The 1970’s have been described as the 60’s with a hangover. I subscribe to the philosophy that some clarity can come in the form of a hangover. The body and head may ache, every sinew may twinge with white hot regret. Yet, somehow through bleary eyes truth is made evident. In this case that truth is that the 3rd generation of Buick’s Riviera produced between 1971-1973 was not so much competition for Ford’s Thunderbird, as it was the swinging playboy’s Eldorado. You bought an Eldorado to keep up with the Jones’s, or better yet, put the Jones’s in their place. You bough a Riv when you didn’t give two figs about the Jones’s because you had a secretary that could suck the chrome off a trailer hitch and a wife who didn’t care because she had a charge plate at Buffum’s and her own Continental. That the 3rd generation Riviera never sold well in its three year run (only once breaking 34,000 units per anum) points to the fact that too few executives had secretaries of dubious moral fiber.
Automotive stylist Jerry Hirshberg echoed the rakish backlight of the 1963-1967 Corvette with this car and employed an exaggerated version of Buick’s signature sweepspear bodyline to creat a polarizing shape. With that saucy dip in the beltline the 3rd generation Riv has hints of glorious prewar custom bodied sporting cars without appearing either trite or neoclassical. The superb coachwork of Gurney-Nutting comes particularly to mind. The boat tail Riviera may well be the last brash, swashbuckling, focus groups be damned car to come out of the big three. Although the Riviera’s pointy rear end was blunted a little for the 1973 model year.
The Riviera is dripping with gorgeous detail. Look at those vents on the decklid, if they aren’t suggestive of exotic turbine propulsion I don’t know what is. They were functional too, comprising part of the car’s Full-Flo ventilation system (they proved to occasionally pull rain into the cockpit and were removed for 1972-1973 year model cars). The subtle dorsal spine was a feature of classic Bugattis as well as the General’s own 2nd generation Corvette. The Riviera presented an image that was thrusting and adventurous. More likely to be at seen at a casino or cabaret than the country club.
While the bodyline echoed the past, the 3rd generation Riviera had a proud, lantern jawed front end that was all its own. Wide open quad headlamps and a squarish grille gave it a masculine mug. The dorsal crease carried arrogantly from the boat tail all the way through to the very leading edge of the car, no dainty little Jag or Alfa this ! And it was miles away from the ’71 T-bird’s comically exaggerated, hawkish proboscis. To say nothing of being cleaner and less overwrought than the grille of the contemporary Eldorado and lighter than the heavyset front visage of it’s Olds Toronado sister.
The lucky driver of a 3rd gen Riviera was well catered for. In spite of faint hints of prewar exterior styling the car had a suitably luxurious interior with performance that was bang up to date. The driver’s right foot was connected to 455 honest to god cubic inches via a slim pedal. Compression was already coming down and the car mustered 255 bhp in standard trim and 265 bhp if you ordered the GS package, these numbers dipped in ’72 with the switch to Net horsepower ratings. There’d still be plenty of torque though, channeled to a live rear axle via a turbo-hydramatic transmission. For 1973 the higher power engine became standard, with 260 bhp and a limited slip dif available from the Stage 1 version. One could still have a GS as well, this being a separate package for ride and handling. If things got too slippery, an early traction control system called Max-Trac was available. The gears were selected by a either conventional column shift, or a glorious little lever worthy of the control panel of a Bond villain’s death ray. Instruments and controls were focused on the driver. Your luscious companion could luxuriate un-distracted from the drudgery of paying attention to road speed and suchlike.
The beauty of all this is, 3rd generation Rivieras can be had for not a lot of coin. As of this writing there’s a deep red 1973 Riviera on Ebay with a buy it now price of $9,900.00. Comfort, luxury and drama can be yours for less than ten grand. Who care’s if you can’t afford to pay that vixen of secretary ! Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick ?