A few years ago, Col. Andy Starr made the car buy of a lifetime off of Craigslist, although he didn’t know it at the time.
Starr, a Virginia resident and retired Marine, showed off his prized, and fully restored, purchase, a one-of-a-kind 1965 Buick Riviera Gran Sport, at the Molto Bella Auto Show on Sunday on the grounds of Stan Hywet in Akron.
“You are looking at the rarest Gran Sport that exists,” said Starr. The show placed the car, which has won numerous major awards, in a coveted spot in front of the Stan Hywet Manor House — right near a bunch of Ferraris.
Starr, 57, likes Buicks and he likes to restore cars, something that has earned him a national reputation. He figures he has purchased and restored 25 cars over his life so far, including concours-level work.
He was looking for his next project and took a chance, plunking down $7,000 on a then-rusted-out Gran Sport he bought from a salvage yard in New Mexico that advertised the car on Craigslist.
Starr remembered telephoning the salvage yard owner — “I could hear the chickens and the goats in the background” — who told him he wondered if the car could be restored. Starr bought it anyway.
“I just bought it because it was cheap,” he said.
Some eight months later and while pondering how much money and time to spend on the car, Starr realized what he had bought was basically the Holy Grail of Rivieras.
His research determined that this was a one-off, pre-production Riviera made only for what was then General Motors’ oldest Buick-Cadillac dealer. Among its unique features, the Buick was painted in what was a Cadillac-only color at the time, Samoan Bronze.
So Starr knew the car was worth a significant investment. He looked to an expert he knew in Ohio’s Portage County, hiring specialist Mike Velek of Velek’s Restoration in Mantua to do the work.
“Mike did this car. He’s an artisan,” Starr said.
The end result, “You have a piece of GM legacy,” he said. “Every detail is better than factory.”
Starr’s Gran Sport was far from the only eye candy at the seventh annual Molto Bella Auto Show. The event, founded by Frank Todaro and Dave Nelson, benefits the Kidney Foundation of Summit County, paying tribute to the late Mel Todaro, who died of kidney cancer. This was the show’s second year at Stan Hywet.
The Great Meadow grounds were filled with hundreds of gleaming examples of immaculately restored antiques, plus new and exotic cars and trucks, ranging from Chevrolet and Ford to Lamborghini, Porsche, Maserati, and McLaren — even a gull-wing DeLorean.
Wadsworth resident Jim Krahl loved looking at Starr’s Gran Sport.
“There’s no other car like this,” Krahl said. “Perfection. And one of a kind. I’m a detail person. This is the best Buick in the country, no question. It just gives me goose bumps. It really does.”
Paul Brown of Mount Vernon said he was greatly enjoying the show.
“You see cars here you don’t see [elsewhere], period,” Brown said.
Gayle Clugston of Canton displayed her 1964 Jaguar XKE and said the show was very well done.
“Look at the cars. The cars are amazing,” Clugston said.
Brighton Liska, 13, of Hartville, was among the many show-goers taking numerous photos. At one point he took detail shots of the front of a Rolls-Royce.
“I was trying to get a picture of the badge and the Spirit of Ecstasy [hood ornament],” Liska said.
As for Starr, this was his first time at the Molta Bella show.
“We are honored to support the cause,” he said.
Starr said he has fun bringing the ‘65 Gran Sport to shows around North America. No, he doesn’t drive it — it gets towed to shows by his new 2019 Stinger yellow Dodge Ram truck.
Starr said he will begin another project in a week — he’s buying an old Buick Wildcat.
“I love restoring old cars. It’s just a passion of mine,” he said.
The new car project does not mean the ‘65 Gran Sport is officially for sale, Starr said. But in case you were wondering, his initial $7,000 purchase is insured for $324,000.
Jim Mackinnon was unable to enter his somewhat rusty 2009 Ford Taurus with more than 133,000 original miles in the Molto Bella Auto Show. But his first car at age 16 was a 1955 Chevrolet 210 Sport Coupe and he once bought a used 1988 Porsche 944 that he used as a daily driver for more than three years. Meanwhile, he covers business news for the Akron Beacon Journal. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ