1936-1992 Buick Roadmaster

1938, 1939, 1940 Buick Roadmaster
At $1,645, the 1938 Roadmaster touring -- or trunkback -- sedan boasted a bolder horizontal-bar grille and coil-sprung suspension.
At $1,645, the 1938 Roadmaster touring -- or trunkback -- sedan boasted a bolder horizontal-bar grille and coil-sprung suspension.

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 1938 Roadmaster sedan had an attractive woodgrain dashboard.

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.

The 1939 Roadmaster Formal Sedan, with its roll-up divider window, cost $1,758.

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.

The $1,282 1940 Roadmaster Sport Coupe found 2,834 buyers.

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.

For more information on cars, see: