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questions about purchasing '71 boat tail


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Hi Everyone,

I just joined this group because I am getting ready to purchase '71 Riviera boat tail and want to make sure I'm not getting in over my head.

I owned a '73 Riviera for a few years and my only problems with it were when it stalled after driving through rain puddles after a good rain and people accosting me whenever I parked it trying to buy it from me.

First off, I am not looking into making this a show car. Just want a good looking daily driver and a car that I'm familiar with. I'd be getting an extremely good deal on the '71 from another guy who is an amateur gearhead. Also have a freelance mechanic who is great with Rivieras and charges a lot less than the shop.

Unfortunately, my mechanic lives in my town and the car is in a town about 90 miles away. I have AAA Plus and intended to have it towed.

Here's a list of what it needs fixed on my potential purchase according to the seller:

-"it was my daily driver but the steering column busted, I replaced it with a new one and now it won't crank. I know it's something electrical but I don't have the electrical equipment to check it"

-"the issue with the steering collum is that the ignition gave way before it gave out"

-"it needs some electrical work in the engine as well as the driver side power window but once the electrical is done , she'll turn"

-"the engine has a couple of mods......( dual exhaust, flow masters, eidlebrock intake, custom down pipes) the 455 has been replaced with a 350 from a Skylark"

-the speedometer is stuck at 110 MPH (could be due to electrical problems or speed sensor?)

-the odometer does not work

Otherwise, everything else runs well and he's been keeping up maintenance. Straight body, no rust, no dents, no broken windows, interior is acceptable, needs a new paint job. It's primer black right now. Was black on black originally.

I realize there are some RIv owners on this list who cringe at the idea of taking out the 455 engine and putting in a 350 but my last Riviera got 11 miles to the gallon so the smaller more fuel efficient one if okay with me for now.

The question I am posing to the forum is how much work, approximately, is it going to take to get this car in fair running condition? I don't have a lot of money and just want to get the basics taken care of first. I will be making a bit more money soon though and realize that certain things inevitably go wrong on an older car and am prepared to deal with that.

The other question I have, is there anything in particular I need to be wary of when I'm checking out the '71 Riviera? I'm just an amateur at doing work on engines, just know the basics, and am very interested in expanding my knowledge.


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Based on what you have said so far, the red flag has already went up. You didn't mention how much the guy wanted so that leaves me a bit in the dark as far as value. It sounds like its not running. Did it ever run? If you can't hear it run, you may want to assume the engine is bad so you won't be disappointed. Only pleasantly surprised if it does run well. With what you told us so far I'd expect the price to be under $1000.

It appears the previous owner did not have the knowledge to make effective repairs. Any time someone works on a car and does not complete the job fully, it becomes twice as hard for the next person to undo the wrongs and fix it right.

Be assured there are multiple problems that go well beyond what has been voluntarily brought forth by the owner. As far as the 350 being better on fuel, that is wishful thinking. The heavy car needs the brute torque of the 455 to efficiently move it down the road so unless the 350 has been modified to increase HP/torque a stock 350 would be worked to death and quite possibly could get worse fuel mileage. A fun part of owning a 71 is the gobs of power the big car has to move it down the road with authority. You will miss out on that important aspect of ownership.

It is very difficult to give you an idea how much money it will take to get the car reliable and functional without seeing it with my own eyes.

Here is some food for thought and you can make your own decision. A mistake made many times is someone buys a cheap car because they don't have a lot of money and think its all they can afford. They only look at the purchase price because thats a real number. Then more times than not the car requires the owner to at least double or triple their investment to get it to the condition they want. They get frustrated and the project dies never reaching its goal. It is human nature to want to be optimistic and talk yourself into a project but you should resist emotion and try to look at facts as far as what it will really take to reach your goal. My experience has proven one is far are better off to save some money and buy a car in better condition up front and one that has not been molested by unskilled hands. Even an original car in very good condition takes considerable maintenance to keep it reliable.

Lastly you mentioned the car was originally black. Factory black 71s are rare and if that is indeed a fact (check the paint code), thats the only reason I'd buy it. If you do really want this car, at a minimum take your freelance mechanic to see the car and get his opinion since he will be the one working on it. If he wants you to pay him for his time it could be the best money you spend.

Good luck

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I'm with Jason on almost every aspect of what he's telling you. Cheaper up front most of the time means more money sunk into something in the long run.

If you can get the ignition switch on, but can't crank the starter, you can take a long heavy screwdriver and connect the two terminals on the startern solenoid. This should engage the starter motor.

If you can't get it started, negotiate as if there were no engine in the car at all. Find yourself a good running 455 and start from scratch; like Jason said: "You need the torque for that heavy of a car."

If the seller is truthful about the car, he should be able to get it started and, if it's only 90 miles, have him deliver it to you. Pay him for the delivery, but make him take the chances.

Concerns about the speedometer/odometer are nil at this point; that is a direct drive speedometer/odometer - not electric so there is no speed sensor, just gears in the transmission. It probably needs a (new) cable (does it even have one?) and is just stuck and needs lubed.

Continue to do lots of research before committing to buying the car. Buy it with your head, not your heart.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks to everyone's advice here and on the Yahoo Riv list I avoided the expensive future of dealing with the '71 Riviera in the aforementioned post.

I went to sleep at night with the thoughts of "buy with your head and not your heart" and "another Riviera, another day". Two weeks later, I came across a '65 Riviera on Craigslist. The guy who is selling it restores 70's muscle cars and is just not into the 60's but got this one at a police auction. The person who owned it before kept it in great shape as far as the engine, the brakes, hoses, belts, seals, interior, air-conditioning, exhaust, drive shaft, headliner, etc. and so on. No leaks, fluids good. Great tires all the hubcaps. Good chrome. Even the "courtesy lights" worked. The only problems are a missing passenger seat and some rust on the front right fender which will need to be replaced. Otherwise, light surface rust and in need of a paint job. No deep rust anywhere, not in the trunk, undercarriage, back window and no Bondo. Back to the interior, all original and in great shape.

A few days later I come across someone selling a passenger seat, right front fender, and some small assorted parts for console and such in the "auto parts" section of Craigslist. I call him. He has 5 Rivieras, 63-65. We chatted and his only very strong opinion was "don't buy a '65 Riv with an engine rattle".

I test drove the '65 today, which has not been driven much lately by the current owner. I listened for squeaks, rattles, clunks and I only experienced a light rattle on the 401 Nailhead which subsided after a minute.

But, upon accelerating to just over 35 I got a little rattle for about 10 seconds. I thought it might because the timing was off. Pistons not firing all together right. It needs a tune-up, I can tell. Is this the rattle I should fear though? I'm no expert but everything looked so well kept as far as the engine goes. This car will need some cosmetic love on the outside, I'm just not too keen on the idea of throwing my life's savings into deep engine problems. What are some thoughts from other '65 Riv owners here? I have a moderate budget each month to put into this car (or one like it) and need to drive it daily but only short distances. I do have a mobile mechanic friend and AAA but would like to expand my own working knowledge.

Oh, and this car is about $700 more than I planned on spending but $700 now might be $1700 saved down the road. I do feel it is a sound car for a fair price though, but I'm trying to buy with my head...



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