Beginner's Luck
Classic American|February 2021
This beautiful boattailed 1972 Buick Riviera was acquired last year by American car rookie, Adam Pearce. Was it all plain sailing or choppy waters for this first-time American car owner? Editor Ben Klemenzson finds out…
Ben Klemenzson

Sometimes, as a motoring journalist, when you’re writing about a particular car it can be quite difficult to know what to write about if the owner doesn’t know a lot about their car, or if they just don’t have much to say about the whole experience of owning an American car… Luckily, in this case, not only has this car been on my radar since it appeared at Historics Auctions as part of an American car collection going under the hammer in July 2019, but coincidentally so has its owner, Adam Pearce. I first met Adam on the Classic American stand at the NEC Classic Motor Show in November 2019, where he was admiring Nick Barnes’ Car of the Year heat-winning ’67 Riviera …. How strange then that these two parallels should align and combine, as Adam had attended that Historics auction and ended up buying that very 1972 Buick Riviera.

Meeting Nick Barnes at the NEC and talking to him about his Riviera (Nick also owns a boattail Riviera, as well as the ’67) was fortuitous for Adam, as he’s kept in touch with him and Nick has even set up a WhatsApp group for fellow Riviera owners to share ideas, tips and technical advice, as well as more social communications about which shows they’re going to and so on. It’s these sorts of platforms, as well as the owners’ groups on Facebook and online forums, that make owning an American car so much easier now than, say, 20 years ago when social media was all but non-existent – you can communicate with large groups of fellow car owners in real time and share information and help each other.

Buying the car at auction was something that Adam described as “transformational” and he spent three-and-a-half hours going over the car before the auction, to make sure it was as good as it looked and sounded on paper. So what did Adam get his hands on? Well, this Riviera is a big boat of a car (no pun intended) – 218 inches long from stem to stern, sitting on a 122in wheelbase. Weighing in at 4554lb, these were pretty heavy cars that required the big-block 455cu in V8s they were fitted with to drag them around and things like power steering and power brakes were standard as quite frankly it would be impossible to steer or stop a car this size and weight without some sort of power assistance.

The engine is rated at 250bhp, in accordance to the new ‘net horsepower’ ratings that were introduced from 1972. The only transmission available was GM’s sturdy TH400 auto ’box and there were plenty of options available as you’d expect for upmarket buyers of a car like this. With a starting price of $5149 (bearing in mind an Electra Custom Limited Hardtop sedan could be had for only $90 less, or an entry-level Cadillac Calais for $622 more) these Rivs were the top of Buick’s pecking order.

Adam’s Riviera has quite a few desirable options, though perhaps not all the ones you’d expect. The original buyer chose the Burnished Bronze colour, as well as air conditioning ($431), power seats ($205), cruise control and AM/FM stereo, but no power windows. Those handsome five-spoke chrome sport wheels were a $70 option and Rivieras came standard with tilt steering wheels and the problematic ‘Full-Flo’ ventilation system of the previous year – which had caused water leaks in the boot – was dropped. At $200 the Gran Sport option looks amazing value, offering as it did an extra 10bhp and positive traction diff. With only 97,000 miles on the clock, the big Riv’ looks to have led a fairly pampered life (especially if it spent most of it in Michigan), having had a respray, or the paint relacquered at the very least…

Work undertaken

Since acquiring the car, Adam has undertaken a lot of work on it and has kept a meticulous record of all the work he’s tackled. It probably seems like a lot, but when you consider the car would appear to have spent a lot of its life immobile as part of a collection, it’s easy to understand these are all jobs required.

Front springs replaced.

Rear springs replaced.

Front shocks replaced.

Rear shocks replaced.

Oil replaced.

Transmission oil replaced.

Differential oil replaced.

Oil filter changed.

Spark plugs changed.

All belts replaced.

Full bespoke stainless steel exhaust fitted.

Full beam headlights upgraded to H4 bulbs.

Electronic ignition fitted.

Thermostatic bypass hose replaced.

Pre-heat hose replaced.

Fuel sending unit replaced.

Fuel cap replaced.

Trunk seal replaced.

Hood seal replaced.

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