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John Lyons’ hand-built Buick is Loud, Fast and…Whimsical

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 2018-02-06 Hot Rod Network Staff
1968-buick-riviera-146© Robert McGaffin 1968-buick-riviera-146

John Lyons has courage, and he has respect for what has gone before. Call him traditional. That he makes a livelihood by joining his fabrication skills and artistic talent may have a lot to do with a philosophy that urges him to build something from scratch rather than use much of anything that was ready-made or store bought. To him, that's underlying theme of hot rodding, the roots from which it grew. And as some of you well know he's in a distinct minority. He lists his occupation as fabricator/artist.

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Look at what he likes; not any of those Brand-X critters that draw people like sleep walkers, but instead a load as unlikely as a Buick. His Riviera, shaped like a torpedo, seemed an excellent platform to go against convention and show the neighbors just how well he could car craft. At 47, he's not starry-eyed and anxious. He's owned the thing for 26 years, straight from Aunt Rosalie after her husband's passing. This was a dream deal: the Riviera had been stored clean and dry for fifteen years before John got it.

Research

A few of the things that make this car a stand-alone hero is that its Flint motor thrives and that its transmission is bound to a clutch. The back axle isn't a 9-inch, a 12-bolt or even a 60 Dana whopper, nah; John wanted something as weird as the rest of his project: a Winters Performance quick-change (originally developed for down and dirty racing and circle track tantrums) would fit the puzzle nicely.

Throughout the journey, John wanted to surprise folks and be surprised himself. He had no blueprint for doing this except the one he made up in his head. He built the engine, the fuel injection, oiling system, the headers and exhaust tract. He built the crossmember for the transmission. He amended the suspension with adjustable weight jacks. He built the control arms. He converted the drive shaft to a one-piece design and modified the floor and frame to accommodate. He piled it with carbon fiber panels (a big reason why John was able to eliminate 1,000 pounds of curb weight, which is now approximately 3,400 pounds), and then he had to build the wings and foils critical to its visual menace. He did the clean-up bodywork. He painted the thing. Then he reclined, had a long, cool draught and looked lovingly at his progress, knowing full well that he'd never be finished with it.

John has never had the car officially timed at doing anything. It's much more important that he can drive it sparingly on weekends, racking maybe 1,500 miles in a year. They've seen the car in the Syracuse Nationals Designer's Dozen three times. They've seen the Riviera as an award winner at GoodGuys. John figures he's got four years in this stage. He paid Aunt Rosalie $2,500 for it, but when we asked how much he'd invested so far, he crinkled. "Will my wife see this?"

Tech Notes

Who: John Lyons

What: 1968 Buick Riviera

Where: Tillson, New York

Engine

Transmission/Drivetrain

The last stick-shift Buick we can remember was schoolmate Bill Peery's '56 Special that would lay 100 feet of scorched cords if you just thought about it. A normal, sensible person would likely gravitate to a self-shifting transmission, too, but abnormal John couldn't abide it. Unless he hadda a pedal for his left foot he wouldn't be able to sleep right, so he got a Tremec TKO-600 five-speed, made a custom crossmember to hold it up and converted the center-bearing driveshaft to an aluminum one-piece construction. He swapped in a T/A aluminum flywheel and covered it with a McLeod dual disc clutch assembly abetted by a McLeod hydraulic clutch release. The drive axle is a revelation: a Winters Performance quick-change sports a 3.64:1 ratio, a limited-slip differential and full-floating axle ends.

Chassis / Suspension

Before the chassis rehab began, John set the engine rearward nearly a foot. Displacing mass would enhance weight distribution for a much more neutral handling attitude. This was not possible unless John put a up new firewall. A good start to be sure, but he marched on with ideas of his own. He built the suspension from Grand National stock car spindle pins, hand-made aluminum control arms, Jeg's double-adjustable coilovers with 1,000 lb-in springs, an Addco 1-inch anti-sway bar, and a big bag of Heim joints. To accommodate the Flaming River power steering rack, John modified the big crossmember. Currently, alignment settings are -2-deg. camber, 9-deg. caster and -1/16- to +1/16-inch toe. The back half of the big Bu' is held up by Jeg's adjustable coilovers with a 450 lb-in springs. An Addco 1-inch diameter bar attends. John didn't quit the job until he'd posted a pinion-mounted Panhard bar. These particular changes have pulled the Buick five inches closer to Mother Earth.

Body

Since the car had been stored high and dry for centuries, beyond an odd door ding or two, its body was pristine. John assumed responsibility. He shaved the door handles, brushed the trim, and built a carbon fiber hood, deck lid and front bumper along with those craaazy splitters/struts and rear spoiler. Well, somebody had to paint it. John looked around, flicked his eyes left and right and said there's only me here now. He liked the Kirker Automotive Finishes Carbon Fiber Gray and applied it as base/clear that he color sanded and buffed out. This just in: the irrepressible John sent images, "I'm currently working on carbon fenders and quarter panels to fit my new 19x13.5 wheels and 355/30 tires." You gotta love this guy.

Interior

Yeah, it's not pretty but it's a little dirty and a lot functional. Seats don't match? Who needs two expensive Sparco buckets when the original leather-covered passenger chair will do? The mood is subdued; color is banished for the reluctant sheen of metal. John built an aluminum gauge panel and underscored it with a lower car-wide stripe. He arranged custom Arctic White Auto Meter gauges. He slicked out the console, made a notch for the Tremec shifter. He didn't include air conditioning or a sound system ("couldn't hear it anyway"). He's captured by Sparco 5-point harness; he centers on the NRG carbon fiber steering wheel and does that lovely dance on pedals that he built from stainless steel.

Brakes / Wheels / Tires

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