Carport Find: 1963 Buick Riviera

Although one could argue that the Pontiac Grand Prix had this honor, the Buick Riviera was General Motors’ first personal luxury car. The design for 1963 was from the ground up and pioneered the GM E- platform. The Riviera would be part of the Buick line-up through 1999 (although they skipped 1994). This first year Riviera looks to have languished in an open carport for many years, but is said to run (from the photos, I don’t now how). It’s located in the Los Angeles, California area and available here on craigslist for $4,000.

The Buick Rivera subsequently shared the E-platform with the Oldsmobile Toronado (1966) and Cadillac Eldorado (1967), yet those cars employed front-wheel drive while the Riviera went the conventional rear-wheel drive route. It would keep that format until finally caving in to FWD in 1979. To help with exclusivity, first year Riviera production was held to 40,000 units (out of 445,000 total Buicks that were built). 93% of Riviera’s were equipped with the Wildcat 445 engine, a 401 cubic inch “Nailhead” V-8 that put out 325 hp. The remainder were fitted with the Wildcat 465 motor at 425 cubic inches and 340 hp. The latter’s production numbers were low because it came out mid-year.

The photos provided by the seller for this 1963 Buick Riviera set up an interesting scenario. The car, while sitting inside a partially open carport, is not the only thing that’s been there a long time. There’s another vehicle next to it that’s almost as dirty, but it’s not there in some photos. And the general area looks like it hasn’t been serviced in ages. So, I’m guessing this property and the cars on it were neglected for years, perhaps due to the passing of whoever owned it. Things finally got cleared up and it’s time to make this stuff go away. Strictly an assumption on my part.

This Riviera is as grungy looking a car as we’ve seen lately, especially when you look inside. Both front windows are rolled down and I’ll bet they’ve been down a while, meaning that the environment and some of its creatures had better access to the car to inflict damage. The body looks mostly rust-free and there is only one small dent on the driver’s side rear quarter by the taillight. The passenger side door handle is oddly missing as is the trunk lock. The interior is a wreck, especially the rear seats. The whole insides will need gutting and restarted from scratch. I don’t know how difficult some of these pieces are to find, like the console and door panels. We don’t get a view inside of the trunk.

The seller says the engine cranks right up and runs smooth, which sounds like a minor miracle. Unfortunately, there are no photos under the hood showing this surprise. Maybe these are all before photos as opposed to after. Those photos we would want to see. We can’t tell which version of the available V-8’s this car used, but statistics would be in favor of the Nailhead.

This piece of automobile history has a non-operating vehicle title, common in California when a car is parked for years. I understand that once the title transfers in California, someone will need to cough up some registration catch-up fees, but this is only what I’ve heard. The tires are flat so be prepared to drag it onto a trailer to relocate the once-proud vehicle. If restored, this car could be worth upwards of $50,000. But what would such a restoration cost?


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  1. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    What would a full restoration cost? Probably $50k. The interior is absolutely trashed and there are apparently some missing dash/console bits (unless they’re in the trunk or on the floors somewhere). Assuming the floors and trunk are solid, a repaint and some bodywork is definitely needed as well as probably trim, wheel and chrome restoration. And who knows what’s going on with the motor and trans? Will they need to be refreshed? Maybe you can come in under budget if you are skilled enough to do a lot of the work yourself but if you have to pay for it all a full restoration will be pricey.

    Like 8
  2. Cadmanls Member

    No way, if car was something special maybe.

    Like 4
  3. Rex Kahrs Member

    This car reminds me of that Chrysler 300…but this Riv is even more far gone. It just makes no economic sense (or any other kind of sense) to buy this car with the intent of restoring it; perfectly nice examples can be bought, road-ready, for round 20K.

    Here’s mine (again) which I paid 6K for, in non-running condition(30-years dormant). I put another 6 or 7K and a lot of BST into it, and now it runs and looks pretty good for round 15K I’d guess. Hell, even in my case I gotta question the logic! I could have spent an extra 5K and not done all that work!

    Like 29
    • Stan Marks

      It’s a real beauty, Rex. You should be very proud, my friend.

      Like 1
    • Phlathead Phil

      Beautiful car Rex.

      • Rex Kahrs Member

        Thanks Phil and Stan. It was a labor of love, and a LOT of work! Here’s the engine bay.

        Like 4
  4. Howard A Member

    Well, if you were to throw a wheelbarrow full of money into anything, this would be the one. Not some rotten midwest field find, but if you believe that it “starts right up”,,,,I don’t know how to finish that. Same thing here, stick $40K into a $30K car ( not actual numbers, but you get it) AND the heartaches of an “ambitious” restoration, by all means, pad the pockets of these suppliers. Since money is no object, just go to B-J and buy one for heavens sake.

    Like 3
  5. Nate

    Whenever I see cars like this, I wonder about the back story. And it plays out in my head. Some guy comes home from work, pulls into his carport just like any other day. Gets out of his car and goes inside, probably carrying a briefcase. And for whatever reason, that’s the last time he ever moves that car. Weird. Makes you wonder what the heck happened…

    Like 15
  6. Randy Member

    Maybe she greeted him with a shotgun?

    Like 10

    Love these 1st gen Rivs.
    Prefer the ’65 with the vertical pop-open headlights.
    As was said,you can get one in great shape for 20-30k.
    Still…consider taking one for the team and restoring this puppy.

  8. Mark

    63-65 Rivs are true classics and on my wish list.
    I get the”find” mystique but c’mon.
    Spray the thing off so there’s more to see than just the “before” photos.

    Like 4
  9. local_sheriff

    One can wonder what the h… happened here. While I agree it financially wouldn’t make sense to restore it to OE, it does look shockingly rust-free and seller KNOWS it’s not gonna be an easy sell. Some DIY willing to build a restomod where originality isn’t crucial could possibly make something cool out of it if $ is negotiable

    Like 2
    • Charles Sawka

      Agree, the shell could be used for a nice restomod,maybe even keep the nailhead just for fun.

      Like 2
  10. Bob C.

    Either a 401 or a 425, both Nailheads. Definitely a Dynaflow in its last year.

    Like 1
  11. Richard Thomas Daugird

    I have a ’65 in WAY better shape under my carport. $10K.

    Like 3
  12. Robert White

    I’d have this car striped down and restored to original in less than two months IMHO. An excellent buy for people like me that do all the work themselves.

    And some air in the tires is all one needs to get it rolling. I’ll bet dollar-to-donuts that all the tires still hold air too.

    Ultra cool car IMHO.

    Howard can go to Barrett Jackson and spend his retirement on a nicer one, but I would have all the FUN and satisfaction of doing this myself.


    Like 5
    • Phlathead Phil

      My buddy sez: tires ONLY go phlat on the bottom.

      I’d have to agree. It is the bottom of a tire that keeps it from rolling. LOL 🤣

      Like 2
  13. art

    FYI re: Non Op registration. Non Op, short for Non Operational, deals with the vehicles registration, not the “Pink Slip” or title. California registration gets processed each year and if one does not pay, fees and penalties accrue. DMV does not know if the vehicle is running or not but their assumption is that it is functional and on the road. It is the owners responsibility to notify the DMV that his or her vehicle is now “Non-Op” and for a $5.00 fee per year, the car remains on Non Op status. Fees and penalties do accrue on vehicles where this was not done but after an extended number of years, the vehicle may fall out of the DMV records if no one has responded. This car may have very well fallen out years ago and would need to go through an inspection at a California Highway Patrol Station to verify VIN, Title and Plates to allow it to be re-registered in California. If someone trailers it out of California to be registered in another state, this is all moot. Of note, California DMV is relentless in collecting past due registration, very aggressive.

    Like 3
    • CaCarDude

      Art, according to what I have received recently from our DMV the new cost of the Non-Op is now at $22 and is a one time fee, not annually paid. This is something our not so popular Gov. has had a hand in recently I suspect. I have one car on a current non op which I did about 3 years ago and it was $20 one time fee then.
      Just wanted to bring you up to date on this, stay safe out there.

      Like 1
    • Stan Marks

      Calif. Is notorious for grabbing every penny, they can.
      They’re not satisfied with collecting the highest gas tax, in the country.

    • Phlathead Phil

      You CANNOT “Non-op” any car in California unless it is currently registered, and insured. In order to register a NON exempt car (74-75) it MUST pass smog test first. If not, you will pay in FULL for every year. DMV does not send registration renewal on every car every year. They let the fees pile up then they hit you by surprise after turning it over to FTB vehicle registration enforcement. If ya don’t pay in FULL in 30 days, your B/A is tapped and zapped. Ask me how I know?

      • CaCarDude

        Not sure where in CA you are located Phil but it sounds like you are being mislead by whatever office you deal with.? I have been registering cars here in Central CA for over 55 years and I have never had any major issue with my local DMV. I am aware they can be a real PITA at times. For issues with Classic Car reg. you might benefit from advocate for this. There are a couple currently listed in our Norcal Cruisin’ News newsletter, Peninsula Reg. Services, and Auburn Auto Reg. Services. This might be a good resource if in fact you have any issues in the future. Also I have received “registration renewal” for each and every car I have owned each year. DMV has never failed me here.
        Wishing you better luck with any future registration services,

  14. Mike

    A quick pass with just a leaf blower might help getting your price. probably will end up as a low rider custom.

    Like 4
  15. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    Rex I really like yours. Here’s my 64, I bought it in 2011 for $7500 in running condition. Mine has the 425 single 4 bbl. the one listed here is a parts car at best.
    God bless America

    Like 4
    • Stan Marks

      Very nice, John. Although, I have a sore neck, from looking at it. Did you paint the Riv to match the handicap sign? LOL

      Like 1
      • Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

        I don’t know why the photo turned that way. The car was painted by the previous owner. It was originally Coral Mist code nn. That color is a sort of pinkish red. The car originated in Gardena, California and was a one family car until I bought it. The handicap sticker is for my wife.
        God bless America

    • Phlathead Phil

      John, I think it’s a beauty.
      Perhaps you and Rex could start a Riviera club?

      Someday, all use “Gearheads” will be regarded as “Saviors” of the automotive world of cool and classic cars.

      We may even get punch and cake 🎂 at the memory care center, but I say it’s worth it!

      • Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

        Thanks for the compliment phil. I already am a member of ROA (Riviera Owners of America). It’s a great support group. Keep your comments coming and buy a classic, they’re great.
        God bless America

  16. pwtiger

    I wish that I had Robert White’s ability and enthusiasm to restore this in 2 months. I can’t imagine this starting up and if it did why is it still under the carport? I like these Rivieras but not the transmission, maybe swap a 700r4 or do an LS conversion…

    Like 1
    • Robert White

      Before I became a self-taught resto guy everyone that I knew in the restoration market told me that I could not restore my 1966 Acadian Canso Sport Deluxe. They told me that the welding was too difficult for a beginner welder, and they told me that if I attempted to paint my car in my little garage I would produce a terrible paint job that would have to be redone.

      I doubled down and knuckled under to prove them all wrong. I learned to MIG weld first with the holes in the floors, and then I moved to the truck area, and after that it was smooth sailing for the half quarters and the rockers.

      I purchased a new air compressor and talked to my best known body men for pointers on how to produce an excellent paint job in the final analysis.

      I’ll admit that I got a few small fish eyes on the fender and some slight paint runs too, but all-in-all I scored BIG on the final finish and was successful in terms of making all the naysayers eat large portion of crow.

      Now that I have learned the hard way there are no cars that could challenge my ability.

      Practice makes perfect, and necessity is truly the mother of invention.

      Don’t ever listen to people that tell you you can’t do something if you put you mind to it. The human brain/central nervous system is quite capable of doing things that others think are impossible.

      God gave you a brain for a reason.

      Use it next time you want to restore a car all by yourself.

      Tell all the naysayers that ‘Bob’ said you can do it if you put your mind to it.

      P.S. I’m not the ‘Bob’ of Bob’s Country Bunker that the Blues Brothers had to consult when the real band showed up to their gig late.

      Cheers, Bob.

      Like 5
      • Stan Marks

        Outstanding commentary, Bob. Good for you, buddy.

        Like 3
      • local_sheriff

        That’s the spirit Bob, we need more people with such an approach in our hobby! It’s exactly what the car hobby is all about!👏

        Like 1
  17. SouthJerseyMike

    “$50K when done”- for how many?

    Like 1
  18. Stan Marks

    Looks like a haunted castle on wheels.

    Like 1
  19. karl

    The left rear quarter is bashed in too , so thats another repair bill , and there are no pictures of the front of the car , so there may be more damage.

    Like 1
  20. ACZ

    What a shame.

    Like 1
  21. Stan Marks

    Rex, I love that red air cleaner. The bay looks like an ice cream sundae with the cherry on top.

  22. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    My engine bay is not as clean as yours Rex. I do have a can of Buick green paint to clean an paint the valve covers, intake and valley cover. To do it properly the engine needs to be pulled. I can probably still do that but when I crawl underneath on my back I get extremely dizzy anymore. Still it’s something I want to do. I recently had to replace the seat transmission and electric motor on mine. I ruined mine when I pulled it breaking a small wire inside the motor that I couldn’t repair. I disassembled the transmission cleaned and lubricated as per instructions but it still didn’t work, so I contacted a fellow member of ROA who sent me the parts I needed at very reasonable costs.
    God bless America

    Like 1

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