It occurred to us recently that while we’ve written about the 1963-1965 Riviera and the controversial 1971–1973 “boattail,” we keep skipping over the second generation of Buick’s sporty personal luxury coupe. However, the second-generation Riviera outsold its predecessor and its successor combined — also dispatching its groundbreaking Oldsmobile Toronado cousin for good measure. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we take a closer look at the 1966 Buick Riviera.
Bill Mitchell, styling chief of General Motors from 1958 to 1977, presided over quite a few hits and a number of duds in his long career. Some of those designs still spark controversy — few as much as this one. Critics were divided on this design when it first appeared and even today, there’s a love-it-or-hate-it attitude toward it. This week, the history of Buick’s infamous 1971–1973 “boattail Riviera.”
NOTE: This article, originally written in 2007, was revised extensively in November 2010 to correct a number of factual errors.
From 1958 to 1977, the head of General Motors Styling was William L. (Bill) Mitchell, protégé and anointed successor of the legendary Harley Earl. Mitchell was just as contentious and flamboyant as his mentor, but his tastes were somewhat more restrained, bringing about a new era of crisp, confident styling that was perfectly suited to the prevailing mood of the early 1960s. One of the best designs of Mitchell’s tenure — and one of his personal favorites — was the 1963–1965 Buick Riviera, a stylish coupe that finally put GM on the map in the lucrative personal luxury market. But if things had gone according to plan, the Riviera wouldn’t have been a Buick at all, and it came to market only after a strange and complicated journey of missed opportunities, corporate politicking, and sibling rivalry.