Greg Dawson isn't bashful when discussing why he decided to customize his 1965 Riviera: "I really thought I could better Mr. Mitchell's design," he says.
The Mr. Mitchell he's referring to is none other than the late Bill Mitchell, the celebrated automotive designer who served as GM's Director of Styling from 1958 through 1977. The sleek and angular 1963-65 Buick Riviera is generally considered one of Mitchell's best works-not to mention one of his personal favorites.
While boasting confidence in bettering Mitchell may sound a bit bold (to put it mildly), Dawson's comment was made with considerable respect and a strong appreciation for cars of distinction. Dawson's extensive car collection includes many significant classics, including a '31 Marmon V-16 and a 1916 Packard race car. He's no newcomer to the vintage car scene.
Dawson is also quick to praise the Riviera's original design. "I've always liked Rivieras," he says. "A '63 was the first decent car I got out of college. It's a timeless design." Yet like so many others bitten by the custom bug, Dawson couldn't resist the urge to tinker with those lines a little. "I thought I could improve on the design and bring some modern-day features to it."
Actually, it was one of Dawson's business associates who originally had that urge and commissioned Hatfield Restorations in Canton, Texas, to customize the Buick. When the car came up for sale midway through construction, Dawson figured it was the perfect opportunity to put his personal stamp on one of the definitive designs of the 1960s.
Chopping the car's top was one of the most profound decisions, and the one about which Dawson was most insistent. "I always thought they looked like they had a top hat," he says. After taking ownership of the project, the first thing Dawson had the Hatfield crew do was remove a significant 4 inches from the roof's height. It was important for Dawson to retain the vent windows, both for comfort and to maintain a production appearance. Many hours went into fabricating new vent window frames and making sure all the side glass operated as it should.
The 431ci Nailhead is fed by dual Edelbrock carbs and sports just the right amount of finn
(It's worth noting that Bill Mitchell had a '63 Riviera customized for his personal use when the model was first introduced. Known as the Silver Arrow, it too had a chopped top. What's that line about great minds thinking alike?)
Beyond the chop, the Hatfield crew performed a number of much more subtle modifications to refine the Riviera's lines. They removed the hood peak, molded the fresh air vents into the cowl, shaved the emblems and handles, and added custom mirrors and rocker panel exhaust cutouts before Michael Stovall laid down the rich, subtle PPG Porsche Seal Gray finish.
An even lower profile was achieved by installing an Air Ride Technologies air spring system, which allowed the 18-inch Coddington rollers to nestle up nicely in the Riviera's wheel openings. Northwest Buick Performance got those big wheels turning with a fresh 431ci Nailhead featuring balanced internals, a performance camshaft, and twin Edelbrock carbs atop a matching intake. The well-detailed mill was backed up with a rebuilt TH400 automatic.
The inside is as simple and elegant as the outside, with comfortable Lexus seats trimmed i
The Riviera's heritage as a personal luxury vehicle was not dismissed when the Hatfield crew turned its attention inside. "So many hot rodders shortchange themselves on the carpet and the interior," Dawson says. Not here. The Buick received modified Lexus seats trimmed in graphite-colored leather and the same Wilton wool carpet found in Rolls-Royce vehicles. A Billet Specialties wheel was used atop the ididit tilt column, while a Vintage Air system and Sony tunes with Infinity speakers provided appropriate atmospheric and aural comfort.
The finished car is more classy than flashy, just as Dawson wanted it. Thanks to the talented Hatfield crew, it also exhibits the fit and finish of a new luxury vehicle. As for the design, it speaks for itself. It's not always wise to mess with the lines of a classic, but we think this Riviera's newfound profile is something even Bill Mitchell would appreciate.