REVISED AND EXPANDED – The customized ’63 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 simply pays to be in the right place at the right time. One fine June day in 2013, MCG was attending the media preview for the 2013 Eyes on Design show, when top automotive photographer Al Rogers strolled over and gave us a heads-up. “The Silver Arrow is on its way over from the Sloan-Longway 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 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 vehicles. 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 I, known internally as XP-810, 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 people 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.
Special exterior features include these ’60s style racing mirrors. Mitchell would build several more Silver Arrow show cars based on successive Riviera production models, but Silver Arrow I is generally regarded as the best of the bunch.
The major modifications, including the extensive body work, were performed by Creative Industries,the famed Motor City prototype company. Creative built show cars, experimentals, and short-run production vehicles for all the Detroit automakers, including Packard, GM, and Chrysler.
The dash and console are essentially production car assemblies, but more finely finished. Note the matching custom floor mats. Mitchell and his staff compulsively managed every detail of the Silver Arrow. At Jeff Stork’s fine website, Palm Springs Automobilist, you can study the original GM Styling memos calling out the changes. They make interesting reading.
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 and armrests 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 otherwise stock (as far as we know) 401 CID Nailhead V8 is detailed in black wrinkle finish. Note the giant alternator, a common feature on GM show cars due to the high accessory loads and battery drain they endured, 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. At one point the Silver Arrow I sported Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels from a ’53 Buick Skylark and narrow whitewalls, and some say (we don’t know this) the wires are still in place, hidden under the covers.
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. The subtle two-tone paint is barely distinguishable as two different shades from some angles.