Buick Riviera sketch ...

Published on 06.05.2021

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A copy of letter John Houlihan to editors of Collectible Automobile that provide insights to the origins of the 1971 Riviera, along with a few sketches from the project.



Dear Editors,

I read with great interest your article entitled 1971–’73 Riviera: Buick’s Beautiful Boattail. In that article Mr. Brown states that “It has never been clear exactly who was responsible for styling this car.” I can shed some light on this subject. I was a member of GM Design Staff and working under Jerry Hirshberg at the time the ’71 was designed.While Dave Holls is essentially correct stating in his sidebar comments that Bill Mitchell heavily influenced the design, Hirshberg was the studio Chief Designer and supervised the crafting of every surface and detail of that car. However, another designer named Don DaHarsh, working for Mitchell in his secret back-room Studio X, designed the theme model in 3/8 scale before any of us in Advanced Buick studio began the’71 project.

Inspiration for the Mitchell/DaHarsh model probably did come from the famous Y-job and the Stingray, but Mitchell had a mania for sweep-spears, evident on the Delahayes of his youth and demanded that the project that was to become the ’71 Riviera employ this flamboyant styling motif. We inherited the model and Mitchell’s burning desire to create a magnificent and aggressive design statement. Our first effort under Hirshberg was a superb interpretation of DaHarsh’s model—Mitchell’s swashbuckling excess and the design team’s fine sense of line, form, proportion and detailing. This model was on a combined A/E body platform. It had a deep “V” windshield tapering through the monocoque body to the now famous boattail.

Cost was the prime factor in changing the size of the ’71 Riveria. The unusual A/E package, the deep “V” windshield, and other economic factors of the times forced Buick management to dictate that we redesign our sleek coupe and use the B-body seating package and glass. At the time this directive was a disaster—totally destroying the original concept.



Our design team worked tirelessly for months to convert what was once a shark into a whale, albeit a superbly detailed and proportioned one. The beautiful car you see today is a tribute to this effort and to the skill of Hirshberg and his team. I am proud to have been a part of this slice of automotive history.

John T. Houlihan

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