‘Barn-fresh’ 1974 Riv needs airing out

Ron Kowalke Old Cars Weekly |

Searching for rare or unique collector vehicles while I travel around the country is one of my favorite aspects of being on the Old Cars Weekly staff.



The barn in which this rare air bag-equipped, Stage 1-optioned
1974 Buick Riviera GS hardtop is stored in, is in danger of collapsing.

It usually takes quite a bit of chasing down leads that often don’t pan out as well as asking lots of questions of people I’ve never met before. And then there are times when it seems to work completely opposite: The rare or unique car literally finds me first.

Ronald Renick, owner of the Riv, urgently wants to find a buyer
for the car so it can be restored and showcased as a piece of
safety-equipment history.

One such recent discovery, is a rare 1974 Riviera “Sport Coupe,” parked for many years in a Pennsylvania barn. The barn is part of a salvage yard complex that I was touring for a story and the Buick was brought to my attention almost as an afterthought by its owner. If only they were all this easy to find!



While its cover has turned white with age, this pioneering “air bag”
(what GM termed an Air Cushion Restraint System) centrally
located in the Buick’s steering wheel is a rare survivor of the
few built.

In the bag
At this point, you might be questioning why a Riviera whose ’74 production level reached 20,129 is being depicted as rare. A fair question. This particular Riv is equipped with the $108 optional Gran Sport ride and handling package that included a rear stabilizer bar, J78-15 whitewall radial tires, radial roadability suspension and upgraded body insulation and specific GS badging. Further, the car was ordered new with the $139 optional Stage 1 455-cid/255-hp V-8. This upgrade package from the Riv’s base 455-cid/210-hp V-8 included performance tweaks, 3.23 posi-traction rear end and a chrome-plated air cleaner.


The GS badging was included in the optional Gran Sport package offered to buyers of 1974 Buick Rivieras for $108.

Beyond the $247 spent for the GS and Stage 1 options, this particular Riv has the distinction of being one of the first Buicks equipped with what General Motors termed its Air Cushion Restraint System (ACRS), or what is commonly referred to today as an air bag system.

While not a totally new safety feature by 1974, GM’s ACRS was equal parts innovative and controversial. It was a device that the Federal government was pushing automakers to adopt to make automobiles safer to help reduce traffic fatality rates. According to The Buick: Complete History, an “Automobile Quarterly” Library Series book by Terry B. Dunham and Lawrence R. Gustin, “… in February [1973], GM announced it would offer air bag passive restraints as an option on Buick Riviera and Electra, and Oldsmobile 98 and Toronado, in the 1974 model year. The year previous an experimental fleet of 1,000 Chevrolets had been equipped with the devices. On December 6th, 1973, a blue Electra Limited rolled off the line at Factory 4 in Flint with the first Buick air bag. An Olds Toronado had been produced with the device the previous week. Air bags were expensive and controversial. After several years, little promotion and few sales, they were dropped….”

Riv for sale
While the actual number of 1974 GM cars that were equipped with the ACRS is elusive, according to the current owner of this rare Riv, Ronald Renick claims the total to be “around 300” and that Cadillac was also a part of the mix of cars so offered. He said he has done a limited amount of research on his Riviera Gran Sport’s origins in the hope of finding a buyer who will take what Renick has learned and buy and restore this 35-year-old Buick as a promotion of automotive safety equipment history. Renick, who is the owner of Renick’s Used Auto Parts of West Sunbury, Pa. is urgently seeking a buyer for the car as it’s currently stored in a barn that is deteriorating from age.

Anyone interested in speaking with Renick about this Riviera can reach him at 724-283-2166.      



Lost & Found, Great Barn Finds & Other Automotive Discoveries

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