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New for the 1971 Buick Riviera was a new “Boat Tail” fastback roof and window design that was modified each year through 1973. Bill Mitchell, renowned GM stylist, was responsible for the boat tail, and the design was controversial and short-lived. The interior was unique with an attractive wrap-around aircraft style control panel, and a seat arrangement as either bench or split bucket. A comment was made that “the once gorgeous Riviera” was “almost a caricature of itself: bigger, bolder and more theatrical than ever before; a coupe for those who wanted to be seen arriving.” The boat tail design had been around for 50+ years, starting with the early Franklin, and then the most notable Auburn Speedster, and then even the 1963-1967 Corvette. The Buick Riviera elicited either a strong love or hate response, and it is this same mixed acceptance that has made the boat tailed Riviera more affordable for modern-day car collectors.
The Riviera was powered by a 455 cid V8 @ 315 bhp, lower this year due to new federal bans on leaded gasoline. This meant that the Riviera owners were forced to use of lower octane, unleaded fuel which reduced the levels of engine compression. In 1971, Riviera offered a Grand Sport edition with a 455 cid @ 330 bhp chrome air cleaner, GS emblems on the front fenders and the instrument panel, heavy duty suspension, and a positive traction differential. The 1972 Grand Sport engine was further modified, offering only 260 bhp with the 455 cid V8. Production figures for the 1971 and 1972 Riviera were almost identical, approaching 34,000 units with a base price of $5,253, but, when optioned, averaged near $7,000.