surfgeek

Wading into the scary world of vintage cars

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Hello, I'm new to the forum.  I've always liked Rivieras and I'm starting to seriously think about acquiring one.  I'm far from a expert, in fact I've never owned a classic car but always wanted to so I'm just trying to figure out what kind of things to look for before diving in so I don't get scammed.   Although I'm partial to boat tails (especially 71-72), a quick craigslist search in my area found a bunch of very tempting first gens.  Can anybody shed some light on these or point out any red flags they see?  I'm trying to avoid being the proverbial fool that is soon separated from his money.  Thanks in advance.  

 

https://tampa.craigslist.org/pnl/cto/d/1964-buick-riviera-wildcat/6571846995.html

 

https://miami.craigslist.org/brw/cto/d/1964-buick-riviera-465/6566418982.html


https://tampa.craigslist.org/pnl/cto/d/1964-buick-riviera/6557305298.html

 

https://tampa.craigslist.org/psc/cto/d/1963-buick-rivera/6562398432.html

 

 

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Welcome to the forum !

The '63-'65 Riviera are the true classics, with '63 being the first model year of the Buick Riviera.

The '65 is usually more favoured because of the 'clam shell' hidden headlights, and it is the last year of first generation cars.

Check out the Riviera Owners Association web site for additional information on these great cars.

Edited by 68RIVGS (see edit history)

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  Stay away from the 2nd and 3rd links. The 2nd link has previous significant collision repair which was not well done and the 3rd has extensive rust repair, also not well done.

  It might be wise to post a little more about yourself to recommend a good fit for you. For instance, do you know the basic features of each year? If not, probably best to narrow your search to a specific year or two based on your priorities.

  Are you handy? Do you have an automotive repair background? In other words, are you looking for a ready to go turn key car or are you interested in some degree of restoration on your part?

  What is your budget??

  The more specifics you supply about yourself the better the feedback you will get about any particular car.

Tom

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I take it from your posted Craigslist cars that you live in Florida somewhere.  You'll surely want a/c in your car.  At least one of the cars you picked does not have a/c. On the 63  - 65 years that you picked, it's easy to tell.  The a/c compressor sits above the alternator on the passengers side of the engine and there will be round vents on each side of the dash.  Two stalks on the left side of the steering column means that the car will have the tilt mechanism.  One stalk is only good for the turn signal.  The kick panels at the left of the driver's feet and the right of the passenger's feet should be carpeted.  

 

The 63 - 65's are notorious for rusting out in the bottom corners of the rear window.  This will then develop into corrosion in the trunk floor.  Keep looking, keep posting pictures, and someone will keep responding.  Do as Tom suggests and familiarize yourself with the cars as much as possible before looking.

 

Let us know where you live, that will help in helping you find the right car.

 

Ed

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Thank you for all the good information!  I'll definitely check out the Riviera Owner's website.  Tom, I'm amazed that you were able to tell all that from just looking at the pictures!   Can you point out how you were able to tell?  I'd like to be able to identify those things myself so I don't get duped.   As far as more information about me, I live in Space Coast (Brevard County), I'm looking for something turn key (doesn't have to be perfect), that I can take out for a Sunday cruise or a drive to work every once in a while when the weather is nice.  I don't want a project, I'm not very handy and although I'm sure I could learn, I just don't enjoy working on them, I much prefer driving them and admiring them.  That doesn't mean I'm not willing to do some basic things myself, but I just want something I can enjoy and not be a headache.  Budget wise I was thinking about $20K (preferably under).   I'd rather spend a little more than end up with a lemon.  Dream car would be a 72, but I'd be willing to compromise on the year if the condition and price was right.   

 

Alan

Edited by surfgeek (see edit history)

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Do whatever you can to experience driving as many cars as you can. The first generation cars are small compared to the later models. They are tight in the driver's seat for elbow room. I had a '68 and a '66 before I bought my '64. The '64 is pretty close to Skylark size inside.

 

The chassis on the '72 is  a whole lot different with a perimeter frame instead of an X-frame. Depending on how you are going to lift it for home garage service is a consideration overlooked sometimes. If a '72 is your dream car, I would say stick with that model until you find the right one. Short term ownership is not common with most Riviera, or Buick in general, purchases. Stick with first choice. Buying exactly what you want works much better than second choice.

 

Take the time to look at some rough ones. Seeing the spots that go bad from neglect will give you pointers of where to look when the shiny one seems to smell like fresh paint.

 

These are 40 to 50 year old cars. Buying one ain't the smartest thing you can do with your money. Figure the purchase price as the entry fee. If you think you might get some heat at the kitchen table for a few trips "back to the well" at $500 to $1,000 a whack, start setting a little aside while you are shopping to make those inevitable repairs less of an impact. A tin can with a few 100's in the garage never hurts, just to ease the tension.

 

Your choice is good, though, they are inherently good cars.

Bernie

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For a novice to the vintage car world, the best advice I can offer is this:

BRING ALONG A GOOD MECHANIC AND MAKE IT WORTH HIS TIME & EFFORT.

Have him also check for rust and corrosion. If you pay him $100-$200 for his time but he says look at another car, consider that a great investment. You just saved yourself thousands, if not more!

 

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7 hours ago, surfgeek said:

I'm not very handy and although I'm sure I could learn, I just don't enjoy working on them...

 

In that case, one might politely suggest that it would be a good thing if you enjoy paying someone else to work on them.  These are old cars.  Even if they have been well maintained for the last 50 years, age will take its toll.  They will require maintenance and repair.  As befits their age and the ravages of time, some of that work will go well beyond the owner's manual routine of oil change, alignment, check your fluids, rotate your tires, etc.  Be prepared.

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Serious consideration should be given to a close look at one of these:

black-cadillac-cts-coupe-cars-in-indiana

 

The Cadillac CTS captures a lot of the flavor of my Riviera in a modern package. When you look, objectively, at what really makes people like a Riviera it is all here, except the age. With a $20,000 budget you can bring home a very nice example.

 

Within the last year I looked close at these cars and thought what a great match one would be in my garage next to my '64 Riviera. A modern version with a lot of the elements I liked 40 years ago when I bought my car.

 

I came close, but my Wife has back problems. A CTS wasn't good. My Riviera won't work for her, or the '86 Park Ave convert, or the '94 Impala. If it wasn't for the final decision to purchase a car with thrones for seats I would be spritzing detailer spray on a CTS coupe and a Riviera coupe, side by side. A lot of what you find in the CTS is what the guys are trying to get when they modify the vintage Riviera.

 

"Wading into the scary world" might be walking away from some inspirational security on the beach.

Bernie

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I'm partial to the CTS V Wagon, with the manual of course.  But for one of those I would need a lot more than $20K!

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The second link you posted has been flagged as a scam on here before.  Not sure if it actually is, but a price that low screams either something is really wrong with it, or its an out-and-out scam altogether.

 

If you are on the fence in terms of becoming a first time classic car owner, I say DO IT.  I was in the same exact boat as you just one year ago before I got my '64.  I've always liked some older cars, but had always driven a new car.  I decided to take the plunge and been thoroughly enjoying it so far. 

 

Some things to consider:

 

  It will not accelerate, brake and especially handle like a modern car.  You have to be prepared for that.  It definitely leans into the corners more than any modern vehicle, but its something you can quickly get used to.  The thin steering wheel is going to feel super unfamiliar at first.  Its almost laughably large and very light to the touch, but again, you do get used to it.  I purposefully chose a Riv because I did not want a muscle car - if I wanted something very fast, I would simply get a modern car.  There is no comparison.  Now I am not saying that its a slow car by any measure, but its really a cruiser not a car you go drag racing in. 

 

Find out when your local Cars and Coffee events are happening and go to them.  There might even be some Rivs for sale that you can inquire about and get to see up close and personal before you even make an offer. 

 

There will be things you need to repair or at least tweak.  Even a well-sorted car will have issues.  Its just the nature of having a 50+ year old vehicle. 

 

You will get a lot of attention.  I have not taken the car out once where I didn't get people coming up and asking about it, honking their horns and waving, or even just yelling something like "nice car" out as I drove by.  99% of the people out there will have no clue what it is, but then you'll get that one old guy that used to own one and breaks out into a huge smile when he sees yours, or that one 20 year old chick who happens to be into cars recognizes it from some movie.

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22 hours ago, KongaMan said:

 

In that case, one might politely suggest that it would be a good thing if you enjoy paying someone else to work on them.  These are old cars.  Even if they have been well maintained for the last 50 years, age will take its toll.  They will require maintenance and repair.  As befits their age and the ravages of time, some of that work will go well beyond the owner's manual routine of oil change, alignment, check your fluids, rotate your tires, etc.  Be prepared.

 

This is really good advice. I bought my 64 about three years ago and I have probably spent $1-2,000 each year fixing who knows what. Some of that is fixing stuff I want to be better, some of it was necessary repairs. I do a bit myself, cosmetic stuff especially, but I'm at the age where I don't particularly want to wrench a lot because I have a job, life, etc. Realize labor rates on an old car can be worse than new cars. It can take longer to diagnose, to find parts, to schedule a time with the mechanic. Just take into account a yearly expense.

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Some good advice here.  I will add - buy the best car you can find.  There is no way you can restore one of these cars for anywhere near what you could buy a good one. I bought my super-solid but ratty 63 for $3,500. By the time I got the mechanicals sorted out and bought a bunch of trim, all new rubber and most (but not all) of the interior restoration parts, I had added another $9000 to that number. That is parts only, I did all the work. 

I had a friends shop do all the body and paint work. With a buddy-deal

labor rate and with me helping with some grunt work the total was $10,000.

I will have $25k into it by the time I'm done...and it won't be a show car,  just a nice cruiser. I keep every receipt, so I know my numbers are right on.

You should be able to get a very nice car for $20 - $25 k

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Thank you to all that have responded for the great advice and words of encouragement (and ominous warnings). Hazdaz, thanks for sharing your experience as a relative newby.  Glad to hear you are enjoying it. I have only driven older cars a handfull of times and it's definitely a totally different and (somewhat scary) experience. But I think that is also part of the appeal!  

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Surfgeek-All the advice listed above is dead on. The practical aspects of owning a vintage car are very real and deserve careful consideration. That's the practical, let me tell you about the magic. There is nothing like driving a vintage car, especially one as unique as a Riv. The sound, the smell and the visceral experience can be intoxicating. Once you own one, your perspective about driving is forever altered. Any old car is sort of a trip back in time, but not all cars are equal. Go for it! PRL

 

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I am curious about the part that felt "somewhat scary".

 

I make an effort not to drive the old cars too much. I drive them a lot, but not so much to make them routine. Each outing is special. The thing I like the most is the 1:1 high gear. They are high powered cars and always right there to nudge them on with the tip of your toe. Newer stuff has a lazy spot right around 50 MPH that I have learned to live with when their OD drops in, one new car has two OD gears. It is fine for what they are, but straight through is what I grew up on and what feels best.

 

Unique is interesting. I drove my '64 Riviera in a city parade a few years ago. I never knew Snoop Dog had one. There was a lot of noise when Archie Bunker drove by. I think they were cheering.

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The scary part is the venturing out into the uncharted territory (for me) of spending thousands of dollars on a 50 year old car; on what is essentially a very expensive toy with no practical purpose or utility.  If that's not scary I don't know what is.  Ha ha!

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Guess I started doing that too young to be scared. Whether you consider it an investment or not, the friendships that will be made because of these cars are priceless. Happens every time.

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19 minutes ago, steelman said:

Guess I started doing that too young to be scared. Whether you consider it an investment or not, the friendships that will be made because of these cars are priceless. Happens every time.

The late Chris Wolfe once commented something similar about the ROA's annual event. "The first time you come for the cars, the next times you come for the people."

 

For those of you who were not fortunate enough to know Chris, he was the author of "The Buick Riviera, 1963 - 1973."  It was published by Classic Motorbooks Photofacts in 1992.

Edited by RivNut (see edit history)

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On 4/29/2018 at 10:16 PM, surfgeek said:

I have only driven older cars a handfull of times and it's definitely a totally different and (somewhat scary) experience.

 

I thought you had been scared during the handful of times you drove an old car.

11 hours ago, surfgeek said:

The scary part is the venturing out into the uncharted territory (for me) of spending thousands of dollars on a 50 year old car; on what is essentially a very expensive toy with no practical purpose or utility.  If that's not scary I don't know what is.  Ha ha!

 

That is not fear. It is common sense.

 

The old car hobby is quite similar to owning blue jeans. If you have had a pair for a few years they are soft and the ones you keep pulling out of the drawer, like how the hobby fits after a few decades. The, new, stiff ones stay on the bottom.

Sometimes an older guy will do something out of character like buy a pair of Calvin Klein jeans and go "Wow, these are good right out of the box."

 

Levi's or Kein's, old Riviera or a CTS wagon. One is going to be at the bottom of the drawer more often.

 

Flannel shirts work the same way.

Bernie

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Hi Alan,

 

No need to be afraid of owning a '63-''65 Riviera.  I bought my '65 over 30 years ago on a 'lark' because I was smitten by the clean, almost custom look of the car and those unique clamshell hidden headlights!  Until then I was a Chevy man and knew nothing about Buicks.  I'd never heard of a nailhead engine.  But am I glad I bought my Riviera!  It was my daily driver for ten years.  I bought it with 112,000 miles on it, still wearing its original paint, engine and trans never out of the car.  I put another 100,000 miles on it in those 10 years and it NEVER let me down, ever!   Oh, it did go through 4 water pumps, and I later learned that I was over-tightening the belt causing premature failure of the pump bearing.  The only persistent problem, other than fuel thirst (heh, heh - it needs premium gas, and I'd be lucky to pull down 12 mpg driving around town) was that it would go through mufflers like crazy.  Speedy Muffler King paid me $350 just to get out of their "lifetime warranty" because they had to put 7-8 mufflers on it in as many years.  Their mufflers were junk basically.  I used their cash payout to buy a complete Waldron's system and haven't had to replace any part of the exhaust system since.

 

Rivieras were well built cars.  The first gen cars are solid, and have very few vices.  Oh, time takes its toll and your biggest enemy is RUST.  Not that these cars are that bad in this regard.  This will depending on where it lived most of its life.  My car always lived in the Pacific Northwest.  It had the usual rust at the bottom corners of the back window.  Yes, the water dripped into the trunk and started rotting out the floor.  I had this all repaired, along with some rust that was starting along the rear rocker panels, behind the wheels.  Other than that, nothing else in the way of body rot on my car.  But, I would imagine rust would be a greater concern for a car from say Chicago, or other snowy/icy place.  Salt isn't kind to steel.  Having said this, it does snow here, and I would regularly drive my Riviera up to Whistler to go skiing.  That was another thing - these cars handle very well in the snow.  As long as I was careful to avoid needless wheelspin I would pass even front wheel drive cars on hills as long as I was careful.

 

I'd suggest looking for a '64 or '65 because these have the Super Turbine 400 transmission (ST400)  The '63 used the Dynaflow, which is not as flexible and is more difficult to repair ($$).  The ST400 in '64 was unique in that you couldn't select Low on the transmission console.  It had other small differences from the later ST400's.  The '65 is the one to get as it has the variable pitch torque converter feature which noticeably improves response - it's almost like having an extra gear, making it more flexible.  You can feel the difference when you tip into the accelerator. The ST400 was developed by Buick and was later adopted by all other GM divisions under the name Turbo Hydramatic 400 or "Turbo 400".  This transmission is tough, almost unbreakable, and was used in all heavy-duty and high-performance GM cars.  A derivative of this transmission is still used today in GM trucks.

 

Mechanically, the first gen Rivieras are otherwise unremarkable - parts are available and not hard to get, or overly expensive.  The nailhead engine was used until 1966 and was very strong and reliable, ideally suited to power the Riviera due to its exceptional torque production.  Torque is what makes driving a street car fun, and Rivs have it in spades. 

 

As others have advised - always buy the best example you can afford.  Buying a beat-up example is poor economy.  You'll spend way more restoring it than you could hope to get out of it when time comes to sell.  I'm not worried about that, as I ain't selling!  And yes, you'll get lots of attention, as these cars appeal to a surprisingly wide audience.  

 

It would be worth your while to ask one of the forum members that lives close to you to inspect a prospective purchase before you take the plunge.  It would be money well spent to pay someone to check the car over.  That could save you a lot of dollars and grief later.

 

Hope this helps,

 

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On the 64 ST400, you can select Low, the quadrant is PRNDL.  What you can't do is just select 2nd gear through a manual upshift. BUT, if you manually start out in L, then shift to D, let the trans shift and immediately pull the lever back to L, it will hold 2nd gear until you shift to D.  You can manually go through all three gears.

 

Ed

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OK SurfGeek:  Well, well, well....The 4 cars are all sharp looking . Ed Raner mentioned a/c. MUCHO IMPORTANTE in the Sunshine State!!!  When a Riv's a/c unit is right it WILL blow ice cubes.

 

Here's my take for what ever it's worth.........

 

It's fun for me giving others advice.

 

If you find a local shop you trust  that works on these type cars you're in good shape. 

 

Expect to spend between $5,000-8,000 on your purchase to make it reliable. These cars are not rocket science but once you start getting into them shops charge for their services.

 

If you find one out of the area.....BE CAREFUL because flyin' blind could get the cash register ringing loudly.

 

These cars are not an investment that you can bank on to appreciate.  They are much more than a disposable commodity though.  

 

Everybody wants to spend your hard earned money.

 

 If you get one and it isn't like you envision you can always send it down the road.

 

A 65, much like a 59 vs a 60 impala, is worth considerably more than a 63 or 64. Not that they are so much greater, the differences are enough to really set it apart.

 

 

I've been doin' First gen Rivs since day one when I was in the 6th grade and I might be biased.  Mitch

 

 

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18 hours ago, 65VerdeGS said:

 

I'd suggest looking for a '64 or '65 because these have the Super Turbine 400 transmission (ST400)  The '63 used the Dynaflow, which is not as flexible and is more difficult to repair ($$).  

 

 Hi Alan, I understand where 65VerdeGS and other owners are coming from re the Turbo 400 as I was also sceptical of a technically outdated transmission, however a fellow enthusiast suggested not to overlook them and even offered me a drive in a 62 LeSabre with a Dynaflo.  That turned out to be great advice.

 

The 63, being the first of the first generation often have features and options not found in ‘64 and ‘65 and their unique interior style with switches under the dashboard make them very, very different. 

 

My advice is to look at each year and model and decide what features and options are a must for you, and buy the best one you can. 

Just my two bobs worth from down under ?????

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Thank you all for the great advice, history, and information, I feel like I'm already learning quite a bit!    Really interesting discussion on the different types of transmissions.  I never knew that the TH400 descended from the ST400.  That's pretty cool..  Thanks again for offering your unique perspectives and advice and making me a little bit smarter. 

On 5/3/2018 at 2:36 PM, 65VerdeGS said:

It would be worth your while to ask one of the forum members that lives close to you to inspect a prospective purchase before you take the plunge.  It would be money well spent to pay someone to check the car over.  That could save you a lot of dollars and grief later.

BTW, I would definitely consider doing this if anybody is available and willing to do it.

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