1999 Buick Riviera Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bob Storck Bob Storck Editor
July 31, 2000

Oldsmobile faces death — again

Once again the future of Oldsmobile has been placed in doubt. About eight years ago, a highly placed GM insider contacted a Washington Post business writer trying to create some movement that could have undermined GM’s oldest brand. Now a similar article has appeared in USA Today, and it appears that some internal politics are being played out in the media. In the interim, Oldsmobile sales have dropped to around a quarter-million units, numbers that were insupportable for Ford’s Contour, which was recently dropped.

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What critics have missed is that GM has killed the Eighty Eight and Cutlass series, once the mainstays of the brand. Also, sales for Olds’ European-influenced products like the Aurora and Alero are gaining.


The bottom line is that Olds is the Rodney Dangerfield of the GM lineup. Far in advance of the SUV fad, Olds introduced the Bravada with full time all-wheel drive, leather and anti-lock brakes. It was positioned against Range Rover, but priced nearer Explorer. With virtually no marketing support, it was a stealth product, and soon the Bravada’s advanced engineering was spread around GM like yard-sale bargains. The Bravada’s reward was near cancellation, and even when it was saved, the truck group made it continue for a year without the new swoopy badge, retaining the stodgy rectangular rocket. Olds preceded Cadillac in endurance racing, with little fanfare and much better results, winning championships in their initial years.

I have previously suggested (perhaps a little naively in light of dealer paranoia) that a logical combination would be Chevrolet/Buick for family value products, and GMC/Pontiac/Oldsmobile for upscale luxury and performance dealerships. Cadillac is floating some hints about taking Saab under their wing, and the GPO stores would be a home for soon to arrive Alfa Romeo.

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Hemmings’ Top Ten

Hemmings Motor News, the Bible of the old car hobby, has announced its 13th annual "top ten" picks of overlooked values. The ten "sleepers" were chosen for their potential appreciation. The car must be available for under $10,000 and should been produced in large enough quantities to broaden the chance of finding a good example. In alphabetical order:

AMC Javelin, 1971-74
Won the Trans-Am racing series in 1971 and 1972, the Javelin became one of AMC's top selling models during the early Seventies. Available from a base SST with a straight six, to the 401-cubic inch high-performance AMX. Extremely affordable, costing about $4000 for one in average condition, half the price of a comparable Gran Sport, Chevelle, 4-4-2 or GTO.

Buick Riviera Gran Sport, 1965
Considered by many the epitome of clean, elegant design of the '60s. Optioned as a Gran Sport, the Riviera's performance was enhanced by the 425-cubic-inch Super Wildcat engine with dual four-barrel carburetors. True 2+2 seating, tilt steering, walnut trim and a massive console and dash arrangement. Range from about $5000 for GSs needing TLC to $10,000 for a decently restoration.

Chevrolet Corvette LS4 coupe, 1974
Powered by very powerful 396-, 427- and 454-cubic-inch V-8s, these big-block monsters also carry big price tags. The last year Chevrolet offered a big-block V-8 in a Corvette, the 454-cubic-inch V-8 produced an emission-control-strangled 270 horsepower in 1974. You can still locate a decent running coupe with matching numbers that requires paint and tinkering for about $5000.

Dodge/Shelby Omni GLH-S, 1986
America’s four-door economy car that strapped on a turbocharger for hellacious power. The turbo-optioned GLHs made life miserable for Camaro, Mustang and Corvette owners. With 175 horsepower, only 500 of the Shelby-badged black and silver brutes were built, and recent ads list several GLH-S's needing work in the $5000 range. Expect to pay close to $10,000 for a restored car or a low-mileage original.

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Hudson Super Jet, 1953-54
The downsized Hudson Jet makes a charming and affordable alternative to the sought after big brother Hornet. Jets were built in 1953 alone, the Super Jet featuring a 104 horsepower L-head in-line six with a very durable chrome alloy block displacing 202 cubic inches and hopefully the optional "Twin-H" dual carburetors. One with the optional continental kit and rear skirts recently was advertised in Hemmings with a $6500 asking price.

Jensen-Healey, 1972-75
Produced for only four years, the Jensen-Healey sports a fairly conservative two seat steel body with a semi-exotic Lotus-built powertrain. This 1973-cc four-cylinder is a jewel of an engine that features an aluminum cylinder head with twin overhead camshafts, 16 valves, and dual carburetors that help it develop 140 horsepower. Weighing a svelte 2116 lb, all mechanical and electrical parts are readily available, but the body panels will take some searching. Rundown examples are going for $2000, and in excellent condition expect about $6500 to $9000.

Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, station wagon 1970-72
Having been forgotten during the last decade, older station wagons are fast gaining in popularity thanks to their unique combination of five- to nine-passenger seating, huge cargo area and V-8 power. Oldsmobile's Vista Cruiser has distinctive glass roof panels that kids adored. Engines and transmissions are extremely durable, and all mechanical parts are easily available. Several 455-powered Vista Cruisers have been listed at asking prices around $7000 with prices for good running wagons needing work averaging about $4000, which is about 1/10th the cost of an SUV.

Pontiac Grand Prix, 1969-72
In a flat-out design war with Ford/Lincoln, John DeLorean ensured that the Grand Prix would have the biggest hood ever bolted to an intermediate. Uncluttered lines and a vinyl top lent a distinguished appearance. The standard engine was the Pontiac 400, with J and SJ options offering hotter 428 and, later, 455 engines. Pontiac's G-body set the standard for luxury intermediates, and sister divisions soon began pumping out Monte Carlos and Cutlasses. One can get behind the wheel for a relatively light $2500 to $8500, depending upon condition, powertrain and options.

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Porsche 912, 1966-69
The Porsche 911 is an ultimate driver's car. Porsche's entry-level 912 makes a perfect alternative for those willing to accept a reduction in power. With either a 90- or a 102-horsepower flat four instead of Porsche's distinctive six, the 912 has slightly better handling, due to the 912's lower weight and better balance. Parts for the four-cylinder engine are cheaper and fewer. Weak and rusted floor pans can be a problem so watch out. About $6000 will get you a 912 in really good condition.

Studebaker Lark V-8 convertible, 1960-63
Studebaker's Lark convertible is a real standout verses the more common early-Sixties convertibles from the Big Three with the six-passenger Regal and the sportier five-passenger Daytona. Although most had straight-sixes, the V-8 versions are the most entertaining. A softly sprung suspension provides a very comfortable ride. Ads range from a Regal Lark convertible needing restoration for $1000 up to $11,000 for a well-restored four-speed Daytona version.

"When you purchase an old car," states editor Lentinello, "select the best example that is in solid, original condition. Beware of cars that have just been painted, since fresh paint can be hiding rust or recent accident damage. Weak and rusted out floors cost thousands to replace. It’s easier and less expensive to replace the brakes or shocks or even an engine than it is to replace a floor or a fender. Choose a car strictly because you like it. Don't buy an old car with the intention of selling it at a huge profit as, chances are great that you won't make any profit in the short term."

Bob welcomes comments or questions at bstorck@sprynet.com.

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