The 1971-1973 Buick Riviera was the manufacturer's most controversial piece of styling since the batwing job of 1959. Despite the success of the 1963 Riviera, sales had plummeted by 1970. A quick fix was badly needed, and Buick gambled that the 1971 “boattail” was the answer.
It’s true, too, that by 1971 the time had obviously come for a new and different Riviera. Consider 1,070 production figures, for example. While still comfortably ahead of Oldsmobile’s Toronado -- the Riveria's intra-corporate rival -- output skidded an alarming 29 percent from 52,872 units in 1969 to 37,336 units, the lowest since 1965.
Nor was this a reflection of market conditions, for overall Buick sales were holding steady, while Ford’s Thunderbird made a modest gain that year.
It had been Ford, of course, that had pioneered the “luxury personal car” concept with the 1958 introduction of the first four-place T-Bird. And the Bird continued to lead the field in sales, despite stiff competition from its counterpart at Buick.
Even so, the Riviera, first introduced for the 1963 season, had been a resounding sales success from the start, and a style and performance leader as well.
“It was the Riviera,” authors Ian Norbye and lames Dunne declared, “that put some class into this market segment.”
Even Car and Driver, a magazine not usually noted for unstinting praise of American luxury cars, admitted that “the Riviera is different from the other big Buicks, and it stands alone among American cars in providing a combination of luxury, performance and general roadworthiness that approaches Bentley Continental standards at less than half the price.”
Learn about Buick Riviera styling changes on to the next page.
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