Silver Arrows from Flint, Michigan.
In the realms of car design, chances must be taken. Regardless of the ever-building pressure generated from all quarters as to the next sure-fire sales wonder, calculated risk taking is part of the game. Such incontrovertible weights require shoulders of strength, astute vision, alongside the ego of a vain, mirror-devoted individual, obsessed with appearances. Praise be that a certain William Mitchell was in possession of all of the above qualities, along with a marked penchant for items of an argentine nature.
It seems as natural today as it did sixty years ago that prior to the October 4th 1962 Riviera reveal, Mitchell would wish to experiment with the machine, assess future improvements, and along the way, if the car became part of his own personal collection, well what the heck? Departments both financial and engineering-based may have grumbled, but sales were king. And usually, whatever Mr Mitchell asked for, he most certainly got.
The Buick Riviera was initially limited to exactly 40,000 sales for its first (1963) year. On 26th June 1962, Bill Mitchell withdrew chassis number 84, a Silver Cloud exterior with black leather interior from the Flint lines to Creative Design studios, Detroit. Nothing unusual there, Mitchell (and GM) would often remove a production model to ascertain future developments. Special Order number 40210 would comprise new ideas centred around extending the front end (hood and fenders) with a new grille and concealed headlights. Mr Mitchell required these items fabricated and ready for studio dissemination and study by early September.
Two more phases of enhancements added extra pressure, namely a change of engine (which appears not to have occurred), the still as yet unnamed project had the 425 cubic inch Nailhead fitted. Phase three which slid into November looked into many detail changes. David Dunbar’s name was removed – Riviera had a new placing on the front wing and trunk lid. The chrome spears were actually excised, whereas the side view mirrors became silver bullet shaped features. The grille area was to change again. With a wish to use those concealed headlights as parking lamps even with the grille down, Mitchell asked for the opaque covers’ removal.
Inside, the black leather bench seat was junked, replaced by a bucket seat (Astra) from a 1962 experimental Skylark. The drivers seat also had a six-way adjustment. All seating aspects were now silver in colour, carpets and headliner included. Real wood was placed on the dash alongside door consoles and gear knob.
31st October 1962 brought phase four to light ready for a Christmas check – a new AM/FM radio, with a front instrument panel speaker. A tachometer was to incorporated into the existing panel. Also new, a telescopic steering column and a three spoke, wood rim wheel. Outside, a new cowl vent grille with air scoops: silver, naturally, although the wheel arches were a contrasting fiery red. January and February 1963 saw several plans cancelled including the deletion of door handles along with a 1.5 inch gearstick extension; another being the fitting of a telephone in the central tunnel area.
Sometime in between, a clay model was knocked up with plans for a lowered roof. Removing two inches from the supports led to other significant alterations – namely windshield, side glass, dashboard packaging and headliner. The new rear window fitted flush to the bodywork – Chemcor glass – a thinner but stronger laminate. Crash tests for front windows found that “head deceleration was significantly higher” on the windshields—the Chemcor might remain intact, but human skulls would not.
More grille and fender work was required by Mitchell followed by new bumpers. The rear taillights went through many subtle changes before sign-off, with wire wheels a suitable finale, ready for the car’s 19th April 1963 New York motor show debut. A mere six days after wowing the crowds, XP-810 as it was now known was back in Detroit for yet further embellishment with yet more grille and fender work.
However, the mirror fails to reveal a vision here. Open to conjecture is when Mitchell actually began to use the car as (one of many) personal and experimental cars as another twelve months and more passed by before more front end work was carried out – an electrically powered, thermostatically controlled grille opening. This allowed controllable airflow and yet another wing, grille and bumper realignment. For the detail spotters, the tyres gained more girth. Also surrounding the new white stripes were art-deco inspired silver wheel discs simply covering the wires. This showpiece also cemented the stylised ‘R’ as the hood adorning bomb sight.
August 5th 1964 also saw the XP moniker fall to the hardly more encouraging Buick Silver Arrow Running Car, with another car show, north of the border in Toronto. Changes now were limited to Silver Arrow lettering, finally naming the car, and luminous door locks. In need of touch ups, the paintwork now became subtly two-toned – a slightly darker silver applied under the belt line and rear hind quarters.
Unashamedly proud of his creations, Bill Mitchell actively used his machines to the full. Ruthless and profane in the studio, he could be found tearing around the Detroit suburbs with alacrity; on occasion offering lifts to wide-eyed kids asking the mister inside what car it was. The original plans to have at least some of the characteristic flourishes found here for the 1963 season led to practically none being seen on the ‘normal’ Riviera until 1965. By which time of course Bill, whilst still enjoying this Silver Arrow had plans for another, to be profiled in a forthcoming episode.
Silver Arrow I, as the car eventually became known resides close to its creative birthplace in the Buick Automotive Gallery, itself within the Sloan Museum, Flint, Michigan.
Data sources: Ray Knott, founder of The ROA and its diligent members, Buick Riviera 1963-73 – Motorbooks International by Chris Wolfe.