Do you remember your first time in a Lowrider? Avid builder and enthusiast John Black does, and he remembers it quite vividly. A native of Pico Rivera, California, John’s first foray into the culture came to him when he was just fourteen years old. Young men at this age are known to be curious and adventuresome, and John and his friend were no exception. One afternoon, his friend took his older brother’s car joyriding, with an impressionable young John riding shotgun. Remembering the experience as if it had just happened recently, John shines when describing the 1949 Chevy Fleetline that took his breath away that fateful day. After all, the Chevy had custom paint, hydraulics, and Astro Supremes, and the rest, as they say, is history. After just one ride in the Fleetline, John was hooked, and looked forward to one day getting a Lowrider of his own.
Two years after the joyride that forever changed his life, John’s father gave him an exquisite 1966 Impala on his 16th birthday. His dad had no idea of the obsession that was soon to come, as within a week, John was already at his local muffler shop getting his springs heated in order to bring the car lower to the ground. John was a hard working teen sitting on saved money, so once the car was lowered, John used the extra cash he had to buy some Rockets rims. A proud John washed up the exterior of the Chevy and took the car back home, only to be greeted at the door by his father, who was shaking his head in disbelief. Much to his father’s chagrin, this was about to be the start of a very long lowriding career.
John’s new-look Impala hit the streets, and soon after these inaugural cruises, a number of his friends began joining the local area car clubs. It would only be a matter of time before John did the same. His friends Tommy “Bird” Lopez and Roy “Honkey Roy” Hindson were in a club called Groupe ELA. Interested, John and his friend Mike Brickley began attending the club’s meetings, and they liked what they saw. John instantly felt a kinship with the club and decided to become a member. 37 years later, John still flies his Groupe ELA plaque.
In his three decades of service to the Lowrider movement, John has built five cars and one truck. The ’66 Impala was his first build, followed by a 1966 Caprice, a 1956 Bel-Air, a ’73 Caprice, a ’94 Suburban, and finally, the 1968 Buick Riviera you see on these glorious pages.
The Rivieria’s creation began quite innocently, as John and his family were attending a birthday party at their friend Willie’s house. John’s son Tony took him behind the garage of the house and showed him a car, interested in knowing what he thought about it. He jokingly told his son that the car looked a mess, and that whoever was building it had quite a project on their hands. Half of the engine was in the trunk, but all of the moldings and other important parts of the car remained intact. Apparently the car had changed hands within Willie’s family, had not been registered since 1985, and had been sitting behind the garage for a while.
Two weeks later, John was startled by the sound of a flatbed tow truck pulling up in front of his house. He looked out the window, and sure enough, the Buick Riviera from the birthday party was sitting on top of the bed of the tow truck. Before he could react, John’s son Tony came up to him and said “Pops, here’s your new project, I bought the car from Willie.” Scratching his head in amazement, John was now torn between the gratitude he felt from his son’s touching gesture, and the disbelief he felt while envisioning the magnitude of the project that now lay before him. He worried about what his wife Rose was going to think, and about what was he going to do with a car in that condition. All of his doubts and concerns lasted about five minutes, before John quickly sprung into action. The car was off-loaded into the garage, and John and his two sons, Tony and Jay, were well on their way to resurrecting the Buick. In about an hour, the engine was out of the car, the moldings and glass were removed, and the Buick was beginning to take shape.
“Disco” Ray Gonzalez was enlisted to perform the body restoration. He took his time, and about a year and a half later, the body was straight and ready for paint. The car was now as straight as an arrow, and upon Ray’s advice and the advice of his own son, John decided to paint the car black. The next step in the rebirth of the Riviera was to find the parts it was missing, a feat often easier said than done. The car was modified into an old 70’s Lowrider, with square headlights that were welded in, leaving the grill missing. John wanted to put the original grill back on the car, and include the hideaway style headlights that were a trademark of this model year. After about a year of hunting on the Internet, John found one in New York, and installed it, he even got the hideaway lights to work. With the exterior finished, it was time to take a look at the engine. The engine had been rebuilt in 1985, but was never fired up, thus John saw no need to open it up. After the car got back from paint, John installed the engine and it purred like a kitten on the first key-turn. The engine is currently in stock condition, but there are plans to possibly accent it with chrome and paint. The next step in completing the Buick’s rebuild would be to work on the suspension and rolling stock. John had Ray Gonzalez at “Laid Out Customs” install a two-pump air bag system in the car, deciding to preserve the original look of this American classic. Ray wired the air bag controls to the window switches in the driver’s side door panel. At the flick of a switch, John can raise the car up for those steep driveways, or lay it on the frame for car shows. The car originally had Tru-Spokes, but John sold them, opting instead for the more stylish 100 spoke wires.
To get the interior to match the quality of the exterior, John took the Buick over to Santana’s Upholstery. There, the interior was freshened up, and the front and rear seats were completely redone in leather and suede. Once that was completed, D-Motorsports in Whittier, California, installed the 900 watt Alpine system. The DVD/CD head unit is matched up to two amps, with enough speaker power to rattle the windows of this black beauty. The original steering wheel was left intact to keep this Buick as timeless as it is modernized.
After four years, the Riviera was finally completed and ready to hit the shows and the streets. Boasting two different versions of precious cargo, the Buick now cruises with John’s Groupe ELA plaque in the back window, and his grandson Andrew in the passenger seat. The car has won awards for Best Paint, Best Lowrider, and Crowd Pleaser. John would like to thank his wife Rose, his sons Tony and Jay, his son- in-law Hector, and Ray Gonzalez for helping him complete this awesome build. Though he’s proud of this big body beauty, he’s already looking for another unique ride to build. Any suggestions?
Owner: John Black
Club: Groupe ELA
Vehicle: 1968 Buick Riviera
CityState: Fullerton, CA
EngineDrive train: Stock 430ci and stock transmission
BodyPaint: 3 Stage Paint – PPG Black, 4 thick coats of clear; body prep and paint by Ray Gonzalez
Interior: Santana Upholstery in Norwalk, CA
Sound System: Alpine CD/DVD head unit with 2 amps for a total output of 900 watts; installed by Dynasty Auto Systems of Whittier
Air Ride Set Up: Air bag system installed by Ray Gonzalez at Laid Out Customs specializing in Hydraulic & Air suspension systems. 13808 Imperial Hwy, Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670. (562)331-9405
Wheels/Tires: 100 spokes; 175/70R/14