Ron Cherry: Smooth cruising in the Riviera |

Ron Cherry: Smooth cruising in the Riviera

The Riviera came out in 1963 as competition for Ford’s Thunderbird as a “personal luxury car.” Famed designer Sergio Pininfarina called it “one of the most beautiful American cars ever built.”
Photo by Ron Cherry

From his high school days, Bruce Fraser said, “The cars kids drove were mainly ’60s cars. Maybe no Rivieras, but their parents might own them. I always liked their looks, their body lines.”

In 2004, he bought one. It had airbag suspension and if you dropped them too low, you couldn’t open the doors. But he wanted to go to car shows that required older cars, so he bought a ’40 Ford coupe and a ’40 Ford Deluxe convertible, even though he had never been into street rods as a kid, but they gained him admission.

Then his wife, Lori, asked him, “Why do you need three cars?”

It seemed the Buick Riviera was the one to leave, that it was either under a car cover or being moved around to get the other cars out. So he sold it in 2007. However, not long after it went, he was hit with seller’s remorse.

“I kept asking myself why I’d sold it,” he said. “It was my favorite get-in-and-go car.”

After a few years, Bruce started searching online for another Riviera. It was a way of finding cars that he had often used.

“I’ve found so many cars for friends that way that I’d have made a fortune if I’d charged them a commission,” he said.

In 2016, he found a ’64 in Oregon that looked interesting. However, his wife said that if he wanted to buy it he should get rid of the Fords first.

Since they spent more time sitting in the garage than on the road, he bid them farewell and clicked on the Riviera. It hadn’t been sold yet, so he called the owner and told him, “I’m bringing my trailer, but that’s no guarantee I’m buying it.”

After a friend who went with him test drove it, he told Bruce that it was a great car. After driving it himself, Bruce felt the same and the deal was made. The trailer came home with the Riviera.

The journey of the Buick

The Buick had an interesting history. From 1989 to 2001, it had been sitting outside with the windows down at JB Donaldson, a company that builds ’30s Ford street rods in Phoenix, Ariz. It was a rare car, heavily optioned and running the 425 cubic inch KX “Super Wildcat” engine with factory dual Carter four-barrel carbs running through a Super Turbine 400 auto trans to a posi rearend.

The car had power steering, brakes, windows, driver’s seat and even windwings, plus tilt wheel, air conditioning, rear defroster and a folding center armrest in the rear. However, it was not JB Donaldson’s cup of tea, or bucket of bolts, so it had just been parked.

While everything was pretty much there, it was in very rough condition. The man who bought it did a frame-on restoration, going through everything. He rebuilt all the mechanicals and electrical.

The interior had decayed to the point that the springs were sticking through the seat and he redid the upholstery in original saddle vinyl, eliminating the rear window defroster when he replaced the rear package tray. He sold the Riviera to the next owner in 2012.

That owner redid the top end of the engine, installing a “thumper” cam for better performance and a hot rod idle.

Making some minor changes

Unhappy with the car’s Sunburst Yellow factory color, he repainted it desert rose. Then he changed the radio to a Custom Auto Sound stereo with a CD changer that fit in the original opening and looked almost like the factory radio.

He also lowered the stance and put on American mags. He did save the original radio and wire-spoke hub caps in case he ever wanted to go back to stock. That owner was the one who sold the Riviera to Bruce.

Bruce was pleased with his purchase.

“This one doesn’t have air bags (like his previous Riviera did) with all the problems, like constant leaks,” he said. “It’s more user friendly.”

But he has done some work on it. He replaced the steering wheel with a smaller Billet aluminum wood wheel that makes for easier entry and exit, changed the wheels and tires to larger 18 inch ones, and upgraded to an MSD ignition system. He also redid the exhaust.

“It had been poorly welded everywhere where there were supposed to be clamps and it sounded bad,” he said.

Then, on his trip to Hot August Nights in Reno, he noticed a bad vibration. On his return, he had Geared Up Driveline replace all the U-joints.

Since then, he has taken it to car shows in NorCal as well as to Cars and Coffee, an informal gathering of car lovers which takes place from 8-10 a.m. every Saturday at the K-mart parking lot off McKnight. He likes the laid-back feeling of Cars and Coffee, which is much like hanging out with fellow car lovers when he was in high school. But mainly he enjoys driving the Riviera.

“It’s no trailer queen. And I was never really into street rods,” he said. “I like things that are long and low, that look like they’re going 140 miles per hour when they’re sitting still. I’m not into horsepower as much as styling.”

With his Riviera, he has the best of both worlds, style and horsepower. It’s a perfect cruiser, a smooth ride and has plenty of guts.

Ron Cherry’s books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, “The St. Nicholas Murders,” is a Christmas mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at

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