Boaty McBoat Tail
An almost mythical aura surrounds the second of the Silver Arrow concepts, which is more than can be said of the car itself – now vanished without trace. Hype and overall interest for 1967 was considerably lower when compared to the first Silver Arrow; no chassis number, no documented dates, no confirmed photos, zilch.
After extensive research with limited resources, Silver Arrow II appears to have barely differed from a 1970 model year Riviera – the grille perhaps receiving the most noticeable change – 74 teeth opposed to only 60. The side chromed spear overlaid onto bodywork. An interior again in silver leather. Other small details differing from that of later production models include side view mirrors, the hub caps (not seen on any other Riviera) and the rear side reflectors. What is known as the Rocker Moulding, was also chromed.
Missing build sheets or much by other substantive information leaves it unclear if this car was ever released from within GM studios. It would certainly appear that the car was never shown to the public. Was Mitchell enjoying the original Silver Arrow too much? Or had his interest in what would become the 1970 body shape Riviera, waned? Sadly, neither are answerable.
As the production development of the Riviera continued, Mitchell’s next move courted a controversy that still resounds today. 1971 dropped anchor with the ‘Boat Tail’. Divisional head, Lee Mays publicly declared: “A classic new design, a triumph of automotive style.” Privately, Mays detested the design, later admitting “some people liked it but some people like anything.”
Fleet Admiral Mitchell placed Rear Admiral, Jerry Hirschberg in charge of the pencils along with Chief Petty Officer, John Houlihan. Attempting to interpret Mitchell’s idea, Jerry admitted to the car being a peculiar one to look back on, whereas Houlihan remains proud. Mitchell demanded a classic theme; bold ideas incorporating pre-war Delage and Delahaye; sweeping curves, thirties extravagance. Even Mitchell let slip a typically pithy retort when questioned years later: “What hurt the boat tail was to widen it. It got so wide, the speedboat became a tugboat.” Fans and detractors appear equal in number.
The reasoning being the malpractice of sizing. Originally a 3/8 scale model by a chap named Don DeHarsh was pounced upon by Mitchell. Placing those measurements onto the GM A-body found Mitchell and team beginning to smile as the sweep spears materialised. Management’s ideas however wiped away those joyful expressions. Insisting on the larger B-body caused headaches for both design and manufacturing teams. Looks the team never balanced; engineers sweating blood over that rear glass area.
Utilising a very early 1971 model year chassis, Silver Arrow III began life a Silver Fern Riviera with white vinyl interior, then primed for more of Mitchell’s sterling alchemy. Unveiled at the 1971 Chicago motor show, the car appears more an approval scheme for future Rivieras, opposed to an argent Mitchell runabout.
Lowering the roofline a full two inches (not applied to future production models) made this experimental showpiece most striking. Assisting with the swiftness required for the concept’s 26th of February motor show reveal, the roof was fibreglass, strengthened by a roll bar neatly engineered into the C-pillar. The rear quarter light was harmonised with the sweep spear – regular production boat tails having a more production-friendly squared off affair. The trunk fitted louvres, assisting with cabin air flow were deleted.
Other attributes found on the latest bearer of atomic number 47 that would become standard on later models being in no particular order, moulded roof rear lights, six square halogen headlights, and Max-Trac – an early form of anti skid control. The egg crate grille previewed customer 1972 models, alongside bumpers containing rubber inserts. In a nod to Silver Arrow I, the wheel arches behind the Borrani knock-off wire wheels, were red. The engine and mechanical aspects remained untouched.
As befitting such an experiment, Silver Arrow III’s steering wheel and pedals were adjustable, the black piped, silver bucket seats only capable of being rocked forward to allow rear passenger access. One could inflate the cushions and extend the seat, vertically. Continuing inside, the curved, two-tone dashboard housed a digital display unit, an automatic dim/dip mirror and the huge rear window being vapourmist treated in an attempt to decrease the greenhouse effect for passengers.
Mitchell was justifiably proud of his silvery creations but whether the fault of Silver Arrow III, the boat tail effect in general or the change to specific engine output, Riviera sales plummeted. The third gilded lily attempt also lives with its more striking first born in the same museum. Silver as a Riviera external paint colour remained popular whereas the Boat tail style was cut adrift in 1973. In a 1980 interview, Bill Mitchell reflected, “a good design doesn’t age, it goes on forever becoming classic. A bad design will never let you forget it. It’ll haunt you forever.”
But this was not quite the end for the Silver Arrows, although Bill Mitchell was not around to see it. Bill Porter’s sublime, often derided (jelly mould) 1995 Riviera, divided customer’s loyalty once again, but also struggled against the oncoming SUV tide. A September 1998 press release gave warning Riviera production would cease on November 25th that year. Just 200 Silver Arrow editions would be made available before the curtain would be drawn down.
No longer a styling exercise for future Rivieras, these final arrows flew only to the paint and trim shop – the name simply becoming a model derivation. An excuse in lifting the price one last time, or an epitaph to a time when the clouds really did contain silver linings? As to be expected, all two hundred models sold quickly. Sought after today, prices are keen for those entering such unwarranted avenues.
As pure experiments, Silver Arrows one and three remain lustrous, if a little burnished, akin to a well used dollar offering comfort in use. But like the fog that first brought about the Riviera itself, the elusive second model elicits little but wispy memories. For the character that he was, one doubts Bill Mitchell would approve.
 The ROA, Sloan Museum and historical records within Buick uncovered little else.
 The bottommost area that covers the cars wheelbase, known in this part of the world as the sill panel.
 The car Joe Public could buy was launched September 22nd 1970.
 GM up to and including 1970 offered figures as BHP gross. This changed from 1971 to a NET figure, in turn, significantly lower.
Data sources: The ROA, http://www.buick-riviera.com