Within a span of a few hours, Jerry Michaels went from full elation to total deflation. The year was 1966 and after spending months in Vietnam dreaming of a new car, he purchased a 1967 Buick Riviera GS.
He ordered his car from Busse-Bredemann Buick in Park Ridge on Nov. 11, 1966. It came in on Dec. 22. "It was like a Christmas present," Michaels recalls. "A giant, expensive present."
When he got the call saying the Riviera had arrived, he went to the dealership that night after hours to catch a glimpse.
"It wasn't prepped yet and I couldn't take it home, but I had to see it," Michaels says.
The next day he eagerly returned with his mom to retrieve his Sapphire Blue prize. On the way home, his mom requested a stop at the Harlem-Irving Plaza for a run to Weiboldt's department store. Michaels stayed in his car, not wanting to leave his Buick and its new car smell. He busied himself by perusing the owner's manual.
His reading was cut short by a loud CRUNCH. Someone had scrapped his rear fender in the busy parking lot.
"I hadn't even gotten the car home yet!" he says now, laughing while thinking back to that stressful day.
Steaming, the young man got out of the Riviera preparing to lay into the careless driver. He rounded the fender and his rage disappeared. "I see she's probably 10 months pregnant," Michaels says. "I melted."
In the end, all things worked out just fine. Although, the mechanics back at the dealership were left scratching their heads.
"My brother took the car back the next day. They kept asking, 'Didn't we deliver that car yesterday?'"
After insurance fixed the damaged bodywork, Michaels commuted to his job at Walgreens. He also used the classy coupe to court a special young lady, his future wife, Linda. She clearly remembers the first time she saw Jerry, and his Riviera.
"All my previous boyfriends had crummy cars," Linda says. "Jerry had such a beautiful car for a young man. We went all kinds of fun places around the city."
Except when it remained snowbound. About a month after Jerry bought the Buick, one of Chicago's largest snowstorms hit the city in January of 1967. "The car was in the garage in the morning when it started to snow and Jerry decided not to try to take it to work," Linda says, adding that the new car stayed parked in that garage for a week because of the snow.
However, when weather warmed, many special trips were made north to Gages Lake in Grayslake, both before and after they married. Another fun journey was a road trip with some of Michaels' service buddies. They all motored out to the Mississippi River, north to Wisconsin and back east again, stopping in small towns along the way.
Those joyful jaunts slowed as gas prices rose in the late 1970s. In 1979 the couple stopped driving the GS and stored it inside their one-car garage. It sat until 2000 when Jerry deemed it time for an overhaul.
A three-year restoration commenced, returning the neglected heap into its former showstopping glory.
Decades of special memories are wrapped up in the Riviera with many more on the way. A comfy, must-have option Michaels originally ordered still makes their trips pleasant.
"The car had to have A/C," he says. "After all that time in the jungle heat, I wanted to be cool while driving."
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