30,000 Words In

A few days ago, I made it to 30,000 words in the Riviera Project. I’ve made a few more design decisions, including solving a basic book formatting issue that had been bothering me for months.

I’ve been getting more of the option tables done, which only reveals how inconsistent some of the data is. I’ve also become resigned to the statement under Selected Available Equipment in many Buick brochures:

This is a partial list.
See your dealer for details.

One thing that helps with getting accurate options data is scans and photos of the original window labels (the famous Monroney sticker), which sometimes turn up in the strangest places. I’ve gotten to the point where I hope for a heavily optioned car when I do find a window sticker—it’ll give me more data!

Options available in a Riviera of any generation are somewhat strange to our modern eyes, where reduced choice is often the watchword. Even at the very end in 1999, the Riviera was available with 12 exterior colors, six optional accent stripe colors, and five interior colors. Contrast that with Buick’s current top-of-the-line car, the 2019 LaCrosse sedan: 10 exterior colors, no accent stripes, and four interior colors.

A few statistics while we’re at it: revision 12 of the book sits at 106 pages. The two longest chapters are on the sixth generation and the seventh generation cars. Unsurprisingly, by far the most pages per year are for the first generation. The eight chapters on each generation currently make up 82% of the book.

Mid-July Status Update

After returning from the delightful Riviera Owners Association’s International Meet in Gettysburg last month, I’ve struggled just a little to translate my post-event excitement into action. The Riviera Project progresses, but not as quickly as I’d like.

As I look back, one of the things the meet did provide me with was a lot of context around various Rivieras and their features. One small example: photographs from period brochures don’t give a great sense of how the fourth generation (1974-1976) Rivieras integrated their high-mounted taillights.

High-mounted taillights on a fourth generation Riviera

At first, I wasn’t sure if there would be any of the fourth generation Rivieras at the meet—there are a lot less of them being collected than the 1973 and prior cars. However, on Wednesday evening I came out my car to see a handsome Judicial Black (oh, those bicentennial Buick color names) 1976 parked next to it. So I got some good pictures and, more than that, I got a good overall feel for these cars—I don’t believe I’d seen one in decades.

This example also speaks to the value of attending something like the ROA’s International Meet. Information about some parts of the Riviera’s history is readily available. However, other parts such as the 1974-1976 cars are not nearly as well-covered.

Some statistics for the Riviera Project; as of this morning, we’re at 27,000 words and 81 pages.

Experiences Matter: An Evening Road Tour In A 1968 Buick Riviera

On the first full day of the 2019 International Meet of the Riviera Owners Association, the final event was a Guided Rallye through Gettysburg and the surrounding country. I do not currently own a Riviera, and, though other cars were explicitly welcomed on the tour, my preference was to be in a Riviera. However, I didn’t know anyone from the ROA either than virtually prior to attending the meet, so I didn’t think my odds were good.

As it happened, I met one of my virtual acquaintances as we were listening to the pre-road tour briefing. Mike offered me shotgun in his striking Aqua Mist 1968 Riviera, and I jumped at the chance. In a total coincidence, his car was on all the meet materials, including the t-shirt. I wonder how many t-shirts I would buy if my car was on them …

Following four visible Riviera generations on the road tour.

We left the hotel parking lot slowly with a total of about 17 Rivieras. My number one observation is that the second generation Riviera is a very comfortable car. At no point in our approximately two-hour tour did I feel remotely cramped, despite my 6’2″ and a little over 200 pounds.

Another thing I noted was how much visibility these cars have. I actually managed to take some decent pictures during the tour, largely because of the wide views I had available to me in almost all directions.

Finally, it cannot be ignored that Mike’s 1968 is quite spritely. Even with an all-in weight that was likely around 4,700 pounds, The Aqua Zephyr (likely only a week older than I am—another wild coincidence) got up and went when he asked it to.

So, thank you, Mike, for giving me the experience of being in a sixties Riviera driving through the Pennsylvania countryside. I’ll never forget it.

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.

25,000 Words In

Yesterday I made it to 25,000 words in the Riviera Project. It’s been slower going than I expected, but the results are satisfying. I’ve also made a couple of design decisions, moving to separate tables for options (and learning how to create tables in InDesign) and refining my chapter headings.

I continue to learn a lot, both about the Riviera itself and about all the context around it. I’m also learning that accurate data will be a problem, but for different reasons. With the earlier cars, it’s disagreements about the data while with the newer cars, it’s often a lack of any data at all—especially for the seventh and eight generation Rivieras.

A few statistics while we’re at it: the book sits at 75 pages. The longest chapter so far is on the seventh generation cars, which makes sense since—at nine years—they were the longest-lived generation. The eight chapters for each generation currently make up 81% of the book.

Inspirations—Viewing The Buick Y-Job In Person

The Buick Y-Job is often described as one of the first—if not the first—concept cars. Designed by stylist George Snyder to show the late-1930s vision of GM design head Harley Earl, the long and low convertible had power windows, wraparound bumpers, and flush door handles. Its powered convertible top was concealed by a metal deck when retracted, and it lacked the running boards that were standard issue in 1938. Finally, the Y-Job had power-operated hidden headlamps—likely influenced by the manually-operated hidden Stinson lights in the mid-1930s Cord 810/812.

Unlike many concept cars that followed, all the features shown in the Y-Job were functional—Harley Earl drove it regularly until about 1951. This extravagance was made at least a little easier by the fact that the Y-Job used the same Dynaflash 141 bhp 5.2 liter/320 ci straight-8 as Buick’s Series 60 Century, Series 80 Roadmaster, and Series 90 Limited cars did in 1938 and was built on a stretched Century chassis.

1938 Buick Y-Job. Photo courtesy of Buick.

Over the years, I viewed many photographs of the Y-Job, but I never expected to see it in person. However, in 2011 I was able to visit the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, MI. There are many amazing cars in the Heritage Center’s collection, but for me, there were two essentials—with every other one of the 150 or so vehicles on display being a bonus. Those two cars were the Y-Job and the Le Sabre.

I got so close to the Y-Job on that particular day that I could lean directly over the rather basic interior. As expected, the car is heart-stoppingly beautiful—but smaller than it looks in many photographs. At 58 inches tall, the Y-Job is also stunningly low, something George Snyder accentuated by fitting 13-inch wheels instead of the 15-inch and 16-inch wheels that were in common use in the late-1930s.

As I continue my work on the Riviera Project, one of the common threads is the highs and lows of Buick styling over the years. When Buick’s exterior design is differentiating in a positive way, I see it as a spiritual callback to the timeless beauty of the Y-Job.

A Little Further Along

I’ve made some progress on the Riviera Project recently, but I am not as far along as I had hoped to be as April turns into May. The book does continue to form, and I am getting more of a sense of what it may end up being.

Typewriter icon

About a week ago, I pushed past a 20,000 word total for the entire book. I’ve done a good bit of background research over the last few days, including some on the Riviera’s competitors such as the Ford Thunderbird and the Cadillac Eldorado. I’m also continuing to gather relevant material—adding both primary and secondary sources. Finally, I’ve been asking a lot of questions on the Antique Automobile Club of America’s forums.

So, still moving along, but the results are not very visible. Hopefully, I’ll have more to report in a few days.