I tried to give you consolation…When your old man had let you down. Like a fool, I fell in love with you, Turned my whole world upside down. – Eric Clapton
This past week I decided to buy a new toy. I found a beautiful 1972 Buick Riviera Boat Tail on Craigslist, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to own an iconic classic and an appreciating collector automobile.
The Riviera is rare, with only 31,557 examples originally built, and the design was overseen by none other than Bill Mitchell (55-57 Chevy BelAir, 63 Corvette Split Window, 63-72 Buick Riviera). . Its flowing lines are immediately identifiable, and the boat tail design is unique in modern automotive styling. Finding a decent one for sale is like discovering a unicorn.
Originally I was on the fence about buying a car the size of a English Channel ferry boat, but a twist of fate forced my hand. During a conversation with my website designer/SEO guy name Brian, I discovered that the actual car I was buying was one he and his friend owned in high school. The seller was his best friend, and the two worked on the car, made the upgrades and know every detail about the cars history. It is a small world, and knowing that there was that connection made me believe I could be safe in taking the chance on the car.
The Riviera is beautiful, in a slightly ungainly way. Mine is painted a Subaru WRX blue, and sports raised white lettered tires and Cragar SS rims. Inside, the car is equipped with a front 60/40 split bench seat done in black with white leather inserts. The previous owner had redone all of the body issues, added new carpets, and added a few cool chrome Edelbrock upgrades under the hood. These upgrades made the engine shine and probably added a ton more horses to the stable. It also has cherry bomb mufflers, and sounds like a true muscle car. Once I started it up, I was hooked.
The body is in excellent shape, with no rust or dent issues. The paint is older, and pretty poorly done, with lots of orange peel and a few areas of dripping and waving. The interior is also in good shape, with only the driver’s seat having issues, while the rest of the interior is un-molested.
Driving the car is an experience. The engine starts right up, and settles into a smooth idle after a few moments. The cherry bombs on the exhaust give the car a mean growl, and every time you step on the gas, you expel a little more of the rear tire rubber. Speed was never on the list of goals for the Riviera, but it still manages an impressive 0-60 in close to 8 seconds, which is not bad for a 19 foot long, two and a half ton behemoth. With the upgrades to the engine, the car is now much faster, which means it is a challenge to drive. The steering is like guiding a ship though a series of hard turns. The steering feel is not only loose, it feels disconnected from the car. When it does finally turn, the whole side dips and rolls like an aircraft carrier in high seas. One major fault is the seats, which have no lateral support whatsoever. On even the slightest turn, you often find yourself in the passenger seat.
Of course, now that I own the car, I need to figure out what to do with her. Originally I had grand ideas of transforming her into the ultimate Grand Tourer. I wanted to repaint her in a dark gray metallic and have the top section, that includes the roof, boat tail and the center of the hood, sprayed a slightly lighter color. The interior was to be a medium saddle color, and the carpeted rear shelf under the massive rear window was to be transformed into a mahogany wood floor, much like a classic yacht. I wanted to lower her by 2 inches, enough to highlight the lines without making her into a slammed custom. I also wanted to add larger lower profile tires and larger chrome mag rims that would suggest a more refined hot rod look. Finally, I wanted to cut the middle section of the bumper to highlight the full grill and make it a split bumper car, and add a center body colored fin in the center of the rear window, á la the 1963 Corvette Stingray Split Window Coupe.
In reality, I probably won’t get a chance to do any of these things. If I decide to flip the car for profit, then it would make sense to see if the blue paint can be salvaged, either with a light re-spray or a color sanding and clearcoat. One thing I will keep are the blue LED lights under the front grille – the same lights I have on my motorcycle.
In the interim, I have named her “Layla”, which means ”night”, or “dark beauty”. I will continue to pilot her through the neighborhood scaring small children and wildlife, and have the time of my life playing with my new toy.
Of course, I want to hear from you…write me a comment and let me know what you think of Layla, and share any ideas you have on how to customize her. I am always looking for cool design tips.
Article by Chris Raymond
Photos by Chris Raymond, Google Images, vilinstore.net and pinterest.com