Aaron Kirby had just finished a six-year, 100 percent stock restoration of a numbers-matching ’69 Camaro RS/SS convertible when it was stolen from his driveway in broad daylight. Living in Los Angeles at the time, he took this opportunity to buy the car he’d been in love with since a teenager, a ’65 Buick Riviera. Since he told us the ensuing story so well, we’ll let him take it from here.
“I wanted to turn this miserable event into something positive, so I immediately started looking for a Riviera, but not just any Riviera. It had to be a ’65 Gran Sport, [which is] in my opinion, a custom from the factory and Bill Mitchell’s greatest design.
“After about a month of searching everywhere, I found an awesome, rust-free California car on eBay. I had used up most of my vacation time chasing dead ends so I wasn’t able to fly out to Oklahoma to see it, but it looked great and the seller was a high standing member of the Riviera Owners Association. I took the chance and bought it sight unseen. As soon as I saw it I knew I’d made the right call. The red paint was faded and thin, but I couldn’t find rust anywhere. The newly rebuilt engine ran strong, all the mechanicals worked, and the chrome and stainless were in great shape.
“I finally had the car of my dreams, so I had to make it perfect. Growing up near Detroit I was exposed to a lot of car prototypes. To me they were always the coolest cars around, and I still remember the day in high school when a friend took me to the GM tech center for a car show. I was already a huge fan of customs and prototypes, but this was the first time I saw the ‘Silver Arrow’, Bill Mitchell’s original prototype for the Riviera. To me that was it; I loved the design and it was cool to see how close it was to the ’65 Riviera. With this in mind, my plan at the time was to create a custom that had the feel of an early ’60s prototype.
“Since this was my daily driver, however, I wasn’t able to do much to it that wasn’t essential. On one occasion driving to work I lost brakes and coasted through a usually busy intersection. Luckily, there was a lull in traffic and no major damage occurred, but I took the hint and upgraded the stock single reservoir master cylinder to a dual reservoir version and redid the brake system. I decided to upgrade to front discs after I found a guy in Australia who developed a bolt-on system that used ’06 Pontiac GTO components. I may have gone overboard with the discs, but helplessly coasting through an intersection left an impression!
“The next few years I spent gathering parts, finding the best parts from the ’63-65 Riviera and thinking of the overall look and colors of my prototype. I didn’t want to do any modifications to the car that would permanently alter it, considering it is a real GS, and I respect that fact, but I learned from the Camaro incident to enjoy it while I can and make it my own. I added Autoloc’s shaved door handle and trunk release kits to keep me going, but life got in the way and things were put on hold.
“I moved back to Michigan in 2010 and the Riv was still on the back burner when my father recommended I take it to Bill Jagenow of Brothers Custom Automotive in nearby Troy. He had met Bill at a tour of his shop and during their conversation he’d found out Bill was a fan of Rivieras and was intrigued by my ‘plan’ with it. I wasn’t really ready to start the build, but Bill’s enthusiasm and help put things in motion. He installed the Airlift Auto Pilot System, which really gives the car the proper stance. Now it needed Astro Supremes to make it perfect. To me these are the only wheels for a Riviera, and to help keep the Silver Arrow prototype look I added Diamond Back wide whitewalls.
“By now I knew the color had to be gold but I was playing with the idea of a matte finish. I had tossed the idea around in the past but most people felt a gloss coat was the way to go. However, Bill was on board with the matte finish. I had seen his work and knew he would be able to nail the look I was going for. I found an anniversary gold GM used on Impalas in 1963 that was the perfect color, but at the paint store I noticed House of Kolor made a Zenith Gold that was the same color but had a lot more metalflake so we went with that. After the first few coats of paint, I was convinced matte was the way to go. The way the light broke on the edges was incredible; it looked like someone had carved a Riviera out of a gold brick! The theme from the movie Goldfinger kept playing in my head and when Bill showed me his gold-covered glove, he started humming the same song. Needless to say the name stuck; it had to be called ‘Goldfinger’.
“I found and repaired a ’63 Riviera steering wheel and Bill did an awesome flaked two-tone paintjob on it. The dash for the ’65 has always been my least favorite part so I found a clean ’64 dash. The ribbed aluminum dash and gold-faced gauges are a much cleaner look, but I had to modify the gauges and the circuit board to work. I added extra stock switches to my console to work my airbags and a RediRad to allow me to play my ipod on the stock AM radio. Bill finished off the console with a gloss version of the Zenith Gold. I’m 6-feet tall and have always been a bit uncomfortable with the legroom on long trips, so we added to the seat rails to be able to move the front seats back by 4 inches. I also found the rare rear armrest for the back seat to complete the stock four-bucket seat look of the interior. Other than these modifications, por-15 on the solid floors, Roadkill mat, and new carpeting, the rest of the interior is stock.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Harrison Township, Michigan
1965 Buick Riviera
The Riviera is still attached to its stock chassis, the only modifications being the addition of Airlift air springs and ’06 Pontiac GTO disc brakes on the front. A ’71 Riviera gave up its dual-chamber master cylinder and pedals to the cause. Another pair of Airlift springs, coupled with Monroe shocks, support the otherwise-stock rearend.
The stock 425ci Super Wildcat V-8 still lives underhood, fed by a pair of Carter four-barrels, though it does breathe a little easier thanks to a 2 1/4-inch stainless exhaust system with Flowmaster mufflers. The transmission is likewise the stock TH400 automatic.
Wheel & Tires
Aaron feels Astro Supremes are the definitive wheel for a Riviera, so went with, err, Unique Super Supremes by Cragar, 15x7 with 4-inch backspacing at each corner. They are as close to Astros as you can get these days, especially since Astro hasn’t been around for almost 40 years! Diamond Back 235/70R15 wide whitewalls are used all around.
Body & Paint
Bodywork on this rust-free Riv was kept minimal, in deference to it being a Gran Sport model. The door and trunk handles were shaved, as were the emblems and rear deck chrome before Bill Jagenow sprayed the House of Kolor Zenith Gold.
A ’63 Riviera steering wheel and ’64 dash replace the ’65 originals, which, along with fresh carpet, a rear armrest, and gloss gold accents, completes the interior mods. With white upholstery in this condition, there was really no need to go any further!