Saturday, January 31, 2015

1970 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight - A Billion Miles Away

Always a luxury more than necessity, convertibles, obviously, gave motorists a most efficient form of ventilation.
The air bells rang telling the shop that someone wanted gas and Stu, his hands full overhauling the transmission on a Volvo, asked me if I would take care of the old man "in that block long Olds". I was was just hanging out in the shop and obliged believing that by doing menial tasks for him I could move up the food chain and start actually working on cars. The stuff that dreams are made of for an 8 year old. I knew it was wrong for him to ask me to do it and know now that Stu was in violation of every single child labor law there was in New York State at the time but it mattered little to me at the time. I was out of the house and surrounded by cars. Life was good. 
With the advent of ventilation systems and ultimately air conditioning, after World War II, the  limited convertible market shrank considerably.  
The old man behind the wheel of the Ninety Eight looked at me through squinting eyes and told me bluntly while looking away from me, "Five dollars. Premium". I nodded in acknowledgment with an enthusiastic "yessir!" and got to work putting the gas pump handle into the filler pipe behind the spring loaded license plate. All the while breathless at the amount of money the man was spending on gas. And for the good stuff too. "This is how rich people live", I thought to myself.
1970 was the last year that General Motors offered a convertible on their full size "C body" platform. Similar to "B Body", save for a longer wheel base, the Olds Ninety Eight shared its frame and body shell with the Buick Electra and Cadillac DeVille.
My dad never spent that kind of money on gas when he filled up the bone stripper Ford Ranch Wagon he had. Think Ford Country Squire with any shred of luxury removed from it then add some soulless taxi car into it. That's a good start. That Oldsmobile Ninety Eight seemed like a car from another world to me. As close to me as it was when I was pumping gas into it, it was a billion miles away.
The Oldsmobile "Ninety Eight" number-name goes back to 1941 and Oldsmobile's range topping "Series 90", the "8" denoting an 8-cylinder engine. Lesser Oldsmobiles over the years were series 60, 70 and 80. The Series 60 was retired in 1949, the same year the Oldsmobile 78 was replaced by the 88. The Oldsmobile 76 was retired after 1950. This left two remaining number-names, 88 and 98 to carry on until 1997 when the Oldsmobile Regency replaced both of them.
The old man fired up the Olds the instant he heard the unmistakable sound of the license plate frame snap up after I screwed the filler cap back on. I didn't even get a chance to tell him to have a nice day as he peeled out of the station; the right rear tire giving out a slight chirp as he hit Merrick Road heading eastbound. I shrugged my shoulders and took his gruffness with a grain of salt. After all, he was rich. And the rich can do whatever they want.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mr. Connolly's Old Pontiac

A goal of mine in 2015 is to finish writing about every car in my life that has had some sort of impact on me. Today, I look back upon the Pontiac Chieftain that belonged to the kindly gentleman who lived across the street from my family and I back in Baldwin. Coincidentally, that family shared our last name.
Between 1949 and 1958, Pontiac's top of the line model was the "Chieftain"
We always referred to Mike Connolly, who lived across the street from us, as "Mr. Connolly". We never batted an eye about doing so although you could possibly understand how that could be a bit awkward in the same way you feel a little bit awkward addressing someone who has the same first name as you do. Even though we had the same last name and even shared what I understand to be the least common spelling of "Connolly", we were not related. My parents had a nice relationship (which is saying a lot considering how difficult my parents were to get along with) with Mr. Connolly and his wife, Sally whom, and for whatever reason, we did not refer to as "Mrs. Connolly". In an event, I remember Mr. Connolly, who had to be at least twenty years older than my father, being quiet, kind and keeping mostly to himself. A tinkerer of all sorts, he kept a meticulous home and took exacting care of his old, seemingly gigantic, black, Pontiac sedan.
Chieftain is the leader or head of a group, especially of a clan or tribe.
Pontiac offered two models for sale in 1952; the Streamliner and the upmarket Chieftain like Mr. Connolly had. Riding on a generous 120 inch wheelbase, the Chieftain was available with inline, flat head sixes and eights and had Hydramatic (automatic) and 3 speed manual transmissions available. Mr. Connolly's Chieftain had the odd looking flat head 8 and an automatic transmission. I remember sticking my head under the long, open hood of his Chieftain and marveling at the massive, old engine that seemed like it came out of the 19th century what with the spark plug wires coming out of the top of the engine and all. And that's what was so odd about that car; it really wasn't that old. Not by today's standards anyway.
My older son in front of the house I grew up back in Baldwin. Through the trees to his right you can see the garage doors of Mr. Connolly's house.
My memories of that car probably date back to the early to mid '70's so that means that it was at the most, twenty, maybe twenty two or twenty three years old at the time. Certainly old but it seemed so much older than that because of how different it looked from everything else on the road at the time. Older kids than me in the neighborhood used to chide Mr. Connolly about his old car, goading him about getting a car that was more with the times and frankly, I agreed with them. However, seeing that Mr. Connolly was retired and on a fixed income, it makes all the sense in the world to me now that he was holding onto a car that was working for him. Cars back then were as expensive as they are today (adjusted for inflation) after all.  

Motor Trend tested a 1952 Chieftain sedan, recording a 21-second quarter-mile time at 95.24 mph and 16.4 mpg. Abysmal numbers for an automobile today but on par sixty years ago.
I went on several jaunts into "town", (that sounds so quaint being from Long Island and all, especially growing up in Nassau County), with Mr. Connolly and found the car to be something out of a movie set in the 1940's. Seating position was way up, seat springs were very "springy". The car smelled musty, the dashboard looked like an old fashioned radio and Mr. Connolly drove it very slowly. I'm not sure if he was driving it slowly or the car was that slow. With maybe 115 horsepower from that odd, flat head in line eight, the car was not exactly overpowered.

Overlook Place is named so because the street overlooks a county park on the other side of that Dead End sign. Mr. Connolly's house is directly to the right of my son in this picture.

Still, as far as cars go from my youth, nothing personified someone quite the same way that that Pontiac personified "Mr. Connolly". Whenever I see one at a car show or online, I can't help but think of him and his wife Sally puttering around Overlook Place and Fairview Avenue or coming up Foxhurst Road from "town". Thing is, though, apparently, Mr. Connolly didn't see the Chieftain as "him". One day, sometime in the mid 1970's, a canary yellow, rotary engined Mazda RX-2 appeared in his driveway were the Old Pontiac had always been.

1978 Dodge Magnum - My Special Kinship With Elwood Blues

Inspired by the legendary mall chase scene from The Blues Brothers,  one Sunday morning, shortly before my family and I left Dallas, I took my beloved 1978 Dodge Magnum for a traipse through a shopping mall near our home.
Coincidence of coincidence, all of the cars in this chase scene are Dodges. However, they're all 1974 vintage Dodge Monacos built on Chrysler full size, C body platform. My Magnum, which shared much with Ricardo Montalban's Cordoba, was a mid size B body Chrysler.
Feels like just yesterday that I was home from Nashville for the weekend when I took my Magnum out for a power drive on Highway 75 north of Dallas. On my drive, I noticed that there were a number of bulldozers and cranes surrounding the old, spooky and abandoned Bealls Outlet Center. I drove over for a closer peak and noticed that the mall was, in fact, being torn down.
Opening in 1983, The Bealls Factory Outlet Center in Allen, Texas was a mall ahead of its time. Not so much in terms of design and scope, but in location. In those heady, early days of the Reagan Administration, a group of investors, who ultimately would be correct in their assessment of how the massive DFW area would grow, believed the sleepy small town of Allen, roughly 30 miles north of downtown Dallas, would be the perfect home for an outlet center. Again, while ultimately correct, those investors were roughly ten to fifteen years and another recession ahead of schedule. The area did not grow significantly enough in the 1980's to support the mall and with a plethora of shopping centers in and around the immediate downtown Dallas and surrounding areas, The Bells Factory Outlet Center didn't stand a chance. It closed in 1988.
By the time we had moved to Allen in 2005, the Bells Outlet Center had been closed for seventeen years and had become an incredible example of suburban blight. "Spooky" doesn't begin to describe how run down it had become. Local authorities had tried for years to get the former owners to tear it down to no avail. The only reason it was eventually demolished was to make way for a "frontage", or service road, to run along side a newly expanded stretch of Highway 75 that was to intersect with Highway 121.
Driving into the mall that cloudy Sunday morning years ago was a surreal experience. And although illegal since I was trespassing, I'm glad I did it when I did. Every weekend afterwards, when I was back in Dallas, I found more and more of the mall knocked down.
On the way home from the mall, local police did catch up with me but not for trespassing, they nailed me for doing 48 miles per hour in a 40. Seeing that the infraction was as minor as it was, they told me if I paid the hefty fine of $250, if  I didn't get another ticket for the next 90 days, they'd wave any points the infraction might incur. Not refund me money, mind you, just possible points. Who knows what they would have nailed me with had they found me driving around the old Bealls Outlet. Perhaps they would have chased me, that would have been fun. Afterall, I've always felt a special kinship with Elwood.
A month or so into my "probation" I got a job that would transfer my family and I to Cleveland, Ohio where we've been to this day so I technically broke my probabtion by leaving the area. As for the Magnum, sadly, as we were making plans to move to Ohio, I discovered the engine had an inordinate amount of oil in the exhaust meaning the valves were shot. Seeing that the cost of engine rebuild would come on top of the cost of hauling the car northeast, I sold the car to some cowboy from Oklahoma.
The mall chase scene from The Blues Brother was actually filmed in a mall, albeit one that had closed. Built in 1966, The Dixie Square Mall outside of Chicago closed in 1979. Director John Landis rented the vacant mall for eight weeks in the summer of 1979 to film the scene. Some former tenants, including Hickory Farms and Walgreens, refused to let their storefronts appear in the film so these were either "dressed up" as other stores or not featured at all. For example, Walgreens became a Toys 'R Us. The Dixie Square Mall has only recently been torn down.

Monday, January 26, 2015

My Brother's 1966 Plymouth Valiant - That Ancient Little Car

My first foray into the seedy world of used car shopping was in the summer of 1976 when my parents bought a cheap used car for my freshly graduated from college, ten years older than I, brother. At first, 12 year old car wonk me was beyond excited at the prospect of "car shopping". However, I quickly found that it was an exercise in pain, suffering and ultimately, futility. Without the Internet, used car shopping  boiled down to pouring through ads in the local paper, pouring through ads in the local Pennysaver, daily scanning of community bulletin boards, chasing down any and all cars with for sale signs taped to their rear windows and word of mouth. Going to a used car lot was out of the question because those cars were way north of their budget. Many times we found ourselves driving literally all over Long Island in hopes of finding something suitable. The worst was when we would find something good and it would, invariably, had just been sold.
With nine out of ten of those traipses having been fruitless, even a dyed in the wool, washed in the blood car nut like me would beg off from going after awhile.  So, when my parents found a 1966 Plymouth Valiant,  just like this one, save for a black interior and not red, not a mile from our house they bought it immediately if for no other reason than to put an end to the seemingly endless search. As you can imagine, car wonk  that I've always been, I was none too thrilled with their purchase.

Reason I was so upset was that not a week before they had miraculously found a 1967 Dodge Dart GT, just like this but in light blue, that I fell madly in love with. Although I was a long five years removed from even getting my license, I knew that there was a chance that whatever car my older brother had,  it could be handed down to me one day. In theory at least. My dreams crushed when my lawyerly father and brother scared off the seller with some sort of "contract" for repairs if something was to go wrong with the car within the first 90 days or something. Crazy. While that Dart did have a bad exhaust and over heated on the test drive, I thought the contract ridiculous but it was amazing how quickly the seller backed out of selling the car to my family. Amazing what you can accomplish by "acting as if". My father was certainly no lawyer and my brother, who was to attend Michigan Law School in the fall, was at best a wannabee as well at the time.
Then, they bought this thing. Or something just like it. The only redeemable thing about this librarian on wheels was its cool sounding, "Slant Six", in line six cylinder engine. I have no idea if it was the 198 or 225. Remembering how frumpy and plain that car was, I have to imagine it was the smaller of the two engines. If this car had the available for 1966 273 cubic V-8 would it have made any difference to me? Oh, most indubitably. As it was, I had little love for that ancient little car. Even in 1976, that 1966 Plymouth seemed quaint, dumpy and old as dirt and it was only ten years old at the time. However, a ten year old car, nearly forty years ago, was much older than a ten year old car today is. Regardless, where that Dart oozed cool through every cubic inch, the Valiant was as uncool.    
The new for 1960 Plymouth Valiant and very similar Dodge Dart were Chrysler's bow shot at compact European imports like the Volkswagen Beetle. Offering no significant technological innovation above and beyond being simply smaller versions of Chrysler's full size cars, they were, nonetheless, quite popular. Especially the redesigned 1963-1966 models. They were so popular that nearly one-fifth of Plymouth’s half million units sold during the 1963 model year were Valiants. The Valiant and Dart were significantly updated for 1967 leaving the 1966 models, like my brother's car,  looking like something off the set of "The Flying Nun". The subtleties between a '66 and a '67 make all the differences in the world. 
Turned out I never had to worry about that Valiant being mine or not one day. Not a month after we got it, my brother rear ended a Datsun station wagon. While the Datsun looked like it had slightly backed into something, the Valiant was totaled. My parents, apparently still exhausted from shopping for the Valiant, did not replace it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Little Red Corvette - It's Been A Good Weekend

After a miserable weekend on the Corvette last weekend, this weekend has already proven to be a better weekend than last weekend was bad. Yesterday, I got this right rear caliper off the car. Yes! Quite the battle too and I paid the price for it dearly what with having to lie on my back as much as I did but the end result is I got done what needed to be done.
To review, this project was supposed to be "just" replacement of the rear cross over brake line that carries brake fluid over the differential to the right caliper. The line had cracked and brake fluid gushed out of it thus the rear brakes did not work. Scary. Again, what's an old car that's not a project car?
Disaster struck last weekend when I broke off this inside bleeder valve on the right rear caliper. Now I have to replace this caliper. Great. Just. Great. It's simple to remove but very hard work. It's held on with two 5/8" inch bolts that are torqued in at at least 75 foot pounds and they look like are rusted as one with the spindle. I had already liberally sprayed down this   caliper bolt with PB Blaster when I took this photo. I sprayed both of them down several times over the past week after I got home from the office. Soak 'em and soak 'em again. And again.  
Yesterday morning it was game on to get that caliper off. At first neither of the bolts would budge. I mean, would NOT budge and there being TWO of them, I had serious doubts I was going to get this done. My "Tow Truck is My Backup" mantra ringing in my ears, I thought long and hard about how to get around this problem. These cars are very hard to work on because they are essentially sub compact cars with very heavy, dense components. Without a lift or a pit, I needed leverage. Then it dawned on me; I needed, "a breaker bar".
A breaker bar is anything you want it to be to make a lever. I bought this massive 1 inch wide, two foot long piece of pipe from Ace Hardware and put it on the end of my socket wrench. Along with a new 1/2", 5/8 inch driver, so I could clear the transverse leaf spring mount on the end of the trailing arm, elbow grease and a ton of creative combinations of swear words, voila. Success. Sweet, satisfying success. Mind you these bolts were completely rusted on and my heart was in my mouth fearing I'd break the heads off them but at the end of the day, I got 'er dun. Along the way and feeling mighty ambitious, I also removed the drainage pipe that blocked my access to getting the cross over line installed properly. I've determined that I put the brake line in backwards, remember, don't confuse me with someone who knows what they're doing. I'm going to fix that today.
So, in a lot of ways, the busted caliper was a good thing; I never would have gone through the trouble of pulling the brake line out again if it wasn't for having to spend as much time down here because I had to replace the caliper. I win because I had lost. It's been a good weekend.

Friday, January 23, 2015

1980 Buick Century - Is It Any Wonder GM Went Under?

I've had up close and personal "pit seats" to GM's remarkable decline in market share from 46% in 1980 to  less than 20% today. 
Much to Mom's consternation, Dad replaced his 1972 Cadillac with this 1980 Buick Century he bought, used, from a rental fleet company in 1982.
Now, there is no doubt that due to the influx of Asian and European makes throughout the 1980's that GM's once massive, near monopolistic share of the market would have shrunk significantly. However, more importantly, GM lost the bulk of that market share because they manufactured and sold cars like this 1980 Buick Century. A 1980 Buick Century that my World War II veteran father bought in 1982 to replace his 1972 Cadillac. It was just the latest in a long line of incredibly bad automobiles that my father had.
Please forgive the DeSuMa Deutscher SuperMarkt and the Euro tags. With only that picture at the top of this blog of my father's Buick, I had to find additional pictures of a 1980 Buick Century to illustrate this blog further. These pictures of a Century in Berlin, Germany, are all I could find.
When I was a wee little nipper growing up in the vast concrete and asphalt jungle of south Nassau, New York, vehicle break downs were a part of life. Not just for my father but it seemed everyone. Long Island roadways seemingly clogged with breaking down hulks or steaming, hood open calamaties on the side of the road; smoke and steam pouring out. One of my earliest childhood memories was of my father struggling to keep his Rambler alive because of a cracked engine block. The Ford Ranch Wagon he replaced it with having myriad electrical and mechanical issues; I remember it leaving us stranded on the Wantagh Parkway when the points wore out. My father flagging down someone who would then go to a service station to tell someone there that someone was stuck up on parkway. Life before cell phones and all. The Buick Electra and Cadillac DeVille that came after that (I guess he was doing better at work) offered no respite from unreliability. At least, one could argue, that those cars, including the wonky Rambler, had some semblance of romance to offset, to some degree, their awfulness. But that Century, every bit if not more so as horrible mechanically as anything he had before it, lacked even a shred of je ne se quois. 

This car is virtually identical inside and out to the Oldsmobile Cutlass sedan of the same vintage. This the embodiement of GM's famed "badge engineering".
That lack of mechanical reliability not to mention lack of elan or flair didn't bother my father as much as the lack of fuel economy that the V-6 powered Century delivered. Or didn't. After all, he bought the car Hertz' Used Car Sales lot on  Sunrise Highway for the wonderful mileage he thought it was going to afford him. The carbureted Buick V-6 with all of 110 horsepower and 190 foot pounds put out through a 2:29:1 rear end pushing a rolling brick of a car returned 12, maybe 13 miles per gallon in town. Certainly better than the 5 maybe 6 mpg the Cadillac gave him but still. I recall my father's enthusiasm when it returned 19 miles per gallon on a family traipse up to Mystic Seaport.  

The first Buick Century in 1936 was named such to denote the car's ability to accelerate to 100 miles per hour, or as they referred to England, "doing the Century". My Dad's Century was so underpowered that it struggled to get to 100 mph let alone do the century.
Then stuff stated breaking. With only a limited 12 month warranty from Hertz on the power train and thirty days on everything else, "everything else" started going on it the second those thirty days were up. The legend of GM "Metric" transmission failure being all true as well. At least that was covered. When the AC blew out on another trip I thought my brother and I would suffocate in the back since the rear windows did not go down. They didn't stop working, the rear door glass couldn't roll down since there wasn't any room in the door as the angle of the door was compromised by the rear quarter panels. When mom would light up a Pall Mall it was all we could do to not barf all over the "panty cloth" upholstery.
My Dad's Century had steel wheels not the alloys that this car has.  The rear wheels on my Dad's Century rusted onto the drums making them impossible to remove.
In addition to being unreliable and delivering mediocre at best fuel economy, the Century was not a good family car because it was just too small inside. The drive shaft "hump" taking up a remarkable amount of room in a car that was approximately the size of a modern day Buick LaCrosse; the LaCrosse's rear passenger compartment being as spacious as it is because of the space efficiency lent to it by being front wheel wheel drive. We missed the spaciousness of that Cadillac, that was for sure and we gave up a lot for the sake of fuel economy. Many American families did thirty, thirty five years ago. Many of those families then moving onto space efficient, fuel efficient, superbly engineered makes and models from Asia and beyond. Is it any wonder GM went under?
Going from a car as large as a 1972 Cadillac to one as small as this Buick Century always perplexed me. Seeing the apparent err in his ways, Dad replaced this Century with a 1979 Cadillac that proved to be every bit as mechanically unreliable as anything he had before. Including of course, this Century.
This picture was taken between February of 1982 and June of 1983, a sliver of time in my life when I had that red Comet parked behind my Dad's Century. When I replaced that Comet with my beloved Cordoba, my father quickly fell in love with the size of the Cordoba and the power of its 360 V-8. What's more, the Cordoba's fuel economy was not much worse than what the little Buick V-6 could muster. Not to be outdone, my father got rid of the Century and replaced it with (drum roll and fan fare, please) another Cadillac (a 1979) that was, no surprise, every bit the hunk of junk anything he had before it was. BTW, if you look closely at this photograph you can see my father behind the wheel of his Buick Century.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

1995 Buick Century - How Much Are You Willing To Lose?

My on again, off again search for another inexpensive car has landed me square in the sites of this twenty year old Buick that is in almost freakishly good condition.
How could I go wrong? It's for sale at the neighborhood gas station near my house and, it's a 1995 Buick Century - how much could they be asking for it?
Story has it that this car sat in the garage of the son of the owner after he passed away. After all these years, the family is moving and Dad's Old Buick has to go.
The interior looks to be in showroom condition. There is hardly a whiff of that unmistakable "GM Old Man Smell" that even my leather lined 1977 Corvette has. Then again, my Corvette was a smoker - this thing is as clean as a whistle. Probably cleaner.
Under the hood, the ubiquitous for the time, "3100 SFI" V-6 with an ahead for its time, 160 horsepower. With a curb weight a stone or two from a ton and a half, it made for brisk acceleration. Gas mileage with the 4 speed automatic could push 30 miles per gallon. Impressive even today. The 3100's propensity to eat intake manifold gaskets, a bear to replace since it sits down below the pushrods, makes me a tad wary of the car overall but with a scant 24,000 on the odometer, it would be a good 50,000 miles or so before that might be a problem.
The problem with this car, as is the case with a lot of "barn finds" these days, it isn't worth a whole lot even in pristine shape like this. Mileage be darned. Car hounds like me pounce on these things knowing what they can do; not for what they are. The owner is fielding offers and after I hastily made a pitch of $3,000 for it, I kicked myself over and over after finding that valued the car in excellent condition at $2,200. Yes, is not exactly the gold standard of determining vehicle values but it is a good starting point. So you know, my offer was kicked to the curb. That was almost a month ago. The car still sits.
The person trying to sell this car thinking they're sitting on a gold mine; they want at least $5,000 for it. Thing is, if someone pays that much for this car and they insure it, they'll never get anywhere near what they paid for it if it gets totaled. Consider that before plopping down that wad of cash, friend. How much are you willing to lose to own a mint condition, 1995 Buick Century?
Your $5,000 probably better spent on a later model, higher mileage Camry, Accord, Maxima or Altima. Best to move along. Not much to see here anyway. That said, they call me wanting to talk about anything near 3 grand, preferably less, and this thing is mine.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Little Red Corvette - Pandora Strikes Again

I didn't plan on rebuilding most of the rear brake system this winter but you make plans, the Corvette laughs.
The brakes on this car were never that good and I found out why; the rear brakes weren't working. When they failed is beyond me. Apparently, there was a small hole in the "cross over line" that carries hydraulic brake fluid from the left side of the car over to the right rear caliper. Think leak in your aorta.  Almost an entire can of PB Blaster and a week of yanking and tugging and I had it out. Pictured is the new line "installed". It got slightly bent out of shape with my attempts at pushing it through the exhaust system hangers and that funky drainage pipe thing. I guess that's what it is. I still haven't figured it what it is exactly. There are several odd tubes that look factory installed under here that I've yet to figure out what they're for. Most likely drain pipes for rainwater. By the way, I had to partially dismantle the exhaust system to get the line in. If anything, this project has cured me of my claustrophobia.  
In getting the old cross over line out I also had to remove the lines that go to the calipers. The factory spec replacements I got from are completely different from what was on there and they required quite a bit of finagling to get into place. Thanks to crude line drawings I found on the internet, I was able to figure it out. Cray cray.
Problem is, they fit counter intuitively vs. what was in there before. Apparently, it would seem, someone had done some brake work on this car. You can see here that they lie almost on the caliper which is, honestly, quite weird if you ask me. Just like about everything else on this car. And then, just as I thought I was almost finished; disaster struck. I was attempting to open the inside bleeder valve, yes, there's two bleeder valves on the rear calipers on 1968-1982 Corvettes (shoot me now), and the little bastard broke off on me. You can see the broken bleeder screw on the left side of the picture just above that rusty bolt. Quite the common problem. Now I have to replace the caliper. Either that or buy a set of tools to drill that thing out and reset it. It'll be less expensive to get the caliper off. Pandora strikes again.
I keep telling myself this is all worth it, that this too shall pass and that a bad day on the Corvette is better than a good day at work. Seeing I enjoy what I do for a living, that's saying a lot.

1978 Buick Riviera - A Tarted Up LeSabre

The Buick "Riviera" is named after the Mediterranean coastal region from Marseilles in France to La Spezia in Italy.
When Buick moved the Riviera from the E body chassis to the newly downsized B body for 1977, any hard fought cache the "Buick Riviera" may have had went straight into the proverbial dumpster. 
Buick used "Riviera" to denote several of their top of line models going back to 1949. The 1963 Riviera was the first time it was its own separate model.
Beginning in 1963, the Buick Riviera was General Motors spectacular answer to Ford's four passenger 1958 Thunderbird. The 1963 Riviera, which was built through 1965, while never outselling Thunderbird, was the very rare, post war American automobile that was able to do what Mercedes Benz and BMW have done so well for decades now; combine both a sporting and luxury motif. It's one of many intangibles that makes the 1963-1965 Riviera so remarkable.
However, if 1963-1965 Riviera had a problem it was that it didn't sell well or well enough. What's more, it shared little with not only other GM makes and models, but with other Buicks as well. That made for an expensive to manufacturer automobile with limited margins. Something had to give.
The rear wheel drive 1966 Riviera shared much with the front wheel drive Oldsmoblile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado.
Rarely does a "bean counter move" pay off at the bottom line and at the box office. The 1966 Riviera shared enough with the new for 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado and forthcoming 1967 Cadillac Eldorado that GM was able to further amortize the Toronado and Eldorado's ("E body") development with it. What's more, subjectively, the 1966 Riviera was an absolutely gorgeous car and one that could be described as a natural evolution of the original; it continued the sporting/luxury theme. Buick had a hit on their hands and updated the car judiciously and tastefully throughout a protracted production cycle of more than the typical at the time, three years.
Little is known as to why the 1966 Riviera's production cycle lasted five years. Even less is known as to why Buick invested in this one year only redesign in 1970 that sold abysmally.
In one fell swoop, brush stroke and fender skirt, for 1970, Buick sullied that all but impossible to conjure image of "sporting luxury" that defined the 1963-1969 Riviera. Don't take my word for it either - 1970 Riviera sales were almost half of what 1969 sales were with this odd attempt to ape the lines of a pre wear Delage D8 120. Did Buick set out to make a, subjectively, ugly car? Of course not but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The 1977-78 Rivera wasn't the first time Buick put a Riviera on the dance floor that made customers run for the exits.
In 1971, Buick moved Riviera to GM's much derided B Body platform
Left to its own devices, the all new for 1971, E body Riviera was a  unique and ambitious design. Its rear boat tail styling evoking the Auburn 851 Boattail Speedster of the mid to late 1930's that Bill Mitchell adored. However, against the almost delicate, yet sporting and luxurious designs of the 1963-1969 Riviera,  the boat tail Riviera was a disconnected, fairly convoluted and most importantly, polarizing design. Not surprisingly, sales were soft.  

However, in many ways, the 1971-1973 Riviera was the last distinctive if not "real" Riviera. Anything that came after it (save  perhaps the 1979-1985 models) being lack luster attempts to milk whatever image Buick had established with the model going back to 1963. 
Sales of the 1974-1976 Riviera were poor but it's all but impossible to definitively determine if that was because of the design of the car or rising gas prices brought on by the 1973 OPEC embargo.
Much like 1971 boat tails, the 1974-1976 Riviera was an interesting design but compared to what came before it, it paled in comparison. Even compared to the controversial boat tails. What's more, the boat tail and curvaceous sweep were gone leaving a semi fastback/notch back design that was cleaner and simpler but at the same time no where near as interesting or distinctive as the boat tail. 
                                                     1978 Riviera                                      1979 LeSabre
With Riviera sales in a slump, Buick had a choice; keep selling the slow selling E body, retool the Oldsmobile Toronado or Cadillac Eldorado into a Buick or, move Riviera to the new B or C body. They chose the later but they used the entry level LeSabre of all things as a starting point. The 1977 LeSabre based Riviera lacked almost any distinctive sheet metal above and beyond slightly more round rear quarter panels. And a different grill. There was no hiding the fact that the 1977-1978 Riviera was a tarted up LeSabre                                             
Some say that the 1977-1978 Riviera was a "stop gap" model since the model was slated to return to the GM E body platform in 1979. 
Have to wonder if Buick really thought that anyone would notice that the 1977 Riviera was little more than a tarted up LeSabre. At approximately 25,000 sold each year vs. projections of 50,000 sold per year, maybe they did.