An appreciation of the mid-60s GM E-Body coupes

Cars have perhaps never looked better than they did in the 1960s. This was a huge transitional period for the industry, as automobile technology allowed even economy cars to adopt a grace and style that wasn't possible in the decades before. The 50s had several lookers, with the Bel Airs and Thunderbirds that every driver swooned over, and the 70s provided a nice bookend, with Chevelles growing into their own and the last gasp of the pony-car era. But it was that decade in between, when the automobile was able to thrive, free from the distractions of widespread economic hardship and encouraged by a thirst for world dominance, that American cars were as beautiful as they were fun to drive.

Some of the smoothest rides to hit the streets weren't built for speed so much as experience, and perhaps none was more successful than the venerable nameplates built on GM's venerable E-Body platform.

These cars were indeed boats, being some of the longest and widest new coupes to hit the streets that decade. The E-Body was GM's triple threat solution to taking down the Thunderbird, the large car that had been the flagship of the Ford lineup for years. Although these cars had only two doors, they rivaled the flagship sedans made by The General in terms of dominating the road.

The E-Body was a front-wheel drive platform when it underpinned the Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac El Dorado in model years 1966 and 1967, respectively. Each model was considered a "personal luxury car," which the front-wheel drive format worked just fine for. A huge engine wasn't necessary for the purposes of these drivers, just so long as the cars were easy to handle.

The 1966 Buick Riviera was the only one of the three cars to be a rear-wheel drive model when redesigned for this model year, although much of its shell and design was shared with its Oldsmobile counterpart. The headlights on this beast remained concealed, as they had been in the past, although they jutted out more and gave the front fascia a more aggressive grin.

This model year saw the Riviera lose its signature portal vents, which Buick had featured heavily on cars throughout the 30s, instead opting for a design that was cleaner and less cartoonish. The new Riviera was 200 pounds heavier than its predecessor, meaning that it didn't move as fast with the same 425 V8 under the hood. But, again, speed wasn't the reason people bought this car, as the interior was as lush and comfortable as a La-Z-Boy.

The El Dorado was the more angular design of the bunch, as the Riviera and Toronado had nearly identical profiles when viewed from the side. GM's styling chief Bill Mitchell saw to it that this model wasn't just a badge job, given the heritage of the El Dorado marque. In 1967, it was perhaps the sharpest-looking coupe on the road, hiding its massive proportions beneath a muscular and taught shell.

Oldsmobile's entry, the Toronado, was hardly a slouch when it came to looks as well. David North, Oldsmobile's design specialist, originally created the Toronado in a painting he drafted in 1962, never intending the work to be the basis of a whole new coupe. Olds had been working on developing the E-Body platform since 1958, meaning almost a decade's worth of efforts went into building the original Toronado. It paid off when the car wont the Motor Trend 1966 Car Of The Year award, beating out its Buick counterpart.

Of these three trailblazers, which one was your favorite? Leave your comments below: