Thomas Duty and Eileen Papas’ 1963 Rivi
It only takes the slightest mention of a classic vehicle to send a car guy chasing for their next build. As an example, one day Thomas Duty and Eileen Papas were floating in the pool relaxing and chatting about cars when she asked if Thomas liked ’63 Rivieras, noting that she learned to drive in one and thought it would be cool to have one. Thomas replied that he loved early Rivi’s and the next thing you know, he’s the top bidder on an auction site for a one-family-owned ’63 Riviera.
Fortunately, the car was exactly what was portrayed in the ad: a very solid, running and driving Buick, with severely checked paint riding on nearly 60-year-old mechanicals. Thomas says the body roll was substantial combined with questionable steering, which is why they turned the car over to Cale Kern Hot Rods in Bedford, Indiana, to install a Roadster Shop front clip with tubular control arms and rack-and-pinion steering. The Buick rearend was also swapped for a 9-inch Ford from John’s Industries.
The original 401c.i. Nailhead received a rebuild and was topped by a dual quad Offenhauser intake and dressed with finned valve covers and other brightwork. A 4L60E transmission easily handles the Buick torque and provides a smooth overdrive for the upcoming long cruises with a set of Goodyear Eagle F1s wrapped around Billet Specialties’ Velocity wheels tucked up into the wheel wells.
The body lines of the first gen Rivieras are so fine that Thomas and Eileen decided to keep the sheet metal in mostly original form. The team at Cale Kern worked the factory lines, tightened the panel gaps, and perfected the surface while also updating the taillamps with the narrow, double horizontal lenses of a ’67 Firebird, which most would likely take as original. Jack Davis is credited with spraying the BMW Tanzanite Blue from Spies Hecker, which looks like a dark sea into which you could dive.
The interior was brought up to date with Dakota Digital gauges, a Restomod A/C system, and a Flaming River column topped with a Billet Specialties steering wheel. Bryan Barlow disassembled the factory seats, removed the springs, and installed custom-formed foam before covering the seats with an Allante leather. Custom machine-turned panels highlight the dash, console, and door panels adding nice contrast to the cushy, wine-colored upholstery
This Rivi is a far cry from the one Eileen learned to drive in but like a fine wine, some things tend to improve with age. Congratulations on earning a finalist position for Goodguys 2022 Vintage Air Custom Rod of the Year running!
Photos by John Jackson