Mild customs are Bob Cardwell's thing. Always have been. When he was a kid in the '60s, his heroes were Bill Hines, George Barris, Gene Winfield, and a slew of other custom car builders. These were the guys who kept him going to auto shows and buying the latest issues of hot rodding magazines.
Since then, Bob has become a pretty good metal shaper himself, and has turned his talent into a career as the owner of a collision repair shop. But bringing damaged sheetmetal back to normal isn't nearly as much fun as turning normal cars into something extraordinary-so in his free time, Bob has followed in the footsteps of his childhood heroes. The results have been a long string of knockout late-'50s and early-'60s customs.
A few years ago, we treated R&C readers to an eyeful of Bob's blue '59 Impala. Last summer, we spotted him cruising around Indianapolis Raceway Park in this equally impressive '63 Buick Riviera. It was late afternoon and the metalflake pearl was glowing.
When we caught up with him, Bob told us that building a custom Riv had been in the back of his mind for a long time. The idea was not to make radical changes, but to clean up the already cool-looking lines, modify it enough to make it unique, and cover the whole thing with some outstanding paint. A one-owner car from Mesa, Arizona, provided the raw material he needed.
"The paint job was the big thing on this car," Bob explains. "I have always admired Gene Winfield's blended paint jobs, so when I started the design, I did it as a tribute to Gene's style."
If selecting the overall style was simple, choosing the right color was a little trickier. "I did a lot of experimenting. I didn't want to go with blue at first, because I'd already built the blue Impala and I was trying not to repeat myself," he says. "I like tangerine, but there have been a lot of cars painted that way. And I like mint green, but that has also been done recently. At one time, I had decided on candy red, but I kept steering myself away from that too. Everything just kept going back to blue."
There's a lot more to this paint than just blue. Bob started with House of Kolor white pearl, tinted with just a drop of blue to create an ultra-light blue basecoat. He sprayed three coats of that to create the Winfield-esque blends. The base was followed by a couple coats of Blueberry powdered pearl, and then a couple more for highlights on the roof, sails, and peaks. The whole Riv was covered with old-school mini 'flake and sealed with five coats of clear.
These photos only give a hint of how well the job turned out. What they don't show is how the hues change in the sunlight.
Bob says he had the car "all over the place" last summer. It won a Killer Kustom award from Goodguys and a Best Custom prize from World of Wheels, but Bob is probably most proud of the compliments his custom received from Gene Winfield, the man whose own style inspired the visual impact of Bob's big blue Riv in the first place.
'63 Buick Riviera
No major modifications were made on the stock GM 'rails or many of the suspension components. Brakes, spindles, and steering are all surviving components from 44 years ago. Air Ride Technologies ShockWaves airbags front and rear are the single significant upgrade and bring the Riv down to a more suitable stance.
Under that big Buick hood lays a big Buick mill. Bob retained the '63 401 engine, painted to match the body. Ron "Blaze" Kovich built it up with performance parts, including 10.5:1 pistons filling the 0.060-over cylinders, and a 750 AFB carburetor underneath a custom chrome air cleaner. The exhaust manifolds feed into a set of glasspack mufflers. Bill "Jive" Jarvis applied the engine compartment pinstriping. The automatic transmission is the '63 Powerglide. A set of 3.43:1 gears spin in the stock rearend.
Wheels & Tires
Front and rear 15-inch chrome reverse wheels-dressed up with some era-correct spider caps-accentuate the '60s heritage of Bob's custom without fighting for attention. The radial whitewalls, from BFGoodrich's Silvertown series, measure P235/70R15.
Body & Paint
The Buick was found in the Sun Belt with very little wear and tear on the sheetmetal. Bob shaved the door handles to clean up the profile. The front bumper guards were removed, the headlights were moved into the parking light locale in typical fashion, and a tube grille was added. The rear bumper was extended to the quarter-panels and the lower portion painted to resemble a rolled pan. Bob fabricated a set of horizontal taillights with hand-molded lenses and molded-in bezels. Believe it or not, this is the first blended paint job Bob has done. But, he did a lot of research before he started shooting. "I put a lot of thought into it. I talked to paint suppliers. And I painted a lot of junk fenders," he says. "I tried different things and wrote down everything I did." One thing he learned during that process is that the key to successful blends is to keep adding clear, not reducer. Adding reducer will make the blends look blotchy. Another thing he learned is to shoot once and shoot quickly. "You can't go twice. You have to get it on the first try, because if you shoot it twice, you're going to end up with two lines. It may not look like you have anything while you're spraying, but when you pull off the tape, you can really see it."
Pearl white is a great complementary color to all the various blue blends on the body. Larry Duffy covered the bench seats with pearl white leather, and continued with matching rolls 'n' pleats on the dash, door panels, kick panels, rear package tray, and floor mats. The body color is picked up in the hand-fabricated knobs and on the '61 Cadillac steering wheel. The air conditioning is the factory system.