Old-timers complain about the kids these days, with their “Internet,” and “smartphones,” and lack of appreciation for fine hotrods. Well, we found one kid they like a lot, in spite of his new-fangled gadgets.
Since the age of 14, Dan Panaia had helped out around the shop at Performance Kent Automotive, which is owned by his dad, Mike. He worked on and owned lots of late model Camaros and Trans Ams, but he wanted something different to call his own.
“My friends were into things like Fox-body Mustangs, and I just didn’t want one of those,” Dan said. “I wanted to drive something older, and something you didn’t see at car shows all the time. The first-generation Buick Riviera fit that description perfectly.”
He started searching the Internet for a fixer-upper Riviera, and found what appeared to be a suitable 1964 model in Boston. After a long drive, he discovered the car was in far worse shape than the online pictures let on.
“The floor was so rusted out that the only thing holding the seats up was the carpet,” he said.
He took it home anyway, having driven too far to return empty handed. Besides, it contained a potent 425-cubic-inch Nailhead engine, along with some other salvageable components.
Wiser but poorer, Dan returned to the Internet and found a 1963 Riviera body and chassis in upstate New York. This one had only run up 30,000 miles on the odometer before it was entombed in a garage. It stayed there, covered in boxes from 1968 until Dan’s arrival in 2008. Once the debris was cleared away, Dan found what was once a fully-optioned Riviera with power seats and windows, tilt steering, A/C, and walnut inserts on the interior.
Armed with a near-perfect project car and a handy parts car, Dan set to work. He was attending mechanical engineering classes in college, and working on other cars for his dad, but still found time to work on the Riviera. Since reproduction parts for the Riviera were rare at the time of the build, Dan had to either restore what he had, or get help from friends to find or fabricate replacements.
“I wanted a car I could drive in comfort,” Dan said. “So I modified the frame for an air suspension system, and I swapped in a Chevy 200-R4 transmission for the overdrive. I had to custom-machine an adapter to connect that transmission to the Nailhead. That took a lot of trial-and-error.”
Dan’s machining experience also helped him devise all-new brackets for the engine accessories, re-arranged to accommodate the York air compressor, plus a custom air cleaner to fit between the dual Carter carburetors and the stock hood.
Outside, Dan and his dad handled all the body work and paint, with the last coat of clear applied by Mike when Dan had to rush off to class.
“We started with the silver for the stripe, then masked around the stripe for the top and bottom colors,” Dan said. “I really like the orange you can get on new Chrysler cars today, so I tried to capture that shade for the car.”
Dan also opted for another dash of 21st-century flavor for the Riviera: he can control the air suspension and many other functions of the car with an app on his smartphone.
“I love to mess with little kids looking at the car, like dropping the suspension when they touch the door handle. It’s like they discovered a secret switch only they can use!”
After three years of work, Dan and Mike declared the Riviera complete in June of 2009. Dan puts about 2,000 miles on the car every year, cruising to car shows with his girlfriend and car buddies.
“The guys running the car shows usually won’t let me park by my friends in the late-model sections,” he said, “but I’ve made a lot of new friends at the Goodguys shows. They have a little snow on the roof, but when we go out to lunch, they get a sweet discount!”
Frame: Stock, with modifications for custom air suspension
Suspension: Firestone air springs (front and rear) with Accuair air ride electronics, York air compressor, modified 1970 Chevelle rear stabilizer bar
Rear Axle: stock axles, rear end, and 3.42 ring and pinion
Brakes: GM disc brake conversion front, stock rear brakes
Wheels and Tires: Intro Twisted Vista II wheels (18” front, 20” rear), with Riken Raptor tires (P234/45R18 front, P255/35R20 rear)
Engine and Transmission
Engine: Buick Nailhead 425, overbored .030”
Cylinder Heads: Stock, with new valve seats and seals
Machining by: Center Automotive
Valvetrain: TA Performance camshaft; stock springs, valves, retainers, and aluminum rocker arms
Induction: Two 600 cfm Carter AFB carburetors, EELCO intake manifold
Reciprocating Assembly: Stock crank, bearings, piston rings, and connecting rods; Egge pistons
Ignition and Electrical: Mallory 6AL ignition controller; stock distributor with PerTronix internal pickup, Mallory coil and Pro Sidewinder ignition wires; stock starter, Summit chrome alternator
Exhaust: TA Performance headers, Summit stainless steel mufflers, custom exits through the rocker panels
Other Items: Custom-machined air cleaner and accessory brackets, Mallory Comp and Edelbrock fuel pumps
Transmission: Chevy 200R4 by Janis Transmission, TCI Maximum Lockup converter, custom bellhousing adapter
Body: 1963 Buick Riviera
Custom Features: Exhaust through rocker panels, deleted badges and lettering
Body Work By: Dan and Mike Panaia
Paint: Matrix Paints Chrysler Orange, Straight Black, and Silver
Paint By: Mike Panaia
Graphics: Dan Panaia
Upholstery: Black and perforated gray
Dashboard: Stock dash from 1964 Riviera, slightly modified
Gauges: Stock, plus Auto Meter Designer Black gauges
Other: Pioneer stereo system
Mike Panaia, and the countless friends who helped find and fab parts
Photography By: Maguire Photographics