1936-1992 Buick Roadmaster

1991 Buick Roadmaster

The 1991 Roadmaster Estate Wagon cost $21,445 and weighed 4,415 pounds.
The 1991 Roadmaster Estate Wagon cost $21,445 and weighed 4,415 pounds.

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.

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