Cool as they are, there are many reasons not to build '63-65 Rivieras these days. Much like '49-51 Mercs, you can argue that the best ones have already been built, and attempting to one-up prior examples will just ruin the car's natural good looks. Furthermore, those clean, Bill Mitchell-penned factory lines make it easy to contend that the best custom Rivs are mild ones, of which there are many.
Then again, some cars are just too cool to resist. At least that's the way Kevin Anderson of Indianapolis sees it. He already put his personal stamp on a chopped '50 Merc, so he was eager to take on a '63 Riv when the opportunity arose.
"After always admiring the brilliant lines of the '63-65 Buick Riviera," Kevin says, "I finally found the perfect candidate-43,000 miles, Grandpa-kept, showroom nice; almost-almost-too nice to customize. But that's not the way we think, is it?"
Like many custom enthusiasts, Kevin jokes that he's a "frustrated car designer that never was." Thus, he quickly began mentally restyling his purchase. He knew restraint would be the key-no changes just for change's sake, only those that would enhance the visual flow and "let the lines talk."
One thing Kevin was sure about was chopping the car's top, but even that decision held a degree of uncertainty. "Would it be 2 inches? Three inches?" Kevin wondered. "Then the look emerged-2 1/2 inches was the perfect cut, in my opinion. And those vent windows would have to go; reduce or remove all vertical lines!"
Kevin's ideas kept flowing; he just needed a shop to execute them. Cruisin' Customs, in West Olive, Michigan, was a wise choice. "John and Rob Kouw, and the entire staff at Cruisin' Customs, made my design a reality," Kevin says. "They took a huge monster and delivered a finished product that measured about 20 bars higher than I expected. I knew John and Rob's reputation for quality, old-world craftsmanship and finesse, but even I was amazed when the car rolled out onto the floor at the Detroit Autorama."
Besides performing the proportional top chop and making one-piece door glass that actually works, the Cruisin' Customs crew carried out many subtle-but-significant body mods. This included removing the factory hood peak, chrome cowl vents, rear window belt trim, and all factory badges and handles. Significant sheetmetal work was also necessary to fit the '65 Riviera rear bumper. The bumper's integral taillight housings had their vertical bars eliminated before being fitted with custom glass lenses from Dichrome Inc. Around front, the hood's leading edge was molded and smoothed to better frame the new custom grille. Rob Kouw spent untold hours crafting the chrome-plated oval grille bars and fitting them around the '68 Chrysler Imperial headlight buckets.
Painting the car gold was an easy decision; finding the right hue-one that didn't shift toward green or orange in low light-was more difficult. John's contacts at Sherwin-Williams came through with a brilliant custom blend that simply glows in virtually any lighting condition. It almost outshines the plating by Jon Wright's CustomChrome.
Kevin's friend suggested the car's Goldtop theme, which refers to the seminal electric guitar built by Gibson. "To the guitar aficionado, the word 'Goldtop' is revered, sacred," Kevin says. "The Goldtop represented the first commercially viable electric, solid-body guitar. Its father? The imminent Les Paul, inventor and musician extraordinaire.
The guitar theme carries through inside, where Chuck Winters cut black mother-of-pearl pick guard material for the dash and console inlays. It contrasts well with the pearl cream upholstery, expertly stitched over stock seats by Team Skinz in Grand Rapids. Authentic '60s-era guitar amp grille cloth was inset in the doors and package tray to maintain the music theme and hide the eight speakers driven by an Alpine stereo. Up above, another Riviera roofskin was trimmed to fit inside and support the heavy headliner. A second rear seat trim piece made a neat focal point in the upholstered trunk, as did the aluminum luggage bars.
The car's visual impact was enhanced by its stance, achieved using Air Ride Technologies ShockWaves in front and conventional rear air springs. They nicely tuck the Michelin-wrapped 18- and 20-inch Boyd Coddington Smoothies up in the wheel openings. "I'm not a big 18s and 20s wheel guy," Kevin says. "Somehow, on the Riv, it seems proportional." The rest of the car's low-mileage mechanicals-including the 401ci Nailhead mill-remain essentially stock.
When he began the Riviera project, Kevin says his goal was to "enhance and embellish the original design, to emphasize the innate beauty of its conception." We think he succeeded. One gauge of a well-designed custom is whether it looks good-looks right-from any angle. We walked around it a dozen times and never found a bad view.
Kevin's design instincts have been vindicated by more important minds than ours. Gene Winfield, for one, judged the 2 1/2-inch top chop to be just right. And Kevin has learned that the original Riviera prototype, dubbed the Silver Arrow, had a near-identical top, with no vent windows. "In a small way, I felt a connection with Bill Mitchell," Kevin says of that discovery. "It was a nice vote of confidence."