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by Jay Traugott
After years of being nothing more than unused scrap metal, this classic Buick was given new life.
The Riviera name will forever be associated with Buick. Beginning back in 1963, it was known as a personal luxury car which at the time truly stood for something. Back then, the term "personal luxury car" was the common marketing slogan automakers used when trying to establish a specific model as being something better than "standard luxury." The wording worked and Baby Boomers, many looking to buy their first new car, were anxious to drive something better than what their parents had.
As for the Riviera, its name can be traced back to 1949 when it was used as a designation for the Buick Roadmaster two-door pillarless hardtop coupe. This body style would become extremely popular for the next three decades. The Riviera designation was again used in 1951 for the larger Roadmaster and Super sedans. Compared to the base models, the Riviera-stamped cars came with more features and improved interior trim. But perhaps the most noticeable way to recognize one was the longer wheel-base that increased the car's length by four inches over the standard Buick sedan.
Power initially came courtesy of the Fireball straight-eight but was later ditched in favor of the smaller and lighter Nailhead V8. It wasn't until 1963 did the Riviera become its own separate model when Buick needed something to compete against the hot-selling Ford Thunderbird. Unlike most other GM models at the time, the Riviera had its own unique bodyshell and was considered to be one of the first luxury coupes. It managed to combine luxury at cheaper cost than a Cadillac while still offering the performance of a V8.
As with pretty much all other American cars throughout the 1960s and 70s, the Riviera grew in size significantly. By the time the fourth generation debuted in 1974, the Riviera was so large that it was humorous to even think of it as a coupe. GM and other automakers were forced to downsize their cars in the late Seventies due to the oil crisis but that didn't prevent them from replacing the V8s entirely. The Riviera continued to get smaller throughout the Eighties and was the first car to have a dash-mounted touchscreen electronic display. However, sales for personal luxury coupes were in a state of decline.
The final generation had its debut in 1995 but compared to pretty much everything else coming from GM design at that time, this Riviera was and still is quite a looker. Still, this wasn't enough for a public tired of large coupes nearly the same size as a modern mid-size sedan. The Riviera was discontinued in 1999 and while there has been talk of a reborn model, Buick still remains mum on their future coupe plans. Perhaps what's best about the Riviera are the earliest models, such as this 1953 example, that can be turned into modern day hot rods. Currently up for sale on eBay, this true "Barn Find" was uncovered in 2004 after 30 years of rotting and collecting dust.
A complete frame off restoration and modification job soon began to turn it into something special once again. Since most of the original components were long past their prime, the restorers replaced the engine with a Big Block Chevy Performance Series V8 crate engine rated at 425 horsepower and mated to an automatic slushbox. Particular attention was given to the chrome body work and the exterior paint job. The new leather interior and steering column were designed to retain a stock look but a modern sound system complete with iPod and smartphone capability was also added.
Since its completion last year, only 850 miles have been driven and the car has received a number of car show awards. With a starting bid of $55,000, we think this can be a solid deal considering the amount of time and effort put in to give new life to a true American classic.