OUR ESTATE WAGONS

The June 2011 edition of Classic Car Magazine suggested buying one of these cars before they are all gone.

We have owned four of these behemoths of the road since 2002. Although these vehicles were typical American body-on-frame, front-engine, rear drive design and the largest and most powerful station wagons ever produced worldwide, they continue to please and delight owners in every way.

For decades, the top of the Buick line was the Roadmaster, although the Buick Super actually surpassed the Roadmaster for a few years. Buick became especially renowned for its robust station wagons back in the beginnings of the station wagon era. They offered roomy interiors, dependable mechanics and a comfortable ride. For no explicable reason, General Motors eliminated the Roadmaster name from its palette in 1960 -- and along with it, those famous trademark portholes.

In 1991, Buick re-introduced the Roadmaster after a 30-year pause. The completely new station wagon model, known as the Estate Wagon, was bigger and more powerful than ever. General Motors also produced Chevrolet and Oldsmobile versions, but the Roadmaster Estate Wagon soon became recognized as the ultimate wagon of choice. The Oldsmobile was called "Custom Cruiser" and only built in 1991 and 1992. The popularity of GM wagons built between 1991 and 1996 shows that the big station wagon still had a strong following. In 1996, however, General Motors once again ceased producing Roadmasters, also marking the end of the big wagon era.

Since 1996, only European and Japanese manufacturers offer station wagon models, and they sell quite well. Millions of mini-vans and SUVs have been produced, but vans are plagued with technical problems and rust issues, while SUVs became known as gas-guzzling suburban status symbols. By the year 2000, the first soccer moms were taking their kids to games in gigantic impractical Hummers.

Import station wagons continued to find buyers, but owners of 1991-96 Estate Wagons were not tempted to trade their vehicles for something inferior. The cars not only provided their owners dependable transportation, but they were and still are the most comfortable riding and practical vehicles on the road. The economy of these 18-foot-long, 4540 pound wagons surprises. Unlike earlier gas guzzling wagons and SUVs, the Estate Wagons are quite economical. Unless you insist on feeling all the power of that 5.7-liter V8 under the hood, an Estate Wagon gets 20 mpg in town and 25 mpg on trips!

With the rear seats folded down, you can transport a full 4x8 sheet of plywood or plaster board with the hatch closed. Try that with your van or SUV! If the grandchildren or cousins come to visit, your Estate Wagon can be transformed into a nine-passenger vehicle by opening a third bench seat tucked away in the cargo area. The rear door swings to the side and also flips down for easy access. Add to this a smoother and quieter ride than any van, highest comfort, safety and every conceivable luxury, and you will begin to understand why these vehicles are still in great demand. A low-mileage Estate Wagon in good condition still fetch $10,000 to $15,000 -- and the last ones were built in 1996! If you are lucky, you can buy a low-mileage used Roadmaster for a fraction of what you would pay for a new mini-van or SUV. And you will be much happier with it!

The Roadmaster wagon theme is emphasized by vinyl wood decor on the sides and rear door. Some Caprice wagons were produced without the "woody" styling, but if you didn't want it on a Roadmaster, you had to order it special. The fake wood borders are prone to peeling, especially when owners take the wagon through a car wash. These strips are difficult to refinish. Some owners have taken the trouble to remove the wood-grain decor, fill holes and repaint. Stainless trim is highlighted by a black rub strip that is the Estate Wagon's only other problem area. Roadmaster forums are full of suggestions on how to keep these strips from loosening and falling off.

A built-in, adjustable roof rack and cast alloy wheels are standard on all Estate Wagons. A loaded wagon includes the special climate control with outdoor temperature monitor, an AM/FM/CD radio, outside mirrors which can be de-iced and adjusted remotely by the driver, a compass in the rear view mirror, multiple power adjustments and heat for the seats, shades for the moon roof (that unfortunately doesn't open) and a baggage area cover.

The standard wagon has power windows and locks, adjustable steering wheel and anti-lock brakes. When the turning signal is activated at night, headlights shine around corners. An optional towing package offers additional cooling and an automatic load leveling system. It is possible to safely tow up to 5000 pounds plus a full load in the wagon.

We got the surprise of our life, however, when we purchased our third used Estate Wagon. The beautiful burgundy car (pictured below) with luxurious leather interior and all the bells and whistles, including a CD-radio with remote on the steering wheel, didn't have cruise control! That was considered an extra in '92!

The 1991-1996 Roadmasters are powered by reliable GM V-8s. The 5.0 liter (305 cubic inch) was the only engine for '91, but '92-'96 models were powered by the 5.7 liter (350 cubic inch) engine. The same motor with a few enhancements was installed in the Corvette. 1994 brought the new LT-1 engine design with fuel injectors for each cylinder. The four-speed Hydramatic transmission shifts smoothly and is right for this vehicle. A Roadmaster will provide excellent transportation even after 300,000 miles of normal usage.

The base price in 1993 was $23,850 and fully equipped, $28,347. Considering what you got for your money, this was a bargain. Many automobile enthusiasts believe that the '91-'96 Roadmaster Estate Wagons were the greatest cars ever produced by Buick and I agree.

OUR "ROADIE WOODIES"

In October of 2002, we returned from Austria, where we had lived for over 38 years. In Austria, gas normally costs up to four times what we pay at American pumps, so we bought cars that were easy on fuel. We usually owned European or Japanese station wagons and VW vans.

For our retirement years, we wanted a large station wagon and a small rancher. It took us three months to find the right house, but on our second day in America, we found a 1992 Roadmaster Estate Wagon. It had every conceivable extra and only 61,000 miles on the tachometer. Being a Florida car, it had no rust whatsoever and seemed the right choice for us.

Midnight Blue '92





Crystal Blue '93

In June, 2005, I saw a 1993 Roadmaster on e-Bay that no one was bidding on. Because it was located only a few miles from our home, I went to look at it. It was a very nice car and I decided to bid $1500, not expecting to get it -- but I did! I parked it in the garage in event our other wagon died or was in an accident (pity the other car!). For more than a year we had both Roadmasters in the garage. One was in storage while the other piled up mile after mile without a complaint.







Burgundy '92

A year passed by and our first Roadmaster was still purring like a kitten. A minor oil drip developed and I had to keep newspaper under the transmission to catch the oil, but other than that, we had no complaints. When my wife backed into a telephone pole and dented the left rear quarter panel, I decided that the time was right to swap cars. It turned out differently than planned.

I saw a burgundy red 1992 Buick wagon on eBay with only 49,000 miles on it. We decided to sell the other two Roadmasters and buy this one. For one week, we had three Roadmasters in our driveway, but the blue ones were soon sold on eBay.



Roadmaster Estate Wagon #3

































For 16 months we enjoyed our burgundy red Roadmaster with every intention of driving it until death do us part. During that period we never saw another car that we liked better.  But the car had no cruise control and my wife missed this feature. Why General Motors made such a luxurious car without cruise is difficult to understand!

In late October, I was searching eBay-Motors for small sailboats located within a close proximity of our home. You may think it strange that I should look under "eBay-Motors" for something that has no motor, but that is where eBay insists on placing them. I have complained to eBay about this, but my protests fall on deaf ears. It seems to be the aim of eBay to confuse buyers and frustrate sellers.

I have my eBay portal set to sort items according to the time remaining on auctions. My search showed a Roadmaster Estate Wagon near the top of the list, and out of curiosity, I clicked on it. The car was very similar to ours and although the starting bid was low, no one was bidding on it.  I checked the details. The burgundy color was darker and the interior was beige - not as attractive as the car we were driving. It also had 20,000 more miles on it, but everything else looked good.

My wife entered the room and I showed her the car. She asked, "Does it have cruise?"

It did.

It also had a heavy duty trailer hitch with extra cooling.

She said, "Bid on it!"

I did and a few minutes later we were the proud owners of two burgundy Roadmaster wagons!



Roadmaster #4























#3 was Sold to a man who already had three other Roadmaster wagons! We have been driving Roadmaster #4 for seven years and love it!

Click here for another page of station wagons including a number of customized Roadmaster and Caprice station wagons towards the end of the page.