When Bill Mitchell took over as GM’s styling chief in 1958 he did so at a
tumultuous time. As the replacement for the legendary Harley Earl—of
whom he was a protégé —Mitchell had monumental shoes to fill. If that
weren’t enough, corporate rivals across town at Ford had just released
the second-generation Thunderbird that same year. The larger, four-seat
“Squarebird” was a huge success, nearly doubling the sales of the
previous 2-seater, and codifying the mid-priced domestic “personal
luxury car” market. As sales of the T-bird continued to climb over the
next couple of years, new GM president John F. Gordon met with Mitchell
and the two concocted a plan for a vehicle to counter Ford’s success.
Mitchell wanted something dramatic and sophisticated—something with a
European flavor that blended comfort and luxury with a sportiness that
out-hustled and out-handled the T-bird. The car that would result became
the 1963-65 Buick Riviera.
As to how it took shape, the story
goes that on a trip to the London Motor Show Mitchell spotted a
Rolls-Royce parked on the street at just the right profile angle, and he
decided to incorporate its roofline and rear deck angles into his
creation. Rolls’ upright front end was too staid and formal, so he drew
inspiration for the nose from Ferrari’s big grand touring coupes, with a
callback to LaSalle designs Mitchell had penned years earlier—including
distinctive hidden headlights tucked behind grilles in the fenders.
Interestingly, the design was not assigned to a particular GM division
at the outset, so there were no badge-specific styling cues in the early
design studies. Mitchell reportedly pushed for Cadillac to get the
design, but Cadillac was doing very well with its existing lineup so it
declined. Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick all wanted the car, and made
pitches to GM management to get the design. Buick made the strongest
case, and ultimately Mitchell’s personal luxury coupe was awarded to
them and was christened the “Riviera”, evoking the European-style
elegance to which Mitchell and Gordon aspired.
version incorporated most of Mitchell’s styling cues, and the car was
certainly dramatic. The engineers were not able to get the hideaway
headlights to function properly for the car’s launch, so visible
side-by-side headlights were tucked inboard of the grilled fenders. For
1965 they sorted out the technical issues and installed headlights
behind vents at the leading edge of the fenders that opened
clamshell-style. Finally the clean lines Mitchell had first penned were
realized! The ’65 model also saw the introduction of the Gran Sport trim
level, which added dual 4-barrel carbs on the 425cubic inch nail-head
V-8 good for an extra 20hp (360 total), a 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic
transmission, quicker steering, and stiffer suspension. Finally the
Riviera was the car Bill Mitchell had envisioned.
broadened its 1:24 scale library to include several American classics
that uniquely blend luxury and sport to create memorable machines. The
gorgeous Riviera is arguably the most beautiful luxury coupe to come out
of Detroit in the 1960s, and it helped restore Buick to a position of
prominence among customers and vehicle press. Surviving examples are
highly sought after, and the 1965 model with its sleek hideaway
headlamps and high-performance Gran Sport trim level is the most prized.
Automodello brings this classic to collectors in a plethora of elegant
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