The final Riviera’s missing link?
The Mid-1980s downsized GM range would prove a step into the unknown for the US car giant, one which could be said to have been successful, at least in terms of raw sales numbers. But while the C-body Buick sedans proved popular with buyers, the E-bodied personal coupés would prove a far tougher sell. There was a good deal of trepidation amid the design leadership at Buick’s studio in GM’s Warren, Michigan Design Centre as the 1986 model year Riviera was made ready; doubts which would crystallise as the drastically downsized model failed to appeal to existing Riviera customers, who not only baulked at the style, but also its notable lack of road presence.
As soon as was deemed possible, Buick Design chief, Bill Porter (who had overseen the E-body design) supervised a revised styling scheme, based upon one which had originally been proposed featuring a sloping tail motif, the victim of engineering package requirements (in this case luggage capacity). With this heavily revised Riviera, the work of a team under Steve Pasteiner, the model’s fortunes were revived to some extent, but still failed to return to pre-downsized levels.
During the latter end of the 1980s, there was considerable soul-searching as to the future direction for the Buick brand, which it was felt, was losing its way amid import rivals from Europe and increasingly, Japan. To help focus minds, Porter and his design team co-created a presentation for senior management (past and present) and select members of the press, dubbed Essence of Buick. This lavish exhibition contained several of the defining Buick models from the past, alongside luxury goods, items of furniture, musical instruments, and fine crystalware, which would provide what Porter would describe as a “visual memory bank“, setting a future tone for Buick’s positioning as a premier American motor brand.
Amid the items shown at Essence of Buick was the Lucerne concept, which had made its debut at a Teamwork and Technology expo in New York in January 1988. The Lucerne, the work of a team of designers under Phil Garcia at Buick’s Advanced Studio 1, was an expansive, voluptuously surfaced personal coupe. Initially in receipt of Riviera badging, and one assumes it may have been originally intended to be proposed as such, the Lucerne offered a clear departure point from the set-square shapes of the E-body designs, clearly heralding the future direction Porter and his team wished to take with Buick design into the new decade.
So enamoured was Porter with the Lucerne’s shape that as work began on what would become the 1995 model year Riviera, the concept’s bodyshape was employed as its stylistic jumping off point. However, packaging dictates regarding the interior, and roof height in particular saw the design team depart further from the Lucerne’s sleek silhouette, so much so that Porter’s stylists were forced to begin afresh; the definitive 1995 Riviera emerging from this impasse, with a moodboard which included the 1946 Buick Sedan, the 1966 ‘Riv and the Jaguar XK-E.
A not entirely happy combination of formality and voluptuousness, the Lucerne nevertheless exhibited some promise, but was perhaps a little over-exaggerated for comfort; certainly in profile, its extremities appearing somewhat heavy-handed. Nevertheless, it was highly regarded within Buick, and it was with considerable regret that it was ultimately set aside. However, it can be said to have served its purpose, both as a talisman for Buick’s repositioning for the 1990s and as a pathfinder to the definitive 1995 design, the last of an illustrious Riviera line.
 According to Bill Porter, the C-body Electra more than doubled the sales of its immediate predecessor. Porter also described how worries over the downsized cars was dubbed C-sickness at GM.
 Another factor was that because the ’86 Riv was delayed some two years, its cheaper and visually similar Somerset Regal Coupé sibling hit the market first – something of an own-goal for Buick management.
 This was remedied in the ’89 car by an 11″ tail extension.
 In Bill Porter’s estimation, his Lyons namesake in Coventry took influence from the ’46 Buick for his Mark VII saloon of 1950. Given Sir William’s magpie instincts, he may even be correct.
 The Lucerne was also shown in 1990 as a concept convertible. Not one to waste a name either, Buick employed Lucerne for a flagship sedan model from 2005 to 2011.
Source: Deans Garage