The flamboyant styling of the 1971 Buick Riviera is formally credited to Jerry Hirshberg of the Buick advanced design studio (later, chief of design at Nissan) but the inspiration and driving force behind its radical look was GM design vice president Bill Mitchell. “It was his baby,” former GM design director David Holls told Collectible Automobile magazine in 1990. The ’63 Corvette Sting Ray was Mitchell’s favorite car, Holls explained. “He felt that cars were getting kind of ordinary and bland, and he wanted that kind of drama in a larger car.” The result, introduced on September 22, 1970, was the memorable ’71 Riviera.
Despite the bombastic styling, or maybe because of it, the new Riviera was less than a sensation in the showrooms. Annual sales slipped to around 33,000 units in 1971, the worst year for Riviera to date, where they remained for 1972 as well. For ’73, the final year of the production cycle, the boattail styling was squared up and smoothed down a bit, in part to meet tougher federal impact standards, but sales remained planked in the 33,000 range. Mitchell’s boattail Riviera proved to be polarizing in the GM styling studios, polarizing in the Buick showrooms, and from what we hear around the campfire, the styling remains polarizing to this day. But for our part, we like it.