Friday, May 23, 2008

Richard's Riviera

It's hard not to notice a mint-condition, 1963 silvery-blue Buick Riviera lounging on the street on a sunny day in San Francisco, especially when it's surrounded by drab, aerodynamic sedans and bulky SUVs. The contrast between one of Flint's finest cars with today's boring automotive offerings is stark.

I happened to have my camera, so I thought I'd take a few pictures. Megan and Richard quickly emerged from their house, no doubt wondering if I was sizing up the Riviera to steal it. (My decidedly less cool 1990 Toyota Camry was stolen from this very street — twice! — when I lived nearby.) But unlike a similar encounter in Flint, violence did not ensue. Megan showed admirably polite interest as I tried to explain why I liked to take pictures of Flint cars — "I have this blog about my hometown and..."

And Richard was happy to give me the car's history. He bought the Riviera about ten years ago from its original owners, who were friends of his grandparents in Sebastopol, California, for $7,000. Richard clearly has an instinct for cool cars in his genes; he explained that his grandmother drove a 350 El Camino. "She told me she loved it when teenagers in sports cars would pull up beside her," he told me. "She'd pretend not to notice them, then give it the gas, and look back and laugh at them."

Here's a little background on the 1963 Riviera via Wikipedia:

"The Riviera was introduced on October 4, 1962 as a 1963 model, with a base price of $4,333, although typical delivered prices with options ran upwards of $5,000. Production was deliberately limited to 40,000 or less to increase demand.

"With the same power as the larger Buicks and less weight, the Riviera had sparkling all-around performance: Motor Trend magazine found it capable of running 0-60 mph in 8 seconds or less, the standing quarter mile in about 16 seconds, and an observed top speed of 115 mph, although 125 mph was feasible with a longer run."

Once Richard was outside inspecting the car, he noticed some tree sap on the hood. That meant he had to wash it. Immediately. At this point, some of the neighborhood kids had gathered, and they recognized Flint craftsmanship when they saw it. This Riviera was clearly a magnet. It was a nice moment. After all Flint has been through, there's some satisfaction in knowing that it's a city that once made something impressive, something that stands out and still draws a crowd.

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