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1965 Buick Riviera | Style Personified

Alex Downie bought his 1965 Buick Riviera Gran Sport in 1983 as a daily driver. At the time, he had no idea how much this car would come to mean to him and how he would identify with the car over time. Having owned it for close to 40 years, it is now a part of him in a way that's hard to describe. With its huge 425 cubic in engine putting out 365 hp and 465 ft. lbs. of torque, this car will throw you back in the seat but it's more about the style and elegance of this car that Alex identifies with. He had the car restored about 20 years ago and it continues to get major attention wherever he goes.


It was put together at a time when the the vision of the designer would be made into the skill of the engineer to produce something they would both be happy with. This is a car with relatively few compromises. You don't have to have a car that looks like this, or goes like this, or handles like this. It's a car, it's an appliance. But it becomes much more than that. It becomes something that that we as car aficionados, we become attached to these things somehow they become part of us in a way that's hard to explain.

Hi folks and welcome to Center Lane, I'm Bruce Hitchen. Today we're looking at this beautiful 1965 Buick Riviera Gran Sport. Now the car belongs to Alex Downie. He's had it for 38 years. Before we start to talk about the car, please remember to subscribe to my channel and click the bell to be notified of future episodes. Alex, I wonder if you could tell me the story behind you getting this car? Well it goes back a few years of course. I ah, back in the 80s when I was in my early 20s, I was a Chevy guy. I had a 75 Camaro that I had fixed up done the hot rod treatment with headers and manifolds and everything else. And I wasn't particularly happy with the car at the end of the day so I decided that I would go to a proper Chevrolet performance car and I bought a 65 Corvette. A very nice car. I was naive to think that I could drive that daily so I looked for a second car to have as a daily driver and I acquired a 72 Nova which was a utilitarian car but a poor performer. And started looking for a candidate car to have as my daily driver. I happened to come across a book one day where they're talking about collectible cars. Said very good things about this car. Said it was a milestone design, that it was reliable, good performer, that handled reasonably well. The downside was, a little thirsty. The cars weren't particularly economical but I sure love the design. It looks so clean and they made relatively few of them so you didn't really see them around. I had a friend that would go to Seattle every two weeks on business and I said, look. I'm looking for this particular car, I want to find a Riviera and I'm having trouble finding one in Vancouver. There's probably a greater selection of cars down south. Buy me the printed weekly AutoTrader. So one day, early February, back in 1983, he came to me and he said, I found your car. He circled it in the AutoTrader, Seattle AutoTrader. It was a 65 Buick Riviera and it looked good in the picture. So I called the seller. Let's set up a time for me to come down. I live in Vancouver and so I drove down the next couple days. And I remember it was in the evening because I had to work. It was after work. And this car was in an underground parkade near the University district in Seattle. Basically it was an 18 year old car at the time. It had original paint still on it. It had original interior. Same, you know, the drive train was untouched. It had a couple of issues. The exhaust was a bit loud and a couple of rust spots around the back window but overall it was a complete car, running car. I said look, I'm not buying, I'm not buying a car at night. I'll come back this weekend. I'm interested in the car but I want to check out a little bit more. He said okay. The guy's name was Chris Google. So Chris says, well okay, we'll see you. Come back Saturday. So I had a friend drive me down in his Honda Civic and we took a look at the car. Of course as soon as I saw in the daylight, I caught the beautiful front end with the hideaway headlights and I was already smitten. So I said, well look. Let's take it for a test drive. So we did. And we took it out on a freeway on the I-5 and I said look, I'm going to open the car up a little bit and see if you know the engine performs and if it's blowing smoke and all the rest of that. Went through the motions of you know, the car seemed to ride pretty good you know. And he said well sure, make sure there's some space around you because this car does does take off pretty good. And I'm thinking yeah whatever, sure. So I said okay. One, two, three, here we go. And I put my foot down and whoa. I was amazed at how quickly this car moved. I didn't realize until later when I took the air cleaner lid off. It had two four-barrels. Like I didn't know what a Gran Sport was and the seller didn't really either. He didn't advertise it as a Gran Sport. He advertised it as a Riviera. It was a Riviera. Well whatever you know and later did I learn that it was relatively limited edition. Nine or ten percent of them were Gran Sports. Of the production of 34,000. I was already in love with it and I had to have it. It was the coolest looking car. And when I got back to Vancouver with it, it was, nobody had one. I mean, I was the only guy that had a car like this. People would say to me, that looks semi-custom. Like, did you do something to that car. Or people would say, they still today say, what is that thing? What is that car? Right. Especially young people because they've never seen it, right. Nowhere on the outside does it say Buick so they don't know what this thing is, right. And, so it's been a great pleasure to own this car.

What was it about the Riviera that really caught your attention?

Well when I first saw the car, it was the front end. It was so clean and the hideaway headlights. I don't know, it just, it looked custom to me. It looked different. I've never seen anything like that before and in fact, I probably never saw a '65 or noticed it in Vancouver. I saw '63 and '64s because they have the same body style, the same configuration. But in the first two years they had the quad headlights in the grill. Kind of broke up the the symmetry somehow. It didn't...seemed kind of tacked on to me but the rest of the car was nice. So that was one feature that kind of sold me on. That's when I fell, kind of in love with the car, when I first saw the front I thought, oh that's, that's super cool. And then the rest of it, it just seemed to have a unity of the design. I don't know, I perhaps had a sensitivity to car design, or what I thought was a flowing line. And this car looks good from any angle. It doesn't have any bad angles really. And I found for myself, like I guess a lot of car guys would agree. You kind of imbue yourself into the into the vehicle that you're driving. You know, it's like the suit that you wear, it's like the hairstyle that you might have. It's the way, it's part of, becomes part of you. And if you like machinery, and you like cars, I thought this car somehow fit me in a way that no other car did. This was the epitome of American auto engineering. In those days, when you moved from the cars from the 60s to the 70s, 80s, they became so compromised with emission controls which impaired the drivability of the engines, with with other factors, fuel economy became important. It was all a necessary evolution of the automobile technology but a car like this. It's a real car. So there's no computer chips in here. It's all, you know, electromechanical and I think the American technology had reached kind of a zenith in those years. There was visionary designers. This is part of the school of the Bill Mitchell design of General Motors which came up with such iconic styles as the Corvette Stingray in 1963, the 67 Cadillac Eldorado, some of the Corvair designs of the mid to late 60s. The Buick Riviera was was a milestone designed for for that studio. And they were designed with lower, longer, sleeker, more powerful. The mystique of the dream car. This for me was a dream car in every day. When I come to this car, I enjoy looking at it every time, every time. It, something comes over me. It becomes an emotional response that you don't get with many cars.

This engine is what they call, the family of engines is called the nail head. The thing, the reason they call it a nail head is because the valves are small for the displacement. The, the intake valves are only 1.875 inch, whereas even a small block Chevy, a 327 cubic inch, the high performance ones will have 202 valves. So the valves are relatively small for the, for the size of the engine, for the displacement. But the advantage of that is, it gives you stupendous torque.

I had a mortgage payment and a family on the way and I said, you know what, I need to buy a more economical car. And it was getting on. I'll never part with it but I'll park it and as money becomes available I'll repair it, fix it up. I found somebody to restore the body and do the, do the paint work. And about five years after that, I had the driveline gone through and rebuilt the engine, transmission and and made sure that everything was good. And the car is basically the way it is today. I never, I haven't had to do anything to the interior really because the interior was always in good condition on this car. The fellow that restored this car he also rebuilt the trunk floor for me because it had started to eat. It got down the tower, behind the wheel houses and started to rot there. Basically it's the rear part of the car on these that tends to rust. So he dealt with all of that. The rest of the car was pretty clean, pretty, fairly rust free as far as it were. So he got to the place where he said, you know what, if you want to do a nice job we should take all the paint off. Strip it down. So he stripped it completely. And when I went to look at the car, I came in and I was, I'm going, holy smokes. It looked like a Delorean. And I said, Ted. What happened? He said, ah Alex you know what, I just started going here, and the paint was sort of cracking here, and you know, to get a good base. We could have primered over it but, you know, what, uh whatever. It's a nice car. Of course, I'm thinking dollars. This is like, the work alone to strip the entire car. I said, but Ted, you kind of gave me a price. He said, oh no Alex. Don't worry about it. I'll stick to the price I gave you. It's fine, you know no big deal. I mean, the guy was a Saint. So he took it down to bare metal. Raided a base coat, clear coat. And I tell you Bruce, it was 20 years ago, 21 years ago he did this car. Not one bubble of rust has come back. The mechanical work was done by a man named Bill Kilgore. He was a hobbyist, a Buick guy and he said well you know what he said, I could do it. So I said, fantastic if you think you can. He says, oh yeah I know what to do. So I took it to Bill. He took the motor out, pulled the transmission out. Had the transmission rebuilt. Had the motor rebuilt. 30 over pistons put in it and redid it and here it is. So again, I got lucky.

People don't see them very often right so it does get quite a bit of attention. And so yeah, it gets it gets a good good reaction. It's a, it's an eye-catcher so people like to see them. You don't seem very


Even though I wasn't an adult at the time this car was new, I would like to think it's probably an aspirational car. It's something that if you had arrived in life, and you had earned your place in space, and could afford a car like this because, other than a Cadillac, this is this is probably it, that you would look to buy. Maybe a Lincoln or something like that. It's, it's got flair, it's got sporting style, it has performance.

And this car I think epitomizes that era. And it's like driving, it's like driving a dream car. It really is.

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