COAL: Hobby Car of a Lifetime #3 — 1971 Buick Riviera — My Anti Yuppie Statement.

This car was my Anti Yuppie statement.

I was living in the heart of Silicon Valley surrounded by Yuppies. These were real Yuppies who were involved in the electronics and computer industries. The people up at the top became fabulously wealthy, but as they say, the rising tide lifts all boats. There was a lot of wealth available to spread around. When I had attended San Jose State University back in the late 70’s, it became known as a popular business school. That was the era of the vaunted MBA. I remember seeing a bumper sticker on an old VW that read: Not a Yuppie, No BMW, No condo, No MBA.

This was the time period when BMW became the favored car among Silicon Valley success types. BMWs had become the ultimate Yuppie mobile. They were the happening car, expensive and status defining, while not as stodgy as a Mercedes. Even if you didn’t have an MBA, if you could swing a Beemer, who would know? You looked the part!

The old status stalwart Cadillac was completely lost in this race. Nobody who had the bucks wanted to drive one of those! While the Lincoln Mark IV and Mark V had defined the status race in the 1970’s, once the younger generation started to earn the big bucks, those were completely ignored. The 1980’s were when the American luxury makes started to lose ground, a position that they have never really recovered from.

My wife and I were happily ensconced in our new home, in a neighborhood that was rapidly becoming favored by employees of the emerging high tech industries. I lived surrounded by engineers, and I’m not talking about railroads; that’s why Tesla has become the current car of choice.

My neighbor was one of those very status conscious newcomers. He had bought the largest two story home in the hood. My home was a smaller one story ranch. He bought a first BMW for himself, then a second one for his Wife. He was the kind of guy who not only talked about all of his new purchases but also let you know how much they cost.

An interesting thing about the rapidly rising prices on existing houses in the Bay Area is that if you stay put in your neighborhood long enough, subsequent buyers will generally have much higher incomes than yours. Our house is currently valued at almost ten times what we paid for it. We definitely couldn’t afford to buy it now!

In some ways, I’m still the blue collar kid that I’ve always been. I was tired of being surrounded by all those BMWs in the morning commute, so I decided to make a statement. I’d find something that would be so distinctively American, that it could shock the Yuppie hordes.

It’s as American as it can be. Photos by author.


Back in 1971, I had a subscription to Road Test magazine. I recalled the cover story that announced the Buick Riviera road test inside, cars that had been desirable since their introduction in 1963. The parents of one of my schoolmates had bought a new ’68 Riviera and I had the opportunity to ride in it a couple of times. There had also been a white ’66 parked in front of a real estate office a block from my grammar school.

In my eyes these cars were beautiful. They were seen as upscale and classy cars. Ownership of a Riviera was considered an indicator of good taste, not flash.

For 1972, Buick extolled the virtues of their “extraordinary” car, but never mentioned its unique appearance.


That’s why I was surprised by the ’71 Riviera. Bold and striking, yes, in good taste? Maybe not. That was my opinion at least.

Twenty five years later I was poking around in a used car lot on San Jose’s First Street, when I found a ’72 Riviera parked in the back row. I took in all the details, walking around the car numerous times. What a car! I made several trips back to the lot to look at it again and again. I hadn’t seen one of these in the flesh in many years. My opinion hadn’t changed since I first saw it in the magazine. But now its brash looks could be thought of as making a statement against the P.C. Euro crowd of cars. America poking the imports in the eye!

Buick was right! This isn’t a copy of anything.


This particular car was kind of rough, and I wisely thought that I should look for a better example. This was another rare instance of me doing the smart thing.

I decided to follow the bird dog method of finding a good candidate. I let my friends and extended family know just what I was looking for. This was a great strategy and it produced results. I spent a lot of time looking in the local Auto Trader, which was a kind of pre-internet Craig’s List. I got a call from my brother in law in Bakersfield who told me he had seen one advertised locally.  Auto Trader magazine was specific to certain locality and I had looked at the Bay area version. The Bakersfield edition had entirely different local listings.

This car was a beauty!


He provided the seller’s phone number, but again being pre-internet, there was no way of seeing any pictures. So my BIL agreed to take a look at it for me. His report sounded quite promising, but everyone sees things a bit differently. It sounded good enough for me to give the seller a call. Our conversation led me to believe that it was worth checking out. Of course, taking a look meant a long 300 plus mile drive to Bakersfield. I got my buddy Rick to drive down with me in my ’90 Honda. I took the money I needed to buy the car with me, but I’d told the seller that I’d just give him a deposit if I liked it. Then we would go to the bank where I would withdraw the money to complete the deal. Buying cars for cash from a private party always carried a degree of hazard and danger.

We agreed to meet in the parking lot of a big shopping center.

Rick and I arrived a bit before the seller and I was happy when I saw the car as it pulled into the parking lot. It was very clean and shiny. It was painted a very dark black/brown which the seller told me was a recent Mercedes Benz color. It had a new white vinyl top which was smoothly applied. The car was straight and complete with no visible body damage or missing trim. It sported a set of shiny Buick road wheels and narrow whitewall tires. The interior was in perfect shape with a clean pearl white vinyl bucket seat and console arrangement. Everything worked, including the a/c. There was a very small rust spot behind the right rear wheel opening.

This interior puts my ’97’s interior to shame!


The test drive confirmed that it was a good runner, with no funny noises or leaks. We quickly agreed on the price, and the seller told me that he’d brought the title with him. I figured that if he trusted me enough to carry the title, I would just pull out my stack of cash and pay him right there!

I treated Rick to an early steak dinner before we headed back home. Rick was driving the Honda. The trip home was uneventful, though I had to stop in Los Banos to buy some new wiper blades due to unexpected showers. It is always a positive bonding experience if the long drive home is without problems.

I had told my wife that I still had the magazine with the original road test somewhere at my folk’s house. The next time we visited, I went straight to a cabinet in the garage and found that issue of Road Test magazine. My wife was amazed.

That is a clean engine!


Shortly afterwards, the engine developed a small leak from the front crankshaft seal. I pulled the timing case and replaced the seal as well as the timing sprocket and chain. This was a common repair when engines had plastic faced cam sprockets. A vacuum servo on the hot air intake to the air cleaner failed, which caused the car to stumble when cold. That was an easy fix. I also replaced some hoses on the gas tank which were part of the evaporative emissions control system.

I kept this car clean at all times, inside and out. It was parked inside the garage under a cover when I wasn’t using it. Once when we were going out to dinner my wife remarked on how clean the car was. There was never anything cluttering up the interior. Or trash like gum wrappers on the floor. That’s right I told her, I like it clean! It was easy to keep it clean since I was the only driver.

The car was in exactly the kind of condition that you would hope to find an old car in. In such good shape that it just requires you to maintain it, take steps to preserve it, and improve it by making any necessary repairs. This was actually one of the best old cars that I have ever bought.

It was a comfortable car to drive, it reminded me of my Coupe de Ville and other Cadillacs that I had owned previously. It had a lot of smooth power from the 455 engine, with steady handling, and sure stopping with front disc brakes. It was a modern driving car, not an antique.

If you own, or just love Rivieras, you should be a member.


I found out about the Riviera Owners Association (ROA) in an article that I read about Boat Tails in a Collectible Automobile magazine. I sent away for more information, then sent in my membership application fee. I’ve been a member off and on, since that time. I wanted to be part of a community that could help me with information about the cars as well as parts sources.

If it was such a great car, then why did I sell it?

That’s always the 64,000 dollar question. Isn’t it?

I asked myself that question last summer sitting in the 95+ degree heat in a wrecking yard pulling parts for my new ’97. The ROA has a great club magazine that exposed me to numerous articles and features on the first gen models. I thought that I would like to own one of those. I also found myself very attracted to the sleek second gen, especially the ’66.

I hatched an idea that I would obtain an example from the first year of every generation. I already had the ’71, so I needed a ’63 as well as a ’66.

My reasoning was kind of like when I sold my ’64 Cadillac. I could make a bit of money on the sale of the ’71, buy the first and second gen cars, then “easily” pick up another Boat Tail at a later date.

Yeah, sure!

I sold the ’71 through the classifieds in the club magazine to a buyer in the Netherlands. The process was kind of cool. I sent him a bunch of pictures and a videotape. He liked what he saw and would wire the money to my bank account. Then I would deliver the car to a container/ car shipper to send to Europe. The seller told me that he had bought two Boat Tails earlier that year. According to him, European car guys considered the Boat Tails the way we consider the ’59 Cadillac. Kitsch but cool!

I lined up a ride back from the shipping outfit in South San Francisco and dropped off the car.

Now it was time to put my plan into action!