The name Riviera, Latin for coastline, was chosen to evoke the allure and affluence of the French Riviera. It first entered the Buick line in 1949, as the designation for the new two-door pillarless hardtop, described in advertising as "stunningly smart". The Buick Roadmaster Riviera coupe (along with the Cadillac Coupe de Ville and Oldsmobile 98 Holiday coupe) constituted the first mass production use of this body style, which was to become extremely popular over the next 30 years. Buick added a two-door Riviera hardtop to the Super the following year, the Special in 1951 and the Century upon its return, after a 12-year absence, in 1954.
From 1951 to 1953 the Riviera designation was given to the existing long-wheelbase versions of the four-door Buick Roadmaster and Super sedans. The 1951–53 Buick Roadmaster and Super four-door Riviera sedans feature more standard features, more plush interior trim, and a wheelbase (and overall length) that is 4 inches (102 mm) longer than a regular Buick Roadmaster or Super four-door sedan. The 1951–52 Buick Super four-door Riviera sedan is still 0.75 inches (19 mm) shorter in wheelbase and length than the regular Buick Roadmaster and 4.75 inches (121 mm) shorter than the Roadmaster four-door Riviera sedan. In 1953, with the move from the Fireball straight-eight to the more compact Nailhead V8 engine, the Roadmaster and Super four-door Riviera sedans became the same length.
In the middle of the 1955 model year, Buick and Oldsmobile introduced the world's first mass-produced four-door hardtops, with Buick offering it only on the Century and Special models, and the Riviera designation was also applied to these body styles. Four-door Riviera hardtops were added to the Roadmaster and Super lines at the beginning of the following model year. However, since it was a body style designation and not a model, the Riviera name does not usually appear on the car.
In 1959, Buick became much more selective in applying the Riviera name. From then until 1962 it only was used to denote a premium trimmed six-window hardtop style which it initially shared exclusively with Cadillac (the Oldsmobile 98 would receive it in 1961) and was available only on the Electra 225. The last usage of the term Riviera to describe a luxury trim level was 1963, as the formal designation of the #4829 Electra 225 Riviera four-door hardtop, the same year the E-body model two-door hardtop coupe Riviera made its debut.The production Riviera was introduced on October 4, 1962, as a 1963 model, its distinctive bodyshell was unique to the marque, unusual for a GM product. The design was substantially the same as the original, less expensively hidden headlights concealed in the fender grilles. The elegant ground-up styling sported the new "Coke bottle look" introduced the year before on the arresting Studebaker Avanti, with a tapered midsection surrounded by flaring fenders. There was no trace of the "Sweepspear" used on beltlines of earlier Buicks with the Riviera package,It rode a cruciform frame similar to the standard Buick frame, but shorter and narrower, with a 2.0 in (51 mm) narrower track. Its wheelbase of 117 in (3,000 mm) and overall length of 208 in (5,300 mm) were 6.0 inches (150 mm) and 7.7 in (200 mm) shorter, respectively, than a Buick LeSabre, but slightly longer than a contemporary Thunderbird. At 3,998 lb (1,813 kg),:210 it was about 390 pounds (180 kg) lighter than either. It shared the standard Buick V8 engines, with a displacement of either 401 cu in (6.57 L) or 425 cu in (6.96 l), and the unique continuously variable design twin turbine automatic transmission. Power brakes were standard, using Buick's massive "Al-Fin" (aluminum finned) drums of 12 in (300 mm) diameter. Power steering was standard equipment, with an overall steering ratio of 20.5:1, giving 3.5 turns lock-to-lock.The Riviera's suspension used Buick's standard design, with double wishbones in the front and a live axlelocated by trailing arms and a lateral track bar in the rear, but the roll centers were lowered to reduce body lean. Although its coil springs were actually slightly softer than other Buicks, the Riviera's lighter weight made its ride somewhat firmer. While still biased towards understeer, contemporary testers considered it one of the most driveable American cars, with an excellent balance of comfort and agility.