$800 Rat Rod: 1951 Buick Riviera


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Special thanks goes to Barn Finds reader Herb for spotting a dirt-cheap project car in Montana. It’s a 1951 Buick Riviera for only $800, and it’s listed here on craigslist. It’s every bit of a project but for under a grand, it looks totally deserving of returning to driver status as a lead-sled or rat rod.


Now, I’m a purist at heart and always like to see cars preserved as original as possible. But sometimes, when the vehicle in question is clearly a rat’s nest of parts, it’s easier (and more cost-effective) to ignore originality and simply get it running with a few personal touches. That’s what I’d do with this Riviera, which looks like it’s been living in this Bozeman barn for quite a while.


Nothing is said about the car’s mechanical condition but for the money, I would assume all parties should expect a complete tear-down. Buicks of this generation were powered by an L-8 engine, prior to the V8 Nailhead becoming available. Who knows if this is a numbers matching unit; I almost hope it isn’t so that the next owner doesn’t have to debate keeping it original.


The body has some large dents but doesn’t appear rusty, though it’s hard to tell under all of that dust. The classic Riviera portholes are still visible, and the seller claims to have most of the trim for the exterior. With a title in hand and only $800 smackers needed to get the deal done, is this Riviera worth a shot?

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. MountainMan

    For that kinda money its hard to pass up. I would likely want to put it on an S-10 frame or something along those lines, get the body straight enough for paint and enjoy while keeping the build cost low. Remember we don’t have to do a full restoration to make a vehicle usable. I’ve noticed lots of comments lately about the cost of full restos and being upside down, blah , blah, blah. Personally, I’m in the hobby to drive my cars and trucks, they don’t have to be perfect to do that. As far as making money goes… lots of folks bash the flippers but make comments about how being upside down financially would prevent them from wanting some featured rides. I have bought plenty of cars with the main intention being reselling them for profit but if its something I really want I’m not concerned about resale value as much as I am enjoying something I like

    Like 1
    • John Schiessl

      My kind of thinking Mountain Man, trailer queens and such are not interesting to me. I’ll take a driver any day.

      Like 0
  2. RayT

    Not particularly fond of rat rods. It’d be more to my taste if someone made a period-correct hotrod out of it. I seem to recall that Buick straight-eights were fairly simple to modify, made decent power, and I can imagine how impressive this engine would be prettied up (internally and externally). Failing that, I’d love to see a nailhead under the hood.

    When restored, these are cool-looking rides. My first impulse would be to go that way. But if too much was missing/damaged to make that feasible, I’d go the full Kalifornia Kustom Lead Sled route.

    Like 0
  3. HoA Howard AMember

    NOOOOO!!! Big difference between “rat’s nest” and a “rat-rod”. Keep it original, PLEASE. This is an extremely rare car, especially with the automatic. I believe, this was the top of the line, and was touted as ” stunningly smart”. Kind of Buick’s personal luxury car. The “Fireball” straight 8 was a heck of a motor. I only hope someone saves this great car.

    Like 0
  4. Fred

    This one would be sitting in my garage if it were anywhere near me.I’ll bet the rear glass and another part or two are worth $800.

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  5. Lee H.

    This car is a Super Riviera, it has the smaller of the two straight eights offered that year. They were not L-8s, an L-head engine is a flathead. These had an I-head (overhead valves). Nearly all of them had the Dynaflow automatic transmission. The Riviera hardtop was a beautiful car and I’d want to restore it at least cosmetically. If it was closer I’d be dragging it home.

    Like 0
    • Gary

      If in fact a 2dr HT super Riviera series 50 it would be listed in my OCPG at #6 1,280-#5 3,840 #4 6,400 #3 14,400 #2 22,400 #1 $32k
      The Super 56R model Riviera made for 1951 lists 54,512 production.
      Nice find, I would like this myself and would restore back to original bone stock. At the listed price I do not know how you could go wrong!

      Like 0
  6. MartyMember

    The straight-8 is super cool, and I’d love to have one. They are allegedly so well balanced that a well tuned example will run and idle smoother than a V8. And I’d guess it’s because the crankshaft would have lots of heavy counter-balance weight to make it work for an inline eight cylinder engine.

    Like 0
  7. Fred

    Very true about the smooth idle, my dad said of his ’49 Sedanette that you could easily balance a standing quarter on the running engine.

    Like 0
  8. DENIS

    RESTO-MOD. Nailhead motor or 500″ Cad…newer frame etc….slammed…it would be kool….

    Like 0
    • Jason Houston

      slammed, drilled, chopped, dunked, squashed… After all, it’s only a rust-free Buick hardtop – no point in saving it for anything serious. I mean, it’s not like it’s a desirable Chevy or Ford, right?

      Like 0
      • Mark S

        Jason I know we have lock horns in the past but don’t you think a few up grades would improve this car things like disc brakes and power steering. Leave the engine and trans in and alone. Maybe some nicer seats to sit on maybe install a vintage A/C unit other wise stock looking, paint it with a more modern colour maybe Cadillac peril white, black interior. Keep and store all original parts, for the next guy that might want stock. What do you say Jason.

        Like 0
  9. Vince Habel

    As good as the straight 8 was, I would still be tempted to put a 425 nailhead in it.

    Like 0
  10. 64 bonneville

    tons of torque in those Buick straight 8s’. Back in 1938, my grandfather had a 1938 Buick Century 2 door sedan, dual carbs and dual exhaust from the factory. The model was called the Century because it would do 100MPH, which was nearly unheard of back then. My dad, who was 17 at the time, took it out on the Mass. Turnpike and did over 100 with his older brother and 2 friends in the back seat. He told me that the needle on the speedometer was past the 100 mark, which was as far as the speedometer read. He said “when I looked down, I had all I could do to keep from filling my pants. I sure am glad no cops were out, because dad didn’t know we had taken the car, he was asleep”

    Like 0
  11. DENIS

    Must have had a 41 intake-41 was the only dual-carb year and they could be made to fly. Every time I found a car or 41 motor, I grabbed the intake/carbs…they could be made to fit all the str 8 motors thru ’53.

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  12. Rando

    I heard a most beautiful sound at a car auction once. Went looking for the source and it turned out to be a Buick straight 8. So I’d keep the Straight 8. Get it driveable and see where I could afford to go from there. I’d wash it and drive it as is for a little bit, just for the fun of it. Right now, I can’t afford the $800 if it were next door…someday….

    Like 0
    • DENIS

      Built a hardtop years ago…twin carbs from ’41, home-built headers, straight pipes and 3 spd stick…could run with ’em all and be heard for miles…awfully long crankshaft for high rpm twisting though…beeeyoootiful sound..agreed. lol

      Like 0

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