LAND-yacht. Barge. Boat. All cheeky nicknames for gigantic 70s-built American cars, predominantly from the GM stable. Not content with sheer size, manufacturers at the time also added unusual body styling to the mix, with Buick’s early-70s boat-tail design perhaps the most distinctive.
This article was first published in the March 2020 issue of Street Machine
And it’s this pointy-ended feature that lured in Dan and Monika Appleby while they were on the hunt for a tidy weekend cruiser. Monika was keen on a muscle car, while Dan preferred a custom, and the locally sourced, big block-powered 1972 Buick Riviera coupe they found neatly ticked both boxes.
As the Rivi arrived in project form, it toured the local shops for paint, panel, airbags, diff and donk before returning home for assembly. “That’s when I discovered the limitations of my tools and abilities,” Dan shrugs.
After spying an article on Ben Erdahl and Lucky’s Speed Shop within this very magazine, Dan was amped to get the Lucky’s team on the project. A deal was struck, and with it came a complete rethink of the Buick’s direction.
The Riverboat Gambler moniker has been perfectly pinstriped on the bootlid. “We combined the Riviera and boat-tail names into one: Riverboat,” Dan explains. “Then I conjured up an image of Maverick and the old-time gamblers on those boats,” Dan says. “The car is different – a bit of a maverick – so the name stuck!”
“Ben had me focus on the vision, on what I wanted to achieve,” Dan says. “I started to build a tidy and mildly customised cruiser, yet deep down I wanted something more complete – a full custom with handcrafted workmanship. My vision was for a European-styled American grand tourer, which meant that almost everything had to be redone.”
Hand-crafted panels tuck away the battery, fuse box, air tank and compressor, and most of the Lifestyle Concepts stereo goodies. The head unit remains visible, topped with ‘Riverboat Gambler’ badging
It might seem like an extreme measure, but you can’t obtain perfection by making compromises. “I have learnt the difference between a good enough job and a great job,” Dan says. “Virtually nothing is off-the-shelf – Lucky’s made the car, and it shows, as the attention to those details is phenomenal. Everything down to the fasteners and brackets has been hand-made or modified.”
This build is certainly cohesive, with a sharply defined theme and high-end finishes. Working from initial design renderings by artist Ryan Ford, Ben and his team at Lucky’s stripped the mammoth Buick back to bare metal to ensure quality from top to tail. With body filler removed and rust repaired, every panel was reworked for perfectly gapped fitment and a smooth flow. The bumpers have been modified to tuck into the body and flow neatly into the body contours, while the front bar has been further customised to work around the re-styled grille, and is bookended by a pair of bumperettes. The grille itself is now a customised, slatted arrangement relieved of the bulky surround.
This level of craftsmanship has been applied to every other facet of the build, including the desired hue. Flowing over the refined panelwork is Maserati’s PPG Bordeaux Pontevecchio, topped with Paint Huffer Micro Rootbeer metalflake candy scallops.
Here’s 464 cubes of torquey Buick goodness all wrapped up in a glossy custom bay. Nothing has escaped the Lucky’s detail train, from the metalflaked donk and dress-up parts through to custom-built tweaks such as the hand-crafted alloy fan shroud and neat bracketry
The cabin is the size of a small loungeroom, yet inspiration was drawn from something much smaller. “The interior is modelled from a 50s Ferrari GT,” Dan says. Brent Parker and Raymond Mifsud of Ray’s Trimming were tasked with the massive job, and knocked it out of the park. Tan vinyl covers the door trims, perforated rooflining and hand-crafted seats, which are based on Honda frames. Other features such as bespoke levers and knobs complement the now more curvaceous and refined hand-crafted dash.
Motivating the land yacht is 464 cubes of Buick iron thanks to Nas at Nas Automotive & Thornleigh Cylinder Heads. An Edelbrock 750cfm carb feeds an Edelbrock B-4B manifold. Heads are heavily worked Buick stage one items, and packed with all of the good gear. They boogie thanks to a Schneider Racing cam, while below are SRP forged slugs, on stock rods and crank. Nas reckons the mill is good for around 500hp at the fly.
Once the engine was slid into the bay, Lucky’s whipped up a bunch of custom brackets, linkages and shrouds, before finishing off the entire under-bonnet area to match the rest of the build’s superior quality.
Certainly, Dan and Monika’s faith in a trusted shop has paid dividends in the final product. “Working with Ben is like collaborating with an accomplished artist,” Dan enthuses. “I could tell him what I had in mind and he’d make it work into the overall theme of the car.”
These efforts have garnered the car some prestigious awards since its completion. At its MotorEx 2019 debut, the newly christened ‘Riverboat Gambler’ took home the Top Custom Pinnacle Award and the first Mario Colalillo Memorial Award. “It was a huge honour to receive the Mario trophy,” Dan says.
“People in the crowd flocked to the car, and the judges were very complimentary. The whole experience was fantastic.”
More recently, the Buick has taken awards at Summernats 33 and the Victorian Hot Rod Show. In May, the Rivi will be headed to the peak custom event, Nostalgia Lane.
When all is said and done though, this Buick was always going to be a cruiser. “The car is fully engineered,” Dan grins. “As we drive by, people step onto the road to look at it and ask questions. It literally stops the traffic.”
- Body-coloured custom Auto Meter gauges in Lucky’s-altered bezel seats to suit the curved dash
- Hand-crafted epoxy resin knobs and levers from silicone casts
- Custom column shift and indicator stalk to suit steering wheel profile
- PearlCraft 1960 Oldsmobile wheel with Lucky’s-added body colour and inserts
- Hidden stereo, Bluetooth, child-seat anchors, airbag controls and a/c controls
- Hand-formed steel dash, refined with amplified curves
1972 BUICK RIVIERA
Paint: PPG Bordeaux Pontevecchio & Paint Huffer Micro Rootbeer
Brand: 464ci big-block
Carb: Edelbrock 750cfm
Manifold: Edelbrock B-4B
Heads: Buick stage one, worked
Cam: Schneider Racing
Pistons: SRP forged
Oil pump: TA Performance high-performance
Fuel system: Mallory electric pump, PULP
Cooling: AFCO radiator, TA Performance water pump, custom clutch fan
Exhaust: TA Performance headers, custom twin 3in exhaust with Flowmaster mufflers by Lucky’s Speed Shop
Ignition: ICE distributor, coil and leads
Power: 500hp (approx)
Diff: Buick, LSD
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: QA1 shocks, Air Ride airbags, custom control arms
Rear: QA1 shocks, Air Ride airbags, triangulated three-link, custom control arms
Steering: GM-style Ididit column, right-hand drive
Brakes: Wilwood discs (f & r)
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: American Racing Salt Flats 18×8 (f & r)
Rubber: Diamond Back Redline (f & r)
Ben Erdahl and the team at Lucky’s Speed Shop; Sam Lisle; Ryan Ford; Vince and his family at Straightline Paint & Panel for the first paintjob; Judith Neilson for the use of Dangrove Art Storage Facility as a shoot location; Smith Concepts; Ray’s Trimming; Lifestyle Concepts; Mitch William