Deedee and Jeff Luttrell 1963 Buick Riviera

Root Beer Riviera – Deedee and Jeff Luttrell Realize Their Longtime Dream of a Hot Rod Riviera

Most hot rod and custom projects are about more than just building a cool car. They’re about fulfilling dreams. The dream of hitting the road in an open-air roadster or convertible; of cruising the boulevard in a smooth custom; of winning a stoplight confrontation in a hard-charging street machine. Sometimes those dreams change course during the build, transcending their original inspiration – and sometimes even their original owners.

Such is the case with Jeff and Deedee Luttrell’s ’63 Buick Riviera. Its debut at the Griot’s Garage North Carolina Nationals was the culmination of a decade-long build process at the East Coast Hot Rod Garage in Denton, Maryland, but the backstory extends well before that. According to shop co-owner Dean Alexander, the Riviera first came to East Coast Hot Rod Garage years before Jeff and Deedee owned it. The owner back then had his own dream of a hot-rod-flavored Riv but sold the project and moved onto another dream. A second owner then took over, but passed away unexpectedly, leaving the partially finished car languishing in the shop.

Deedee and Jeff Luttrell 1963 Buick Riviera

That’s where Jeff and Deedee came in. But their story actually begins even further back – way back in the mid-1970s. We’ll let Deedee explain.

“Jeff and I were high school sweethearts,” Deedee says, “we began dating in 1975. Jeff’s grandfather passed away the year before and their family inherited his ’65 Buick Special, so it became our dating car. We would pile his brother and our friends in and cruise. Such wonderful memories and fun times!

“After we were married, Jeff noticed a neighbor had a beautiful red ’65 Buick Special convertible,” Deedee continues. “Jeff introduced himself so he could get a closer look and let the owner know that if he ever wanted to sell the car, we wanted to buy it. We still have that convertible and Jeff enjoyed driving us around when our children were younger.”

As you can tell, Jeff was a bit of a Buick fan. He also enjoyed auctions. One day he and his brother Nick attended an estate auction that included a ’65 Riviera. “Nick really wanted the car,” Deedee says, “but it went above what he was willing to pay. You guessed it, Jeff purchased it, and we had years of fun driving it. He wanted to turn it into a hot rod.”

A few years later, Jeff’s brother Nick was at East Coast Hot Rod Garage buying parts and mentioned Jeff’s Riviera. He wondered if the shop might be able to build it into a hot rod for Jeff. The shop team told Nick they already had an in-progress Riviera – the ’63 that had been through two owners and was awaiting someone to finish it.

Deedee and Jeff Luttrell 1963 Buick Riviera

“Nick returned home to let us know he found the car we needed and the guys to do the work,” Deedee says. “So, Jeff and I went to look at the car. She had some bodywork completed, a coat of primer, all the original parts. There was a vision. We gave them a check in November 2013, not realizing what we were getting ourselves into. Ten years later we see the results and she’s beautiful!”

Beautiful is an apt description – just look at the stunning PPG root beer metallic finish applied by Jason Lester at East Coast Hot Rod Garage. It covers a refined body that has been cleaned up with select trim and emblem removal and first-rate metalwork by Dale Rhodes. That metalwork included channeling the body over an Art Morrison chassis, modifying the floors to fit, and welding the chassis to the floors to create a unibody structure. The bumpers have also been cut and reshaped – the front incorporating a center air inlet and the rear having the lower portion grafted into the body, leaving the thin twin bumper blades and license surround as the remaining brightwork.

Deedee and Jeff Luttrell 1963 Buick Riviera

The Morrison chassis incorporates an updated independent front suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, and a triangulated four-bar rear suspension locating the 9-inch rearend. RideTech coil-overs and Wilwood disc brakes are found at each corner. The aggressive hot rod rake is exaggerated by the wheel-and-tire combo – American Racing “Gasser” wheels sized 18×8-inches in front and 20×10 in the rear, with 225/40/18 and 285/50/20 tires, respectively.

Deedee and Jeff Luttrell 1963 Buick Riviera

Those big rear tires get turning courtesy of a Chevrolet Performance Connect-and-Cruise LS3 cranking out 525-horsepower. It’s fitted with a Vintage Air Front Runner system to drive accessories, while a Be Cool radiator keeps temperatures in check and exhaust is routed through a stainless system with Flowmaster mufflers. Rpms are maintained thanks to a Lokar-shifted 4L60E transmission.

Deedee and Jeff Luttrell 1963 Buick Riviera

The chocolate brown Moore & Giles leather upholstery was stitched in-house at East Coast Hot Rod Garage, covering Infiniti front seats and a reshaped rear in a square-pleat pattern that recalls the mid-’60s. An American Autowire harness was used to direct power and connect updated elements like the Dakota Digital gauges, Vintage Air system, and JL Audio gear. Finishing touches include a Billet Specialties wheel and Flaming River tilt column.

Deedee and Jeff Luttrell 1963 Buick Riviera

“We’ve always attended car shows and enjoyed the hot rods and now we are able to participate ourselves,” Deedee says. She uses the term “we” a little wistfully, as Jeff passed away before the car was completed. He now cruises along in spirit, though he did get to experience riding in the Riv before the interior was completed. “It was a wonderful day when we were able to take our car for a spin in the parking lot,” Deedee says. “I’m looking forward to attending more car shows as a family.”

In other words, Jeff’s dream of a hot rod Riviera will live on as long as Deedee and their kids enjoy cruising in this cool, tasteful, and tasty root beer Buick.

Photos by John Jackson

Editor, Goodguys Gazette

Damon Lee began snapping photos at car shows when he was 10, tagging along with his father to events throughout the Midwest. He has combined his passion for cars and knack for writing and imagery into a 20-year career in the automotive aftermarket, writing for titles like Super Chevy and Rod & Custom and, more recently, working for respected industry leaders Speedway Motors and Goodguys Rod & Custom Association.