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1965 Buick Riviera: My Car That Got Away

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author photo by Eric Brandt June 2017

There are countless stories out there about parting with beloved cars. Maybe you've had to let a car go for financial reasons, or perhaps because you got so sick of working on it that you thought your life would be better with it out of your garage. We all know about loving and losing cars -- but what about cars we never got to love at all? What about the cars that got away?

My car that got away was a 1965 Buick Riviera. If you're unfamiliar with the Riviera, it was GM's successful shot at competing with the Ford Thunderbird in the niche "personal luxury car" market, starting in 1963. It was originally a big coupe with four seats and a great big Nailhead V8 up front, powering the rear wheels. Over the course of its life, the Riviera got smaller, switched to front-wheel drive, and eventually died in 1999, with the almond-shaped eighth generation model.

I've always thought the old Riviera was very cool, in its own luxurious way that only a '60s Buick could pull off. It's more muscular than an Eldorado and more refined than a Chevelle. Also, it's a classic car you don't see very often. An old Mustang or Camaro is a dime a dozen, but can you remember the last time you saw a first-generation Buick Riviera on the street, or even at a car show? It was equal parts luxury car and muscle car, and I wanted a taste of that recipe.

Once, while I was browsing for cars/terrible decisions, I came across a '65 Riviera that caught my eye. 1965 is my favorite year for this car because it's the only year that had clam shell hideaway headlights. I drove for about an hour to a remote part of Wisconsin to look at it, and I was greeted by the seller, who also had a C3 Corvette and an MG Midget in his garage. Clearly, this man had taste.

I walked around the car and there weren't a lot of surprises. The front passenger-side quarter panel was missing, as I saw previously in the pictures. This didn't concern me much, as I had already found a replacement panel online in a junkyard in Ohio that would be perfect. The motor ran, but the Buick wasn't roadworthy due to a brake issue. After looking at the car and talking to the seller for a bit, I got inside. This is where the trouble began: The interior was shot. There was virtually no headliner, the seats were junk and the carpet was gone. This car would have needed an entirely new interior if I was going to enjoy driving it.

But I was still strongly considering buying this Riviera. After looking over every inch of the car inside and out, I really started to think about it. What would my next steps be after buying this thing? I'd have to borrow someone's truck, rent a car trailer and spend a bunch of money on gas just to bring the thing home. Once I got it home, where would I put it? I was living in an apartment at the time, with limited space for parking -- much less a moderate restoration. Oh, yeah -- and I had that quarter panel in Ohio to worry about, which would have to be painted -- along with the rest of the car.

When I really thought it through and was brutally honest with myself, it just didn't make any sense for me to buy this beautiful car. The car was right, the price was right and I had the money in my pocket, but I had to turn it down. It wasn't easy, looking that Buick in the face and saying no. Even the best case scenario involved pouring a lot of time, money and work into a car I don't need. Not to mention my wife (and my landlord) would likely get sick of looking at it months before it would ever get driven. However, none of those things worried me as much as the thought of hating the car myself for the aforementioned reasons.

Looking back, I still have mixed feelings about that Riviera. I still wish I had it, but I'm still glad I didn't buy it. I just wasn't at a point where I could devote myself to a project car -- and I'm glad I was able to take off the rose-colored glasses long enough to see that. I bet my wife is glad, too.

Photo credit: Charles01, from Wikipedia.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
1965 Buick Riviera: My Car That Got Away - Autotrader