As many of you know, the Riviera Owners Association (ROA) was not the first club dedicated to the Buick Riviera. It took more than ten years before collectors of the Riviera began to organize and share information on this unique collectible. I am not sure which club came first, but in 1977 two collectors tried to organize owners and gather information.
Bill Freeman of Silver Springs, MD, started the “63 Riviera Registry.” The ROA library has copies of two letters written by Bill, which summarize information he had received from owners of the ’63 Riviera. The letters contain detailed information, including the differences between the early models and mid-year changes. Apparently, Bill had advertised and sent out questionnaires to obtain this information. The two letters were dated “Fall ’77” and “March ’78.” In the earlier letter, Bill had mentioned that he accompanied members of “The 1965 Buick Riviera Club” to Flint to meet with Buick designers and staff. I never had the opportunity to speak with Bill to gather additional details on his efforts. I do know that his members eventually joined with the ’65 owners club.
Evans Clagett ROA #58 started “The 1965 Buick Riviera Club” out of his home in Short Hills, New Jersey in 1977. Evans has been a member of ROA since its beginning and currently lives in Phoenix, AZ. I have been able to interview Evans, but due to the lack of exact records and a short memory, Evans has not been able to provide more details than offered here. Evans loved the 1965 Gran Sport, and has owned many over the years. He advertised the club in Hemmings Motor News for owners of the 1965 Riviera. With the merger of Freeman’s members, the club’s name changed to “The Riviera Club” and included 1963-’65 models. The club had more than 70 members after the first year, and it continued to grow through effective advertising to approximately 650 members when the club dissolved in 1980. Evans had the assistance of many, including John Hirsch, a New Yorker who semi-retired in Florida and shared a passion for the 1965. John was very much involved in the restoration of the ’65s, and was very outgoing, as well as opinionated. In one issue of their newsletter under “Letters to the Editor” (who was Evans), John’s photo appeared. John told me the reason his photo appeared instead of Evans’ was that he was better looking.
With the technical advice offered by John and others such as Ed Wong from Canada, the club shared valuable information in their newsletters. We lost John to a heart attack in 1993, but prior to his death, he was very active in the ROA, sharing his vast knowledge of the ’65. Evans edited and published the quarterly newsletters at his own expense until the winter of ’78, before asking $5 to cover costs. In following years, the newsletter was professionally printed and included many articles, including reprints from national magazines. We have a collection of some original newsletters from June of ’77 through the summer of ’79, along with others that are not dated. It is interesting to read these issues to see the low prices listed for cars and parts.
Evans and others were able to establish contacts at Buick Motor Division, and with their help were able to submit VIN numbers and receive a complete history of the car. Unfortunately, the only source today is for the ’71-’73 models through the Sloan Museum, which obtained some old microfilm. In the fall of ’77, Evans was invited to meet with designers and staff at Buick in Flint. Originally, they had expected to meet with Chief of Design Bill Mitchell, but he was unavailable. Instead, Evans along with members John Hirsch, Bill Freeman and Peter Brown spent two days meeting with David Holls, Mitchell’s assistant, and George Moon, interior stylist for the ’63 Riviera.
Ray Knott, left and Evans Clagett, right, at the
1996 ROA National Meet in Mesa, AZ.
In the Summer 1979 issue, Evans announced that another Riviera club was forming in Chicago, which would cover all the Rivieras from 1963 through 1979. In 1980, unable to continue running the club due to heath problems, Evans turned his membership list over to the group in Chicago.
The history of Riviera clubs will continue in the March/April issue.