A closer look at Bill Mitchell’s 1963 Buick Riviera, Silver Arrow I

The customized Buick Riviera known as Silver Arrow I was one of GM styling boss Bill Mitchell’s finest and most favorite creations. Here’s a rare close-up look.

 

Sometimes it just pays to be in the right place at the right time. Last June, MCG was attending the media preview for the 2013 Eyes on Design show, when top automotive photographer Al Rogers strolled over and gave him a heads-up. “The Silver Arrow is on its way over from the Sloan Museum. It’ll be here in a few minutes,” he said. “I was thinking you’d probably want to get a look at it,” he added with droll understatement.

Created by and for General Motors Vice President of Styling Bill Mitchell, the Silver Arrow I is an artifact of a time when GM styling bosses ran the division as their own personal kingdom, regarding the show cars as their own personal property. The 1963 Buick Riviera, originally conceived as a Cadillac and intended to wear LaSalle badges, was a Mitchell favorite, and the one-off Silver Arrow I show-car version is his personal expression of the design.

Based on a production 1963 Riviera, and then subtly yet heavily customized, the Silver Arrow bears Mitchell’s stamp from front to rear. Mitchell knew just where to sweeten and accentuate the Riviera’s classic lines, lowering the top two inches and extending the front doghouse a similar amount. His personal touches can be found throughout the car’s interior and exterior details.

Today the Silver Arrow I resides in the collection of the Sloan-Longway Museum in Flint, Michigan, emerging only now and then for special appearances like EyesOn Design, where these photos were snapped. Thanks to the Sloan-Longway staff for letting MCG drool all over their priceless Buick.

 

The Silver Arrow I shares the production Riviera’s finely detailed cowl inlets. 

 

The top has been chopped approximately two inches and the C pillars reshaped to create even sharper features. It’s said Mitchell’s fondness for razor-edge styling was inspired by the designs of British coachbuilder Hooper & Co. 

 

’60s style racing mirror

 

Right rear quarter view 

 

The dash and console are essentially production car assemblies, but more finely finished. Note the matching custom floor mats. 

 

In lieu of the wide, flat GM corporate bucket seats of the stock Riviera, Mitchell chose deep-contoured Euro-style buckets upholstered in silver leather.

 

The rear seats are reshaped and upholstered to match the fronts. 

 

For an added touch of continental luxury, chrome-plated door jamb plates were added. The additional interior handle at the rear of the door was a common feature on GM’s big two-door coupes in this period, allowing rear seat passengers to open the door unassisted. 

 

The 401 CID Nailhead V8 is detailed in black wrinkle finish. Note the giant alternator, a common feature on GM show cars due to high accessory loads and battery drain, and probably sourced from a GM ambulance or fire engine application. 

 

The formal wheel covers are a callback to those often found on Classic-era automobiles to cover their wire wheels. The wide whitewalls are another Classic-era touch, rather anachronistic for 1963. 

 

The Silver Arrow’s front fenders and hood are several inches longer than a production Riviera’s, forming a deeper vee in the grille and a longer overall profile. 

 

18 thoughts on “A closer look at Bill Mitchell’s 1963 Buick Riviera, Silver Arrow I

  1. Looks like red wheelwells like the GTO.

    When I was growing up and first becoming interested in cars, I was told of the classic design of the Riviera and other Sixties cars. I didn’t see it. They were common to me compared to classic Fifties luxury cars and especially the early Thirties. It took the schlock of the Eighties to make me realize that cars weren’t automatically a thing of beauty.

    There are a few Nineties designs I like, but the canvas has changed completely now and I just don’t understand what modern designers are aiming it. I thought the move away from round headlights would bring a wealth of outstanding designs but I hate how they’re incorporated into the front ends of cars today. It hasn’t helped that hidden headlights have effectively been banned by pedestrian impact standards.

    • “It took the schlock of the Eighties to make me realize that cars weren’t automatically a thing of beauty.”

      Great quote!

  2. The 1971 boat tail Riviera Silver Arrow is number “III” as it is the 3rd generation of Riviera designs. A 1968 model was remodeled to look like the production 1970 Riviera, called the Silver Arrow II, but doesn’t survive. The Riviera Owners Association has researched much of the history of Mr. Mitchell’s personal Rivs that were all painted in his favorite color– silver.

  3. Actually, the favorite color of both Bill Mitchell and Harley Earl was light metallic blue. Through some scientific process they had determined that this was the most flattering color in the widest variety of lighting.

  4. Not usually a fan of these types of boats, but this one is indeed quite desirable – and it’s also rare for me to comment on the interior, but that one is superb.

  5. The red wheel wells were on Buick Skylarks long before appearing on the GTO.
    I was at a local car show and saw a special Riviera based on the formal roof Riviera. It was beige and pale gold two toned paint with a suede and real wood interior. The owner said it was a special model. Unfortunately I did not get the name of the model. It might make an interesting follow up article.
    Thanks for this look at the Silver Arrow I

    Bobf

  6. Took a long time for me, but now the ’63-7 Rivvi program is one of my favorites. They are timeless in that Rivs become better looking every year v. dating rapidly like so many designs from the ‘lost era’. The original Silver Arrow showed much more of the “Goddammit Ned, make it look like a cross between a Rolls and a Ferrari…” creative brief issued by Mitchell. The grill (lifted intact for ’65) is much more Pininfarina, the wires and red wheel wells evoke the pontoon fender sports touring vibe of the day. Mitchell later went full Gatsby, as seen by his sudden nostalgia for gangster whites, turned beehive wheel covers, the simplified grille and other details.

    Like any great creative director, he simply couldn’t lift the brush when his time had passed, and frankly did not cultivate a future leader worthy of his legacy (although the late Chuck Jordan would have something to say about that.)

    Regardless, the era bordered by the ’58 B-Body to the envelope ’68 A-Bodies was his greatest legacy. While others may have temporarily got one in on GM (Mustang, T-Bird) Impala, Corvair, Bonneville, Grand Prix, Riviera, Toronado, Eldorado, Corvette, GTO were so consistently progressive and well done, they made the rest look like happy amateurs.

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