This car was a little bit special than its predecessors. Ford Thunderbird had better sales, come the ’71 model which was bigger and bolder. Nicknamed the the “boat-tail”, the new Buick had some similarities with the 1963 Sting Ray. The new Riviera, which at $5,251 was a lot cheaper than the Thunderbird, was a coupe which Buick hoped would provide some competition to the T-bird.
The long-storied Riv had been modestly successful, Buick having produced more than a million of these luxury vehicles in a period spanning less than 30 years (1963-1999).
The Riviera’s controversial styling which irked the automotive writers were the boat-tail rear and the muscular rear flanks. The fastback roof line and massive rear window ‘tho were overlooked because of the spaciousness of the coupe which could comfortably seat five people.
GM’s mightiest engine, the 455 powered the car although EPA mandates made GM reduced the power to 255 hp with 265 hp in the Gran Sport by lowering compression ratio. But higher options could increase the massive V8 power to 330 and even retain the car’s quiet and smooth ride.
The 1971 Riviera also features GM’s “Full-Flo” ventilation system and two large deck lid louvers. Soft-Ray tinted glass, all-vinyl bench seats with custom trim or front buckets (which made them a little plasticky) and tilt steering came as standard. Thrusting, pointed grille, a 122 in wheelbase (longer than previous Rivieras), muscular rear flanks that flow into boat-tail rear are daring lines that distinguish the ’71 Rivieras.
The Riviera was radically redesigned under Bill Mitchells’s direction for the 1971 model year with flowing and dramatic “boat-tail” styling. Bill Mitchell was GM’s chief styling during that time. It was penned by Jerry Hirshberg, future head of design for Nissan, mating the two-piece vee-butted 792 fastback rear window, inspired by the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray split window coupe, to the Riviera’s platform.
The 455 engine had a lower compression ratio to meet EPA emissions requirements, reducing power to 255 hp (190 kW), with 265 hp (198 kW) in the Gran Sport. Performance remained reasonably brisk, with a 0–60 time of 8.1 seconds for the GS, but the Riviera’s sporty image was rapidly fading. The 1971 Riviera also features GM’s “Full-Flo” ventilation system and two large deck lid louvers are prominent on the trunk lid.
Despite these features, Riviera sales for 1971 dropped to 33,810, the lowest to date.