Evolution of the Riviera - 1971

by Ray Knott #1

Originally published in The Riview Vol. 19, No. 4 May./Jun. 2003

Despite the internal controversy at General Motors over the design of the ’71 Riviera, Buick’s press release called it “The most daring new car design in recent history” There is no denying that the new model known to all as the “Boattail” is the most recognizable, most unusual and in my opinion one of the most beautiful cars ever designed. Having owned three 71-72’s models I can verify that I received more admiring looks and “thumbs up” than any other model I’ve owned.

The cleaan front end with the thin horizontal bars in the bold grill.
What made the 1971 so unusual was the radically tapered front and rear body shape and the long flowing side view with a rear that looked like the bottom of a boat. Although the length increased by only 2” to 218 inches, the car appeared much longer than the previous year. The front wheels were moved forward 3” to provide better balance, increasing the wheelbase to 122.” Most distinctive were the bumpers, which were so sharply tapered, they would not survive damage in any type of impact.. The large one-piece rear bumper was so sharply tapered that the license plate had to be placed on the left side, instead of the middle. The long thin taillights were mounted in the body between the bumper and trunk lid. The trunk lid had functional louvers, which allowed the water to drain down behind the bumper. The large wrap around rear window, similar to the classic ’63 Corvette Sting Ray was actually in two sections with a center stress line
The long clean hood was without a center strip or emblems. The grille composed of thin horizontal bars was centered between the four round headlights. A large stylized “R” emblem was mounted on the left side of the grille. A color coordinated protective body side molding, available as dealer’s option became standard in ’72. A full vinyl roof costing $128.41 was installed on 75% of the Rivierars and offered in five contrasting colors. A custom vinyl kit designed by George Barris, which continued the vinyl onto the trunk, was offered as a dealer’s option in June of ’72 for $29.95 installed.

The 455 ci engine and THM-400 transmission were carried over from the previous year. However, due to increased emission requirements the compression was lowed to 8.5:1 from 10:1, which resulted in less horsepower. The standard engine code “TR” was rated as 315 hp, @ 4400 rpm. The optional GS engine, code “TA” had a hotter cam and produced 330hp @ 460 rpm. The 71 engines were made with Nickel-plated values designed to run on Low or no lead fuels. All Riviera had a dual exhaust system. A new computer controlled device called “Max-Trac” was available for the first time and only on the Riviera for $91.57. Max-Trac was designed to reduce skidding and rear wheel spin during acceleration with sensors on the wheels and on the transmission shaft. As a result rear end swerve and fishtailing was reduced. Also new for 71 was a redesigned suspension called “Accudrive” resulting in better cornering. Front disc brakes became standard. The standard rear axle ratio was 2.93:1, while the GS option included a hotter 3.42:1 rear.

The newly designed dash used only on the Riviera had an easy to read instrument cluster with removable panels. The removable panels allowed easy access to the clock, radio as well as for bulb replacement. The standard interiors could be ordered with either bench or buckets in black or sandalwood vinyl. The optional interiors included a vinyl & fabric bench with a fold down armrest in green, blue, sandalwood or black. The all vinyl bench was available in green, sandalwood, saddle or black. The upgrade buckets were offered in pearl white, rosewood or black vinyl. Once again leather was not offered. All buckets came with a short console, but a full-length operating console was also available.
The suggested list price of the 71 was $5290, an increase of $399 over the previous year. Although the ‘71 is one of the most desirable collectibles today, sales fell to only 33,810 including 3,175 with the GS engine and handling option.

Total Production
Engine Size
33,810 (Includes 3,175 GS Option)
455 cu. in. V8


GS Option:
Curb Weight





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Notice: BUICK and RIVIERA are trademarks of GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION used with permission. The Riviera Owners Association is independent and not affiliated with GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION or its BUICK MOTORS DIVISION    —Copyright 2007 Riviera Owners Association—