The 1995-99 Buick Riviera was stylish, but Chief Designer Bill Porter thought it would fail and likely be the end of the long-running luxury coupe.
"It was doomed," he recalls. "That whole kind of package was doomed. I remember at the time thinking, 'I wish this car was a four-door.' We did a four-door version that was breathtaking. We just couldn't sell it" to General Motors executives.
Because there had never been a four-door Riviera, GM officials wouldn't approve it, says Porter, now retired from the automaker. The company decided that Oldsmobile would get the four-door version of the G-platform for its Aurora, while Buick would get the two-door for the Riviera.
The 1995-99 Riviera sold 87,230, compared with 138,047 for the first-generation Aurora.
Sales of full-sized luxury coupes were sputtering badly in the late 1990s, so much so that Ford Motor Co. killed the long-running Lincoln Mark VIII in 1998. Cadillac was struggling with the Eldorado. And the Riviera, despite having a price advantage over the foreign and domestic competition, managed sales of only 9,390 in 1998. The next year would be the last for the Riv.
"I was disappointed, but I saw it coming," says Porter, who teaches design at Detroit's College for Creative Studies. "It was hemmed in by corporate tastes and guidelines."
But some of the Riviera's styling cues such as the tapered edges of the fenders live on in other Buicks, exactly as Porter and his design team planned.
Says Porter: "When we did the Riv, it was intended that that would be the a kind of dictionary of design language from which Buick could draw for a number of years."