In the turbulent 60s, when the rivalry between the major automakers was at its height, GM was challenged to combine the dynamic performance of a sports car with the glamor and glitz of Rolls-Royce.
Back in the 60s, the Thunderbird’s success became a thorn in the side of General Motors’ top management. Of course, the empire was considered the main leader of the big Detroit three, in terms of sales and profitability. However, Chrysler was deservedly known as an engineering fiefdom and the avant-garde of technical progress, and Ford held the palm in matters of style and design trends. And this was not an exaggeration at all: if we take the success of the Falcon, Thunderbird, and later the Mustang, which not only became classics of the genre but also turned into the founders of new market segments. The situation urgently needed to be corrected. But since none of the GM affiliates had anything worthwhile to offer (at least nothing worthwhile, according to the president of the corporation), the task of “creating something extraordinary” was left to an experimental development studio led by a former chief stylist Buick by Ned Nickles. More importantly, the project, which received the code name XP-715, was taken under his patronage by GM Vice President of Design Bill Mitchell – not only a dexterous manager but also a talented artist who enjoyed great prestige in design circles.
Mitchell took a fresh look at the automotive design and abandoned the trendy “airplane” style when developing the XP-715 concept. The final shape of the XP-715 was formed after Mitchell’s trip to London in 1959. Intrigued and hungry for inspiration, he went across the Atlantic to see the latest European car industry at the London auto show. True, at the exhibition itself, Bill did not see anything outstanding, but fortune smiled at him on the way … to the hotel. “We were returning from the exhibition, it was a typical London evening: damp and foggy when suddenly I saw a parked Rolls-Royce,” Mitchell recalled a moment of wonderful inspiration much later. “Its silhouette, accentuated by the rays of the lamplight, its bold lines, and sharp angles simply delighted me! I immediately understood what our new project should be”. Returning to the States, Mitchell discussed the idea with Ned Nickles, and the Ford Thunderbird competitor project, based on the pre-war La Salle and the aristocratic Rolls-Royce, spun with renewed vigor. This version satisfied the GM vice president completely. Mitchell was delighted – finally, GM had a car that no one would call pathetic even against the background of the trendy Thunderbird!
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Following the fashion trends of the time, this car was the most stylish in its segment. The separate grooved instrument dials and a narrow, sloping center console made this machine a real epitome of European chic. Separated by a transmission tunnel, four separate seats were installed inside, and the steering column was height adjustable. Leather and wood were used in the decoration, and air conditioning, cruise control, power steering, radio, power windows, and front seats were installed, which made Riviera akin to science fiction. The initial version was equipped with a 6.6-liter 325-horsepower V8, and a 7.0-liter 340-horsepower engine was available for a surcharge. With a 3-speed “automatic”, a more powerful version showed good dynamics, given its mass of 1900 kg – it accelerated to 100 km/h in 8 s and developed 200 km/h. Of course, the average fuel consumption was huge – 17.8 l / 100 km – but gasoline in those days cost a penny. The presentation of the new model took place at the end of 1962, and its production began in 1963. For its time, the coupe was not cheap: it cost $4,300, more expensive than all other Buicks and at the level of the Chevrolet Corvette and Jaguar E-Type. In modern money, this is $ 35,000. Riviera immediately became successful and produced 40 thousand cars in the first 12 months.
When the Buick prototype was ready, Cadillac and Chevrolet refused to release it under their brand. But representatives of the remaining trio: Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick, expressed extreme interest in it. Especially the guys from Buick needed a new project to save the brand from collapse. Buick Management perseverance won in a creative competition organized by GM.
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