1955 Buick Century Riviera two-door pillarless Coupe
New to the American car scene and really loving it, Jerramy and Anna Topping embrace an altogether different take on classic motors after a traditional English diet of Jags and Jensens.
Words and photography: Paul Bussey
Jerramy and Anna Topping have over the years developed a great penchant for English classic cars, notably Jaguars and Jensens; however, their 1955 Buick Century Riviera marks their first foray into American car ownership.
The spark for American cars was first ignited when he was a child: “I remember my father had a win on the horses one day and after he had collected his winnings in town on a Saturday morning, we went into a toy shop and he treated me to a model of a Sixties Buick Riviera, complete with a boat and trailer in tow,” he recalls. “I still have that model in my collection today…
“I’d been looking for a Fifties Buick to purchase for a while, spending quite a bit of time on the internet. One day we took a trip to the north of England to view an earlier model, powered by a Fireball Eight engine. I had been informed that it had zero rust, but when inspected, it was indeed quite rusty.” Anna quips: “We had a nice weekend in Yorkshire anyway, the first of quite a few associated with looking at cars or having work completed on them!”
Next, Jerramy and Anna travelled to East Anglia to look at a 1955 Buick Century Riviera two-door pillarless coupe. A friend had previously purchased an Oldsmobile from the same source and was extremely happy with it, so this was perhaps a good omen? It’s easy to see why this Buick really floated their boat. The vendor was an avid enthusiast of Fifties American cars and the car ticked a good many boxes. It was a blend of originality and a little personal customising by a previous owner in Texas, from where it was imported into the UK in February 2020. “We went to view the car in the summer of 2020 and decided there and then to purchase it, but what with Covid-19 restrictions, we didn’t actually take delivery until December 28, 2020,” Jerramy explains.
“I was quite keen to see if I could trace any of the car’s previous history, and in amongst the paperwork I found an invoice, dated 2005, for a car cover supplied by Owens Salvage of Wellington, Texas. I contacted Bob Owens by email and had a response within a few hours. Bob informed me that three of his friends had owned the Buick. Jason Duggan ran it from 2002-2008, then Cliff Waller owned it between 2008- 2016, both of them residing in Wellington, Texas. Bob’s email started with, ‘It’s great to see an old friend’, as I’d sent him some photos of the Buick.
“Bob’s email continued: ‘That car has been around the area for 25 years and it came from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but I don’t know of its history before that. A guy I know in Amarillo, Texas, purchased it and brought it into our area. Over the last 20 years, three different friends of mine have owned it. The last one had the engine rebuilt and a few other things redone. We have had some great long trips to California in that car and it always did a great job. You should have a great time with it in England. I happen to run an auto salvage in Wellington, Texas, so if you ever need some parts, please call or email me anytime.’ Isn’t it such a fine thing to find more history about the car that you’ve just purchased and know that it’s been well looked after and enjoyed? Knowing that the engine had been rebuilt is always very reassuring.
“The bodywork, which features the wrapped panoramic windscreen, first introduced in 1954, has been repainted to a very good standard, retaining the original colours of Cherokee Red (paint Code S) and Dover White (paint Code B); the two-tone colours suiting it admirably,” enthuses Jerramy. The brightwork remains in excellent condition (the bumpers, complete with Dagmars, which reached their zenith on Fifties cars, look to have been rechromed) as are all the stainless-steel mouldings. Even the petrol cap has its own chrome moulding. Indeed, there’s great attention to detail wherever you look on this Century Riviera model.
“However, the Smoothie-style chromed steel wheels are not original and a set of new radial whitewall tyres are a definite plus point for sure-footed road holding.
The interior (trim code 462) has been retrimmed at some time, using the correct original material of charcoal-pattern nylon with bolster material red and grey Cordaveen. Other nice original features include the Sonomatic push-button radio and Buick tissue dispenser fitted underneath the aftermarket Wards Riverside Clutch Matic air-con unit, which remains in full working order. A subtle custom touch is the replacement conical chrome steering wheel centre cap which fits in very well with the Smoothie wheels’ centre cap and Dagmar bumpers. Indeed, if you study the car’s brightwork in detail, the chrome conical shape theme is replicated at the front and rear and perhaps that is why a previous owner decided to fit Smoothies with chrome conical centre caps?
The original glovebox paper placard has survived, as has the jacking instructions placard to change the spare wheel, located on the underside of the bootlid. On the back of the bootlid, just above the central chrome moulding, is a small red pinstriping design which completes the custom touches. The initials JZ denote who applied the striping.
The car is powered by its original 235bhp 322cu in (5.3-litre) Nailhead V8, with a most impressive 330ft-lb torque at 3000rpm (the company’s first pushrod V8 engine) which features a brand new Edelbrock four-barrel carburettor which has replaced the original Carter/Rochester set-up. The transmission is the optional column shift two-speed Dynaflow automatic. No doubt, using the Special’s lighter bodywork and the Roadmaster’s more powerful V8 it’s easy to see why the Century was also referred to as Flint’s ‘factory hot rod’. These cars could easily achieve in excess of 100mph and were pretty quick off the mark too, with a 0-60mph time of under 10 seconds, yet still returning around 20mpg, if driven with a careful right foot.
Front wing portholes varied from three in 1954, four in 1955, 1956 and 1957, but deleted for 1958. Buick had a great year in 1955, selling 738,814 cars – the most for one year in their entire history – only eclipsed in 1973 with 821,165.
Jerramy and Anna have attended a number of shows during 2021, following a full service completed by Mike at Tornado Autos of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire (www. tornadoautos.com). However, it was noticed that the Dynaflow automatic transmission was slipping very slightly, so this was rebuilt by Tornado Autos. “This took a little while, as we had to wait for replacement parts to arrive from the US,” explains Jerramy. “The Dynaflow is now working beautifully with seamless shifting, and the car shows a good turn of speed with a comfortable 50-60mph cruising, though it’s slightly more agricultural in comparison to my other Jaguars. Assuming the Dynaflow transmission was original, after 66 years of stalwart service it was entitled to receive some TLC, as had the engine, some years before.
“We enjoyed attending the Rally of the Giants at Blenheim Palace in 2021. Of course, we are very new to the American car show scene but are really loving it. During the winter of 2021, I’m having the entire car Waxoyled to help keep corrosion at bay. This will entail removing the door cards and getting the Waxoyl into as many crevice, nooks and crannies as possible. I had one of my Jaguars done this way a few years ago by Rustbusters in Lincolnshire (www.rust.co.uk), which took two days. At the moment I’m unsure whether or not to leave the boot area as is, or to fit new carpets and brighten it up…” For your first Yank, the Buick Century Riviera is certainly way up from an entry level ‘cooking’ classic, and sure cuts an impressive dash. Jerramy and Anna intend to drive it just as often as possible in the coming years, in order to gain maximum pleasure from ownership. Looks like their Jaguars may be spending more time in the garage?!
Glamorous convertible publicity still. 235bhp 322cu in Nailhead V8. Four ‘Ventiports’. Dagmar overriders. Original condition boot.
Smoothie wheels are another mild custom touch. Interior has been retrimmed. Turned dash. Period ad. Buick’s pillarless hardtop profile was known as ‘Riviera’. Jerramy and Anna Topping. Subtle custom touches.