A Tale of a Boat Tail: 1972 Buick Riviera

1972 Buick Riviera

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When Buick introduced the radically styled “boat tail” Riviera for 1971, America’s car buyers collectively gasped. A Bill Mitchell-driven throwback to the 1930’s, it had been a long time since a new car had appeared with a rear end styled like this (although some ’63-’67 Corvette can be seen in the back window). The rear “prow” led to a lot of controversy within GM as well and only lasted in this form for two years. This big boat is being sold in Las Vegas here on craigslist for $2,500.

Buick Riviera Sketches
John Houlihan sketches courtesy of Riviera Owners Association

One of the original designers, John Houlihan, recalled that GM Director of Styling Bill Mitchell drove the unusual design. The “side sweep” of the Riviera also echoed a continuing Buick theme from the 1950’s but was very prominent on the boat tail cars. Rejection of the new design was immediate as 1971 sales tanked. Although GM struggled to revise the design as quickly as possible, only minor changes were possible for 1972, which didn’t help, as Buick sold essentially the same number of 1972’s as they did the previous year.

Buick Riviera Project

This car seems to have been sitting for a while, although the shade from the nearby tree and house may have kept the sun damage to a minimum. The ad mentions it runs well and has air conditioning; a must with that much glass area! It looks like all four of the original rally wheels are present as well.

Buick Riviera Boat Tail

Although the paint is oxidized, the all-important glass and bumpers are intact and straight. I noticed that the radical shape of the bumpers meant that the license plates couldn’t be mounted in the usual center location. At least my home state of North Carolina doesn’t require a front plate, so it would only be the back that would have to be asymmetrical.

Buick Riviera Grille

Given the difficulty in finding parts for a car this rare (how many have you seen lately?) it’s nice to see that the vulnerable grille is intact. Although no engine picture is included in the ad, this Buick should have the 455 cubic inch V8. Even with the large engine bay, the massive V8 has to take up most if not all of the available space.

Buick Riviera Interior

The dramatic styling continued into the interior, with a huge dual-cowl dashboard that on this example is cracked. I know those can be repaired, but it would be quite a job. Original-appearing upholstery would be good only for patterns, while the molded door panels are not available (although the vinyl top panels are); I imagine good used ones will be hard to find. This car was not fitted with either of the available front consoles and features the stock “60/40” split bench seat that allowed individual seat movement.

Since the seller claims to have a clear Nevada title in hand, there should be no issues driving this one home and into your garage…right?

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. braktrcr

    Are we sure this isn’t a 73? The front bumper looks bigger than I remember, as my Dad had one new in 71. It is a love it or hate it car, I happen to think they are beautiful. They had gobs of torque, loved to burn rubber, surprisingly horrible in the snow, and yes they could easily bury the 120 mph speedo. For a running, solid, 43 year old car, $2500 seems like a gift to me. Considering today’s gas prices, the price even seems better. Wish I had the time and spousal approval for another project.

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    • ColorMeGreen

      The tail is correct for 72. The front must be from a 73, hood, fenders, grill, etc. Better ask for a car-fax…

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  2. alanjnc

    Love those cars!!!
    (but do I want one??? I don’t believe so… ;)

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    • Robert J.

      My feelings exactly.

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  3. Desi

    Didn’t sell well when new… and now a very desirable model at a good price.

    I seem to recall a heavy metal girls group used one of these on the cover of an album years ago. Found it… http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/b/b3/Girlschool_hit_and_run.jpg/600px-Girlschool_hit_and_run.jpg

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    • leiniedude LeiniedudeMember

      I love the rear end on the girls car, and second only to the bands itself!

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  4. Jeff V.

    5 years from now, if collector car prices keep escalating the rear glass will be worth what you pay for the car today! lol ;)

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  5. Chris

    That’s a ’73, not ’72 as described. The front bumper is the giveaway. The 71 and 72 have a much cleaner front end look.

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  6. Jose

    Beautiful? Yep. Thought provoking? Yep, again. Certainly, it would garner a second look anytime. But another land yacht? Well, just not for me.

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  7. skloon

    Paint it green and live out your ‘Due South’ fantasies

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  8. geomechs geomechsMember

    I agree with those claiming this one to be a ’73 model. However, I’m a fan of all Boattail Rivs.

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  9. DH in Iowa

    I’d be more interested in this, than the crap they offer now.

    Like 1
  10. Vince Habel

    Bumper says 73. It is tempting to go get it

    Like 1
  11. Jamie Palmer JamieAuthor

    Thanks for the correction on the date, folks — I can always count on BarnFind folks to know more than I do! :-)

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  12. That Guy

    Yes, definitely a ’73. The highway barricade bolted to the front make it somewhat less appealing to me than the ’71 or ’72, but I still like it. Even as a kid I loved the dramatic, over-the-top styling of the boattail Rivieras. Will I ever own one? I won’t rule it out. It has the same too-much-is-not-enough style sensibilities as my ’63 Imperial LeBaron.

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  13. Gary Fogg

    Looks like a 72 with a 73 nose.

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  14. leiniedude LeiniedudeMember

    I really like the look. Always have. Never knew they did not sell very well back in the day. Perhaps the styling in the early 70s of the boat tail seemed dated, harking back to the mid year Sting Rays. I would really like to take one for a spin. I am guessing cushy and fast. More horse power in 71? Any one know? Have a great New Year to the Barn Finds staff and the rest of you motor heads!

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  15. MikeH

    One of the ugliest cars ever produced in ’71 and it hasn’t improved with age.

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    • TerryP

      You are too young to know any better…kiddo

      Like 1
  16. Wayne

    A runner with working A/C this thing is a gift. One of the most beautiful cars GM ever made with the right color scheme that is. This looks like a winner. beats the hell out of the boat anchor rust bucket Porsche 356 i saw a few days ago here. Having been there and done that I can tell you this is not only a beautiful car but a damn comfy one too. Fast comfy and cool. Just do it !

    Like 1
  17. jim s

    yes this would make a very nice daily driver. nice find

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  18. JW454

    The rear is a 1972 but the front end is from a 1973 as it sports the energy absorbing bumper. The 1971 would have had the air louvers along side the rear glass on the trunk lid. I always liked this design. They are a very unique looking car.

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  19. William Henshaw

    I have always looked at these cars as the realization of a dream. That dream was one of the coolest GM motorama cars made, the Buick Centurion. There is a lot of styling cues shared between those cars, the fastback roof, the wide flat rear fenders and that long low line down the side and over the rear fender wells. Yeah it’s a pretty good looking car. Of course I always wanted to stuff the running gear out of a Skylark GS into one and recreate the full size muscle car. That’s all in the past, I don’t want to do that anymore. I like these cars well enough, they’re still good GM cars made before GM turned into excrement, but I wouldn’t want one. That’s not to say you wouldn’t or shouldn’t. This car looks like a steal and if your on the road a lot it will give you hours of comfortable driving at 10 to 20 MPH over the limit. It’s a horrible ad that doesn’t say much and has pretty crappy pictures, so you had better go and inspect it in person, which of course you should always do, and if it’s not rotted to hell and goes forwards and backwards and stops it is well worth $2500.

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  20. gunningbar

    My buddy had one…I didnt quite “get it” 30 years ago but now I do…great car..great price.

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  21. Patrick

    My first car in 1987 was a ’71 with the center console. Sorry I ever parted with it.

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  22. Bruce

    This car is a mutt. Rear end of a 72/front end of a 73. My mom had a 1971 with console, road wheels and no vinyl. Love it or hate it that car ran like a scalded cat.

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  23. mitch

    A 71 was my daily driver in the 90s. Iwas roaming the highways of Ohio as an IT consultant, and it was perfect for the job. Contrary to earlier post, it did fine i snow for me–so heavy!

    I loved it, but it was many years before Detroit learned how to design bodies that didnt rot in less than 10 yrs, and the pronounced tumblehome made the doors a rust haven. It rotted away and I sold it to raise money tobuy a martin guitar…

    The 455 had unbelievable torque, but ran out of horses around 110 mph. The steering and suspension wasnt up to it anyway. I remember liking the brakes. A 68 cadillac i had at the same time was much better at hi speeds, and its 429 just kept asking for more. Its brakes however were one-use only lol. Fade-a-licious.

    I am sure I will never again regularly drive such a beast. So comfortable, and absolutely at home on US interstates–the 45-to-75 punch-it was a joy, better than my saab turbo for sure.

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  24. Ron

    Very strange… The taillights, ventless deck lid and rear bumper are from a 72. But the sides do not have the trim along the belt line (or holes from where they are missing), which is weird, because this trim was optional in 71 and standard in 72. The front clip is from a 73, with the larger federal bumpers and less pointy nose. The dash is definitely 71-72.

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  25. Roselandpete

    I have a 72. Something fishy is going on with this car. The rear end says it’s a 72 but the front end says it’s a 73.

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  26. brian gastmeier

    have a 1972 up north in mi after sitting 20 years drained gas start and runs great.

    Like 0

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