Hue … and Cry?

As I continued to work on the exterior paint color charts for the Riviera Project, I have been thinking about arranging the colors I display. I’ve been trying to sort visually using ROYGBIV, with some degree of success. After a few months, a seemingly obvious concept finally came to mind—why not just use the color hue values to place them?

I’ll expand: one of the many ways to describe a particular color is the HSB color space—Hue, Saturation, and Brightness. Also named as HSL (Hue, Saturation, and Lightness), HSB is a different way of measuring the RGB color space. The interest here is that it nicely separates hue from other color factors over 360 degrees, with the red in ROYGBIV starting at about 345 degrees.

HSB was initially conceived as a way to add color to black-and-white television transmissions without changing the signal that the black-and-white sets were receiving. It has been around for quite a while—French engineer Georges Valensi invented it in 1938, pre-dating the first consumer color televisions by 16 years. Those first color televisions were astoundingly expensive—the Admiral C1617A’s $1,175 price (about $11,200 in 2020 dollars) gives a hint of why substantial color television adoption would take almost 15 years.

fifth-generation Riviera color chart

So far, I’ve charted the exterior colors using the print-oriented CYMK color space. Still, Adobe Illustrator (which I’ve been using) and a plethora of other applications have no trouble converting the values displayed to HSB so that I can see the hue value. It was time for some testing—what could go wrong?

I tried this new-to-me color sorting method out on the current beta of the fifth-generation chart. It seems to work decently, but more exploration will be needed. The early results are shown to the right.

While I’ve been testing these sorting revisions, I’ve added the appropriate Buick-assigned two-digit color number and an asterisk if the color is metallic to each paint swatch. So, the charts now also have higher data density.

The charts also show the somewhat confounding color naming inconsistencies that prevailed throughout the Riviera’s life. A color can keep the same marketing name (i.e., Medium Green), but be a different painting formulation (changing from PPG 2694 to PPG 3062). Another color can alter its marketing name but remain the same paint formulation. Finally, the same Buick-assigned color number (63) can change paint formulations (PPG 2970 to PPG 3090) and color names (Gold to Dark Gold) from year to year.

Details, details, details, …

Progress: 45,000 Words

Yesterday evening, the Riviera Project went over 45,000 words. With that number written and the 140 pages currently created, I can estimate that completion will come when I get to at least 53,400 words and 166 pages—and likely considerably more.

1977 Riviera advertisement

I have made significant progress on several fronts. Appendix Two, which displays the Riviera’s exterior colors, now has placeholder displays for half the generations—details on some of the color diagramming considerations are here. With those colors tables now in place, there’s now more precise analysis by year in each of the separate generational chapters.

There’s also been notable work on further rationalizing and extending the index and adding to the books discussed in the annotated bibliography.

Likely the most time-consuming effort over the last two months has been the attention I continue to give the options tables, both adding more data and refining their display. I’ve put extra time into the tables that show the complex 1982-1985 period when the Riviera offered coupe, T Type, and convertible versions.

Some statistics while we’re at it; the two most lengthy chapters remain the ones on the sixth-generation and the seventh-generation cars, which were the Riviera generations longest in production at seven and eight model years, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, by far the most pages per year are for the first generation, though that count is generated when I include both the Riviera’s initial development and the actual three model years from 1963 to 1965. Otherwise, the short (only two years) fifth-generation now leads, driven by its notable options lists and the 75th Anniversary Package. The eight chapters on each generation currently make up 86% of the book.

Analyzing and Displaying Exterior Automotive Colors

If a possible thesis of the Riviera Project is that exterior design matters, then by definition, the exterior colors matter. A detailed study of these colors turns out (surprise!) to be another rabbit hole.

I have decided to build visualizations of each generation’s colors, trying to get all the years and colors on a single page (though that may be challenging with the lengthy sixth and seventh generations). Building accurate visualizations means some attention to detail: the same color name may change painting codes from year to year, while the same painting code sometimes applies to different color names.

Riviera color chart
Very draft second generation Riviera exterior color chart

I’m using (mostly) scans of the original paint samples from PPG and others. These samples have, of course, aged—and accurately restoring them is non-trivial. There’s also the whole issue of how to depict different textures of paints—metallics, Firemists, etc.—one I have not yet solved.

There are many reasonable ways to sort and display these colors. I have chosen to organize the colors in the traditional ROYGBIV fashion, with the blacks, grays, whites, and various beiges and browns on top. I also combine color names across multiple years if the paint code stayed the same.

Building the visualizations in this way clearly shows changes in color fashion detailed in The Secret Lives of Color and other books. For example, note the pronounced movement toward more beiges and greens as model years moved from 1966 to 1970 in the chart above. There were also no yellow second-generation Rivieras, though the prior and following generations both offered various yellows.

Thus, we proceed, with the one guarantee that the charts as currently designed are probably not in their final form.

40,000 Words

I recently passed 40,000 words on the Riviera Project. Looking from the current 41,300 words and 126 pages, I can estimate that completion will come when I get to at least 47,900 words and 146 pages—and likely considerably more.

This 1991 is of the most beautiful seventh-generation cars I’ve seen

Progress continues to be made beyond mere word count; I’ve gotten even more work done on the chapter that covers the second-generation Rivieras and also made progress on the often stunningly ill-documented seventh-generation cars. These cars were initially very unsuccessful as far as sales when they debuted for the 1986 model year, but an “emergency” exterior restyle for 1989 at least partially turned things around.

There’s also been notable progress made with completing the options tables, with more years added, greater consistency across the years, and additional useful detail. A challenge, but not an insurmountable one, has been how Buick both changed the names of the same option and also used the same name for different options.

A few statistics while we’re at it; the two most lengthy chapters remain the ones on the sixth-generation and the seventh-generation cars, which were the Riviera generations longest in production at seven and eight model years, respectively. Unsurprisingly, by far the most pages per year are for the first generation, though that count is generated when I include both the Riviera’s initial development and the actual three model years from 1963 to 1965. Otherwise, the fourth-generation leads, driven by its endless options lists. The eight chapters on each generation currently make up 85% of the book.

35,000 Words and Nowhere Near Completion

I recently passed 35,000 words on the Riviera Project, and with that came the realization that I am nowhere near complete. Looking from the current 36,700 words and 112 pages, I can estimate that completion looks like at least 43,300 words and 132 pages—and likely more.

1966 Riviera brochure picture

Progress is undoubtedly being made; I’ve gotten a lot of work done on the chapter that covers the second-generation cars that were sold in the 1966 through 1970 model years. These interesting cars were very popular when new, with almost a quarter of a million sold over five years. I secured a scenic ride in a 1968 last year at the Riviera Owners Association International Meet in Gettysburg, PA, and came away quite impressed.

The second-generation story isn’t merely interesting for the Riviera itself. Part of the story is the arrival of new direct competition over those years; the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado, the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado, and the 1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III. That’s not even considering the attacks from below from the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix—and a substantial revision of the Ford Thunderbird. This makes this chapter a question of balance; the primary story remains the Riviera, but the context of its competitors is important.

It’s Been Slow …

The truth is that I’ve made little progress on the Riviera Project in the last two months—a combination of work, travel, and the holidays have slowed things to a crawl.

Things haven’t been all quiet: I have managed to substantially improve the readability and space utilization of the option tables. I’ve also gotten a better handle on mapping the exterior colors.

I’ve also done some more statistical research. I plotted Riviera prices from 1963 through 1999 against monthly changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Unsurprisingly, the sixth-generation convertibles were the most expensive Rivieras of all, with the 1983 being the absolute peak. What did surprise me was that the 1999 was the most costly coupe even when adjusting for CPI. In constant dollars, the 1974 was the least expensive.

I have hopes of making some more progress before the end of the calendar year. We’ll see what happens.

Solving a Basic Book Formatting Issue

My process when writing a book is, I think, unusual. Very early on, I move from raw text to content formatting, creating chapters and moving to a desktop publishing application (I’m currently using Adobe InDesign). This approach helps me with my visualization of what the book is going to be.

It also serves to remind me of when I have fundamental formatting problems. As long as I’ve been working on the Riviera Project in InDesign, I’ve had a big issue; the body text display with my chosen font was simply too wide, both for legibility and looks. I know I’d have to fix this, but I wasn’t sure how.

Sometimes it just takes looking at prior art. I decided to page through a few of the many single-marque books I own for ideas. After viewing quite a few, I found inspiration from the interesting and enjoyable Camaro: Fifty Years of Chevy Performance, written by Mike Mueller and published by Motorbooks. In particular, the layout for the text in the chapters on the various Camaro models and generations seemed close to what I’m looking for.

The new base layout

I saved a new version of the Riviera Project and went to work. Essentially, I divvied what had been the basic single-column page into three even columns. I then set the body text to the two inner columns, with photographs, graphics, and tables aligned to the outside.

At this point, I’m happy with the fundamentals of the new base layout, though I’m sure I’ll refine it further over the next few months. It’s definitely more legible than it was and the new text alignment is visually freeing up the graphics and tables.

Overall status for the Riviera Project as of mid-August 2019: 29,000 plus words over 97 pages with 15 tables and 53 photos and images.

Spending Some Time With the Actual Subject

I’m off this morning to do some true primary research for the Riviera Project. By total coincidence, the Riviera Owners Association’s annual International Meet is in Gettysburg, PA this year. That’s only about two and a half hours away, so it seemed fairly apparent that I should make the time to attend.

Page from 1999 Buick Riviera brochure
Page from 1999 Buick Riviera brochure

The meet’s organizers are expecting over 100 Rivieras by the time everyone who has registered arrives. From the early photos posted on the meet’s thread on the AACA forums, I can already see six out of the eight generations represented—the fourth (1974-1976) and fifth (1977-1978) generations have yet to make an appearance.

I see this as a great chance to immerse over the next two-and-a-half days. I’ve made some acquaintances on the ROA portion of the forum, but there’s nothing liking talking to folks in person—and, of course, seeing the cars.

Learning New Layout Skills

Like I have with all my books, I’m laying out the Riviera Project in Adobe’s InDesign desktop publishing software. I find that in many ways InDesign behaves in ways I understand, so I’ve stayed with it over the years.

Adobe InDesign icon

Recently, I decided to make a fairly significant change to the chapters that cover the separate generations (in my opinion, there are eight, though you can make a legitimate argument for seven) of the Riviera. I had been integrating the options available into the body text, but that’s getting clunky and won’t be easy to read. So, I’ve decided to put the options lists into tables—one for each year.

I’ve learned a lot of InDesign by struggling with it. In the case of tables, I decided to commit a little time on the front end and use some training. I’m fortunate to have access to LinkedIn Learning (formally, so I took Diane Burns‘ excellent course. Two hours and 38 minutes later, I feel like I’ve got the basics down.

Brochures: Important and Also a Lot of Fun

1963 Buick Riviera brochure cover.
Front cover of the 1963 Buick Riviera brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochure pages.

As I work on the Riviera Project, some of my more important primary sources are the brochures Buick published between 1963 and 1999. These brochures give me many things including specifications (though sometimes these are inaccurate or imprecise) and equipment (though sometimes this is inconsistent or misleading).

I think the most valuable feature these brochures offer is context. You get to see what features Buick was emphasizing for each model year and what they thought was important to their potential buyers. In the brochures that cover the entire Buick line, you can sense the Riviera’s place within the range. Some very draft text from the Riviera Project about the 1967 model year is instructive:

Front cover of the 1999 Buick Riviera brochure, linked from
Hans Tore Tangerud’s wonderful
lov2xlr8 website.

Buick brochures made significant mention of safety for the first time since the Riviera had been released. Four-way hazard warning flashers were now standard—a year in advance of the federal deadline. Brakes got a lot of attention; the Riviera now had a dual master cylinder system, the number of fins on the aluminum front brake drums were doubled, and the power brake vacuum booster was larger. Finally, front and rear seat belts were now standard equipment, with shoulder belts optional for the driver and one front passenger.

Rivera Project, late April

Aside from being valuable as source material, these brochures are also a lot of fun. I must confess that I especially enjoy the ones I’ve purchased in physical form—there’s something about opening a 68-page full line brochure from 1975 that someone has lovingly preserved for over 40 years.