1936-1992 Buick Roadmaster

1950, 1951, 1952 Buick Roadmaster
The Roadmaster looked new again for 1950, sporting the flashiest dental work ever seen.
The Roadmaster looked new again for 1950, sporting the flashiest dental work ever seen.

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.

Sales of the 1951 Buick began slowing down because of U.S. involvement in the Korean conflict.

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.

In 1951, Buick was able to build 48,758 Riviera sedans, the base price of which had escalated to $3,044.

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.

The $3,306 1952 Roadmaster Riviera hardtop enjoyed a production run of 11,387 units.

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.

Buick's 1953 wagon was the last of the woodies. Only 359 Roadmasters were built.

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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