Ask any gear head to list the classic hot rods and you’ll probably get some pretty consistent answers: Deuce Coupe, Tri-Five Chevys, Mustang, Camaro, GTO, Challenger.
But the Buick Riviera might not make many of those lists.
We might want to rethink that.
Just by itself, Bruce Stephens’ 1967 Riviera GS could justify adding the nameplate to the list. Big block power, American Racing mag wheels… hell, it’s painted in House of Kolor Candy Apple Red for crying out loud. It doesn’t get any more classic hot rod than that.
Truth is that even from the factory in 1967, the Riviera was a legit performance car, even though it wasn’t marketed as a muscle car or pony car. The “personal luxury car” concept was a key part of Buick’s marketing, but the Riviera came with 360 horsepower right on the showroom floor, not an insignificant number in 1967.
So Bruce took that solid hot rod base and made it better. Much, much better.
His current Riviera is not his first. He was driving a Rally Sport Camaro when he returned from the service in Viet Nam, but then he bought a Riviera. Bruce says, “It was the best car I ever had. I never had to do anything to it. Just brakes and tune ups.”
So when the opportunity came up to buy another one three years ago, Bruce gladly paid the $9500. He hasn’t totalled up what he’s invested in the car to date, but Hagerty has the car valued at $50,000 and Bruce figures that’s pretty close.
His 1967 GS model still maintains its original 430 cubic inch Buick big block, Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission, and X frame chassis, but Bruce has gone through pretty much everything on the car.
The engine has a stock short block that’s been completely rebuilt. Updates include electronic ignition, Holley Sniper EFI, electric fuel pump, aluminum valve covers, and a completely new exhaust system.
The air conditioning has been updated to a late-model GM unit, keeping the refurbished leather interior nice and cool. One of the most interesting parts of that interior is what Bruce refers to as the “beer can” speedometer. Instead of a dial with a needle that moves, the speedometer is a horizontal cylinder that rotates inside the dash to indicate mph.
The chassis also received a complete once over from Bruce. “I replaced the coil springs, tie rod ends, all the bushings, and the ball joints,” he told me. “The only thing that hasn’t been replaced is the steering gear box.” The stock 10 bolt rear end has 4:10 gears in it. “It’s not a fuel saver,” Bruce said, in what is no doubt an understatement for the two ton car.
Bruce’s Riviera has a fantastic stance and wheel wells full of tire thanks to polished American Racing wheels, 20/10s on the back and 18/8s on the front. With the help of his friends at Discount Tire, he figured out the proper size and offset of the wheels to fit them perfectly with no chassis modifications.
As impressive as the mechanics are on Bruce’s Riviera, the highlight of the car is its flawless candy apple red exterior. Making sure the body was 100% correct was the longest and most difficult part of the build for Bruce.
“I completely stripped everything, even took all the glass out,” Bruce said. “It had a few small dings that weren’t fixed properly. I straightened out all the metal. It has very little filler in it.”
Once Bruce was satisfied that the body was ready, he took it to Five Brothers Automotive in Roswell, Georgia to apply the paint.
Finishing touches include proper badges and trim, and re-chromed bumpers front and rear by Chrome It! in Marietta.
The end result is just spectacular.
It’s no surprise the Bruce won Best in Show earlier this year at the Bill Elliott Motorsports Museum car show.
But make no mistake, this is no trailer queen. The car is very drivable thanks to the fuel system and ignition upgrades Bruce made. “Once you get the old boat running, it runs pretty good,” he told me. “It’s a great cruiser. I wouldn’t be afraid to drive it to California.”
Bruce reports that he receives thumbs up everywhere he drives the Riviera. “It’s rewarding to see the people take an interest in it and what I’ve done.”
“It’s a pretty decent old car,” Bruce said, in yet another understatement.