Our 1968 Buick Riviera is similar to the other 49,283 Riviera’s manufactured that year as it was destined to arrive at a Buick dealership somewhere in the USA, made ready and offered for sale to potential owners. Our car is the rare “Aqua Mist” color, which was applied to only 1,417 (2.88%) 1968 Riviera’s. Because of the rarity of the color and its eye-catching appeal, it would be a good guess that our car was displayed front and center inside the ‘Skip Erb Buick, Inc.’ showroom in Akron, Ohio, its destination dealership.
The customer who bought this new Buick Riviera was Mr. Ralph M. Marino, also of Akron, Ohio. Mr. Marino purchased his new personal luxury “muscle car” sometime in early July 1968 for an estimated price of $5,632.50 (~$40,000 in 2017 dollars). A copy of the original Ohio vehicle title with an issue date of July 13, 1968 is included in the Riviera’s documentation, but no copies of the original purchase documents exist, nor are there any maintenance records from the original owner’s period of ownership. The Ohio title is stamped with annual registrations from 1968 – 1983.
Mr. Marino owned this Aqua Mist Riviera for a total of 33 years and 5 months, until December 2001, when he sold the car to his niece living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She and her husband owned the car until December 2015. The Riviera was purchased by a gentleman living in Vass, North Carolina. Some maintenance records during the time the car was owned by the niece and her husband were included in that sale.
Pictures of the Riviera from December 2015 show that the car had endured several harsh Ohio winters exposed to road salt and the elements. The front and rear fenders had extensive rust through, exposing the interior of the body cavities. The passenger compartment of the car had survived in relatively very good condition with no rust through of the floor pans or trunk. Even the optional AM/FM radio and power antenna are fully functional.
The new owner spent all of 2015 and most of 2016 working to repair the rust damage, which included stripping, filling, and sanding the body. He found and purchased a second set of front fenders with less rust damage for the restoration. These replacement fenders came with front fender cornering lights, which the original fenders did not. After the rust repairs, the new owner had the car freshly painted with the original Aqua Mist color. He also replaced the black vinyl top. The new owner also restored the air conditioning system to full working condition and replaced the front dash and rear seat speakers with reproduction speakers.
I found this Riviera for sale in May 2017. I was immediately captivated by the bright turquoise color of the car and its classic long nose and short trunk. I have always been a “Chevy Guy” but this Buick had my heart racing. I started searching and comparing this car with other 1968/69 Riviera’s for sale nationwide. I soon discovered this was only one of two turquoise 1968 Riviera’s for sale in the entire country and it was obvious that this North Carolina Aqua Mist car was far superior in quality to the other one available. I also found the AACA.org online forum for Riviera owners and posted some questions about issues to be aware of and things to consider when purchasing a second generation Riviera. The best advice I received was “Purchase a Riviera that is already restored because parts are hard to come by and you will spend more money on restoration as opposed to buying one already restored”. After discussing this car with my wife and praying about it, we decided to take a look at the North Carolina Aqua Mist Riviera since it was close to where we live.
While looking at and test driving the car, the owner told us he had been contacted by an interested party in Australia and that an agent was expected to arrive any day to also look at it. Afterward, we went home, discussed our purchase options, and decided to make the owner an offer. The owner accepted our offer and we purchased the car on June 1st, 2017. The owner told us that the agent for the Australian party had been scheduled to look at the car the next day! We felt very blessed to have gotten our Riviera in the nick of time!
Since taking ownership of the Riviera, we brainstormed to come up with a new name for it. We decided to call it “Aqua Zephyr” because it looks like a turquoise breeze as it drives by.
Since our purchase, we have made a few improvements. We have replaced the original steering wheel with a replica wood steering wheel because the original one was badly broken, and the wooden one just looks cool! We also replaced the plain '68 gas door with a '69 gas door with the “R” script, adding another touch of class. We installed a “Mustang Project” sequential lighting rear turn signal kit. We’ve had all of the engine compartment vacuum hoses replaced and the drum brakes completely restored, utilizing the original brake drums and new master and wheel cylinders. The stopping power of these new brakes is amazing for this 4,200-pound car!
In late September 2017, Aqua Zephyr was awarded an “Outstanding in Class” award at its first car show since we purchased it. We are very proud of its eye-candy appeal and the appreciation it gets when we drive it around town. We look forward to showing Aqua Zephyr off at many car shows and cruise-in’s in the future.
While our 1968 Riviera is not a fully rotisserie restored, 400-point trailer queen, it shows well, drives like a dream, and provides us with a lot of joy. The list of “to do’s” on the car is long, but we are very happy to be the new owners of this beautiful example of a luxury “muscle car”.