Osoyoos man JF Launier and his highly customized 1964 Buick Riviera took home the coveted Ridler Award at the 2014 Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama.
“It took five years, 20,000 hours, blood, sweat, tears — lots of tears,” said Launier. “I don’t think I want to show it as much as I want to drive it and autocross it.”
Aptly named Rivision, Launier’s creation is based on an original, yet highly modified 1964 Buick Riviera.
“I knew I was not going to continue my career building 1950s cars. There’s not enough of a market and it’s for an older generation. I didn’t want to do the traditional 1969 Camaro or 1955-1957 Chevys. If I wanted to make a living for the next 20 years, I knew I’d have to build street machines,” said Launier.
“I wanted to do something different, and as the Buick came together during the build process, it sort of morphed into a two-seat sports car.”
The award presented by Chevrolet Performance in Cobo Center, right in the heart of Motor City during Autorama held March 7 to 9, wasn’t Launier’s first attempt to win it. Launier started working on the vehicle six years ago and took inspiration this time around from the boat tail rear glass that was used on the 1971 Buick Riviera models and design cues from the 1963-1967 Corvette Stingray.
Launier then combined these different elements, which included a low-slung profile and stance, front fender vents and tight proportions, and created a rolling masterpiece that is aggressive yet beautiful with exquisite attention to detail and functionality.
Many might think Launier’s 1964 Riviera styling is traditional custom, but at a closer glance, it’s light-years ahead of the old genre.
It’s powered by a modern Chevrolet LS 6.2-Liter V8 engine that develops over 850 horsepower, thanks in part to twin turbo chargers. The heavily breathed-on engine is connected to a Tremec six-speed manual transmission that sends the power to Pirelli tires.
Although he won’t say how much it cost him over the six years to create the award winning hot rod, some have estimated it to be $300,000.
His shop, JF Kustoms, located in Osoyoos, has previously goneto Detroit and shown two Pirelli Great 8 contenders. Ironically, the Ridler win makes him a Canadian taking honours for best hot rod in America.
“I probably should be U.S.-based but I prefer to be here where I grew up. It is for the same reasons anyone else chooses to stay in the Okanagan,” said Launier.
“We have to work through tons of problems because of where we are located but I choose to work through those. I wave the flag pretty good and I am proud to be from Canada and doing this.”
Third time was the charm for Launier in the Ridler competition; his previous two builds came away without hot rodding’s greatest honour but made it to the Great 8.
“I competed for the Ridler many years ago but didn’t win. It didn’t discourage me from building another car. When it came time to build the Riviera, I knew in my head what I had to do better. I’ve been known for building really beautiful customs. I like to proportion cars differently than other builders,” said Launier.
The last Canadian who won the award was in 1988, making the win even sweeter. Launier said the prized vehicle will not sit idle. It will be on next year’s Hot Rod Power Tour and he has plans to participate in the Optima Street Car Challenge. He vows it “will be the most abused Ridler car ever.”
“It took six years to build this car so now I am looking to help chase someone else’s dream, I fulfilled mine,” said Launier.
JF Kustoms employs seven people and Launier expects his business to pick up even more with the Ridler honour.
The 38-year-old learned to fabricate at an early age and in 2001 began work on customers’ cars. His efforts have earned him much praise in the industry including the Chip Foose Design Excellence Award.
Launier also has been involved on the TV Show Overhaulin’ in six builds over a two-year period, where he became friends and gained a mentor in Chip Foose.
“I am so pleased to see a young car builder such as JF winning this year’s Ridler award.” said Pete Toundas, president and owner of Championship Auto Shows Inc.
“This was one of the most radically modified cars among the Pirelli Great 8 and the extreme approach JF took in creating his Buick Riviera will inspire the next generation of custom car builders.”