Luxury muscle out of the closet
Buying a late-1960s Buick Riviera, Pontiac Grand Prix, Mercury Cougar, Dodge Monaco or Oldsmobile Toronado is a cheap way to get into the old-car hobby. While these cars were originally designed as special, high-performance, luxury two-doors, they did not until recently appeal to hobbyists as much as muscle cars.
When I was much younger, I had a 1970 Pontiac Grand Prix with a 400-cubic-inch V8 and dual carbs. It was brutal to a tank of gas, but it flew. I had a set of high-traction European tires on it that provided a really good launch, especially when I was up against a Mustang or Camaro with Firestones or Mickey Thompsons. Many was the time I could look in the rear-view mirror at the front end of a small muscle car emerging from its cloud of burning rubber and laugh. It was also fun to rub it in because everyone figured my Grand Prix was likely my parents' car.
My advantage with the Grand Prix was this: While it generated about the same horsepower as competitors, it had more weight, which translated to a lot more traction. The much lighter muscle cars just skittered around behind me.
I loved that car, and it was so well built it almost lasted six months before it was a gutted ruin; not bad considering it was a year old when I bought it. (I was a little hard on cars back then.)
The special coupes from General Motors were the most dramatically different from their rivals. Chevrolet had the Monte Carlo, Pontiac the Grand Prix, Buick the Riviera. Oldsmobile started out with the Starfire early in the 1960s, but it ended up with the unusual front-wheel-drive Toronado. I used to despise that car, but I have since grown to appreciate its eccentricity.
Other automakers didn't have such dramatic standalone luxury performance cars, although Ford did create the slightly upscale Mercury Cougar, which was originally based on Mustang architecture.
Chrysler started out the '60s in grand shape with its 300-series letter cars. They have always been desirable collector cars, but, by the end of the '60s, Chrysler and its Plymouth and Dodge divisions were more about badging, trim and options than performance with their high-end cars. That's not to say a big boat with a 440-cubic-inch V8 wasn't quick, but the emphasis was on boat. The Monaco is proof of that.
The Buick Rivieras from the '60s and early '70s seem to be much hotter items these days. I have restored several Rivieras over the years and they were not just about luxury and looks. The Riviera Gran Sport models with dual carburetors mounted atop a fire-breathing, big-block V8 were amazing performers.
One of the finest restorations I have presided over was a 1965 Gran Sport Riviera. The owner spared no expense in what was a labour of love, and the end result was a beautiful car that was certainly better than it was when new.
Recently, I spied a 1971 Riviera cruising along the highway. It was the boat-tail design, which I always felt would be a grand American classic. OK, I missed, but I still like them a lot. I chuckled when I saw it because, finally, luxury muscle is coming out of the closet.
Real muscle cars such as Boss Mustangs, Camaro SSs and Cudas have become the spoiled garage queens of affluent collectors, but luxury muscle cars have so far escaped that fate and are still priced low enough to appeal to the average hobbyist.
The plus side of having a big-block, hot rod Grand Prix or Monte Carlo, aside from affordability, is the fact you can still rub a Mustang or Camaro owner's nose in it at the end of the quarter-mile.