In Dennis Lee's neighborhood, not every kid has to climb into some vast and dull minivan when there are trips to be made and errands to be run. In fact, the kids at Dennis' house get to take those kinds of rides in the coolest car around.
To most of us, this long, low, mild custom Riv probably doesn't shout "family fun!" When we look at that assertive stance and that extensive black sheetmetal, our imagination whips up images of sharkskin suits, and cool tough-guy attitude-but according to Dennis, it's all about trips to the video store and the ice cream shop, and cruising down Main Street. What it's not about is sliding side doors, liftgates, and flip-down DVD screens.
While Dennis definitely wanted a custom his whole family could ride in, he also wanted something that still had some of that edgy flavor. He had previously owned a stock '65 Riviera and really loved the lines, which he says reminded him of some of the exotic European classics. This time he wanted a Riv with some modifications, but not so many mods that they would "custom out" the lines he liked so much. And he wanted it jet black to intensify the car's ready-to-go aggressive look.
He discovered this '65 Riviera GS on eBay, posted by a classic auto dealer in New Mexico. It was in great shape, rust-free, and a bargain. Finding a builder who was able to understand his ideas and could apply them to a not-so-typical car was a more difficult mission, until Dennis met Randy Clark from Hot Rods & Custom Stuff in Escondido, California. Dennis had been impressed by the Ridler-winning '49 Chevy that Randy built a few years ago. When he found out Randy had owned a couple of mid-'60s Rivs, the deal was sealed.
For the next two years, Dennis and Randy worked together to determine the direction of the mild custom modifications. Dennis' kids got involved in the project by contributing their own ideas. His daughter Taylor loves the color red, which ended up all over the interior, from the leather upholstery to the door panels, dash, and trim. His son Grant inspired the choice of a Grant steering wheel. And preschooler Garrett knew there had to be some flames somewhere on the Riv, a wish carried out with some black outline licks on the woodgrain side panel inserts. From the beginning of the buildup to the end, all the kids wanted to know was, "When is the Buick coming home?"
Now that the big black Buick is home, Dennis, his wife Liza, and the whole gang love to go for family rides in the coolest car in the neighborhood. "They just go berserk," Dennis says. Then again, who wouldn't?
Dennis LeeHuntington Beach, California'65 Buick Riviera GS
ChassisThe factory frame was modified for driveshaft clearance, and the original steering and spindles were kept in place, but SSBC disc brakes were added to the front and rear. The suspension includes an Air Ride Technologies Intelliride airbag system with 'bags in front and ShockWaves in back.
DrivetrainInitially, Dennis was thinking about a larger engine, possibly an EFI small-block, but ultimately chose a Nailhead because of its classic looks and the fact that it's a Buick. Luckily, there happened to be an ideal donor engine right under the hood of the Riviera. The 425ci engine wears an Offenhauser intake and dual four barrels, along with finned aluminum valve covers and air cleaner. Custom headers funnel exhaust to a pair of Flowmaster Xcel mufflers. A custom adapter hooks the engine to a Chevy 700-R4, which spins a custom two-piece driveshaft. A narrowed Ford 9-inch rear was packed with 3.73 gears and a Posi.
Wheels & TiresThe 18-inch wheels are proportionally perfect for a car this long, show off the big disc brakes, and are the primary exterior components distinguishing the car from a stock appearance. The contemporary five-spokes are alloy Cruzers from Wheel Vintiques, with three-spoke knockoffs covering the lug nuts. Radial tires are Pirellis.
Body & PaintIf you're gonna paint a car this big this black, you'd better have it laser-straight before you start shooting. The New Mexico desert climate probably helped keep the body fairly rust free, but 40 years worth of driving required a little attention to bring the body back to brand-new condition. Hot Rods & Custom Stuff shaved the emblems and door locks, but retained the rest of the trim, and covered the car with mirror-perfect coats of PPG black. While they were at it, they fabricated some custom horizontal trim for the taillights.
InteriorElegance continues into the interior of the Riviera, where the original seats were stripped of the factory vinyl and covered in red leather (inspired by Taylor Lee) by the guys at Hot Rods & Custom Stuff. Randy Clark modified the tilting armrest between the rear buckets with a padded insert and added three sets of seatbelts so all the Lee kids can buckle up in the back. Engine-turned panel inserts were installed in the factory dash, along with vents for the Vintage Air A/C system. Dennis chose a Grant three-spoke steering wheel (inspired by Grant Lee), which matches the woodgrain door panel inserts. Those inserts were dressed up with some subtle 'striped flames (inspired by Garrett Lee).