Roadmaster! The very name conjures up images of a big, powerful highway locomotive -- which is just what Buick intended. And that's just what the Buick Roadmaster really was from 1936-1958 -- and again to a considerable degree, for 1991 and 1992.
The first of the breed was introduced in 1936, a year when Buick's straight-eight engines were heavily revised. Two sizes of this valve-in-head long-stroker were offered: a 233-cubic-inch, 93-horsepower job for the Special, and a big, 320.2-cubic inch, 120-horsepower number for the three larger series.
To put these numbers in context, compare the senior unit with the new mono-block V-8 introduced that year by Cadillac. The Cadillac's displacement came to 322 cubic inches, from which 125 horsepower was generated, so in terms of displacement and power there wasn't all that much difference between those two great powerplants.
The "three larger cars" were the Series 60 Century, Series 80 Roadmaster, and Series 90 Limited. All 1936 Buicks looked dramatically different from their 1935 counterparts, and their new series names would soon become well known. The Roadmaster was a big car, riding a wheelbase of 131 inches -- seven inches shorter than that of the huge Limited, but nine inches longer than the Century. In sedan form, this newcomer tipped the scales at 4,098 pounds, some 88 pounds heavier than Cadillac's new Series Sixty.
Pricewise, the Roadmaster was a phenomenal bargain. The sedan sold for $1,255, undercutting the least expensive Cadillac by $440. Or for those who wanted something sportier, there was a four-door convertible phaeton, priced at $1,565 (and of which only 1230 were built). The big ragtop may have been the greatest bargain of all, for the only other General Motors cars then being offered in that exotic body style came from Cadillac, at prices ranging from $2,745 to $7,850.
Having totally restyled its entire line for 1936, Buick might have been expected to relax a bit during 1937. But the division had been through a rough period, falling from third place in the 1926 sales race to eighth in 1933, so it had some catching up to do. By 1936, Buick had moved back into sixth rank, but that wasn't good enough for Harlow Curtice, Buick's recently appointed general manager.
So the 1937 line was restyled once more. And as attractive as the 1936 cars had been, the new ones looked even better. The Special's straight eight was stroked to 248 cubic inches, and although the displacement of the larger engine remained unchanged at 320.2 cubic inches, a new carburetor and revised camshaft raised its output to 130 horsepower.
A formal sedan, featuring a roll-down glass partition between the front and rear compartments, was added to the Roadmaster line for $1,641, but the price of the Series 80 sedan was raised to $1,518, a whopping 21-percent increase.
See the next page to read about the 1938, 1939, and 1940 Buick Roadmaster.
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1938, 1939, 1940 Buick Roadmaster
Evolutionary changes for the 1938, 1939, and 1940 Buick Roadmaster culminated in a new direction for the 1940 models. Styling changes for 1938 were confined to redesigned hubcaps and a new, bolder grille -- minor differences, but the effect was extremely attractive.
At the same time, important revisions were made to both engine and chassis. The ride was improved by the use of coil springs at all four corners, backed up by double-acting shock absorbers that were literally four times the size of the previous units.
Under the hood, the engine was given a substantial working over, increasing horsepower from 130 to 141. Redesigned combustion chambers and new "turbulator" pistons raised the compression ratio from 5.90 to 6.35:1, supposedly without causing problems of detonation. One can note, however, that the ratio was backed off to 6.25:1 in the 1939-1940 models.
The Roadmaster's price was increased once again for 1938, this time to $1,645 for the sedan. Meanwhile, the convertible phaeton traded its built-in trunk for a sleek, fastback look, and a new fastback sedan was offered as well. But although Buick increased its market share, moving up to fourth place in the 1938 sales derby, the Roadmaster wasn't selling very well. With 6,100 cars produced, the Series 80 accounted for only 3.6 percent of Buick's total output.
Nor was 1939 any better. This time, although Buick's overall production increased rather significantly, the Roadmaster accounted for only 3.1 percent of the total. Clearly, it was time to take a new direction.
Which is exactly what Buick did. The Series 80 remained in production for 1940, but it was designated this time as part of the prestigious Limited line. Meanwhile, a Series 70 Roadmaster appeared, one of two important new Buicks to be introduced that season.
Like its companion, the Series 50 Super, the new Roadmaster featured a stylish "torpedo" body. Running boards were eliminated, seats were wider, and body lines -- clearly inspired by the Cadillac Sixty Special -- were smooth and sleek.
The Series 70 Roadmaster borrowed the 126-inch wheelbase of the Buick Century, though its 213-9/16-inch overall length was greater than the Century's by nearly five inches. Even so, this new Roadmaster was shorter than the previous Series 80 by seven inches in wheelbase and more than five inches overall. It was also a couple of hundred pounds lighter and $184 cheaper than the earlier car. And a lot more saleable: 18,775 1940 Roadmasters found buyers, compared to 6,489 in 1939.
As part of his effort to build Buick's prestige, Harlow Curtice had asked the Buffalo, New York, coachbuilding firm of Brunn and Company to prepare several semi-custom Buicks. Most of these appeared during 1941, utilizing the long-wheelbase Limited chassis.
But there was one very interesting example produced during 1940, this one based on the Roadmaster sedan. Called the Townmaster, it was an open-front town car with a slightly elevated roofline and a removable top over the front compartment. Brunn also submitted sketches of a stunning sport coupe, intended for the Roadmaster chassis. It was a gorgeous design, reminiscent of the work of some of the best European custom houses, but unfortunately it was never built.
There was also a Brunn-bodied, one-off convertible produced on the 1941 Roadmaster chassis. Inspired by the 1940 proposal but making greater use of standard Buick components, it was catalogued at $3,500. Since the "regular" Roadmaster ragtop retailed for just $1,457, it's not too surprising that orders for this unusual car failed to materialize.
See the next page to follow the Roadmaster story into 1941.
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1941 Buick Roadmaster
Styling changes for the 1941 Buick Roadmaster were limited to differences in trim, but the effect was very attractive. Four body styles were listed: sedan, sport coupe, convertible coupe, and a smart convertible phaeton that was fated to be dropped at the end of the model year.
A handsome new fastback Century, priced $76 (about 5.5 percent) below the Roadmaster, evidently cut into the latter's sales that year. Production fell to 15,861, which amounted to just 4.2 percent of Buick's model year total.
Styling aside, the most important changes to the 1941 Roadmaster (and all the larger Buicks) were to be found under the hood. Charles Chayne and his crew had undertaken once again to squeeze some extra power out of the 320.2-cubic-inch engine -- with mixed results. They got the power, all right, but at a price.
Four major changes were made to the powerplant. First, the compression ratio was raised from 6.6:1 to 7.0:1. Second, the "turbulator" pistons were redesigned, in the expectation that detonation would thus be eliminated or at least reduced. Third, 10-mm spark plugs were substituted for the previous 14-mm type. And fourth, something called Compound Carburetion was introduced. Forerunner of the modern four-barrel pot, this arrangement consisted of twin two-barrel carburetors. The forward unit operated full time, while the rear one came in on hard acceleration.
Dealers must have been delighted, initially, to learn that as revised, the engine developed 165 horsepower. With five more horses than the senior Packards, 15 more than Cadillac, and 25 more than the biggest Chryslers, it was the industry's most powerful production engine. Buick claimed a top speed of 101.9 miles per hour for the Roadmaster, and acceleration from 5-60 mph in just 11.84 seconds.
But then troubles began to appear, New honing techniques left the cylinder walls so smooth that the rings wouldn't seat. The tiny spark plugs, developed by General Motors' AC Spark Plug Division, were prone to fouling. Further, the new compression ratio was so high that despite the redesigned pistons, excessive pinging was experienced.
Finally, the Compound Carburetion stimulated further the appetite of an already thirsty engine. When World War II came, bringing with it gasoline rationing (four gallons a week was the basic allotment), most owners blocked off the rear carburetor as an economy measure.
Other popular modifications included a thicker cylinder head gasket, which effectively lowered the compression ratio, while dealers were kept busy machining out the spark plug holes to accept 14-millimeter plugs.
To find out how the Roadmaster fared just before, during, and in the years following World War II, continue to the next page.
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1942 and Postwar Buick Roadmaster
The 1942 and postwar Buick Roadmaster was longer, lower, wider, and roomier than before, thanks in part to a three-inch-longer wheelbase. They sported a complete restyling, highly unusual at a time when most of Buick's competitors offered only modest face-lifts of their 1941 designs.
Features included a new vertical-bar grille that would be carried over in modified form through 1954 and, on some two-door models, including both Roadmasters, and "Airfoil" fenders that swept back all the way to the rear fenders.
On the mechanical side, most of the difficulties associated with the 1941 Buicks had been overcome. Even the Compound Carburetion had been substantially revised, although it didn't reappear when production resumed after the war.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, automobile production began to taper off. Effective January 1,1942, new automobiles were available only to those engaged in occupations deemed essential to the war effort. By mid-January, the "blackout" models began to appear -- cars with no exterior chrome trim apart from the bumpers.
And early in February passenger car production was shut down altogether as the industry turned to the production of military hardware. Numbered among Buick's wartime products was the Hellcat tank destroyer, whose torque converter ultimately became the basis for Buick's famed Dynaflow automatic transmission.
When automobile production resumed in October 1945, Buick -- like its major competitors -- served up warmed-over 1942s billed as 1946 models. Chrome was more sparingly applied, the swept-back fenders were fitted to sedans as well as coupes, and a war-inspired "bombsight" radiator ornament came on stream. Otherwise, it was more of the same as far as looks were concerned -- hardly a bad thing in Buick's case.
Prices, however, were substantially higher as the result of wartime inflation. The popular Roadmaster Sedanet, for example, sold for $2,014, up from $1,365 in 1942. By 1948, the nearly identical car would be priced at $2,297.
The Century and Limited series were missing from Buick's postwar lineup, and the "mix" was changed considerably. The Special series, which had accounted for 64 percent of 1941 production, comprised less than three percent of the 1946 model year total. The Super was by far the best seller, accounting for nearly 77 percent of Buick's output, but the Roadmaster increased its share from four percent in 1941 to 20 percent during 1946.
This isn't to suggest, by the way, that the Buick Special had suddenly fallen from favor. Cars were in desperately short supply during the early postwar years, and the nation's automakers could sell every one they could build, regardless of series or body style.
Supplies of raw materials, especially sheet steel, were in short supply, so Buick shrewdly concentrated most of its production on its larger, more profitable car lines (as Packard should have done, but didn't). But by 1950, the Special would once again resume its role as Buick's most popular series.
With the elimination of Compound Carburetion and a reduction in the compression ratio to 6.60:1, the 1946 Roadmaster's horsepower rating fell from 165 to 144. Torque -- always a strong point with this engine -- was less affected, standing at 276 pounds/feet compared to 278 prewar. These figures, while lower than in 1941, were still very competitive. Chrysler's 1946 New Yorker, for example, extracted just 135 horsepower and 270 lbs/ft torque from its flathead straight eight.
See the next page to learn more about the 1958 and 1949 Buick Roadmaster.
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1948 and 1949 Buick Roadmaster
The 1948 and 1949 Buick Roadmaster introduced a couple of new features designed to help Buick distinguish itself from the competition. The big news during these early postwar years was the 1948 introduction of Dynaflow, the industry's first passenger car torque converter transmission. Optional at first only on the Roadmaster, it was popular from the start, despite the considerable slippage that occurred during acceleration (prompting some people to call it "Dyna-slush").
By 1949, Dynaflow was standard equipment in the Roadmaster, optional at extra cost in the Super series. A slight increase in the compression ratio raised the horsepower to 150, in order to help compensate for performance lost via the torque converter.
Roadmaster and Super models were completely restyled that year, for the first time since before the war. The Roadmaster's wheelbase was cut from 129 to 126 inches, and overall length was correspondingly reduced, but these were still big, heavy cars -- 65 pounds heavier, in fact, than their 1948 counterparts.
Featured was a huge two-piece, curved glass "observation car" windshield. The Roadmaster line consisted, initially, of sedan, Sedanet, convertible, and Estate Wagon models, but at mid-year a handsome hardtop coupe, the first Buick Riviera, joined the lineup.
It offered, according to Buick, "...the racy look of a convertible with the suave and solid comfort of a fine sedan." Some Rivieras also sported a chrome "sweepspear" that curved downward as it moved back, and then kicked up at the rear wheelwells. This styling device would be used through 1958 in one form or another.
It was also on the 1949 models that Buick first introduced "VentiPorts," better known in some circles as "mouseholes" or "portholes." Four were displayed on each of the Roadmaster's front fenders, three on the Super series. Buick claimed that the VentiPorts helped ventilate the engine compartment, and indeed they did, but only through the early part of the 1949 model year, after which they were plugged.
Truthfully, they were strictly a gimmick, first seen on Buick styling chief Ned Nickles' own 1948 Roadmaster. Nickles, who was endowed with a well-honed sense of humor, installed amber lights behind his car's mouseholes, wired them to the distributor to flash on and off, suggesting a flaming exhaust. Harlow Curtice ordered the device to be installed on the 1949 cars, but without the flashing lights.
Buick was really rolling now, with output reaching record levels. The Roadmaster accounted for 26.8 percent of production, a remarkably high proportion in light of its price -- Buick's Series 70 cost only $161 less than the highly advanced Series Sixty-One Cadillac.
But despite their popularity with the public, the 1949 Buicks received their share of criticism. Two characteristics drew most of the fire: the sluggish performance of the Dynaflow automatic, which tended to leave the Buick driver behind the pack when the traffic light turned green, and the ultra-soft suspension, which provided a billowy ride but did dreadful things to the car's handling qualities. Motor Trend commented that "it heels over in turns like a marshmallow."
Follow the Roadmaster story into 1950, 1951, and 1952 on the next page.
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1950, 1951, 1952 Buick Roadmaster
The 1950, 1951, and 1952 Buick Roadmasters went through more evolutionary changes. Another restyling for 1950 featured a grille so toothy that Consumer Reports commented that "a toothbrush for the dentures comes extra."
The 1950 Roadmaster was offered in two wheelbase lengths. Most body styles used a 126-1/4-inch chassis, while a pair of upscale four-door sedans (bearing, inexplicably, the Riviera name) stretched an extra four inches. Mechanical changes were few, although hydraulic valve lifters were fitted to the Roadmaster engine. Factory output was again greatly increased, but the Roadmaster's share dropped to 11.7 percent, thanks to the popularity of the Special series.
Styling changes were minimal over the next couple of years, but power steering, priced at $199, was a welcome addition to the 1952 options list. By that time the engine was rated at 170 horsepower, thanks primarily to a new four-barrel carburetor.
But the straight eight, now 16 years old, had become seriously dated -- the new short-stroke V-8 engines had demonstrated their superiority in the new Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs, among others. Besides, styling considerations required that engines must have a lower profile. It was clearly time for Buick to develop a V-8 of its own.
The new engine was ready in time for the 1953 season -- Buick's Golden Anniversary year. Nearly identical in displacement to the old straight eight (321.7 versus 320.2 cubic inches), it was 13-1/2 inches shorter, four inches lower, and 180 pounds lighter. At 188 horsepower, it cranked out 10.6 percent more power.
The compression ratio, previously 7.50:1, advanced to 8.50:1. Even torque was increased, from 280 to 300 pounds/feet. As with the old engine, the V-8 was nourished by a four-barrel carb. Air conditioning joined the options list, and in a pioneering effort, 12-volt electrics were adopted.
To combat criticism of the automatic transmission, Buick introduced a new "Twin-Turbine" Dynaflow as a companion for the V-8 engine. Calculated to increase torque multiplication by 10 percent, the new transmission provided faster and quieter acceleration at reduced engine speeds.
Mechanix Illustrated's "Uncle" Tom McCahill road tested a 1952 Roadmaster, pronouncing it "as quiet as Saturday night in church," adding that "you get the same stable feeling as sitting in a parked Greyhound bus." Acceleration, however, left something to be desired. "With Dynaflow there's no fast breaking from the light," McCahill observed.
Zero-30 mph took 5.8 seconds, hardly anything to get excited about, while the 0-60 run could be covered in 14.6 seconds -- but only if the car was started off with the transmission in Low, then manually up-shifted. Taking off directly in Drive -- the way these cars were supposed to be handled -- McCahill's time was increased to 18.5 seconds. Top speed was fairly commendable at 96.97 miles per hour.
Nine months later, McCahill took a 1953 Roadmaster V-8 out for a similar romp. This car, which he characterized as "smooth as a bucket of warm vaseline," proved to be good for 103.4 mph at the top end, the first 100-plus mile-an-hour Buick since prewar times.
The new engine/transmission team cut the 0-30 time to five seconds flat, a 16-percent advantage over the 1952 car. And 0-60 now took 13.6 seconds if the transmission was started off in Low, or 15.9 seconds in Drive.
Brakes, however, were something else again. A new power assist, rushed into production without sufficient development, was prone to failure to such an extent that it was later cited by Ralph Nader in his book, Unsafe at Any Speed. Even the cast iron drums were found to be of inconsistent quality.
For more on the 1953, 1954, 1955, and 1956 Roadmaster, see the next page.
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1953, 1954, 1955, 1956 Buick Roadmaster
More changes were in store for the 1953, 1954, 1955, and 1956 Buick Roadmaster. The compact dimensions of the V-8 engine enabled Buick to fit the 1953 Roadmaster to the shorter wheelbase of the Super, though styling differences were relatively minor.
The big change came the following year when all Buick series, including the re-introduced Century, were completely redesigned. Both the Super and Roadmaster models shared with Cadillac the new General Motors C-body. These were big, roomy cars, as much as five and a half inches longer in wheelbase and more than nine inches longer overall than their 1953 counterparts.
A limited-production Roadmaster convertible -- the Skylark -- appeared for 1953. Specially modified, it sported bold, open wheelwells and a drastically lowered belt line, along with a four-inch-chop from the standard Roadmaster's windshield and a sweepspear that predicted 1954 styling.
Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels, a metal boot cover, and every option in the book were also featured -- all at a lofty $5,000 price tag. Only 1,690 examples of this "dream car" were built.
Few mechanical changes were made for 1954, though the front suspension was refined and the Roadmaster's horsepower was upped to 200. Power steering, revised for better handling, and power brakes were standard on the Series 70, as they had been since 1953. Power windows were also supplied as standard on the hardtop and convertible models, and available at extra cost for the sedan.
From 1947 through 1953, Buick had tenaciously clung to fourth place in the sales race, right behind Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth; the "Low-Priced Three." That was a commendable record for a medium- and upper-medium priced car, and for 1954 Buick elbowed Plymouth aside in calendar year production to take over third place. The bulk of the division's output was made up of Special and Century models, but the big Roadmaster accounted for 11.6 percent of that year's sales.
Pressured by Harlow Curtice, who had become president of General Motors in 1953, General Manager Ivan Wiles increased Buick's 1955 output until it was literally beyond the capacity of Buick's facilities. Serious quality control lapses resulted, creating problems that would soon damage Buick's reputation.
Performance, however, was outstanding. Horsepower jumped to 236, and a new variable-pitch Dynaflow, in which the stator blades changed pitch under hard acceleration, provided quicker off-the-line getaway.
A further improvement -- the adoption of two stator wheels -- was made to Dynaflow for 1956. The Roadmaster's top speed improved to a trifle better than 110 miles an hour, and it could charge from 0-60 mph in 11,7 seconds -- fantastic performance for a 4,300-pound car.
A new four-door Riviera hardtop proved to be the most popular Roadmaster, outselling the pillared sedan by better than two-to-one. But Buick's share of the market was beginning to shrink, though it managed to hold on to third place in the sales race.
To follow the Roadmaster story to 1957 and 1958, continue to the next page.
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1957 and 1958 Buick Roadmaster
As they reached the end of the line, for a few decades at least, the 1957 and 1958 Buick Roadmasters made several changes in the hopes of reviving market interest.
A complete redesign once again took place for 1957, and the Roadmaster boasted a new 363.5-cubic-inch engine, rated at an even 300 horsepower. But the styling, as Dunham and Gustin have commented in their excellent Buick history, was "disastrous."
Paraphrasing a Plymouth ad, one Buick executive commented wryly, "Suddenly, it's 1949!" Oddly enough, Harlow Curtice -- usually an excellent judge in such matters -- reportedly "loved" the '57 Buicks.
On the plus side, a new ball-joint suspension system improved handling somewhat, but the big Buicks still wallowed through the turns. And Ed Ragsdale, general manager since 1956, didn't help matters any. Asked at a news conference about the big Buick's excessive fuel consumption, he innocently replied, "Well, we have to keep the gas companies happy."
Buick slipped back to fourth place that year -- with worse news yet to come.
There were several mechanical changes for 1958. New brakes, cast iron liners in aluminum drums, proved to be the best in the industry. The optional air suspension, however, was a nightmare (as it was for everyone else), and by 1964 the highly touted new "Flight Pitch" Dynaflow transmission would be abandoned as too complicated.
In developing a "face-lift" for 1958 an attempt was made to disguise 1957's unpopular styling by larding on the chrome, thus creating a sort of jukebox effect. The Limited series was revived, taking the form this time of a Roadmaster with its rear deck extended eight inches, its long fenders adorned with three sets of gaudy chrome-plated chevrons.
Ragsdale called the 1958 Buicks "Dazzling." The public, however, wasn't dazzled. With an extra downward shove from that year's recession, sales fell by 37 percent, and Buick found itself this time in fifth place.
Once again there would be a complete restyling for 1959, and this time even the names of the various series would be changed. No longer would there be a big Buick known as the Roadmaster.
Not, that is, until 1991. Continue to the next page to learn more about the 1991 Roadmaster.
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1991 Buick Roadmaster
Over the following 35 years or so, as automobiles grew progressively smaller, lighter, and less powerful, there was a certain nostalgia on the part of many Americans who fondly recalled the days of the big road locomotives -- which resulted in cars like the 1991 Buick Roadmaster.
And despite the increasing popularity of front-wheel drive, there are those who take a dim view of traction avant. There's a case to be made for that point of view, for some of the world's most respected cars still push from the rear, rather than pull from the front: Rolls-Royce, for instance, plus Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, Lexus LS 400, Infiniti Q45, and the big Lincolns and Cadillacs.
In Buick's case, it abandoned rear drive after 1985, save for the LeSabre/Electra Estate station wagon, a relatively low-volume model. Many Buick buyers were miffed. "A great number of people bought our full-size cars back in the 1960s and 1970s," Buick General Manager Ed Mertz recalled, "and then we pretty much switched a lot of production to front-wheel drive. A great number of people who loved this type of car stayed with rear-wheel drive, and since we at Buick -- and in many cases, General Motors -- didn't offer it, we lost many of those very loyal, devoted customers. So [the new Roadmaster] is our chance to regain those people and make them part of our family again with a full-size rear-drive car."
Mertz noted that as planning got underway for the new big Buick, Roadmaster was its code name from the beginning. "Buick is very rich with good car names," Mertz said. "Even without having the Roadmaster on the list of names [when polling the public], people would write it in. One characteristic that's unique to Buick owners is that they love to drive -- get behind the wheel themselves; they'd rather drive than ride. That and the combination of mastery of the road -- Roadmaster -- was a natural for this car."
Darwin E. Clark, General Marketing Manager at Buick, echoed Mertz's comments in Automotive News: "In the return of the Roadmaster, Buick doesn't have to work to build name recognition. Roadmaster was a great name for premium Buicks from 1936 to the end of the 1958 model year. Even our general manager, Ed Mertz, admits he doesn't know why Buick left it on the shelf so long. Our dealers and customers lobbied for return of the name -- and even some members of the press told us we ought to bring it back."
And so Buick introduced two new Roadmasters. They weren't quite as big or heavy as the Roadmasters of yore, but they were hardly lightweights, at 4,061 pounds for the sedan and 4,415 for the Estate Wagon. The displacement of their engines didn't go beyond 5.7 liters/350 cubic inches for the sedan (5.0 liters/305 cubic inches for the wagon).
But they ran with V-8s, and 350 cubic inches isn't really much smaller than the 364 cubes of the 1958 Roadmaster. Further, 5.7 liters is half-again as big as the largest engine offered by Buick front-drivers at the time. And if the new Roadmaster sedan's 180 net horsepower wasn't all that impressive compared to the 1958's 300 gross horsepower, nor even the 170 horsepower of the Park Avenue V-6, the important point was that there was an enormous difference in torque: 290 pounds/feet, compared to the Park Avenue's 220, a 32-percent advantage.
Continue to the next page to read about the 1992 Buick Roadmaster.
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1992 Buick Roadmaster
Nor did the 1992 Buick Roadmaster come up short with respect to size -- not when measured by modern standards, at least. The reincarnated big Buick rested on a wheelbase of 115.9 inches, more than five inches longer than the Park Avenue, but nearly a foot shorter than the 1958 Roadmaster. Its overall 215.8-inch length (wagon 217.5) compared with 219.1 for the 1958, not to mention a 10.5-inch advantage over the 1991 Park Avenue.
Of the two body styles offered, the four-door sedan was listed as a 1992, while the Estate bowed a bit earlier as a 1991. The latter used the smaller 5.0-liter engine in order to meet federally mandated fuel economy (CAFE) standards but, like the sedan, it was lavishly equipped and beautifully finished.
When asked about the styling cues on the new Roadmaster, Mertz opined that the grille did have a flavor of the Roadmaster dental work of the 1942-1954 era. And when pursued about the "hint" of the front fender "VentiPorts" of old being carried over on the sail panels of the sedan, Mertz responded: "The portholes, right. We don't think they'd look particularly good on the front fenders like they did before -- that's a little too old-fashioned -- but there is that little vestige of them, just a little touch of it."
Exterior styling, incidentally, was under the direction of Wayne Kady, chief of Buick Design Studio Two. All in all, the impression is that he took pains to see to it that the 1992 Roadmaster was designed with a respectful look at the past. The result, as Clark put it, was that "...the heritage of the name fit, recalling those premium cars of the postwar period."
There was much speculation about the pricing of the Roadmaster. One published source held that the it would be positioned between the LeSabre and Park Avenue, but other rumors persisted -- and, some would argue, that logic suggested -- that as Buick's largest car and its only V-8, the Roadmaster would represent the top of the line.
The mystery was cleared up when the cars were priced as follows: Roadmaster sedan, $20,890; Roadmaster Limited sedan, $23,245; Road-master Estate Wagon, $21,445.
This placed the Roadmaster sedan $3,495 below the Park Avenue and $3,810 above the LeSabre Custom. The Roadmaster Limited came in at $4,175 less than the Park Avenue Ultra and $4,815 more than the LeSabre Limited, placing it about halfway between the LeSabre and Park Avenue. Clearly, the Park Avenue was intended to serve as Buick's high-tech flagship, while the LeSabre was priced to be Buick's high-volume bigger car.
What then of the Roadmaster? Its role was to appeal to buyers who favored traditional full-size cars. Rear-wheel drive, V-8 power, imposing dimensions, and 5,000-pound towing ability were its strongest selling points. In short, this new Buick represented a return to the time when the Roadmaster was one of the largest and most powerful automobiles on the American road.
And one of the most popular of its ilk, as well. Buick turned out 866,807 Roadmasters between 1936 and 1958. When asked in 1992 whether number 1,000,000 would be very far off, Mertz smiled and said, "We hope not, although we don't have a specific goal for this car. We like each Buick line to meet its own level as we go forward, but the wagon alone has a lot of potential -- we expect to maybe increase that by about 50 percent or so. There's an average of about 600,000 sales a year in rear-drive large cars, so the Roadmaster should get a chunk of that."
Though it didn't quite reach the 1,000,000 mark before the end of the model run in 1996, the Roadmaster did quite well for Buick, selling about 85,500 in 1992.
Just like it did in the good old days.
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