Osoyoos hot rod builder JF Launier wins global acclaim

By on March 19, 2014
JF Launier, kneeing right of car, shows off the yellow 1964 Buick Riviera custom that won him the Ridler Award at Detroit Autorama. Posing with him are members of the team that worked on the car. (Richard McGuire photo)

JF Launier, kneeing right of car, shows off the yellow 1964 Buick Riviera custom that won him the Ridler Award at Detroit Autorama. Posing with him are members of the team that worked on the car. (Richard McGuire photo)

Canadian hockey players dream about winning the Stanley Cup. World-class athletes in dozens of sports spend their entire lives hoping to compete and win a medal in the Olympic Games.

J.F. Launier grew up wanting to build the coolest hot rod in the world.

His dream came true 10 days ago when his 1964 Buick Riviera captured the coveted Ridler Award at this year’s Detroit Autorama custom car show.

The vehicle, which Launier named Rivision, is a 1964 modified Riviera with the boattail style of the 1970s version of the model.

For the uninitiated, Launier’s car has a huge “wow … and cool” factor that is unlike any automobile you have ever seen.

When it comes to building customized cars, Launier said winning the Ridler Award is on the same footing as winning the Stanley Cup or Olympic gold.

“It’s what every builder dreams of,” he said. “To me, it says that you’re the best (hot rod) builder in the world. It’s that big of an award.”

Without divulging too many details, Launier confirmed that he and his crew spent more than 20,000 hours working on the 1964 Riviera and he’s put “a significant amount of money” into turning the vehicle into a spectacular piece of art and unique muscle car at the same time.

The prize for winning the Ridler award was only $10,000, “which basically covers the cost of getting me and our gang to Detroit”, but the prestige he has and will continue to receive from custom car buffs around the world is immeasurable, said Launier.

“I’ve dreamed of winning this award for a few years now … to actually win it is an amazing feeling,” said Launier, 38, who has been fascinated by automobiles since he was a young child and purchased his first vehicle (a 1951 Ford pickup he still drives to this day) at age 13.

“It was clear to me that we had the best vehicle, but you never know in a competition like this what the judges are looking for and what’s they’re going to like and you just don’t know if they’re going to see things the way you do until they finally announce the winner.”

When his name was finally announced, Launier said there was very little screaming or shouting or pumping of fists, but a few tears and immense amount of relief.

“I’ve driven in a lot of big races and this was comparable to that in that I was a nervous wreck in the days heading into Detroit … I had trouble eating and sleeping,” he said. “Once we got to Detroit, I had the shakes and felt nauseous because of the nerves, but once we put the car on display and saw the reaction of the crowd, all the nerves and tension went away.

“When they called out the winner, I was very calm and relaxed. My mind was clear and all the nerves were gone. I just breathed out a little and sat down and had a few tears and shared the experience with my crew.”

Launier, who had finished in the “Great Eight” to be eligible to win the Ridler Award during his two previous visits to Detroit Autorama, said building hot rods is his passion and being able to compete against the best and winning their respect and admiration is worth all the hard work he puts into every vehicle he showcases.

“If you have a lifelong dream and have worked with countless people to achieve that dream and the dream finally comes true, it’s pretty amazing,” he said. “I’m still having a hard time coming to grips with what’s happened.”

Launier and his crew showed off the beautiful winning vehicle Saturday afternoon and evening to all members of the public at Launier’s garage on Hwy. 97

Launier owns and operates Reliable Muffler and Brakes, a small used car dealership and JF Kustoms from his large garage.

Ironically, Launier’s winning car started out as a $400 piece of metal sitting in a junkyard.

“I had a 1963 Riviera in my early 20s and just loved that car … I had to sell it to start a business, but I always knew I would get another one,” he said. “I bought the shell for this 1964 Riv about six years ago … it was a $400 wreck sitting in a junkyard.”

As a funny aside, Launier smashed the front end of the vehicle into a garage door five days before heading to Detroit.

“I lost concentration and accidently drove it into a garage door,” he said. “I couldn’t believe I did that. The damage was bad enough that we decided to drive 42 hours straight so I would have time to stop in Chicago and fix it up.”

A group of 17 crew members, family and friends made the trip to Detroit to witness the historic event.

Between 50 and 60 supporters helped in building the vehicle, he said.

“I’ve had help financially, I’ve had help corporately, I’ve had help emotionally and I’ve had help from people calling me up and wishing me the best of luck,” he said. “There aren’t enough words to thank all of the people and businesses who have helped me along the way.”

Launier said this vehicle won the Ridler Award because he “likes to think out of the box” and build custom cars that are totally unique, but are beautiful and powerful.

One car lover left a comment on his Facebook page after viewing his vehicle in Detroit that pretty much sums up his view on building hot rods, said Launier.

“Make no mistake, this is no stone pony. It is an 850 horsepower twin turbo, stick shift weapon of mass disruption. This car is so far out of the box, you can’t see the box anymore.”

Launier was so impressed with that comment, “I used it in my victory speech,” he said smiling.

Launier hopes to race the vehicle in road races this coming summer.

“No vehicle like this has ever reached 200 miles per hour, but it has the engineering to go that fast, but a lot of things have to be perfect to reach that goal and that’s what I’m aiming for this summer,” he said.

The organizers of major auto shows in Sweden and Australia have also inquired about bringing Launier and his vehicle to their respective countries in the coming months and Launier says being able to show off the vehicle to auto fans around the world is something he would love to do.

At the end of the day, Launier says he’s most proud that a smalltown boy from Osoyoos has achieved success so much success.

“I’m very proud to call Osoyoos home and so grateful for all the support I’ve received in my hometown,” he said.

KEITH LACEY

Osoyoos Times

 

 

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