The 1971 Buick Riviera is a rare personal luxury car with which Ray Vecchio has a great fascination, some might even say obsession. This car was first purchased in Buffalo and the detective had gone to great extents to obtain it. He spent $5,000 of his savings on the car, which failed to impress his then-wife, Angie; it is hinted that this was a factor in their divorce.
Ray has a fetish for all-original parts in the car; at one point he advises his friend Benton Fraser that it took him seven years to find an original cigarette lighter, which therefore must never be used. Despite its age, the Riviera is still very powerful and fast. Ray takes considerable risks with it in the course of his duty, even using it as a roadblock before a speeding armour-plated truck (You Must Remember This).He was forced to blow it up with a single bullet in order to save his life as well as Fraser's in The Man Who Knew Too Little, and also to take out the criminals chasing them. After this, he was deeply devastated and obliged to drive a car from the motor pool, which constantly broke down in the most inconvenient places. At the end of The Wild Bunch, Ray stated that the Riviera was irreplaceable as there were very few left on the streets, just as an identical green Buick Riviera drove past with a "For Sale" sign in its window. (The episode closed on him running after the car and shouting for the driver to stop.)
In the following episode, the detective is seen driving another Buick Riviera, and it is assumed that he managed to get the car. This new Buick is blown up in Juliet is Bleeding in a murder attempt orchestrated by a rival of Mob boss Frank Zuko, killing Vecchio's colleague Louis Gardino.
Vecchio obtains a third Buick Riviera from his cousin Al Grosso shortly thereafter in One Good Man. This is the only episode in which he describes the car as a 1972 model instead of a 1971; however, several spotting features give away 1972 as the car's actual model year throughout the series. Curiously, all three Rivieras sport the same Illinois licence plate, LCV 705.
The Buick is last seen in the third season's first episode, when a performance arsonist targeting Fraser and Stanley Raymond Kowalski starts a fire in the car. The Buick is driven into "the lake they call Michigan" and is never seen again.