(All the pictures in this post are from Google Image Search)
This post is in memory of Helen Augsburger (1916-2005), my Grandmother-in-Law, who was mentioned in a previous COAL.
I had gotten a new job in Jersey City, NJ, just outside Manhattan and did not want to subject my 9C1 to the abuses of daily city driving. Consequently, I began to search for a beater/city daily driver. While driving around, I encountered a ’93 Saturn with a for sale sign reading $300. I pulled over, called the number and waited for the seller to show up.
It was a gold sedan with about 70,000 miles. It drove well and it did not seem to have any issues. He said that he was selling the car for his daughter. It seemed like the perfect city car. I asked him why he was selling so cheap, and he said he just wanted it gone as soon as possible. I told him I wanted the car. He said, “OK, give me the money.” I told him that I had just seen the car and would need to go to an ATM but would be back in 20 minutes. He told me that would not be acceptable, that he needed it gone now. I told him if he waited 20 minutes, I’d pay him $400. He said he wasn’t sure, but I told him I’d be back in 20 minutes tops with the money. I came back maybe 15 minutes later to find the car gone. I tried calling him; no answer. I waited around and saw him coming down the street. He took one look at me and took off running in the other direction. To this day, I don’t know what that was about. Now that I think of it, I was in my 9C1 when I came to see him. Maybe he did not really own the car and he thought I was law enforcement? Oh well, I guess I’ll never know.
A few weeks later, I found a local car for sale that I thought would work. It was a white 1992 Buick Roadmaster station wagon with “woody” flanks and a tan leather interior. It had the 180 hp LO5 350 V8 and the towing package, which included oil and transmission coolers, heavy duty suspension and limited slip differential. The car had 136,000 miles on the odo and I took it home for about $1,400. The car had some trim pieces missing, including the hood ornament, the driver’s seat was torn and the glove box was broken, but otherwise it was pretty solid. There was one other thing: The anti-lock feature of the brakes was inoperative and the warning light was on. The brakes were fine, otherwise. This is where I used a skill I learned from my J car days, using black electrical tape to cover up annoying warning lights. The plan was to use the Roadmaster as a beater/daily driver and have the 9C1 as a weekend car.
When I got the car home, I realized it was a lot nicer than I’d given it credit for. The Roadmaster wagons were the premier luxury wagons of their time, probably equivalent to today’s Cadillac Escalade. Mine was the first car that I’d owned that had genuine leather seats. Prior to owning this car, I thought leather seats were just like vinyl seats; I learned the error of my ways quickly. The soft feel, even the smell of the leather, convinced me that leather seats and vinyl seats were not the same.
The Buick Roadmasters and Oldsmobile Custom Cruisers of this generation also had a Vista Roof over the second-row seats. I thought it was a nice touch that really brightened up the interior. It was also loaded with such luxury features as electronic climate control, power seats, twilight sentinel, power everything and auto-dimming rear view mirror. This car was much more comfortable and well equipped than anything I’d ever owned before.
The Corvette-derived LT1 engine became standard in the 1994-96 Roadmasters. In addition, the interiors were redesigned with, among other things, a new dashboard. I actually prefer the earlier dashes as depicted above, since they included a full set of gauges. Also, the TBI engines in the 1991-93 cars were less complex and easier to work on than those in the LT1 cars. In addition, they had the far less troublesome 700R transmission, as opposed to the more troublesome 4L60E of the LT1 cars.
For me, the most important discovery was the HUGE cargo area. I thought my Caprice sedan trunks were large, but this was something else entirely. I was able to easily transport recliners, wheelbarrows, lawn mowers, Christmas trees, baby items, you name it. It was like having a covered pickup truck. A few weeks ago, I was reading Robert Kim’s COAL about his Custom Cruiser wagon and I couldn’t agree more about the cargo capacity and utility of these vehicles.
As I mentioned above, the supple leather seats and the power amenities ensured that any ride in the Roadmaster was comfortable and luxurious. While I had originally purchased this car to keep the 9C1 from doing the daily city commute, I began to really appreciate the Roadmaster more than the Caprice. As a result, the opposite happened: The Roadmaster stayed in the garage and the 9C1 became the daily driver, a role that it was very well suited to.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had grown close to my wife’s grandmother. Sadly, she passed away in the summer of 2005. We took the Roadmaster to Maryland for the funeral and to be with family. It was during those days that I discovered yet another positive attribute of the car, the foldaway rear-facing third seat. Helen’s death brought family together, and it was a reunion of sorts for my wife, her three siblings and their spouses. Lunches and get togethers were arranged since we were all together, and the increased seating capacity of the car allowed us to all travel to lunch in one vehicle. It was actually pretty impressive. More importantly, it allowed us all to spend some very good times together. I think my Grandmother-in-Law would have approved. I can still hear her voice when she said about another vehicle of mine “this is a nice car Fred….what kind of car is this?”
As I mentioned at the end of my last COAL, my 9C1 had fallen out of favor with me, so I replaced it with next week’s COAL. At about the same time, one of my good friends was down a car so I let him have the Roadmaster, as he needed it badly for work and family obligations. Soon he, too, appreciated its utility when he used it to haul a playground set (including a tree house) for his kids. He was not known to be gentle with cars, yet that car served him faithfully until its engine died at about 200,000 miles.
The Roadmaster left big shoes to fill and also set the standard for all my future cars over the next five years. They all had to be V8 powered, and they all had to have third-row seating and a large cargo capacity.
As you will see, my next seven COALs, in one way or another, met those requirements.