Filed in the drawer of “doing something right while doing something wrong” is being able to line up your 1963-model personal luxury cars for a quick picture. That it has to be done at the storage facility is “doing it wrong”; that it can be done at all is “doing it right.” There’s only room in my garage for two big cars at a time, and the ’53 Special never leaves home because of favorite child syndrome, so here we are. Read on for a very quick update on these glamour boats.
Thanks to some gloomy, cold, disgusting weather (in other words, Michigan in spring), I only extracted the T-Bird from storage a week and a half ago. I had to replace my four-year-old made-somewhere-else radiator that had sprung a leak but was epoxied together and therefore could not be fixed by a radiator shop pile of garbage; therefore, over the winter I had the original radiator recored at the local radiator shop for less money than I paid for said pile of garbage four years ago. I spent a little time out in the garage doing that before hitting the road. The T-Bird seems to be in good shape for now, but it has a few relatively minor things on the repair list for summer driving season.
The Riviera, on the other hand, is unfortunately going to be one of those cars that tests my mechanical aptitude regularly; it has a heat-related bog situation where it seems to go lean under load or when I throw some revs (it does go lean – I use a wideband 02 gauge). It’s worse when the car’s been sitting with a hot engine or has been in traffic, which sounds like vapor lock. I’ve run more tests than you can imagine, and nothing has come up as conclusive, so I’ve done the professional thing and have retrogressed to parts swapping and pure conjecture. Without going into mind-numbing detail as I normally do, let’s just say it’s frustrating – times such as these feel like I am being punished for epic Greek hubris without the high stakes.
It’s still a driveable car, but if I need to get into a high speed, full-throttle chase “right now,” the bad guys may or may not get away, depending on how the car feels at that moment. Fortunately for me, that is an uncommon situation, but the problem also sometimes gets in the way of burning down the right-rear tire, which is nonetheless good for the tire and for my standing in the eyes of my fellow citizens.
Regardless, it wouldn’t be driving season if I weren’t preoccupied to the point of distraction with an old-car problem, so here’s to a successful summer for all my fellow CC readers.
Very cool, Aaron! Best of luck hunting down that issue on the Riv and a happy classic car season to you!
I don’t know if you have one.but early quad jets had small float chambers that wouldn’t keep up with fuel demand. So make sure fuel pressure good and no restriction from fuel filter.could check float height.
Wonderful cars, and a nice storage facility too! I could just ask for more pics.
Thank you! I’ve written a lot about my cars, so searching the website will show more pictures if you’re interested.
Having to choose between those 2 1963 classics to drive is the very definition of a delightful dilemma… have fun!
I’ve been driving the Riviera quite a bit, but the ‘Bird has been nicer to drive because it’s behaving itself (so far).
The Riviera is a more modern looking design. But the Thunderbird is very elegant! I like them both, at least in terms of styling. Having never driven either, I can’t comment as to which I would prefer on that count. I imagine that pulling up to the valet for parking, either car would make a positive statement.
They both have a nice ride; the Riviera has better steering and a lot more power (when it’s running well), but the T-Bird has a much nicer driving position (for a six footer, anyway).
What you are describing as the travails of owning an old car is what pretty much every old car owner puts up with regularly to keep their pride and joy on the road. Heck, most of these cars had these kinds of problems when they were still fairly new. To paraphrase what my grandad used to say about getting old, owning an old car ain’t for sissies!
Anyway, enjoy and rock on with your beautiful ‘Bird and Riv.
You are correct, as I know all too well. After several decades of multi-old-car ownership, however, it’s the bruised ego when you can’t figure something out that ought to be simple that bothers me.
” the ’53 Special never leaves home because of favorite child syndrome … “
That seems right to me. It’s been more than 60 years since I drove a straight eight Dynaflow Buick (Riviera) and I remember the sensation and sound clearly.
If you can fix a cracked block in that big straight eight, well in my mind, you can fix anything.
Retrogressing to parts swapping and pure conjecture has worked in the past – perhaps now too. (fingers crossed for you)
I hope I can get it fixed up before too long…What’s that they say – “We do it right because we do it twice!”? 🙂
Hmmmm maybe the accelerator pump gets finicky w’ heat?
Not this time, it’s a longer-lasting sag and I’ve already had two carbs on it.
Love the tail-end comparison shot!
The jet tube lights on the T-Bird are my favorite feature, but seem slightly overdone when so starkly compared to the Riviera.
I’ve always felt that the taillights on the first generation Riviera are its weakest point. They appear “squinty” surrounded by so much sheet metal. It’s a pity they couldn’t have come up with a more expressive design.
Having said those things, no way would I kick either of these beauties out of my garage!
I’ve spent a lot of time during the last six months staring at the Riviera, and I think you’re right about the taillights, although I prefer them to the in-bumper lights of the ’65. Still, they must have done something right if something so insignificant stands out.
I’ve always thought that the “weakest point” tail lights were the perfect compliment to such an overall beautiful car. Less is more. They don’t compete with the car that they are on.
Beautiful cars Aaron, and I love the shot of them together. It’s a better pic then those you see in the Auto Rags like Motor Trend when they do a comparison article.
“The PLC Battle for 1963 – Who’s the Best in Personal Luxury” or some title like that.
As to old cars, I can only imagine what you guys go through. My Mustang is only 16 model years old, but to me it’s an old car with which I must tinker.
And driving season is among us! – Although truth be told, I drive it occasionally all winter long when the weather is nice, as winters aren’t too bad in Baltimore. Of course Maryland uses way to much road salt, even at the threat of flurries, so there’s that. You have to pick and choose your days.
Of the two, I’ve gotta pick the Bullet Bird, but the Riv sure is nice. I’ve always been a Thunderbird fan, but for me, it’s the ’72 Boat-tail for me. Again, that bias is from having grown up across the street from an emerald green example. At 12 years old, that Riviera made quite an impression on me.
But coming here to these pages has made me appreciate the first gen Rivs much more. I can see why all you guys like these so much.
Enjoy driving these two beauties around and good luck tracing down the Riv’s issues!
(My fingers are crossed on that ‘Bird too… hopefully, that car is all sorted out now, but then again, are any old cars ever really completely sorted out? That’s kinda the fun of it.😉)
Having grown up in Towson and lived in Carroll Co. for a total of 50 years before moving to Binghamton, I can tell you that MD salt use is nothing compared to Central NY! We have to have a sacrificial winter beater here.
Thanks Rick – my wife’s daily is a 2012 Mustang, so I’ve had a little experience with that car. She drives it all year; I put a set of Michelin X-Ice tires on it in November and it handles in the snow beautifully, but the rust always wins, so the clock is unfortunately ticking.
Randerson, I watch a YouTube channel (South Main Auto Channel) that focuses on a repair shop in New York. The undercarriage of a NY car after a winter or two is like nothing I’ve ever seen, even in Michigan. I have no idea what they use on the roads out there, but it can’t be plain old road salt.
Stunning cars, both of them. It has me thinking about how, with the passage of time, they seem less different from each other in 2023 than when they were new. The Riviera clearly has more forward-thinking, predictive styling. The Thunderbird, though, has so many of those midcentury touches (round taillamps) I love so much.
I suppose comparing the two cars from a visual standpoint in present day would be like looking at, say, 1988 editions of the Mustang and Camaro, also in present day. Back then, they couldn’t have been more different from each other in terms of aesthetic. Today, it’s clear that even visually, the Camaro and Mustang had a similar mission, even if executed differently.
That’s a good analogy, Joe. They’re obviously very different in execution, but they’re both about the same size, they cover the same market, and most people today would just look at them as old cars.
And as much as my Ford-guy youth had me drooling over Fox Mustangs back in the ’80s, I’d drive a Camaro in a heartbeat (ha!) these days. I’d love an IROC or a Firebird GTA.
Great shot of the cars together.
The Riviera does look more modern to current eyes, but I wonder if the T-bird will draw more eyes over the decades to come. Discuss. 🙂
Thanks! I haven’t had a ton of time to judge reactions to the Riviera, but people who do approach me are very excited about it. People like the T-Bird, too, but their reactions aren’t quite so animated.
That might be because the Riviera is a more rare sight than the T-Bird.
According to a quick Google search (for what that’s worth), the 1963 T-Bird outsold the 1963 Riviera by about 2-1. That doesn’t even factor in survival rate.
As much as I like the Bullet Bird, if I had to choose which to see at the local Cars & Coffee, it would likely be the Riv, as it’s usually the one less represented.
There’s a site or publication that tells you how many of each model car are currently registered in the US, but I can’t remember the name. I imagine Tbird and Riv have a higher percentage remaining that most models, if they’re not actually at the top–for closed cars. Future generations will believe the earth was plenty warm 60 years ago from the cars not junked.
Great last photo there of the Riv in the driveway.
Carburetor just went back on the VW this week, hopefully this summer I’ll catch up to you and be sorting drive-ability problems instead of trying to get it to drive…
Keep us up to date!
What a great pair of cars! Both models that I love. So different, the T Bird harkens back to the “rocket ship” late 1950’s. The dignified Riviera looks towards the Brougham future, but it still has it’s beauty designed in, not tacked on.
I had the second gen, sleek ’66 Riviera, as well as the boat tail ’71. It’s amazing that a major manufacturer would build such an extreme design as the ’71, but it was a good road car. My Dad had a’63 Lincoln, platform mate to your T Bird. I got to drive it a lot. Quality with both of these cars was very high, the ‘Bird being essentially a Lincoln coupe.
Good luck with your trouble shooting, maybe it’s an ignition problem? Vacuum advance, cracked cap, weak coil, ignition wires?
I’m taking a break from extensive troubleshooting, since I sold my old Jags! Enjoy your dream stable.
I’m with you on the ignition, Jose. I actually started out my troubleshooting by eliminating the points, thinking it was a bad condenser (and I usually switch to Pertronix if I get a chance, just because I’ve been unimpressed by the quality of new points). I also changed the original coil, because that’s a long time for a coil.
No change on either. I can hook it up to the scope, but it’s a problem that shows up only after a while driving, so I will have to plan to have the scope out and ready to go when the car’s warmed up. They say a lot of carb problems are electrical, so we’ll see.
Both the T-bird and the Riviera are fine cars, but of the pair I’d say the nod goes to the Riviera. I prefer the stying of the Riviera to the T-bird. I seem to have read somewhere that it was originally intended to be a Cadillac, but instead it went to Buick, which was a good call on GM’s part. Plus, I came along in 1963, same as the Riviera and I still like a lot of the cars from that era. Anyway, have a great summer with all your classic iron, and keep us up to speed (so to speak) on the Riv’s drivability issues.
Will do, and you are right that Cadillac was supposed to get the Riviera; it was going to be a new LaSalle. I’m glad it ended up a Buick.
If it had become a Cadillac, I wonder if it would have evolved into the ’67 Eldorado, which at an early point was planned with a multicylinder engine, or would it have gone in another direction, such as Paul’s Opel KAD.
Two of my favourites 60s machines! Too bad about the issues with the Riv, but maybe it’s better to park it for a bit and come back to it. I know I have gotten to that point where I have to walk away. On the Riv going lean under hot conditions, is there any chance the fuel in the carb’s fuel bowl is boiling? I am assuming you still run the heat cross over. I have had some luck with using a wooden carb spacer to help with this, and installing insulation on fuel lines. Maybe a heat shield could help, since the fuel bowls are on the outside. Some carbs just don’t do well with modern fuels, but I haven’t messed with a 4G carb (assuming that is what your Riv still has).
it wouldn’t be driving season if I weren’t preoccupied to the point of distraction with an old-car problem
The lament of the classic car owner. As you know I was doing a fair amount of work on one of my cars, and I too ran into some frustrating issues. It is even more frustrating, when the car ran fine before the work started. I walked away for a bit and luckily I may have figured it out now and it’s not as bad as I thought (if I am correct).
I haven’t blocked the heat crossover, but it no longer has the heat riser valve in the exhaust, and I’m using a Mr. Gasket “gasket stack.” I’ve had good luck on my Skylark for the last 20 years using the same setup. My Riviera came with an AFB, although I have an Edelbrock AVS2 on it at the moment.
It sounds like the previous owner was having the same issue; I texted him to get a better idea of what he already tried.
The nice thing about having a bunch of cars is that I can drive it out to the storage garage and do my best to forget about it for a week or two when I get upset with it.
I hope your fix is more successful than mine have been so far!
These are both gorgeous cars, but my pick would be the Riv. I’m old enough to easily remember when the ’63s were brand new, and the Corvette Sting Ray, Riviera, and Avanti were the most droolworthy for this budding enthusiast back then.
Much closer to a Ford fan than GM, and I liked the T Bird when it came out when I was a kid, but to me the Rivera wins hands down. The ‘bird looks fat and old, the Riv modern and aggressive. YMMV.
Ford was chasing tryin to chase the Corvette..but GM’s BMD put Ford 2 SHAME with the Infamous Riviera
Great post. I’ve been following our amazing American cars since I was a kid in the 60s. I knew all the models, what was new for each model. I always loved each generation of the Thunderbirds. They were very cutting edge at the time, and we loved them, so much so GM knew what was happening with the Thunderbirds, so they came up with the Riviera to compete with the Ford. Everyone loved the new look the Riviera brought to GM’s lineup. As nice looking as the exterior of the first generation of the Rivieras were, and they were, the interiors were standard full-size Buick issue. The 63 and 64 Buick interior design was kinda boring. On the other hand, Thunderbirds had a reputation for very interesting dashboards, and that held true up into the early 70s. The history books will show the Thunderbirds outsold the Rivieras every year. The Thunderbirds had the luxury of being the original PLC that was a level set for all the PLCs to follow. Not just because I’ve been a Ford man all my life, I pick the Thunderbirds of every generation, because of the cool features each generation the Thunderbirds had to offer. The Rivieras had the stuff all PLCs have to qualify for the PLC category. That said, my favorite model years for the Riviera are 65, though 68. They were beautiful inside and out. But to honest, to quote a fellow poster, I wouldn’t kick either of these two 63s out of my garage. Thanks for a great post, keep them coming, I love the memories they conger up.
That perfectly sums up my general preference towards the Tbird, the Riviera probably had the better wrapper but where I spend my time in one the Tbird’s of this era had the edge. The 66-70 Rivieras are the ones I outright prefer to the “glamourbirds”, which changed their mission too much for my liking.
Ahh, parts swapping and conjecture – old car ownership simply requires them. Suggestions? I got nuttin.
4 years already for the bird? Yikes!
That shot of the rear is really interesting. I am struck by the huge back window in the Bird and the more limo-like small back window of the Riv. One was starting to look old fashioned by 1963 and the other was pointing to the future. I guess that was kind of the difference between the entire package of each car.
Yep, I’ve had the T-Bird since October 2018. The T-Bird’s visibility is one of its good traits; I can’t imagine there are many cars of its size that have so much glass area.
Great post. I’ve been following our amazing American cars since I was a kid in the 60s. I knew all the models, what was new for each model year. I always loved each generation of the Thunderbirds. They were very cutting edge at the time, and we loved them, so much so GM knew what was happening with the Thunderbirds, so they came up with the Riviera to compete with the Ford. Everyone loved the new look the Riviera brought to GM’s lineup. As nice looking as the exterior of the first generation of the Rivieras were, and they were, the interiors were standard full-size Buick issue. The 63 and 64 Buick interior design was kinda boring. On the other hand, Thunderbirds had a reputation for very interesting dashboards, and that held true up into the early 70s. The history books will show the Thunderbirds outsold the Rivieras every year. The Thunderbirds had the luxury of being the original PLC that was a level set for all the PLCs to follow. Not just because I’ve been a Ford man all my life, I pick the Thunderbirds of every generation, because of the cool features each generation the Thunderbirds had to offer. The Rivieras had the stuff all PLCs have to qualify for the PLC category. That said, my favorite model years for the Riviera are 65, though 68. They were beautiful inside and out. But to honest, to quote a fellow poster, I wouldn’t kick either of these two 63s out of my garage. Thanks for a great post, keep them coming, I love the memories they conger up.
I like the T-Bird’s interior better, as well; the brightwork adds a lot of pizazz.
The Riviera’s isn’t bad; I think a brighter color might even things out a bit.
What a terrific photo .
You said it runs lean and didn’t mention cutting out so -this-time- it does indeed sound fuel related .
Have you yet done the drive sans gas cap test ? . those pesky vent holes love to close up and cause starvation after a while, I soak them in White Vinegar or dilute Phosphoric Acid overnight to clean them 100 % .
Also wondering if the siphon is okay, the long steel tank to engine fuel pipe often had issues with debris settling over time, this can restrict fuel flow under load .
I use some stiff wire to clean it out end to end, an electric fuel pump (! LOW PRESSURE !) jerry-rigged between the tank’s out let and the steel pipe is a handy quick test as is a 10# maximum pressure gauge teed between the fuel pump and carby inlet .
The previous owner said that he installed a new fuel sender, and I replaced the main fuel line and pump (although the pump wasn’t that old – my two gauges said that there was 3-4 psi at the carb, a little low). I haven’t been impressed with the parts the PO used (not his fault), so I got another fuel sender from a vendor I like. It’s possible that there’s a small pinhole in some fuel hose somewhere, although they’re not old. I’ve had a car backfire when hot because of a small crack in a distributor cap. I can’t see any in the Riviera’s cap, but it can be a small one.
Oh, and I did try to drive it without the fuel cap – Rivieras have a vented cap AND an extra vent out the back of the tank, which is basically a fuel hose to nowhere. That was missing, so I added a fuel filter to the end of some fuel hose.
I’ve had 2 ’64’s, and a ’66, and never encountered your problem, good luck.
Thanks Paul…I believe this is a first for me, too. I’ve had cars starve for fuel at higher speeds, but they behaved differently from how the Riviera is behaving.
We knew you have quite fleet, but do you use all those garages?
Now that would be something!
Two great cars, I’d be hard pressed to just choose one too. Bummer about the Riv not wanting to play nice, but I’m sure you’ll get it there eventually. There are only so many things that could be causing it, the only sure thing however is it will be the last thing you try.,,
That is a stone cold fact. 🙂
to me, the clear winner is the 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix
Few people remaining remember how these autos drove back in the day. Age 12, parents bought a new1963 T-Bird, which became my first car at age 16, early 1967. Latter, parents bought a new 1966 T-Bird, which they gave me in 1969.
Now in my old age, have a 1966 T-Bird conv., and no matter how much money I throw at it its not going to drive like the new 1966 T-Bird I remember.
Quick Update on the Riviera: I ordered a new cap and rotor this week (the parts on the car were not replaced by me, but had obviously been changed fairly recently). I also put a new set of wires on it (although I had replaced them this winter). Armed with all that, I pulled the distributor again and cleaned the ground wire contact between the points plate and the distributor body. I removed the weights and springs and checked everything out. I got it all back together, reset the timing, and drove around, coming home occasionally to let it heat soak. I called it a “bog” in the article, but it reality, it didn’t want to rev past a certain throttle opening when warmed up. That all seemed to be gone today.
In an attempt to rule out any mechanical problems, I did a compression test, and all numbers were between 158-165 psi. That’s a little lower than spec, but I used thicker composite head gaskets when I had the engine apart, so those numbers are about in line, especially since the lower end is mostly original. I figured the compression would be OK, or at least even, because the idle vacuum is a fairly steady 19 inches.
I tightened the secondary air door on my Edelbrock AVS2 a half turn, adjusted the accelerator pump, and changed the step up springs. It seems to be pretty good, but this car has a way of giving me a sense of false confidence. I noticed what seemed to be a gouge, but not a crack, on the inside of the cap. Nothing super definitive, but fingers crossed that it was a phantom electrical problem. I probably put 20 or 25 miles on it today, and it’s in the mid 70s, warmer than it’s been in a while.