Home Car Stories One Owner 1966 BUICK Riviera- Robert H Hartzell
1966 BUICK Riviera- Robert H Hartzell PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Friday, 23 November 2012 22:15

1966 BUICK Riviera- Robert H Hartzell


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

66 riviera robert hartzell front

Back in the early 1960s Buick needed to do something about the very popular Ford Thunderbird. When the Thunderbird grew from a two seat to four seat "personal luxury" car, Ford effectively invented a new category of car and sold great numbers of them. In 1962 Buick came out with a nice executive hot rod and personal car named the Wildcat. The new Buick Wildcat had a squared off shape a bit like the Pontiac Grand Prix and other large GM cars of the time.

Before the Wildcat had a chance to combat the Thunderbird, all of the other cars in the 'personal car' segment were wiped off the map by Buick's 1963 Riviera. Buick had used the Riviera name for a decade to denote top line option trim but saved that name for something absolutely spectacular. That something spectacular arrived in 1963 when for the first time the Riviera name was applied to a car model. The 1963 Riviera is simply one of the best looking cars of the 1960s. The proportions and shape are perfect. Sales reflected the terrific looks. With an instant success on their hands Buick preserved the great looks of the Riviera for a few years before the inevitable update was due.

66 riviera robert hartzell side sunset

The first generation Riviera is a stand-alone platform, but for 1966 it grew larger to share components with the new Oldsmobile Toronado shell. Unlike the Toronado which pioneered front wheel drive, the Riviera carried on with conventional rear wheel drive. In 1967, once the bugs were worked out of the Toronado, Cadillac shared the platform. Cadillac's fabulous looking Eldorado was also a front wheel drive. Buick stood pat with rear wheel drive despite using the same body shell.

Some fans lament the increased size of the second generation Riviera which slightly distorts the original first generation car's balanced proportions. The 1966 Riviera is still a fantastic looking car, as proved by strong sales. A farmer named Robert H Hartzell was certainly smitten with the 1966 Riviera. Robert owned a farm around Troy, outside of a small town called Piqua, Ohio. By 1966 Robert into his old age when he visited the local Piqua, Ohio dealership to buy a brand new Riviera.

Buicks are often purchased as a reward for hard work and as a symbol of a life of industry. That is what a large Buick or Cadillac was all about in the 1960s. Customers whose work elevated them into higher income brackets were encouraged to 'trade up' from Chevy through the graduations of the GM range until a lifetime of work was rewarded with the crowing GM cars Buick or Cadillac.

You could get the same body shape in a Chevrolet which gave you value or a Pontiac which had a racy image.  You could notch up a rung on the ladder to an Oldsmobile for a taste of upscale motoring. Olds had loyal customers, but was still distanced enough from Cadillac in the GM hierarchy to operate in the fringe district of 'status cars'. Buick was the car that announced you had made it. Doctors bought Buicks giving it an aura of success and respectability. Buick places just below Cadillac on the GM prestige ladder and is perceived to be 'almost as good as Cadillac, but much cheaper'. You bought a Cadillac because you could afford one. If you couldn't afford a Caddy, then the Buick gave you an 'almost Cadillac'. The list of luxury items and gadgets is very impressive.

The options on the Robert's 1966 Riviera are extensive: power steering, power brakes with finned aluminum drums, tilt steering, cruise control, power driver's seat, AM radio with rear speaker, air conditioning, clock, gauges, mats, remote driver's rear view mirror, power windows, trunk light and power trunk deck remote release. Below is a shot of the power antenna which enhances the clean design of the car as well as providing protection from vandals when retracted.

66 riviera robert hartzel power antenna

After being wooed by the beautiful looks of the Riviera, when he first sat behind the wheel Robert was faced by the terrific dash layout. The design is refined and aesthetically pleasing with a nice steering wheel verging on the sportiness of a Pontiac. Buick imbues the car with a bit less of an isolated driving experience than Cadillac, but that is partly to do with the market segment of the Riviera. Personal luxury cars have a tinge of performance to them. The Riviera provides a full gauge set running left to right with oil pressure, temperature, speedometer, fuel, amperes and clock. This is a departure from the 1960s GM policy of providing nothing but a speedometer and fuel gauge supplemented by idiot gauges.

There are two stalks on the left side of the steering column: one is a turn signal indicator and the other is for the tilt steering wheel. The rocker switches on the far left operate the washer and wiper. Below the rocker switches, the chrome adjustable vent for air conditioning outlet can direct air nearly anywhere.

66 riviera robert hartzell st wheel

Luxury appeared with innovative speedometer formats in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Lincoln used a red bar that travelled across a slot below the numbers to indicate speed. Most radical of all, Buick came up with this barrel speedometer. The pointer is static, while the numbers roll past it. In keeping with a personal luxury sporty image, the speedometer reads all the way up to 145 MPH. Note the 'Electro Cruise' dial control to the left. GM loved fancy space age names for gadgets. In regular person speak it means cruise control. The mileage is correct. This car has only travelled 65,448 miles since new. 63,500 of them were logged by Robert Hartzell.

66 riviera robert hartzell barrel speedometer

The gadgets keep coming. The headlight system is so complicated that when the Riviera was new, the dealer attached a complex series of directions for using the light switch. The instructions explain the 'Guide-Matic' headlight system which automatically adjusted your high beams and low beams based on an 'eye' in front of the car that read light conditions.

66 riviera robert hartzell guidematic dealer sheet

Not only are the headlights controlled by 'Guide-Matic' they are also hidden headlights.

66 riviera robert hartzel hidden headlight cover

The photo below was taken with the hood open to reveal the position of the headlights swiveled up in hidden position when turned off.

66 riviera robert hartzell hidden headlights

The 1966 Riviera has power controls in the driver's chrome armrest, and above that a remote control for the rear view mirror. Just aft of the power window and seat controls you can see the first of two door handles; this one is for the driver.

66 riviera robert hartzell driver door panel controls

The second door handle is a luxury touch that is also very practical. Each of the long doors has a second door handle at the far end of the door so that rear passengers can open the door when the front seat is flipped forwards for access. That little chrome lever aft of the driver's arm rest is the passenger's very own door handle.

66 riviera robert hertzell driver door r pass second handle

Below is a view of the center armrest from the back of the car. The armrest is folded down into the front seats of the split bench. The chrome built in ashtray and cigarette lighter was for rear seat passengers.

66 riviera robert hartzell split bench r ashtray

Robert Hartzell travelled from his farm on Petona Road in Troy, Ohio to Schlingman Buick- Pontiac Inc to buy his 1966 Riviera. Schlingman Buick- Pontiac was located at 119- 135 North Main Street, Piqua, Ohio. See a story about Schlingman in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website filed under OHIO.

66 riviera robert hartzell protecto dealer signature

The paperwork was signed Feb 22, 1966 by the dealer C. F. Schlingman. The final digits of the VIN are removed from the image for internet privacy. The leading VIN digits decode as follows:

4= Buick
94= Riviera
87= Two door Riveria sport coupe
6= Model year 1966
H= Final assembly plant Flint, Michigan

To the left of the VIN, the term UU refers to Riviera Plum color paint. The first letter is upper, the second lower. This means the entire car was one color.

66 riviera robert hartzell protecto sell date

Robert's Protect-O-Plate was mailed to Box 909, Piqua, Ohio for convenience instead of to his farm address.

66 riviera robert hartzell protecto plate cover

The Protect-O-Plate was introduced by GM as a simple way to organize and track warranty work. The booklet was stored in a slot in the glove box gathering owner information and vehicle service records all in one spot. Below is a page explaining how to use the Protect-O-Plate. The Owner Protection Plan Booklet had a page with a metal plate attached to the corner. This plate carried all the vehicle information. When the dealer submitted the owner's information to head office a similar metal plate was mailed to the owner at home. This metal plate carried owner information. The owner then attached his information plate beside the vehicle information plate.

66 riviera robert hertzell protecto plate instructions

The instructions above show the owner how to apply his metal information plate beside the vehicle plate. If the car was sold, the original owner removed his information plate and handed over the booklet with the vehicle information plate intact to the next owner. Below you can see the two plates as they appeared at the corner of a page in the Owner Protection Plan Booklet. The plate is intentionally blurry to keep private information off the internet.

66 riviera robert hartzell protect o plate metal plate

Owners are admonished to keep the Protect-O-Plate in the glove box at all times. Subsequent owners of the car are advised that their personal information can be added to the Protect-O-Plate by any authorized Buick dealer.

Not every owner was willing to bring his car into the dealer for service. Robert Hartzell lived out of town which made travelling in for service a hassle. Robert had access to tools at the farm which resulted in the Riviera never going him never to the dealer for service. Here is the first service coupon, still unused decades later.

66 rviera robert hartzell protecto plate 2 month coupon

Robert Hartzell appreciated his nice new Riviera and kept it garaged until navigating the narrow entrance to his garage became too tricky, which forced him to park outside year round. He was quite old at the time of purchase and once his wife died he ceased driving the car almost entirely.

66 riviera robert hartzell ac delco IBM punchcard warranty

Above is an old IBM punch card used by AC Delco for their battery warranty records in November, 1968. Putting a new battery in the Riviera a mere 2 1/2 years after buying the car demonstrates how infrequently the car was getting driven. A battery in regular use will yield 5 years of service. When the car was driven into town it would log a decent amount of mileage each time, but it sat in-between those jaunts which let the battery run down.

Most all of the mileage was accrued during Robert's 13 year ownership. After Robert died just before the end of 1979, the Riviera sat at 63,500 miles which works out to 4.800 miles per year. Robert left the car to his son who appreciated it and preserved it as a memory of his father. Robert's son took the Riviera out of the weather and stored it in a barn.

The Riviera remained registered to Robert Hartzell until 2007 when it was time to clear out the property. Robert's son decided to sell it to a collector. Taking this Riviera out of a barn wasn't the typical experience many describe about dredging some hulk of rust out of the dirt and evicting animals living and eating the interior. Robert Hartzell's old pride and joy wasn't perfect but it was in well maintained condition and clean.

Ed Balling was the fortunate collector who came to the barn in 2007 to rescue the Riviera. The body was very good, as was the interior although there was some dry rot inside. The outside of the tires looked good but they too were infested with dry rot. The Riviera started up and Ed was able to drive it out of its Troy, Ohio home. Five minutes down a country road Ed commented to his son sitting in the passenger seat that the ride was 'gorgeous'. Everything seemed to run stupendously by any standards. Considering that the Riviera had been sitting 28 years it was nothing short of amazing.

Ed's jubilation was short lived. An explosion was followed by smoke pouring out of the hood. With growing panic they kept driving. The country road didn't have anywhere to pull off. Ed eventually found a gravel side road and popped the hood. The A/C had seized up and fried the clutch and belt attached to it. He got the car home and had the A/C rebuilt using original style A12.

Some issues for the body of the Riviera developed towards the end of the 1970s as Robert Hartzell's ownership wound down. Robert had vision problems which created trouble parking the Riviera. His wife wasn't able to park it either so it wound up parked outside to avoid hitting the edge of the garage door supports. Prior parking misjudgments resulted in some hits to the front bumper which needed rechroming. The rear bumper was fine.

The body held up quite well considering it spent the end of its ownership with Robert parked outside in all sorts of weather year round. One hubcap was missing and was replaced. The vents behind the rear window drain out of the car via two tubes that travel through the trunk and dump out at the axle. The seals to the body at the base of the trunk floor had rotted away and were leaking. Those needed to be resealed. The photo below shows the passenger side drain tube which did its job of funneling out water in the rainstorm that left the Riviera soaked down in the photo at the end of this story.

66 riviera robert hartzell trubk drain tubes

The interior held up quite well. It needed new carpet but otherwise looks pretty good. Interestingly, certain plastic components in cars age at different rates. The brittle plastic used for the seatbelt retractor covers literally disintegrated when touched, yet other plastics in the car are still pliable and look good. The pedals are in great shape with minimal wear showing on the brake pedal.

66 riviera robert hartzell pedals and floor mat

The power windows and power seat didn't work until Ed gave the mechanisms a good cleaning and lubing. The eye for the automatic headlight dimmer was still functional, but sometimes the lights need to be dimmed using the floor switch. Employing a oft seen one owner strategy, Ed put exhaust tips on the car. You'll note that many of the original owners of cars immediately buy extensions for the exhaust to keep the fumes away from the chrome bumper.

Under hood there is some surface rust. Take a look at those dual horns. The Riviera was silent most of the time but if you hit the horns, no one was going to miss it.

66 riviera robert hartzell dual horns underhood

Aside from some minor seepage from valve covers and a greasy vacuum booster on the single circuit brake master nothing leaks and everything works. The old engine runs whisper smooth. Buick did a fair amount of testing before releasing their engines. Any Buick I've owned has always run very smooth due to proper cylinder compression balance. They also seem to resist developing oil leaks for a much longer time than other GM engines. Robert Hartzell's Buick shows few signs of work. The water pump was replaced and it sports new distributor cap, wires and some coolant hoses. Otherwise it is untouched.

66 riviera robert hartzell driver side engine

The Riviera came standard with a pretty hefty power plant in 1966. Below you can read the air cleaner which tells us this is a 'Wildcat 465" engine. Buick 'nailhead' engines were castigated for the small valves, but renowned for ample torque which is the figure 465 refers to. The actual engine size is 425 cubic inches and it produces 340 HP with a four barrel carburetor and 10.25:1 compression ratio.

66 riviera robert hartzell air cleaner from above

Rarely seen, but available for the 1966 Riviera was a dual four barrel carburetor set up that increased HP to 360. Predictably, car magazines wanted to wring out the 1966 Riviera with the GS option and the dual four barrels. GS stands for Grand Sport which was available as a package on the Special, too much the way Chevrolet offered the SS (Super Sport) option on the Chevelle and Impala.

The Grand Sport added the dual carburetors, 3.23:1 Positraction axle, dual exhaust, red line or white line tires and a HD suspension. A GS with optional 3.42 axle and automatic transmission made it to 60 in 8.1 seconds and topped out at 124 MPH according to ROAD AND TRACK in Feb, 1966. The R&T test car had a curb weight of 4,375 lbs. Test weight was a whopping 4,710 pounds. That engine was really hauling a load when it cut a 16.7 quarter mile.

Given the rarity of the dual carburetor cars and the fact that a photo in the R&T test shows 6,000 miles on the odometer it's likely that CAR AND DRIVER drove the exact same test car for their July, 1966 issue. The only discrepancy was that C&D quoted engine compression at 10.5:1. The GS C&D drove was identically equipped to the R&T car with bench and column shift, the same optional axle and 6,000 + miles on the odometer. Top speed was an estimated 126 MPH, 60 MPH came up in 7.7 seconds and the quarter mile passed in 15.9 seconds. Weight was 4,343 pounds at curb and 4,835 during tests.

The OOCC Riviera sports the standard 425 but when Ed ran a timed quarter mile at the drag strip it produced a 15.8 even while hindered by the fact that Ed forgot to turn off the A/C for the run! Below is a shot of Ed piloting the Riviera down the strip at National Trail Raceway, Hebron, Ohio.

66 riviera robert hartzel piloted down quarter by ed balling

The highway geared 2.56:1 open rear end allows the Riviera to top out at an indicated 132 MPH. At an indicated 110-120 MPH the car starts to float and lift but then settles down again at higher speeds. Needless to say, this experiment wasn't made until the original dry rotted tires were replaced. Ed went with modern radial whitewall Yokahama 235/70R-15s which are approximately the correct diameter for this car (original tires were 8.45-15 bias ply format). The new radials have a high enough shoulder to recreate the 'tall' look of the original bias ply tires.

Ed has the minor details of the Riviera sorted out now but the car fared very well over the decades that it sat in the barn. Robert Hartzell would be pleased to know that his special car is still in mainly original condition and will stay so for a long time to come.

66 riviera robert hartzell rear

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 17 March 2021 21:34 )