15k: Doin’ the Ton: 1957 Buick Century Riviera

UPDATE 4/6/14: As we mentioned in our original post in January, there’s no telling what offer might drive this car home.  However, we can now say with certainty that sometimes its good to sit tight and wait for the seller to make the first move.  This car has been relisted on Ebay with a $3,000 lower price of $16,000; sending a strong ‘offer’ signal to anyone who’s interested in a great example of 50’s chrome.

Whenever old Buicks are being discussed at car shows or
cruise nights, the casual Buick fans tend to swoon over the Special.  After all, that Special name implies that it’s the one to own, but to anyone planning to get the most out of one, the hottest Buick for the buck is definitely the Century. Find this slightly modernized 1957 Buick Century Riviera 4 door hardtop for sale in Groveland, CA for $19,000 via Ebay
Classifieds.(This listing will end about
the time this is posted, but there’s no telling what offer might drive it home after
the listing closes).

’57 Buicks are more unique than a ’57 Chevy for less money, but they are endowed with a love-it
or hate-it
design which combines elements as varied as the baleen of a whale and
jet engine nacelles for the front grille and after-burner themed taillights and
exhaust outlets in the back.

But what makes the Century more special than the
  Well, just as Café Racers earn
their stripes by
  “doing the ton”, the Century
earned its name in the 1930’s by becoming the first Buick that could reach a 100
mph cruising speed.
  The Century reached
that milestone by relying upon the shorter wheelbase lighter body of the
Special and the higher compression engine of the Super/Roadmaster .
  In 1957 that difference was pretty
substantial as the Century was given 50 more horsepower than the Special due to
its 10:1 compression version of the same 364 cubic in Nailhead.
  1957 was also the first year that Buicks was
able to offer an engine with a 300 HP rating.
Buick Nailheads have a well earned reputation as torque monsters and the
’57 is no exception offering
400 stump
pulling ft/lbs at 3200 RPM.

This cub reporter has owned a 1957 Buick Century as a quasi Daily Turismo and can
attest that while they are certainly strong enough to cruise modern highways
all day long at 80mph without any modifications other than hardened valves to
cope with unleaded gas; stopping one is a different matter altogether!  In 1957, GM felt that 1” wide brake shoes on
a car weighing in excess of two tons was sufficient.  Those skinny little Fred Flintstone stoppers,
along with a single reservoir cast iron master cylinder can definitely add a layer
of excitement to any road trip. 

This car
has been very wisely updated to a dual reservoir master cylinder and disc
brakes up front, which will make this a much more confident car to drive on a
daily basis.

The Buick transmissions from the late 40’s to the 60’s are
pretty casually referred to as Dynaflows but there were a lot of variations
along that timeline.  In 1957, Buick was
using a version which I believe they called flight-pitch.  It’s a switch-pitch or dual-pitch variation
on the original dynaflow theme.   Under
slow-steady acceleration there is no shifting.  

It responds like a CVT.  Under
demand, or by selecting the “L” range on the column shifter, one could initiate
a much more rapid acceleration by commanding a change in the pitch of the
turbine vanes in the transmission.   Stomping
on the accelerator moved a direct linkage lever that was in tandem with the carburetor
linkage, extending down to the transmission housing where it actuated a lever
inside the transmission which mechanically switched the pitch to allow for more
rapid acceleration.  I can tell you from
experience a cold 1957 Buick requires patience if you don’t use the “L”

This one appears to have a modern carburetor and air
cleaner which means that the original equipment starting mechanism has been
bypassed.   The 1950’s Buicks are started
by turning the ignition to the “On” position and stepping on the gas
pedal.  The gas pedal linkage actuates a
switch that’s incorporated into the base of the carburetor which engages the
starter.  As soon as the car starts and
engine vacuum is created a small ball bearing is ‘sucked’ up out of the circuit
and the starter is disengaged.   

This was
all made necessary because as Americans we’d just fought World War II and we
were tired, we didn’t want to do any more work than was absolutely
necessary.  Eliminating the strenuous
activity of turning that ignition key further to the right was just the type of
luxury the hot rod a 1950’s hot rod banker was looking for. Years later, Americans became so lazy that they forgot how to do basic math, read, write, spell or understand that what a politician is saying and what he means are totally different things….but that took a few more years.

A quick peek at the interior reveals original fabric
material, which the owner says he redid from remnants.  From personal experience I can tell our
readers that this material is still available but it is incredibly expensive.  Each model had its own specific fabric, even
though the color choices were the same.   

Buick’s interior trim for ’57 offered an engine turned dash
like they offered in their landmark ’53 Skylark.  While the ’53 had touches of engine turned
dash, the ’57 has acres of it.  The
modernized radio blends in well and should provide far better entertainment than
the original radio which involved some wait time in the pre-transistorized
Eisenhower days. 

See a better display of chrome
bezels and gadgetry from the 1950’s for less than $20K? email us here: