THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY


photo: Brian Bossone

We were over on FaceySpacey a few weeks ago when we stopped dead on our keyboard: Brian Bossone had posted up two shots of a Buick Nailhead that looked achingly familiar.

Back in the mid-Nineties, we found a ’63 Buick Riviera stuffed into a basement-turned-living room in central Pennsylvania and plunked down $1500 for it before the owner could get out a “Well…”

LOVED that car. As far as a factory custom, nothing came as close as the Riviera that ended up in the Buick camp for the 1963 model year after the boys over at Cadillac turned the design down. Now, this one was bone-stock, but rusty. Typical PA car. But that mattered not. Nearly 20 years ago, there just weren’t many Rivs in the general consciousness of the custom car magazines and Rob Fortier – who was at Custom Rodder at the time – was the only one touting the lines of Riviera in the magazines.

Much as we loved the Riviera, the 2-speed DynaSlow was keeping that 401 Nailhead from realizing its full potential, we thought. Not only that, but we thought that motor could breathe a little better and be, well, FASTER. Picked up Pat Ganahl’s “Street Supercharging” book and cover-to-covered that sumbitch for a whole summer between beers and stair-diving at a summer share in South Bethany Beach, Delaware. And that was IT, brother: a blown Nailhead was what we needed, but we didn’t want a roots-type sticking up through the hood, so a centrifugal type that could be hung off the motor somewhere under the closed hood was the answer.

So, in those early days of the interwebs, we found a guy in El Paso, TX who could at least fake it like we weren’t damned fools and said he could absolutely build our Nailhead with the ProCharger centrifugal blower we found. Yanked the cruddy motor in a lean-to off the side of the bungalow we were renting in Leesburg, VA, strapped it into the bed of our pickup and headed west for West Texas and Jim Burek’s PAE Enterprises. A few weeks later, that Nailhead, the blower, brackets and a switch-pitch dual stall built TH400 automatic showed up at a loading dock in Northern Virginia.

On our way from the shipping dock back into Washington, DC for drinks was when we realized we were in waaaaay over our head when it came to the installation of all this radness in the bed of the truck. So, we parked on the street in Georgetown, thought the only thing anyone could steal easily was the blower, tucked that supercharger under our arm, proceeded to the bar to meet up with friends and sat at the bar – blower sitting on its own stool – and schemed about how this shit was gonna get done.

Buddy of ours, Alex Pikas, happened to be driving a wicked-fast ’84 LTD more-door and suggested we talk to his guy, Brian Bossone at ELD Performance out near Bowie, MD. Brian was also running stupid-fast Fords; turbo Fox-body Mustangs, to be exact, so we made a trip out there to see him.

After listening to what we wanted, looking at what we had and telling us it was gonna be a time-and-materials type of deal, we were all in. What we got back was a real sleeper: a rusty ’63 Riv with a fucking RIGHTEOUS blown Nailhead, a dual-stall 400 topped with one of them B&M Pro Ratchets tucked neatly into the original floor console, a custom 3″ diameter driveshaft, battery relocated to the trunk, custom sumped gas tank, $8M in stainless braided lines and AN fittings and a nice bill.

A shut-off switch mounted under the rear bumper with a piece of cast-off McDonald’s stainless prep table, custom-hacked radiator support to wedge the new Be Cool aluminum 5-core into, hi-beams re-imagined T-Bolt style with a homemade aluminum air box with clothes dryer ducting running between it and the caged headlight bezels and a set of Centerline Stealths kinda gave it all away. But FUCK, that thing was fast. And nothing like a leaky fruit-jar single-cylinder master cylinder (that we never replaced) to keep us on our toes.

And then we moved to California in 2001. Riv in tow behind the pickup, we drove out to San Francisco and started our first magazine, GARAGE. Hooked up with the Swanx Car Club in Vallejo and followed the club to our first Paso show that year and had an absolute blast. Had to follow up the rear of the caravan to the show, since we weren’t members of the club and that’s when we realized how slow early flathead roadsters really are. Couldn’t pass a Marie Callender’s without stopping and we never topped about 60mph. But that was OK – we didn’t even mind being nicknamed “Highway Star” with those polished Stealths and blower whine coming from under the hood. Whatever. We were East Coast: fast as hell and ugly to match.

Went through a divorce a year later (about the same time the premiere issue came off the press) and lost everything. Including the Riv. Broke our hearts, really. Of all the things we lost, that car was the heaviest. We had hurt the motor due to some plugged oil passages and had to sell it for cheeeeeeeeep. Guy named Terry came up from Texas to take it away and we thought, “Well, at least we’ll never have to see it again.” Until he let us know he was moving to the Bay Area soon after.

Terry was good to us: said if we wanted it back, he’d sell it for just what he had in it. Which wasn’t much, but we were so broke, we didn’t have it. The car went back to the East Coast and then to somewhere in the Midwest. And how do we know this? Because every new owner seemed to know the story and contacted us through the magazine to let us know they had it. And our heart broke all over again every time we’d get that call.

Remember when we said we lost everything a year after we moved to San Francisco? Well, that included any photos of the Riviera. All gone. Nothing but good memories, right? And then, Facebook became a thing and we had heard Brian Bossone had gotten involved with that Arm Drop Racing/Pinks/All Out TV show and we found each other online. Reunited through Facebook, like we all do, and talked about that Riviera for a bit.

And then Brian posted up these two shots on his Facebook page. Brought it all back and we’d never seen these pics. Broke our heart all over again, but we got used to that pain. Sort of embraced it, y’know? SO many good memories of racing around the U.S. Capitol building, tearing up the streets of DC, running at the dragstrip, cooling down the motor with bags of ice draped over the intake in the thick heat of the summer, being forced to park at the far back of the A&W at Paso because it was so ugly, driving this beast that nobody could believe till they saw it in person in a time when first-gen Rivieras were still a rare sight on the street, much less an animal like this one that had a hard time stopping once it got fast. It was a hairy experience to drive, but hey – it was work-in-progress. We just never got the chance to see it all the way through and that’s the real shame of it all.

We have no idea what happened to our blown Riv. Probably got parted out for that ProCharger and all its goodies. But that car was the living, heavy-breathing, mechanical version of everything we wanted to be. Still breaks our heart, too.

One Response to “THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY”

  1. STONER says:

    From Brian Bossone (after reading the piece): “Correction needed blower in hand and no way to mount it- Brian made the mounting brackets utilizing the old alternator brackets as a base,blower crank drive was fabricated along with all the tensioner and blower tubes. Fuel system was set up with boost sensitive regulator and timing controlled by an msd boost retard system. I know Dan getting technical but it was an awesome fun build and way out of the box for it’s time and way before CNC machines. Wish you could find it because it did hall ASSSSSS!!”

    We wish we could find it again, too Brian!

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