1971-1973 Buick Riviera

1972 and 1973 Buick Riviera
This 1973 Riviera GS, resplendent in black and sans vinyl roof, also has the Stage I 455.
This 1973 Riviera GS, resplendent in black and sans vinyl roof, also has the Stage I 455.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Having gone all-out in restyling the 1971 model, few changes were made for the 1972 and 1973 Buick Riviera.

Identifying the 1972 were a new eggcrate grille, mildly revised taillights, and standard vinyl moldings along the bodyside sculpture line. Gone were the Full-Flo ventilation louvers from the rear deck -- that flow-through system hadn’t worked very well.

However, if one wanted more air, an optional power-operated sunroof was now listed. Otherwise it was more of the same, at least visually.

Under the hood there was a new, solenoid-actuated throttle stop that prevented dieseling by shutting off air to the engine.

A new smog control system was aimed at California’s more stringent regulations, and for the first time horsepower was advertised only in net -- rather than gross -- terms, lowering that figure from 315 to 250. Performance was not appreciably affected, however.

The facelift for the 1973 Buick Riviera was more extensive than in 1972. Among the changes: a downturned hoodline and modified grille-work, large fender-mounted parking lights, thicker rocker panel moldings, rejiggered taillights surrounded by a trim panel, and a center-of-the-bumper rear license plate location (it had been way over to the left).

Most noticeable, however, was a softening of the “boattail” look up back and a heavier-looking bumper up front. The latter, adopted to conform with federal crash worthiness regulations, had the unfortunate side effect of increasing the weight of the 1973 Riviera some 240 pounds over its 1971 counterpart.

Mechanically, the car was basically unchanged, although the more stringent emissions standards had a negative effect on fuel mileage. Owners typically reported between eight and 11 miles to the gallon of gas, at a time when fuel prices were escalating rapidly. The only bright side was the fact that the engine would burn leaded regular without complaint.

These were good years for Buick, generally. During model year 1973 the division turned out 726,191 cars, very nearly equaling 1955’s record output.

But the Riviera failed to share in the prosperity -- only 4.7 percent of all 1973 Buicks were Rivieras, down from 8.7 percent a decade earlier. Whatever its merits -- and it had a lot of them -- the boattail Riviera was a disappointment where it counted most: on the sales floor.

Buick had been hoping for 50,000 sales per year for the boattail Riviera. Alas, they averaged 34,000. And things would get worse -- just 20,000 per year from 1974-1978, thus partially vindicating the boattail.

Up front, the 1973 Riviera featured a horizontal-bar grille and a five-mph crash bumper mandated by the feds.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

There would be a new Riviera for 1974 -- a notchback. Styling was quite conventional, particularly in contrast to the boattail. And the new model was even heavier and more expensive than its immediate predecessor, but no less thirsty.

This was a difficult year for Buick, and a particularly bad season for the Riviera. But at least the boattail was exonerated. Clearly, it wasn’t the provocative styling of 1971-1973 that had caused the Riviera’s sales slump.

It would be nice to be able to report that the boattail Riviera has become a hot item on the collector car market, but it hasn’t. Still, there is a growing interest in this controversial, unconventionally-styled Buick.

So don’t be surprised if, over the next few years, the boattail becomes a highly collectible and -- ultimately -- a very valuable automobile.

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