Silver Car For Mr. Mitchell (Part One)

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. 

Image: oldconceptcars

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.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

13 thoughts on “Silver Car For Mr. Mitchell (Part One)”

  1. Good morning, Andrew. Thanks for this article about the first Riviera Silver Arrow. I feel a series coming up 😉

    It’s not in the article (maybe I missed it) but the quarter windows on the side have been removed. The Riviera had these until ’65.

    1. Obviously there is a series coming up. I must have missed the (part one) in the title. Slapping my own had in disbelief 😉

  2. Hello Andrew,
    It’s good to see the Silver Arrow covered on DTW; the kind of “personalised road-legal concept car” you don’t see anymore.
    For its swansong season (1999) the eight generation Riviera included a limited edition of 200 “Silver Arrow” cars- compared to the actual Silver Arrows these were not all that different from the standard cars apart from unique badging and had no bodywork changes at all:

  3. Good morning Andrew and thanks for more Riviera goodness today. That said, apart from the deletion of the quarter-lights mentioned by Freerk, I’m not sure that any of the changes really were an improvrment, just different. That’s the thing about superlative designs: they really are difficult to improve upon, but credit to Bill Mitchell for trying.

    1. I agree, Daniel. The quarter windows don’t bother me on the Riviera, but it does look a bit cleaner when removed.

  4. Modern cars have some very fine pressings – the very sharp edges and super-narrow lines are a testament to getting some mm of steel to take another shape and keep it. What they haven´t surpassed is the depth of the pressings such is seen on the Buick here. At the front and back there is strong relief scultping which is impressive and not comparable to a lot of fine-resolution detailing such we saw on yesterday’s lame duo from Stellantis.

    1. Agreed. I’m just back from a preview of the BMW i7. The line that runs over the side of the preproduction car front to back is really impressive in terms of shaping the metal. There was a closed room presentation of the XM (not the Citroën, obviously) too. I won’t comment on it any further.

      The depth of the pressings of the Buick are more satisfying to my eyes.

    2. Here’s the new BMW mentioned by Freerk:

      -Good to see the Hofmeister Kink restored, if a bit heavy-handed with the brightwork
      -Side profile calmer, although I’d prefer it without the rising lower bodyside crease

      -Door handles look like holes in the door skins, cheap and nasty
      -Too much of the rear quarter window blacked out
      -The front end is hideous

    3. The trouble in the BMW saloon shown here is that area below the upper lamp and outboard of the monster grille. The panel gaps radiating from that upper lamp are appalling. The detailing below that is appalling too. The grill is big but lacks depth. I could imagine a giant photocopy being stuck on the clay model at some point to indicate how it looks. It looks like that: an appliqué. Despite the wheels´ undoubted hugeness the car is as underwheeled as a Ford Mondeo on base-spec alloys. That´s quite some achievement.

    4. Since 3 out of 4 BMW 7series are sold in Asia (Asia being China in this case) this car’s design is specifically aimed at that market. Over there big road presence is what they will pay for and that’s what they’ll get. There is no longer a distinction between the short and long wheelbase version, the i7 only comes in XL size. Besides being long and wide. the car really is tall. I think the base of the windshield is at least 20 centimeters higher than in my E92, if not more. The car was in isolation inside under artificial lights, which made it a little harder to judge, but it really is huge.

      The whole design is aimed at making the already large car appear even larger, hence the huge grill (illuminated if you desire so) and the stacked headlights.

      The only (unsuccessful) attempt to reduce the mass I can see is the C pillar, where the heavy handed Hofmeister kink and the blacked out rear quarter window try to hide (and fail) the sheer bulk of the thing.

      The door handels don’t bother me. What does bother me is that the doors open and close fully electrically at the touch of a button in the same way as the tailgates that you see everywhere now. The don’t (fully) open when the car detects traffic or if you stand in the way. You can also open the door by hand, but even then the doorlock is operated electrically. What do you do in case of a battery failure or worse an accident.

      Also the shut-lines at the front bumper and front wing look bad as in really bad. In the picture you can see there is something the size of a fuel door in the middle of the grill. The radar is behind that. You would have expect with a grill this huge they would be able to hide it better, but alas, no.

      Inside there are a lot of gadgets and gizmos to keep you occupied. The rear cinema screen is excellent and the sound system is impressive if a bit gimmicky. It has a feature that lets the rear seat vibrate to enhance the sound experience. It works fine, but apart from being an impressive feat of useless tech, will one ever use this? The Chinese buyers for car in this segment are a lot younger than the people who buy these car in Europe or the States, so maybe they will use it, who knows? The seats are excellent, though.

  5. Interesting – that BMW is ‘2 cars high’. If you cut the bottom bit off, using the bottom part of the kidney grille where it stops being vertical as the the marker (sorry about the clumsy description), you’d probably have a better result.

    They need someone like Michelotti, who knew how to reduce visual height / bulk.

  6. To me the BMW is what a current day Rover 75 would look like , certainly from the a pillar back.
    Front from an ls200 pick up. Not impressed but most current styling does nothing for me.

    1. Well spotted David – I see exactly what you mean. Now extend your imagination a little further and graft the front of a Rover P5 in place of that abomination of a BMW gob (I can think of no better word to describe it) & eye-slits and you’d have exactly the right machine for transporting the next occupant of No.10…….

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