The ’63 Riviera had been one of Buick’s best sellers, but by the late Sixties it was lagging far behind Ford’s now-luxurious Thunderbird. However, the Riviera easily outsold its stablemate, the radical front-wheel drive Toronado; but for ’71 Buick upped the stakes by unveiling a new Riviera that was a little bit special.
The new model had become almost a caricature of itself, now bigger and brasher than it ever was before. Handsome and dramatic, the “boat-tail,” as it was nicknamed, had its stylistic roots in the split rear window Sting Ray of ’63. It was as elegant as Jackie Onassis and as hard-hitting as Muhammad Ali. Its base price was $5,251, undercutting the arch-rival T-Bird by a wide margin.
Designer Bill Mitchell nominated it as his favourite car of all time, and, while sales of Rivieras hardly went crazy, at last Buick had a flagship model that was the envy of the industry. It was the coupe in which to make a truly stunning entrance.
The muscular rear flanks flow into the boat-tail rear. Only a Detroit stylist would graft a huge chrome point to the back of a car.
Wheel arches were wide open and went against the trend for skirted fenders.
The Riviera came with GM’s biggest mill, the mighty 455. The hotter Gran Sport option made the massive V8 even smoother and quieter and offered big-buck buyers a shtonking 330 bhp. One reviewer said of the Gsengined car, “there’s nothing better made on these shores.”
Daring lines such as these had never before been seen on a production car.
The lines of the boat-tail were not only beautiful at the rear but were carried right through to the thrusting, pointed grille.
After 1972, the rear seat could be split 60/40 —pretty neat for a coupe. The options list was infinite, and you could swell the car’s sticker price by a small fortune. Tilt steering wheel came as standard.
The Seventies cabin was plush but plasticky.
The Riviera’s styling may have been excessive, but it still made a capacious five-seater, despite the fastback roof line and massive rear window. The 122 in (3.1 m) wheelbase made the ’71 boat-tail longer than previous Rivieras.
Vents were part of the air-conditioning system and unique to ’71 Rivieras.
SUPREME STOPPING POWER
The Riviera drew praise for its braking, helped by a Max Trac antiskid option. The Riv could stop from 60 mph (96 km/h) in 135 ft (41 m), a whole 40 ft (12 m) shorter than its rivals.
Discs on the front helped create a quality braking system.
Soft-Ray tinted glass helped keep things cool.
With the side windows down, the Riv was pillarless, further gracing those swooping lines.
Seating could be all-vinyl bench seats with custom trim or front buckets.
One-piece rear windshield curves downward.
View from rearview mirror was slightly restricted.
Electric trunk releases are not a modern phenomenon—they were on the ’71 Riviera’s options list
The rear was a Bill Mitchell “classic” that had his trademark stamped all over it, the GM supremo having also designed the rear of the ’63 Sting Ray coupe.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Buick Riviera (1971)
PRODUCTION 33,810 (1971)
BODY STYLE Two-door coupe.
CONSTRUCTION Steel body and box-section chassis.
ENGINE 455cid V8.
POWER OUTPUT 315–330 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic.
SUSPENSION Front: independent coil springs; Rear: self-leveling pneumatic bellows over shocks.
BRAKES Front discs, rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 125 mph (201 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 8.4 sec
A.F.C. 12–15 mpg (4.2–5.3 km/l)