Friday, April 22, 2011

Buick Roadmaster

The Roadmaster was an automobile built by the Buick division of General Motors. Buick first used the Roadmaster name between 1936 and 1958. In 1991, Buick again applied the Roadmaster name to its full-size rear-wheel drive sedan and station wagon models as a replacement for the Buick Estate.

The origins of the Roadmaster name date to 1936 when Buick renamed its entire model lineup to celebrate the engineering improvements and design advancements over their 1935 models. Buick's Series 40 model range became the Special, the Buick Century took the place of the Series 60 and the Series 90 — Buick's largest and most luxurious vehicles — became the Limited. Buick's Series 80 became the Roadmaster.

Roadmasters produced between 1936 and 1958 were built on Buick's longest wheelbase and shared its basic structure with senior Oldsmobiles. Between 1946 and 1957, the Roadmaster was Buick's premium and best appointed model, and was offered in sedan, coupe, convertible and station wagon bodystyles between 1936 and 1948. In 1949 a hardtop coupe, designated "Riviera" joined the model line up; a four-door hardtop joined the model range in 1955. 1949 had the beginnings of tail fins for Buick, and Buick's new automatic transmission, the Dynaflow.

The 1953 Buick Roadmaster station wagon, Model 79-R, was the last wood-bodied station wagon mass-produced in the United States. Its body was a product of Iona Manufacturing which built all Buick station wagon bodies between 1946 and 1964. Priced at US$4,031, the wagon was second in price to the Buick Skylark. Only 670 of these final woody wagons were produced for 1953.

In 1959, Buick again introduced a model range that represented a significant shift in its body design, and the Roadmaster was renamed the Electra.

Buick revived the Roadmaster name for a B-body station wagon in 1991, replacing the Estate station wagon in the lineup. Using the 115.9" wheelbase that was introduced for the 1977 model year, the wagon was called the Roadmaster Estate Wagon. A sedan joined the wagon for 1992, with its own distinct sheet metal, although it shared parts with other full-size GM models. The Roadmaster wagon was a badge engineered Chevrolet Caprice Estate (also sold as the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser) the three variants differing mainly in grille design and trim. In 1993, the newly-redesigned Cadillac Fleetwood continued using a 121.5" wheelbase, an elongated version on the chassis used on the Roadmaster.

Simulated woodgrain side and back panels (made of vinyl) were standard on the Roadmaster Estate wagon, although a delete option (WB4 wood delete) was available for credit. The "Vista Roof", a fixed sunroof over the second row seats that was not available on the Caprice, was standard as well. The Estate Wagon could seat up to eight with an optional third row seat. All these wagons initially used Chevrolet's 5.0 L small-block V8, but both Buicks used the larger 5.7 L version from 1992.

GM discontinued both the Roadmaster sedan and the Roadmaster Estate Wagon in 1996, ending production on December 13 of that year. This was blamed on the smaller but more expensive and luxurious Park Avenue growing in size; the Roadmaster trim levels never exceeded that of the smaller but still full-sized Buick LeSabre. Another reason was largely a response to the SUV craze, as the Arlington, Texas factory where RWD GM cars were built was converted to truck and SUV production. When discontinued, the Roadmaster Estate and the similar Chevrolet Caprice wagon brought up the end of the era of the full-size family station wagon, and an end to General Motors' production of rear-wheel drive, full-size cars.

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