1957 Buick Riviera: A junkyard rescue

Staff reports
Farm Forum

Steve Gehring found his 1957 Buick Century Riviera hardtop coupe at an auto wrecking yard. At the time, Gehring was a high school student on New York’s Staten Island and had accompanied his father to the junkyard in search of car parts.

The old Buick looked great and both father and son were smitten. The variable-pitch Dynaflow transmission didn’t work and the 364-cubic-inch, 300-horsepower V-8 engine had a knock that could be heard in the heartland, so the previous owner had thrown in the towel and called the junkyard to tow the Buick out of his life.

This didn’t faze Gehring or his father. They purchased the well-worn Buick and had it towed home. The Gehrings had to find room for its 17-foot 4-inch length. The ailing engine was replaced by an engine of the same displacement from a 1957 Buick Special, which was rated at only 250 horsepower.

The automatic transmission was rebuilt to original specifications and performance, although Gehring said, “It took two shots to do it.”

Only 17,029 such model Buicks were manufactured in 1957, and each carried a base price of $3,270. Gehring’s Buick was outfitted with extra-cost optional equipment, including power brakes, backup lights, no-glare mirror, Sonomatic radio, signal indicators, heater/defroster, white sidewall tires, brake warning light, and speedminder speedometer.

The options are known because Gehring found the original factory build sheet under the car seat. Power windows were not on the list, a point for which Gehring is thankful, since he enjoys hand-cranking the windows up and down.

Following high school, Gehring left home for training at General Motors in Flint, Mich., leaving the 4,081-pound Buick in his father’s care. His dad kept improving the car with frequent trips back to the old auto salvage yard for parts. Occasionally, he would roam as far afield as a New Jersey junkyard for rubber gaskets to seal around the doors or for a genuine underdash Buick tissue dispenser.

Within a couple of years, Gehring was tired of life without his Buick. On a visit home he had the Buick repainted Biscay Blue and Dover White and had necessary trim parts replated. Then he was ready for the return trip to Michigan.

Gehring’s father went along for the ride, not having as much confidence in the 1957 coupe as did his son. First, the radiator overheated in rural Pennsylvania. After that problem was remedied, the rear bushings in the generator burned out in an even more rural area along the way back to Michigan. That problem was followed by the demise of a worn-out voltage regulator. Just all around bad news.

The good news was that the four-barrel carburetor, under an oil-bath air cleaner, kept feeding fuel from the 20-gallon gas tank to the healthy V-8. Additionally, the new-for-1957 ball-joint suspension on the 122-inch wheelbase performed flawlessly.

Once Gehring finally had his Buick in Flint, he was able to suitably impress a fellow student; despite the Buick and its idiosyncrasies, she saw fit to marry him. Perhaps it was the 101 teeth in the grille smiling at her each time he came calling.

Looking back, Gehring says he’s amazed that a car that was sent to the junkyard years ago still survives in good health. “How wacky is that?” he asks.

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