Manoeuvrability is hardly a strong point but the Riviera is built for cruising, not shopping. The power-assisted steering is light and it takes a little while to get used to gauging the right amount of input required to guide the Riviera through the twisties, although the view over the huge flat, square bonnet is unhindered. With independent suspension up front and a self-levelling set-up at the rear, progress is surprisingly steady, devoid of the expected float typical of American cars of the era. Although front and rear tracks are fairly wide – 1 615/1 626mm, respectively – brisk cornering understandably brings about some body roll, but nothing excessive and not enough to tarnish what is the epitome of a boulevard ride. Attractive stylised rims are fitted with 225/75R15 whitewall tyres. Period road tests praised the disc/drum braking system, as well as the standard MaxTrac anti-wheelspin control.
Listed at $5 903 – way under the T’bird’s sticker price – sadly the third-generation Riviera failed to boost the company’s fortunes. Sales for 1971 dropped to 33 810, the lowest to date, and to 33 728 in 1972, which led management to believe that the boat-tail deck lid was too radical for most customers’ tastes, so in 1973 it was blunted and made slightly shorter. The design change however only led to a marginal increase in sales, with 34 080 being produced for the model year.
The fourth-generation Riviera was introduced in 1974. Built on the same platform and mechanicals – even with some carryover body panels – the distinctive boat-tail design gave way to what is described as the ‘Colonnade’ treatment, and the car became a pillared coupé with fixed quarter windows. Four more generations were to follow, none of which captured the imagination of the buying public in the way that the first three had done, and the Riviera name was dropped in 1999.
The first two iterations of the Riviera set a styling trend that captured the imagination of the American public. But when the dramatic boat-tail version appeared they inexplicably shied away, leaving in their wake one of the most stylish, charismatic and distinctive personal luxury cars of its time. It was one that got away.