Travel: An Automotive Ex-Pat: Cruising Around The French Riviera In A 1972 Buick Riviera

An Automotive Ex-Pat: Cruising Around The French Riviera In A 1972 Buick Riviera

By Romuald Clariond
November 28, 2020
1 comments

Photography by Romuald Clariond

During the first few days of October, I was invited (along with my Audi Avant country-crosser) to enter Quattrolegende, an event that placed me in some good company among a few Sport Quattro Group B cars and a S1 E2 Pikes Peak replica to top things off. I was enjoying the beautiful Audis in the Austrian Alps when my friend Lionel called me to join him a couple of weeks later in the Côte d’Azur’s backcountry for the second edition of Boucle Historique de Saint-Paul de Vence.

The gist is simple and compelling: beautiful classic GT, sports, and luxury cars built before 1995 set off on a 90-km loop around Saint-Paul de Vence, and finish with a lunch at Yves Montand’s beloved La Colombe d’Or. A Ferrari F50 cruising around the French Riviera is pretty close to peak opulence, but this is no snobby affair for the miserly wealthy, seeing as the profits of the event go to an association supporting children that are suffering with cancer.

On the beautiful narrow winding roads of the backcountry, an Alpine A110 would make for a great steed, and that’s what the patron of the event, Pierre Lartigue (a three-time Rally Dakar winner) chose to take on the loop. Not us, however.

My friend and driving partner for the event, Lionel, is partner in a garage called On American Roads, and he chose something radically different than the mostly European automotive cadre: a 1972 Buick Riviera. Nearly 20 feet long, our land yacht’s 7.5L V8 would deliver the experience of American open road decadence in a place where there are hardly any straights longer than the car itself.

The exterior looks like something Batman might drive to keep a low profile (though our metallic copper paintwork would have to be resprayed in black for this to work), and inside it’s all but a big sofa. On a few occasions, with the sun streaming in the windows rather than beating down on us, a crisp breeze coming and going, I found myself verging on more than one afternoon nap. If not for missing out on the scenery I may well have slept through our journey.

We showed up among the very first cars at automotive museum in Vence, where the little rally was set to begin. We wander around while having a coffee with David, the President of the Saint-Paul Car Club that organizes the Boucle, and we enjoy watching the remaining cars filter into the parking area. A Jaguar E-Type, Ferrari 512 BB, 360 Modena, Testarossa, F50, 348 GTB, Daytona, Opel Kadett GT/E, De Tomaso Pantera, Porsche 993 Carrera RS Clubsport, Aston Martin V8, BMW 507, and my friend Alain’s Mustang Fastback GT 350 added to this superbly diverse group of cars.

In the pretty tight streets and parking the pétanque field in front of the Café de la Place, our Riviera feels a bit like an orange Hulk, so a crew member tells us to just park next to La Colombe d’Or’s door. This brings great pride to Lionel, who’s already been in high spirits during our navigation of the route in his ultimate cruiser.

When I’m back home in Monaco, I’m met with tragic news of Eddie Van Halen’s passing. Lionel, the owner of the Buick, was a massive fan, and an accomplished guitarist himself (actually one of the very best in the area, and the two Glamory albums that he wrote and played on are still in my rotation. I suggest “Air Guitar,” a track I’m still surprised that it didn’t become a hit in the mainstream). It’s been a very tough year for my friend, as Lionel suffered a much greater loss already this year when his father Daniel passed in May—I’ll never forget the AC/DC gig we watched together in the rain in Nice, ten years ago. It had been very close to be cancelled a few minutes before the magic actually happened, and I’m glad to have spent that time together. Daniel loved Rivieras and their kin, and that’s why Lionel has formed a similar passion for these pieces of Americana far from home.

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Adam Bernard
Adam Bernard

While the detail shots were suitably dramatic, I would have preferred fewer Porsches and Ferraris and more than one shot of the whole car–you know, actually showing the Riviera on the Riviera! Great story, regardless…