Curbside Saturday Night: 1971 Buick Riviera – Papa Was A Rolling Stone


(Author’s Note:  This actually started off as a CC, but inspiration took me in a different direction.)

(first posted 4/3/2013)      Seventeen-year-old Rodney was excited.  It was the first weekend of the summer of 1972 and he was home all alone, his parents having taken a weekend trip to Branson to see the Baldknobbers. Rodney was especially ecstatic that on this first  summer weekend, his parents had taken their Chevrolet Kingswood wagon and left him with their black ’71 Buick Riviera.

Dear readers, you may suspect where this is going already–but don’t jump to conclusions; there are always twists in every tale.


Rodney was a fairly typical 17-year-old in that he yearned to leave the constraints of his hometown of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  Yes, his ambitions ran tall, but so did his daring.  Most thinking fathers would have disabled the Riviera in some fashion, but his parents, clueless as ever, left young Rodney with full access to their beloved Riviera. While Rodney had driven the Riviera, he was normally relegated to driving his mother’s old ’67 Mustang.  One of the reasons Rodney yearned for more distant pastures was that the Mustang was powered by the “secretary’s special” 200 cubic inch straight six, which prompted Rodney’s nickname of “Miss Jane Hathaway”.

miss jane

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The wonder and marvel of youth do bring their own burdens, and Rodney had found one with that nickname.  He knew getting a chick would be tough, what with everyone calling him “Miss Jane”.  As he viewed his weekend of freedom from parental meddling, he decided to change a few perceptions.

Naturally, Rodney fired up the Riviera exactly thirty-seven minutes after his parents left.  He loved the sound of its 455 cubic inch V8; he even enjoyed hearing himself say “Four fifty-five, four fifty-five.”  He knew the 455 in the new ’71 Riviera translated to 315 gross horsepower–a figure he knew might never be topped, since the ’72 Riviera had a rating of 250 net horsepower.  As any 17-year-old will tell you, a smaller number means there’s simply less power.


After getting fuel, Rodney took the Riviera to the car wash for a good scrub, and even vacuumed the interior.  Tonight, he meant business–whatever that might turn out to be. When Rodney woke at 6:30 from an afternoon nap, he was raring to go.

Every town in the Midwest has a spot where teenagers cruised back and forth.  In Cape Girardeau, the place to be seen was Broadway, between Hauck Stadium and Caruthers Avenue. If you were truly cool, you would swing through Capaha Park and ease into the area by the old locomotive, just down from the swimming pool.

1971 Buick-03

Rodney was truly addicted to the new-car rags, which had fed his youthful passion for the Riviera.  He knew it was designed under the direction of Bill Mitchell, and that its look was panned frequently. A boat-tail on a boat of a Buick?  Rodney thought it was all a bunch of garbage; neither did he care that the Riviera was aimed toward those having more sophistication and life experience than he: To Rodney, this Riviera was timeless.

As he left the garage, Rodney turned on the radio.  As soon as he pulled out of the driveway of his family’s west-end home, the best song of 1972 (so far, at least) was introduced by the DJ, Rusty Sharpe (described by others as being “excellent in broadcasting”).  Rodney loved the solid bass, the trumpets, the cello, the harp and the wa-wa guitar flailing away.  Rolling the windows all the way down (with a button–what a concept!), Rodney soaked in the pure, soulful funk of the music, then marinated in the lyrics of five men asking their mother questions about their now-dead philandering father.


Rodney was convinced that life could get no better: After all, it was summer, he was alone for the weekend and he was driving a great set of wheels.

The burble of the 455 nudging him up to speed was addictive. Rodney knew exactly what torque was, and was a tremendous fan of how the Riviera delivered it. He knew his Mustang’s puny straight six could only dream of being so smooth and assured.


After a few laps up and down Broadway, Rodney eased into Capaha Park.  Making the loop, he spotted a few friends from school.  He pulled in and stopped.

“Damn, Miss Jane, your Mustang grew up!  Who did you murder for that?”

“I have my ways.  What’s cooking tonight?”, Rodney inquired.  He learned that a game of Chase was scheduled to start just after dark, and Rodney said to count him in.

For the socially deprived, a Chase game is exactly what you think it is.  The goal is to elude your pursuer within a specified time frame. If you do, you win; if you don’t, they win.  Tonight there were just enough people for a small tournament.

Rodney chatted with his friends a while and was introduced to Donna, a girl from nearby Scott City, and a friend’s cousin.  Rodney could not remember when he’d ever had so much trouble finding words to talk to a girl. In Rodney’s eyes, Donna was the hottest thing ever; in hers, he was a bumbling, but lovable, oaf.   He dug her long hair, her smile, her bubbly personality–and not least, the tight shirt and pants she wore.

1971 Buick-05

It was time for the game to start, and Rodney asked Donna if she wanted to ride with him.  She did.  As they got in, Rodney told her he was having a really great time with her, and she smiled to herself.  Rodney also smiled to himself; he knew the Riv liked to lean a wee bit in the curves, and it was likely that its black bench seat would cause Donna to slide over his way. Yes, life is good, Rodney once again told himself.

1968 Plymouth Full Line-15

By drawing straws, it was determined that Rodney would be pursued by a classmate driving a ’68 Plymouth Satellite.  Rodney knew his Riviera’s 455 would flog the 318 in the Plymouth unmercifully.

Once they’d eased out of the park, the chase was on.  Donna was at once impressed and scared speechless by Rodney’s driving ability–she’d never traveled up and down the hills of city streets at 52 miles per hour–and it really reminded her of a guy she had seen in a movie at the drive-in.  Rodney was getting nervous: the Plymouth was on him like stink on a skunk.  How can that happen with a 318, Rodney kept asking himself.  Actually, Rodney had performed absolutely no research on his competition, primarily due to a two-legged distraction with long hair and a great smile. He did not realize that the ’68 Satellite sedan behind him was in fact powered by a 383.


By 9:30 pm, most residential areas within Cape Girardeau are quite tranquil, but it wasn’t so this warm summer night.  You see, in 1972, many people still kept their windows open during their slumber. For those of them who expected a typical peaceful evening, all that was interrupted by the mechanical symphony of a Buick 455 at full throttle and the melodious call of a Chrysler 383, singing together in rapturous harmony.  It was a pure sensory delight whose sheer brilliance and choreography was profoundly unappreciated by the local homeowners.  At house after house, one could have heard variations of a common theme: “What the hell are those hippy sons-of-bitches doing?  I’m calling the law on them!”

At this point, Rodney was not thinking about the local constabulary.  He was thinking about how to elude his pursuer in the frustratingly swift Plymouth.  Rodney was also keeping an eye on Donna, who was enjoying this thrill ride, and he knew any girl who wasn’t screaming for mercy by now was one fine and groovy chick.  No one involved in the chase realized they’d  gone over the self-imposed time limit that was intended to minimize the possibility of having to speak to the fuzz.

1971 ford custom

At this point, after having received many calls, many of “the fuzz” had been dispatched to the scene in their ’71 Ford Custom patrol cars.

In the Riviera, Rodney was still keeping his foot planted on the firewall as Donna expressed her delight, which translated into Rodney tackling hills more vigorously and pouncing on curves more aggressively.  Rodney kept realizing new levels of driving finesse, courtesy of both the Riviera and his sheer delight with Donna.

As luck and fortune would have it, Rodney soon spotted a ’71 Ford sporting a gumball machine; he veered onto another side street, realizing that he was frighteningly close to home.  Having a rare moment of lucid thought, he stopped the Riviera and got out.  The Plymouth pulled in behind him, its driver thinking he had won.  After Rodney informed him of the situation, they carefully eased back to Rodney’s house to wait things out.


Many years later, Rodney and Donna still laugh about that evening they first met.  The only suspicion ever raised about his and Donna’s first outing was by Rodney’s father who, a week or so later, had noticed rapid wear on the outside of his front tires and that the right-front tire kept losing air, thus prompting him to check the Riviera’s alignment.  Rodney’s parents kept the Riviera another five years, until September 3, 1977, when Rodney and Donna got married. They gave it to the newly married couple, who still own it to this day.

The Riviera is now 42 years old, and time has begun taking its toll.  Rodney and Donna, now both retired, have decided to restore their beloved Riviera and travel the country in it.  Perhaps it isn’t the most efficient mode of travel these days, but seeing as how it brought together two youngsters many years ago, it seems only fitting that they use it to keep their flame burning.