Junkyard Gem: 1982 Buick Riviera Diesel Coupe -Dlight News

Junkyard Gem: 1982 Buick Riviera Diesel Coupe

After adding the Riviera name to various cars throughout the 1950s, Buick finally made the Riviera a model of its own for the 1963 model year. Seven more generations of Buick’s rakish personal luxury coupe followed over the next 36 years, but only one oil-burning engine was available from the factory. As one of today’s junkyard cars, a bright purple ’82 Riviera with 105 horses of Oldsmobile diesel power under its hood was recently found at a Denver-area self-service boneyard. Beginning with the 1966 model year, the Riviera resided on the same platform as the Cadillac Eldorado and Oldsmobile Toronado, both of which featured radical front-wheel-drive powertrains that used a longitudinal V8 powering the front wheels through strong chains. However, despite the common platform, the Riviera alone kept the then-traditional front-engine/rear-drive setup, making it something of a corporate oddball for the next 12 years. General Motors then decided to downsize the Eldorado/Toronado platform for the 1979 model year, and the Rivera got that car’s front-wheel-drive rig at the same time. Sales of the small Rivi were strong, no doubt in large part due to certain geopolitical events that sent gas prices skyrocketing and fuel rationing and increased gas lines. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, diesel fuel was much cheaper than gasoline in the United States. Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot sold diesel-engined cars reasonably well here during the 1970s, and so General Motors developed a diesel-burning version of the Oldsmobile 350-cubic-inch (5.7-liter) V8 engine. As was typical of naturally-aspirated automotive diesels of the time (every modern car’s diesel engine is turbocharged), horsepower was miserly but torque was strong; The car’s engine was rated at 105 horsepower and 205 pound-feet. The 5.7 diesel first appeared in the Riviera for the 1981 model year. The base engine was a 4.1-liter version of the Buick V6, while the oil-burning Olds cost an extra $924 (about $3,206 in 2023 dollars). With a cheap fill-up price and long diesel range, the comfortable and smooth-riding Riviera seemed great, even if you had to line up with Freightliners and Peterbilts to get to the pump, but it had its problems. Oh, so many problems! Oldsmobile’s 350 V8 had been around since 1968 and proved to be both reliable and powerful. Oldsmobile engineers strengthened the 350’s block for diesel service, but chose to save on production costs by considering the number and locations of the gasoline engine’s cylinder head bolts. Because diesels run higher compression ratios than gasoline-burners (in this case, the diesel Olds 350 had a compression ratio of 21.6:1 compared to 8:1 for its gasoline counterparts), the pressure on the head bolts was correspondingly higher. Stretched and broken head bolts, with engine-destroying results. On top of that, diesel fuel of the era was of erratic quality, and GM saved more money by omitting the water separator from the fuel system; This caused diesel-powered GM cars to cough up with depressing regularity. Oldsmobile diesels quickly gained a terrible reputation, and a tsunami of lawsuits washed over the company. Meanwhile, Cadillac’s variable-displacement V8-6-4 engine had its own widely publicized woes, and the new Chevrolet Citation was in the headlines for recall after recall. It was not a happy time for the General. When GM developed a V6 version of the 350, the 4.3 diesel, it didn’t suffer from most of the flaws seen in its big brother. However, the damage was done, and 1985 was the last year for an Olds diesel engine (not coincidentally, that’s when gasoline prices collapsed). The car had some interesting futuristic bits and pieces that somewhat compensated for the troublesome engine. These emblems on the padded Landau top used electroluminescent lighting, which looked cool (I’ve been unsuccessful in finding one of these lamps in working condition during my travels to the junkyard, but I’m not giving up). These indicator lamps above the grille use fiber-optic cables for lighting. Later in the 1980s, Buick would install a touchscreen display (obtained from an ATM machine hardware supplier) in the Reveras. The Landau top has been baked by the Colorado sun, but otherwise this car is in pretty decent shape. I found registration documents inside that show it was in service as recently as a decade ago, so its owner managed to keep the diesel 350 running for many years. The purple doesn’t appear to be the factory color, but the high-quality painting of the door jambs and engine compartment suggests a respray was done by a good paint shop. The MSRP on this car with the diesel V8 was $15,196, or about $52,721 in today’s money. Air conditioning, power windows and an AM/FM stereo radio were all standard equipment. The original owner’s manual was still with the car. Now with 10.9% APR financing! In hindsight, the optional 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 engine seems like a better choice than the diesel.

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