Though Mitchell was hardly short of ideas, he had trouble pinning down the design concept for this would-be Thunderbird-fighter until he went off to the annual London Motor Show in 1959. One evening, he saw a parked Rolls-Royce partially obscured in the fog. "That's it!" he said to himself. "If we just let the air out of the tires . . . just lower it a bit."
With this firm direction, he got together with Ned Nickles and a few select support designers in an isolated Advanced Styling studio back at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan. Nickles, of course, was an old hand at Buick, having created the 1949 Roadmaster Riviera, Buick's first pillarless hardtop, as well as the famous "portholes" and the sporty 1953 Skylark convertible. He also contributed to the clean lines of Chevrolet's new 1960 compact, the rear-engine Corvair.
Mitchell made it clear that he wanted GM's new personal car to have the Rolls' razor-edge roof, rear deck, and sides, plus an aggressive front end reminiscent of contemporary Ferraris. As it turned out, Nickles had already sketched an interesting design that incorporated these elements.
To each of its front fender leading edges he now applied small grilles shaped like the ones Mitchell had penned for certain late-1930s LaSalles. With this change, Nickles' drawing became the starting point for what would emerge in late 1962 as the production Riviera.
The hidden headlamps seen here were brought
out and into the light for the 1965 model.
The new personal car was assigned experimental project number XP-715, and design work moved quickly to scale and full-size clay models. At this point the Advanced studio didn't know which division would be tapped to build the car, but Mitchell was eager to nudge the decision toward Cadillac, probably because that's where he had begun his GM career.
Accordingly, early proposals carried the name "LaSalle II," thus reviving Cadillac's companion nameplate last seen in 1940. The name was also used on two 1955 Motorama exercises.
Preliminary drawings for XP-715 featured subdued headlights or ones not visible. It was thought that the headlights could be concealed in some way behind the front fender grilles. Dominating these designs were horizontal lines and a sense of strength.
As on the early LaSalle, double bumpers wrapped around both ends. However, as the design progressed through clay models to production form, the bumpers were reduced to one-piece units. Some early clay models carry a grilleless front with an air intake below the front bumper along with panels concealing the headlights and bearing a LaSalle crest.
In the next section, find out how Bill Mitchell and the design team overcame numerous styling obstacles to create a model that would wow GM executives.
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