- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

From the early days of the 20th century right on up almost until World War II, auto designers discovered that adding a boat tail to a sporty car ensured sales success.
The evolution of postwar automobile design eliminated the stylish boat-tail design. That is, until 1971 when General Motors designer Bill Mitchell put a modernized boat tail on an enormous Buick Riviera coupe.
About 43,000 boat-tail Buick Rivieras were produced annually for three years, with the total being 101,618.
In 1972 only 33,728 Buick Riviera Customs (as the boat-tail Buicks were officially known) were manufactured. In the greater automotive scene, that number is relatively small. So what are the chances of any one person ever owning one, or two, or three boat-tail Buicks?
Pretty good if your name is Neal Herman. While a student at Ventura High School in California, Mr. Herman purchased his first 1972 boat-tail Buick. The used car was red, accented by a white top, and it had bucket seats. The flashy Buick, which served him well throughout high school, went to college with him at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona.
Before Mr. Herman graduated, his Buick died a fiery death at the side of the road in 1981.
By 1993 Mr. Herman's job with Chicago Title Insurance took him to Washington. Life was good, but something was missing. Lacking a boat-tail Buick leaves a big hole in one's well-being.
He found a second 1972 Buick Riviera and bought it quickly. "It was a Damascus barn car," Mr. Herman explains.
It was a burnished bronze color and proved to be a nightmare. "It had serious rust problems and engine problems," Mr. Herman volunteers.
One problem after another was addressed and, during a period when everything was working, Mr. Herman sold his second Buick.
Undaunted, he resumed his Diogenes-like search for an honest Buick. Mr. Herman had planned a California trip in the summer of 2001. That was when he saw a 1972 Buick Riviera advertised on the Internet. It was Arctic white highlighted with blue pinstripes with a light blue vinyl roof and had been driven just 96,000 miles in 29 years about 3,300 miles annually. Best of all, it was in California.
After flying there, Mr. Herman quickly went to Pismo Beach to inspect the Buick. Because the 18-foot-2-inch-long car appeared to be as it was advertised, he bought it on the spot.
"The date was July 16, 2001, 20 years to the day when my first Buick died," Mr. Herman said incredulously.
Performance tests on similar Buicks done in 1972 show that the big, 4,343-pound car could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds and could reach 84.6 mph in a quarter mile. Those accomplishments were achieved thanks to a 455-cubic-inch V-8 engine cranking out 250 horsepower.
Mr. Herman settled into the Cassel-cloth interior, fired up the responsive V-8 and drove the car to his cousin's house in San Diego, the four-barrel carburetor drinking fuel at the rate of one gallon every 17 miles. The 122-inch wheelbase provided a pleasant ride. "It has road-hugging weight," Mr. Herman said.
Returning to Washington, he left the car in California after arranging to have it trucked across the country.
He surveyed the papers that came with the car, plus some research indicating that the original owners were Kingsley and Lucille Thomas of Menlo Park, Calif. The base price was $5,149.05, but this was a "loaded" Buick with a suggested sticker price of $8,352.05. There is no way that Mr. and Mrs. Thomas paid that amount, since the original window sticker has a warning stamped across it saying:
"Please Note This unit has been used by the manufacturer in company service. The manufacturer's suggested retail price shown hereon is for a new car and has not been adjusted to compensate for such use."
How it was used as an executive's car, as part of a press fleet or a rental car is unknown. What is known is that the car was assembled in Flint, Mich.
The window sticker does list the extensive number of extracost options, which include:
cElectric sunroof……….$589
cAir conditioner………….507
cAM-FM stereo tape deck…363
c6-way power front seats…..205
cCustom seat trim, belts…..200
cPower windows………….129
cCustom vinyl roof………..125
cMax trac wheel control…….89
cAutomatic level control……77
cChrome-plated wheels…….70
cElectric door locks………..69
cCruise master…………….67
cSoft Ray tinted glass……….49
cPositraction control……….48
cCornering lights………….36
cH78-15 white sidewalls…….35
cHeavy-duty air cleaner…….30
cMaintenance-free battery…26
cBumper protective strips….24
cTrailer hitch less ball………23
cFront lamp monitors………22
cHeavy-duty radiator……….21
cWindshield washer………..21
cSpeed alert, trip odometer..17
cCalifornia emission test……15
cFour-note horn……………15
cDoor guards…………….15
cElectric trunk release……..14
c5-wire trailer harness…….14
cHeavy-duty air filter………..9
cDoor guards……………….6
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas bought the car May 12, 1972, at Mucci Buick on El Camino Real.
The second owner was an Escondido dealer who held onto the Buick for only three years before Mr. Herman came along to become the third owner of his third 1972 boat-tail Buick.
He had the sporty Buick trucked directly to a shop in Staunton, Va., to undergo a mechanical physical examination and to have some minor exhaust system work accomplished.
It came away with a clean bill of health, the air conditioner blowing icy cold air, the hideaway wipers tucking away where they should and, of course, as a sign of the times, all three ashtrays featuring individual cigarette lighters.
So here we have a rakishly styled Buick with a gigantic engine (I've had it up past 90 mph, says the owner), a curvaceous dashboard to envelop the front-seat occupants, and the owner concedes: "It's terribly impractical."
Don't ask why, then, has he owned three of them.

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