Transforming a '63 Riviera into an even more beautiful automobile

Rick Farber transformed an already-beautiful 1963 Buick Riviera into an even more striking custom, achieving an ultra-low profile with a 3-inch top chop and covering it all in a gorgeous copper-orange pearl color.
Rick Farber transformed an already-beautiful 1963 Buick Riviera into an even more striking custom, achieving an ultra-low profile with a 3-inch top chop and covering it all in a gorgeous copper-orange pearl color. Wichita Eagle

“I’m a hot rod guy,” says Rick Farber. And anyone who saw him and his brother, the late Larry Farber, campaign a Pro Mod drag car throughout the Midwest will attest to that.

But both brothers had a thing for custom cars, too, with Larry having owned the iconic Lil Coffin show car for years.

So it comes as no surprise that when Rick got serious about building a custom car of his own, he focused his attention on finding one of GM’s best-looking cars, the 1963 Buick Riviera styled by the legendary Bill Mitchell.

“I had always liked Rivieras … always wanted a Riviera,” Rick Farber confessed. So when he found a slightly used ’63 Riviera for sale in Holton, he was ready to make it his own.

“It was black and rust … it didn’t run. But it was all there,” he recalled.

But this wouldn’t be just any nicely restored Riviera when he got done with it. Even though he loved the original design, he wasted no time in starting some major metal surgery.

“The tops just looked tall on them, and I wanted it to look different,” he said. So he started researching how to chop a top, something he had never undertaken before. When he spotted a You Tube video posted by a car builder in Sweden on how to chop a Riviera, he figured if a guy in Sweden could do it, he could, too.

He took a total of 3 inches out of the roof’s height, sliced the top from left to right just ahead of the factory character line and then laid the stock rear windshield forward. He fabricated new rear roof pillars, giving them a forward rake, and took just under 3 inches out of the top of the windshield frame.

“I walked a million miles with a tape measure in my hand to make sure everything was right,” Farber said.

He then turned the body and paint work over to his son-in-law, Chad Markel, at Service Body Shop in Derby. Blair’s Glass Co. in Winfield trimmed the windshield to fit and Corey Conyers at Crown Custom cut the new side windows.

For power, Farber wanted to keep things old school, so he had a 401 cubic inch Buick nailhead V-8 freshened up by Advance Performance Engineering.

“It’s got a little bit of a camshaft in it and some better valve springs and valves,” Farber said. He wanted to make a statement with the carburetion, so he located a vintage Eelco log manifold and bolted six Holley 94 carbs to the top of it. A ribbed valley cover and valve covers complete the classic custom look.

Spark is provided by an MSD distributor and Sanderson headers route exhaust back to a pair of Flowmaster mufflers that exit through rectangular tips ahead of the rear wheels.

“I like ‘em kinda loud,” Farber grinned.

A GM 700R automatic overdrive transmission reworked by Flip-O-Matic Transmissions sends power to a stock Buick rear end — for now. A heavy duty 9-inch Ford Positraction rear end fitted with 4:11 or 4:30 gears is currently in the works.

Wanting to retain the basic interior design, but bring it up to date, Farber called on Downey’s Auto Upholstery, which turned out a stunning black ultra-vinyl and woven silver design. Farber reworked the stock center console, adding a tach to its upper portion. The trunk, where the compressor for the AccuAir air bag suspension is hidden, was treated to the same upholstery scheme.

When it came time to give the Riviera some color, Service Auto Body whipped up a custom Dupont Copper-Orange Pearl shade that saturates the reworked lines of the car. A pair of oval ports were cut into the hood to get the six carbs up into cool air and Kindig-It flush mount door handles were sunk into the sheet metal.

The finishing touches included massive 18-inch Detroit Steel wheels in front and even bigger 20-inchers in the rear, powder-coated black with button hubcaps and polished trim rings. Tires are Nexens, 225/50/18 radials leading the way, 255/45/20’s applying the traction.

The entire project, accomplished primarily in Farber’s rural shop, took five years.

In the end, Rick and Teresa Farber know that when they roll into a car show, they can display something many people thought could not be possible: an even better looking 1963 Riviera than what the factory built.