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 Lynda.com), so I took Diane Burns‘ excellent course. Two hours and 38 minutes later, I feel like I’ve got the basics down.