4 September 2003

Collectible Classic - 1971-73 Buick Riviera

In its time, the era of Super Fly excess, the larger-than-life “boattail” Riviera would seem a good fit with an aesthetic sensibility that celebrated elephant bells, mutton chops, ‘fros, and contrasting plaids. Its tapered rear and squat stance were the results of an effort to echo the sleek lines of a speedboat, the ’38 Buick Y-Job, the ’35 Auburn Speedster, and the 1963-67 Corvette. The radical design’s problem was one of scale, as it was originally slated to sit on a platform smaller than the 122-inch wheelbase mandated by General Motors marketers. They carried the day, and the speedboat became more like a tugboat. Relatively few found berths over the three-year run.

But notions of beauty evolve, and the design actually has worn well over the years. There’s a vestigial dorsal line running up the tail, through the backlight, and onto the roof that recalls the split-window Sting Ray without the visibility problem of an actual two-piece window. Although docking this lengthy boat might be problematic, acquiring and maintaining one isn’t. Instead of being scooped up by the “key party” swingers for whom they were intended, many fell into the hands of pantsuited middle-aged matrons. As a result, a goodly percentage of low-mileage cream puffs survived, mostly in hues of gold and green. Get yourself a boattail Riv, and you’ll have a time machine in which to visit those booty-shaking days in fly style.


What to Pay: $5000-$9000. The GS performance option (330 hp in ’71) commands a 15 to 20 percent premium. An AM/FM/eight-track stereo completes the package.

Body Style: Two-door hardtop. Various full and partial vinyl roof treatments were offered, but an unadorned top gives the cleanest profile. Federal bumpers on the ‘73s diminish the design drama and add weight.

Production Figures: 101,618

Watch Out For: Max Trac, a primitive traction control system that can be cranky. Oil delivery issues and overheating are sometimes sore spots.

Clubs: Riviera Owners Association, PO Box 26344, Lakewood, Colorado 80226 (303-987-3712; www.rivowners.org); Buick Club of America, PO Box 360775, Columbus, OH 43219 (www.buickclub.org)

Spares: Classic Buicks, Inc. 4632 Riverside Drive, Chino, California 91710 (909-591-0283; www.classicbuicks.com); Atlanta Buick Specialties, PO Box 4393, Canton, Georgia 30114 (678-431-1408; www.atlantabuick.com)

Read More: Buick Riviera 1963-78 Performance Portfolio, by R.M. Clarke, Brooklands Books, 140 pages, $19.95


Author of this review, Bob Merlis, is an automotive journalist whose writing has been published in both general interest and enthusiast periodicals.  He is a frequent contributor to Automobile Magazine, (www.automobilemag.com). His feature length writing for Automobile earned him the coveted International Automotive Media Award for his piece on the demise of the Plymouth make.  He is currently a continuing contributor to Details Magazine and has seen his pieces published in Car and Driver, Los Angeles Magazine and LA Style where, for four years, he served as Car Culture editor.  He is a consultant to the Petersen Automotive Museum in the area of exhibit development.  He is a member of the Motor Press Guild, Society of Automotive Historians, Studebaker Drivers Club, Avanti Owners Association International, Alfa Romeo Owners Club and International King Midget Car Club.

Outside the field of automotive journalism and literature, Merlis continues his endeavors in the music industry where he is best known for his nearly thirty year tenure at Warner Bros. Records where he was Senior Vice President, Director Worldwide Corporate Communications.  Merlis is now running M.f.h., his west coast-based public relations/marketing consultancy.

Merlis is a native of Brooklyn and earned a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University.  He has been a resident of Los Angeles for over 25 years and is the father of three sons, Alexander, Benjamin and Timothy.


1 Reader Comment

  • 1
    james daffron columbiana al 35051 November 5, 2014 at 19:48
    I had one of these in 1963, navy blue with the lighter blue interia

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