1958 Buick Caballero and Special Riviera Estate.
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