(first posted 1/22/21) What should a Buick be? It should be serious but not severe, sober but not dour, undeniably upscale without drawing too much attention to itself. The kind of car a doctor or a judge or the pastor of a large church might drive. Mature, accomplished professionals want a mature, accomplished car that will propel them expeditiously and comfortably to their important destinations. A Buick communicates that they have carefully thought through their choice of conveyance just like they have every other choice in their lives.
At least that’s the traditional image. One could argue that having a strong image (or maybe stereotype) has sustained the brand to this day, even as all the other middle rungs of the GM ladder have been removed. It would be hard to imagine a better exemplar of the brand and its traditional qualities than this blue beauty I found resting curbside recently.
The car is a Roadmaster sedan, the flagship sedan in the lineup, though not quite the absolute flagship, as it was slightly outpriced by the Roadmaster hardtop coupe and convertible and seriously outpriced by the flashy Skylark convertible then in its second and final year. A hardtop sedan wouldn’t be a Roadmaster option for two more years.
I’ve recently been reading a book called LAPD ’53 by James Ellroy. It’s a film-noirish non-fiction look at the period by way of police crime scene photos. Though not about cars, plenty are seen in the photos. The author makes a distinction between the “humpback” cars of the 30’s and 40’s which still dominated the roads and “rocket ships” which were just starting to come out. Well, this Roadmaster introduced in late ’53 is certainly of the rocket ship variety, but a distinguished and dignified one.
There is probably no model name more associated with traditional Buicks than Roadmaster, which also has to be one of the all-time coolest names given to any car. Let’s look at some highlights.
The Roadmaster began as 1936 models, the first year Buick utilized model names in addition to series numbers. The cars were all-new that year, featuring many improvements including hydraulic brakes for the first time, revised suspensions, all-steel roofs, and most significantly, brand new engines. The 320.2 c.i. straight eight would be used in all Roadmasters through 1952.
The 1936 Buick Limited has some minor fame as the car bought by King Edward VIII of Great Britain, who at the same time also imported from Canada a 1936 Roadmaster for his paramour, American divorcee Wallis Simpson, shortly before abdicating the English throne in order to marry her. The Roadmaster reportedly went with them to France to be driven in their exile. The king could have had a Rolls-Royce, Bentley or any other car, but chose a Buick! I guess he had a thing for Americans…
From 1936-42, the Roadmaster was not actually the most senior Buick. It was slated below the Limited, which rode on a longer wheelbase and was available in limousine configuration.
1942 was a significant year for Buick, by my way of thinking at least, as it was the year that Buicks really started looking like Buicks by inaugurating a couple of the long-running styling cues that would come to define the Buick look. They gained the waterfall grill that they would have up to the mid 50’s and then again starting in the 80’s through the present. Roadmasters and Supers in convertible and 2-door styles had front fenders that flowed all the way into the rear fenders, a look that would be represented in later models by the trademark Sweepspear. Notably, these cars also lost even the suggestion of running boards, one of the first (but not the first) cars to do this.
The 1942 models, like all U.S. brands, lived in suspended animation for three years during WWII, then returned for three additional years of production from 46-48. The flowing front fender look extended to all body styles, but the cars were otherwise very little changed.
The brand-new 1949 model had body side styling similar to other GM divisions, while the 50-53 gained both distinctive fenders and sweapspears on all models. 1953 was Buick’s V8 year, when they finally jettisoned their old straight 8 in the Super and Roadmaster. These years look very “heavy” to me, which has its charm, but I much prefer the rocket ship styling soon to come.
1954 brought all-new B and C bodies for Buick, Olds and Cadillac. In proper Fifties fashion, the new models were longer, lower and wider and sported wraparound windshields. The 1954 also sprouted raised tail fins that emphasized its rocket ship status.
A happier Fifties face it would be hard to find, even if it is slightly pouty. 1954 was the penultimate year for the waterfall grille (1957 was last after skipping 55-56) until it made its return in the 80’s.
As mentioned above, 1954 was the sophomore year for Buick’s V8. Buick called it the Fireball, but it has always been lovingly known to gearheads as the Nailhead, due to its unusual small and vertical valve setup. You can find an excellent history of this engine that Paul Niedermeyer wrote here.
Buick engineers wrote at the time that their goals for the engine were smoothness, quietness, durability, ease of service, light weight, compact dimensions and minimal manufacturing cost (in a January 1953 S.A.E. paper by V.P. Mathews and Joe Turlay). Interestingly, they don’t mention power as a criteria but surely that was a major goal judging by the fact that it had the highest compression ratio on the market in 1953 (8.5:1 in the RM) and one of the highest power and torque ratings (behind only Cadillac and Lincoln). The Nailhead is also known for having a surprisingly aggressive cam profile to compensate for its small-sized valves to get good power levels.
Buick was an early adopter of the 12 volt electrical system in 1953, a good two or three years before much of the industry. This car was equipped by the owner with a trick battery power cut-off switch, which is a handy feature to prevent power drain for a hobby car that can sit for long periods between drives.
We can tell Buick took the engineering goal of quietness seriously by the unique huge intake air silencer mounted on the oil bath air cleaner.
Interior is classic 50’s, including the large steering wheel with horn ring and chest-impaling column, wrap-around dash, and band speedometer with oil, amp and temp gauges. Lap seat belts have been added to at least give a modicum of safety. Also vintage 50’s, the steering wheel hub and the brake pedal announce the power steering and the power brakes.
Plenty of room in the back seat! A rear center armrest was a sure sign in the 50’s that you were in a luxury car. What I’ve always found odd was that many, if not all of, the cars back then that had rear center armrests didn’t have them in the front seat, where one would think the most important occupants sat. Were carmakers seeking to portray their cars as luxury items just trying to be suggestive of limousines, where the most important occupants were in the back seat? Was it a manual transmission thing? Was it simply that no one thought to put one in front yet? Things to ponder…
Sharp-eyed readers will have already noticed in previous photos that this Buick has the most extravagant luxury option available in 1954: air conditioning. How extravagant was it? At approximately $600, it was 18% of the base price of the car, or approximately $5800 in 2020 dollars. Today, the lowliest economy cars come with it standard, at least in the United States. The price kept it from being installed in very many cars, yet it’s interesting that the current owner bought the car out of Canada. He doesn’t know if it was originally sold there, but if so, there couldn’t have been more than a handful of the refreshingly refrigerated Roadmasters sold there.
Tom Halter wrote a great CC series on the history of automotive air conditioning, which I recommend reading (links at the end). In a nutshell, the first systems were installed in Packards, Cadillacs and Chryslers briefly just prior to WWII, but didn’t immediately return postwar. Buick, Cadillac and Olds only started offering them the year before this car, in 1953. The evaporator assembly was so bulky it couldn’t be mounted in the cowl or dash, so it was mounted in the trunk under the package shelf, with the cold air directed through the transparent plexiglass tubes into the roof and onto the passengers from vents in the ceiling (as seen above and below).
I’m curious how well that works. Today we are so used to having air coming out of the dash and blasting our face and chest, I wonder if it would be nearly as refreshing hitting one on the head and side. Many newer vehicles have roof mounted vents for the back seats, including our family’s Highlander, and it seems to work pretty well. The backseat passengers in these early AC cars were lucky because when the systems moved to be completely cowl and dash mounted in a few years, it would be a long time before back seat dwellers got their own vents again. I’m not aware of any cars that had rear seat AC vents in the period of the 60’s to the 80’s, but someone please correct me if I’m wrong about that.
As I mentioned earlier, the Roadmaster is one of the most famous Buick nameplates. I think that if you did a survey of “non-buffs-but-still-car-aware” and asked who made the Roadmaster, more would answer correctly than would if you asked them who makes current products like the Enclave or Encore. Considering that fame, it’s surprising that the name was only originally used for 20 model years. The ‘Master would reach the end of the road with the upsized, lavishly chromed and now-controversially styled 1958 models (personally I like ’em, especially in coupe form, but that’s just me). There was also the brief return as a B-body in the 90’s, but I wouldn’t consider that to be related to the original models at all beyond in spirit (and I like those too, in fact, I own one). The car became the Electra for 1959 and later the Park Avenue and continued to serve Buick and its owners well for many decades.
One of the things I really like about cars from the 50’s is the detailing. They lavished a lot of attention on badges and emblems. Why have a simple circular emblem when you can conjure ideas of flight with giant wings?
Buick actually dropped the front coat-of-arms-style emblem they had been using for several years for 1954 and simply had BUICK in art deco-ish script. I would have thought 1954 would be beyond the art deco era. They kept some continuity from 1953 with a very similar gunsight-style hood ornament.
Being an all-new platform for 1954, the styling was modern and contemporary while still somehow looking conservative in a Buick-appropriate way. With an up-to-date chassis, one of the newest and most powerful V8’s on the road and cutting edge options like air conditioning, it really was a master. It quietly dominated the road (at least until a Cadillac came along) and put the world on notice that its owner would dominate wherever he was going to. It was a rocket ship for sure, but a distinguished, respectable one, of course.
P.S. I pictured TV’s Marcus Welby, MD driving a Buick like this. However, my research showed I was way off base since the part of his life documented on TV was well after the Roadmaster era. In fact, he drove full-size Chryslers (300’s until they were discontinued, then other models). Well, maybe I wasn’t far off in spirit. I can still imagine that before he got on TV and had cars provided to him by the Chrysler Corporation like nearly everyone else in TV land, the good doctor probably drove Buicks!
photographed in Houston, TX 10/12/2020
Cold Comfort: History of Automotive Air Conditioning, Part 1 – Pre-World War II – early systems referred to in article
Cold Comfort: History of Automotive Air Conditioning, Part 3 – Post-World War II – covering the 50’s
Cold Comfort: 1955 Cadillac Series Sixty Fleetwood – The Cadillac of Early Air Conditioning Systems – details the system very similar to the 1954 Buick’s
full archive of Tom Halter’s Cold Comfort series of CC articles
Automotive History: The Legendary Buick Nailhead V8 – And The Source Of Its Unusual Valve Arrangement by PN, just updated and rerun a couple weeks ago
Thank you for a good written article on one of these fascinating space ships.
“Mature, accomplished professionals want a mature, accomplished car that will propel them expeditiously and comfortably to their important destinations.”
Why is that not the case now anymore? It seems mature, accomplished professionals nowadays only care for fast and uncomfortable. Where is the softly sprung, big car when you need them? I cannot be the only one mourning for them.
Nowadays, “mature, accomplished” is synonymous for “old”. And nobody wants to admit to being old (“70 is the new 50”?). Buick’s have kept their image. Unfortunately it’s now translated as “old man’s car.”
To paraphrase Bunkie Knudsen, “you can sell an old man a young mans car, but never a young man an old mans car”. Today’s Buick is indeed an old mans car. I question it’s long term viability.
Things were a bit different back in the fifties. Then, Buick was seen not really as an old mans car, but as a successful mans car. The fact that successful men were older didn’t seem to hurt the brand. It was an aspirational car and its owners were proud to have achieved the ability to afford them.
Today’s successful men buy a Lexus, Audi, BMW or Mercedes. A Buick would never cross their minds.
Not a Roadmaster, but the entry level stick shift Special, was my uncle’s first new car in ’55. A young man with a professional career going, I guess Buick was an aspirational brand. Dad, with a similar job, bought a new Pontiac the same year. I assume both shunned the now desirable ’55 Chevy due to its low end image.
Women buy Buick. Buick is reliable. The reason women buy them. Young and old.
Thanks! Good point. Some players in the industry seem to be recognizing this. Lincoln in recent years has been emphasizing comfort and trying to make its niche as more old-style soft luxury. Hyundai’s Genesis has also been more comfort oriented.
A front armrest would have interfered with shifting, whether floor or column. ’54 was the first year when all luxury cars had *available* automatics, but even then some Caddy model 75 limos and many Chryslers were still manual.
Extremely well written informative article. You noted this car has power brakes. I read in Ralph Nader’s ” Unsafe At Any Speed” the problems with a 1953 Buick Roadmaster’s power brakes. Nader describes a poor fit between the vacuum booster and the master cylinder allowing manifold vacuum to draw all the fluid out of the reservoir of the master cylinder into the engine leaving the car without brakes. It looks to me like this car has hydraulically boosted power brakes as I can see 2 hoses running from the power steering pump to beneath the master cylinder. (Or, do these hoses run to a linkage slave cylinder in the steering gear)? I wonder if this was a change made to address the 1953 issue. Can someone enlighten me on this?
If I recall correctly, the problem was that an O-ring would fail, and allow the brake fluid to be sucked out of the reservoir, causing complete brake failure. During the 1953 model year, Buick frantically shipped redesigned parts to Buick dealers.
Nader’s beef was that Buick never announced any recall. Dealers were simply instructed to change the parts when customers experienced brake failure, or brought their cars in for service. In retrospect, this seems far more scandalous than the Corvair controversy.
Did a formal recall process even exist then? I read that book decades ago, but didn’t remember the 53 Buick connection. Perhaps the point of that was the need for a formal, public recall system? I’m sure the natural instinct of any manufacturer is not to broadcast to the world that its products are defective. Even if those companies tried to be conscientious and quietly fix the problems (and not kill their customers), a process would be needed to overcome their reticence.
There was no formal recall process, which was one of Nader’s points. One can understand the desire of any manufacturer to avoid broadcasting problems with its products, but Buicks equipped with power brakes were experiencing sudden, total brake failure. Nader was able to document some resulting injuries (it’s a miracle there weren’t fatal accidents).
Simply telling dealers to retrofit cars when customers complained, or brought their cars in for service, was not the way to handle something like this.
The hoses coming off the power steering pump are probably just going down to the steering box or steering ram (I can’t remember what style of power steering these used). The brake master cylinder in these years is under the front floorboard.
Yes , when you accelerate any engine you lose Manifold pressure at the Master Cylinder …
I guess Engineers never thought anyone would want to Stop 🛑 the 🚗 at the same time they were
taking off .
At the same time all Cars with Vacumm operated wiper systems will lose wiping action when you accelerate the car .
Have a 1953 Buick Super & I hate when it rains hard if I’m driving the car ….
53 was the 50th Anniversary …
My Fav Buick
55 Century 2 Dr with Manual Shift & J carb set up with 3 deuces … Anyone out there know where there’s 1 ?
The Roadmonster whispered luxury. It or a Chrysler New Yorker seemed a cut above the top line of other mid market cars. Roadmonsters seemed even more prestigious than Lincolns through 54. BTW, Lincolns of the 58-60 vintage piped air through the front doors so perhaps this wasn’t the last model to offer cool air to rear seaters. A styling cue that mystified me about the 54 were the very plain wheel covers. The style seems more appropriate for a Special. A car of the 50s should have something a bit more – even a tastefully subdued model like this one. I always wondered if Buick & Kaiser bought the headlight trim from the same supplier that year. One seems to mimic the other. Which one thought of it 1st is anyone’s guess. Many people mention the distinctive sound of an Olds V8, but to my ears, hearing a Buick Dynaflow pull away from a stop was equally distinctive. A very different sound that seemed almost turbine-like and created an impression of great smoothness. Great photos. Great write up.
Buick had this headlight styling for 1953, Kaiser took the inspiration from the Motorama Buick XP-300 show car for its 1954 restyle including the grille.
Lincolns ran both cooled and hot air through the front armrests until the 1964 un-facelift. The nice part was having a toasty armrest for the driver in winter – before heated steering wheels and seats were a thing.
You’re absolutely correct. I vividly remember being able to tell the make of car approaching before I could see it. I’d know to this day the sound of a Buick in the dark.
Ooooh, what a decadently delightful car to find at a curbside! Although I will confess a preference for the pre-1954 bodies (and “valve-in-head” straight eights) I will readily admit that this is a gorgeous car that simply oozes every bit of the goodness that big GM cars used to ooze.
Those ropes across the front seatbacks in expensive cars of the period always mystified me. I understand that in earlier times those were used for hanging the blankets that rear seat passengers used to keep warm in the days of rudimentary heaters, but by the 1950s-60s those days were gone. Yet the “robe cords” remained.
I too noticed the oddly dated “BUICK” lettering on the hood – that lettering style was very not-1954.
I hadn’t given any thought to the cords, good eye. It was clearly vestigial at that point, but still expected in luxury cars. It does give a fancy, formal look to the back. Kind of like fancy drapes in a formal living room. Nobody actually uses them, but they are part of the look.
I assume that is the AC compressor above the generator, but what is the black & silver thing mounted on the passenger fender? Did these have electric vacuum pumps?
I’m curious about that as well, it appears to be some type of pump.
Based on the hoses and diaphragm pump housing, it could be an electric fuel pump (a mechanical pump is mounted on the engine, but it may be bypassed).
I could also be a hydraulic pump for the power windows, if the system used hydraulic cylinders. However, not many hydraulic systems use this style pump.
My vote goes for the item being an electric fuel pump.
Of the people I’ve known to own these beasts the factory fuel pump seems to be a common complaint, replaced with an aftermarket one. The one hose looks like it is headed straight to the carb.
You are correct about the item being the A/C compressor.
However this car doesn’t have a functioning system as the suction hose is missing.
You can see the system layout at the following website.
Oh no. Functioning AC would make this car a complete wonder. Maybe a little hard to find someone to work on it though but there must be someone somewhere.
To me the previous model Buick Enclave was very much in the spirit of the Roadmonsters of yore. Very well styled if you like the traditional somewhat baroque Buicky thing. Somehow two of them park in the street on the next Brooklyn block so I’ve had lots of opportunity to check them out when walking by.
Enclave seems like a pretty poor choice of name for them but they have continued it for the next gen model. I guess if you call something an Electra now it would be expected to plug in.
I would mostly agree on the Enclave. I actually did an article on it a few months ago. If you missed it:
> I’m not aware of any cars that had rear seat AC vents in the period of the 60’s to the 80’s, but someone please correct me if I’m wrong about that.
The only one that comes to mind is the Chrysler Town & Country wagons which I know offered rear A/C of some sort in 1965-66 and maybe later. I also remember how cool (pun unintended) I thought the A/C vents along the left side trim panels in ’70s Ford Club Wagons for the rear rows of seats were when I was a kid, but that’s a van not a car.
Imperial also offered a separate rear air conditioner with rear vents mounted in the package shelf throughout the 1960’s and early 1970’s. I’ve owned a 1962, 1965, and 1972 Imperial, all with independent rear air.
Ah, good to know! I figured maybe some had. Leave it to mopar to be unique and creative!
The Mopar wagons had dual a/c for years available and as Timothy says, Imperial had it from ’50’s to ’70’s. After market ACA from Texas had deluxe near factory rear units
also the waterfall grille was back in ’57, then Dynastars replaced it.
Thanks, I forgot about the 57. I corrected it in the text.
The rear AC unit in Chrysler and maybe other Chrysler products using the big body started with the new unit body 1960’s. It was a whole evaporator and fan unit with vents fore and aft, hanging from the roof in between the heads of rear seat and rear facing third row passengers. I suspect that the Imperial rear AC was similar but trunk mounted.
The 1990-96 GM plasticvans had optional rear air. I think it also may have been a separate unit, not just vents like modern vans. Mine didn’t have it.
This commercial for a ’56 lays out the Roadmaster ethos: The quality and prestige of the expensive cars (like Cadillac) but priced lower, and actually superior in certain ways. Not so flashy/pretentious (“[He] doesn’t have to prove a thing!” “[Someone who can] choose simply on a BEST OF BREED basis . . .”)
I love it! If it’s good enough for Jackie Gleason, that’s all I need to know.
I used to ride home from school in a ’54 Super. The interior was less flashy than that of the Roadmaster but nevertheless richly done and the ride was perfect. This was replaced with a ’59 LeSabre which had very noticeably inferior quality, a pitching ride and an outlandish appearance. I wondered how the new owner could not have realized the huge inequality between the cars.
From the Houston Chronicle on June 30, 1954:
Al Parker Buick was offering a 1954 Buick Roadmaster demonstrator with a/c, power steering and brakes, etc. – List Price $4980 Selling Price $4275.
Sam White Oldsmobile was offering a new Rocket 88 for $2694.
A used Pontiac 8 with 5000 actual miles was offered at Sam White for $1895.
Several dealers had new Fords and Chevys for $1595.
I could not find ads for new Cadillacs but at almost triple the price of a basic Ford or Chevy the 1954 Roadmaster made quite a statement.
$4275 = $44,200 in 2021. Great deal.
I wonder how many stares and confused looks you got from the “average crowd”, on a hot summer day, when you were driving around with the windows rolled up and your AC blasting away…
Everyone: “What’s wrong with those people?!?! It’s 95 degrees and they have all their windows rolled up!!!”
You, in 1954, in a 1954 car with AC: “HA HA! Suckers!!!!”
Also, this Buick has power windows. How many people, who had never seen a car with power windows, would ask how to “roll down the window”…??
I actually never thought about “roll down” the window. The term, which will probably be used in perpetuity despite decades of universal PW, is clearly based on having to roll the window crank.
I actually explained that recently to my kids, when we were in a relative’s truck that has crank-up windows. For one, they thought the window crank was really neat (“Hey, it works when the car’s off!”). For another, they were surprised that that’s why we say to “roll up” car windows.
“Roll up” the windows, and “dial” the telephone! I love it.
“Film” an event. With your phone.
In car related news I just explained what “doozy” came from. Everyone knew the meaning but no one knew the basis of it.
I’ve always wanted to ride in one of the 1950’s Buick, Cadillac or Imperial to find out how the A/C would cope with the Heat & Humidity that drenches New Orleans (at least) 8 months of the year.
My Buicks and Cad’s, Lincoln’s, most all of Mopar’s with a/c dehumidified in minutes, but intensified getting OUT later. My dual a/c Imperials dehumidify in one minute or less, the odor filtration is superb also.
In the extended, hot and damp Summers here in New Orleans if your sunglasses don’t fog up or your sinuses momentarily throb as you climb out of your vehicle, your A/C is considered sub-standard.
It looks like a bloodhound after an entire day of hunting.
My thoughts exactly, there is a cartoon dog with the same droopy face.
As far as the cords on the backs of the seats we used to hang on to them when dad was driving a little dirt track style on the gravel roads on the way to or from the farm.
Great article, thanks.
In my youth I always wanted a 4 holer Buick with the gun sight hood ornament.
Very nice car the rear end styling echoes Humber Super Snipe but the front seems to copy nobody American car makers took a long time to discover 12 volts as an electrical system, Ive been trying to think of anyone else who still used 6 volts as late as 1950 certainly nothing Ive owned ever came that way only UK Fords that were 30s leftovers still in production and VWs which were the same 30s leftovers, But AC was certainly an innovation something I never really saw here untill the 80s the climate back then didnt warrant it now its hard to do without but it is survivable as the floating driver in our fleet a truck with functioning AC is very rare only the Volvos and one Scania seem to have it and that Scania needs a gearbox before it can be used again, the Freightshakers, Cats, & Sterling all do without and having a 10 inch glowing orb mounted just ahead of the driver in American conventionals isnt a help.
Kiwi, you seem to be able to find the comma key, just not the period!
In the early sixties a family we knew got divorced; the woman inherited the family early-fifties Buick but she had never learned to drive, so my Mom taught her, and I got to ride along for the lessons. I was perhaps five years old, but still have some vivid memories: the cavernous back seat with weird feeling and slightly odd smelling fuzzy upholstery, the irregularly faded black paint and shiny chrome, and especially the robe cord across the back of the front seat, as seen on this example. I tried to hold onto it, assuming it was for that purpose like the rails in buses, but it didn’t work very well. All in all, a very different experience than our family’s Volvo 544. The Buick didn’t stay in that family long and was replaced by a DiNoc’ed ‘63 Ford wagon.
Only the concurrent Chrysler Imperials had front seat fold-down armrest.
GMC Suburbans in the 1980’s offered dual air conditioning which included vents in the roof panel. This Buick is a honey. What a treasure for you to won and to drive! I love the video advertising the 1956. Dear Old Dad enters his property through automatically operated gates and, lo and behold, his daughter just happens to be sitting on her horse! This is funny and complete artifice. But them we have other examples of this in magazine ads for cars with cars parked poolside. Great article. Yes, lap robe accommodations were considered, at least by GM, to be de rigeur for the “better element.” Great cars, great essay and much thanks.
love the ’56 Chrysler ad that has them playing golf, using the new Newport as a golf cart
What a car. I love how the 53-57(?) Buicks and Caddys had what can only be described as a Darrin-style dip in the upper beltline, as introduced in the Motorama Eldo and I believe the Olds Holiday Fiesta?
You’re right about Buicks the sober but not dour car, fit for a preacher…as a preacher’s kid, my rabbi dad had an 83 LeSabre sedan, probably the most memorable and appropriate in my mind of all of his cars. It wasn’t uncommon for his colleagues at the time to have Buicks, IIRC, even in the late 80s. Though one feisty gent had a square-headlight XJ6.
In 1954 I was three years away from licensing age, but a confirmed car freak, and to me that Buick was THE beauty of the bunch. The ’53s were a good advance over the earlier ones, I thought, but in ’54 they finally got it right! The subsequent several years were okay, if a bit heavy handed … but 1958? No GM car was pretty in 1958! And the Buick was a bechromed salad! I did get a ride in one, driven by my friend’s doctor dad, and was impressed by its burst of massive (for then) acceleration, but I could not get over the chrome jukebox-buttons all over its face.
I wasn’t around at the time, but as a present day car nerd, my favorite 50’s Buick is the 56. It all came together that year, Very good evolution of the 54-55 styling, not as busy looking as the 57. Love the angled grille.
An intake to the trunk mounted air conditioning unit is visible in the seventh photo directly below the blue “Air Conditioned” label on the rear window. Once spotted, it is also visible in the first and second photos.
I dated a woman whose father was a successful building and construction tradesman. This was in a small city and not near any big city, and many years ago. We’re not talking an exurb of some major league or AAA market
He earned every dollar he made. And his customers were the people his family met every day at church, PTA meetings, the library, the barber/beauty parlor, the market, &c.
The social code part of our story: It was Simply Not Done to spend these friends’ and neighbors’ (sic on each possessive) money on a Cadillac! His taste in cars? The most dressed-up Buicks you could imagine. And he certainly didn’t do without in that regard.
I know several “Old School” upscale families here in New Orleans.
They would never purchase a vulgar and flashy Cadillac; that was for mafia dons, politicians and “Nuveau Riche/New Money” people.
A top of the line Buick or Chrysler was a fine fit for their conservative, non flashy personalities.
” The king could have had a Rolls-Royce, Bentley or any other car, but chose a Buick! I guess he had a thing for Americans.”
David never really got why he couldn’t be king anymore. That said, a Buick Roadmaster of the circa 1940 era is a far better car than any Rolls-Royce. I wouldn’t put it past the Windsors if they told Rolls not to sell him a car. There was that much bad blood between them all.
I like the styling of the 1954 cars. They looked cool without too much tackiness, which peaked at absurd levels in 1958.
What year of Roady do you own?
96 Wagon, wood delete
Can anyone identify this?
A solenoid for the accessory that it is mounted to?
The unoccupied threaded posts on the front look like electrical connectors, and suggest that the accessory, which looks like an air conditioner compressor, is not functional. The is consistent with a previous commenter’s observation that the air conditioner is not hooked up.
As noted, it is the AC clutch solenoid. GM compressors used an adjustable external solenoid and avoided the wear parts like the carbon brushes used on the old Mopar AC units. However, they unit still required careful adjustment. Magnetic clutchs made these old systems obsolete by the late 50s.
Pardon my ignorance, but what is that glass jar looking thing on the driver side under the hood?
I can’t say with any certainty, but it looks like a vacuum canister. It’s another unhooked part, so perhaps it was used to control some aspect of air conditioner function.
My guess would be for a windshield washer reservoir, probably not functioning as there is a hose fitting on top with no rubber hose attached.
And having looked at that picture, am I seeing a vacuum wiper motor in the center of the firewall? It amazes me that GM was using vacuum systems on wipers as late as 1956 in high end cars. Even Studebaker went all-in on electric wipers before that.
JP’s guess is correct. It is a reservoir for the windshield washer.
JP’s guess is correct. It is a reservoir for the windshield washer. Glass jars were used through 1958.
My 16 year old right-of-passage (driver’s license) was obtained by commanding dad’s ’51 four-holer, four door, 3 ton Loadmaster around a city block, then attempting to parallel park it. Power nothing – a “stripped” but gorgeous metallic green, white topped mobile sofa, that served us mostly favorably for over 7 years. The hum of that Sonomatic AM radio warming up, & tuning it by turning the heavy chrome knobs was worth the price of admission. In that beast my then girlfriend, & I endured our first awkward kiss, in the parking lot of the DC area’s iconic Glen Echo Park, & subsequently many amorous moments in many drive in theaters. The front seat was quite accomodating. Dad later downgraded to a used ’59 Olds, but never got over losing the waterfall grille.
Jon: Thanks for a great piece!
“One could argue that having a strong image (or maybe stereotype) has sustained the brand to this day, even as all the other middle rungs of the GM ladder have been removed.”
I think Buick has been the mid-range survivor at GM because of the large popularity of the brand in China. Supposedly, this dates back to the days pre-and post-WW2, when American diplomats and military brass had Buick sedans and limos to move them about. They became high-status vehicles, and I saw tons of them a few years ago during a trip to China.
I’ll chip in with my own “What’s that?” in the engine compartment. I guess this (red arrows) is an electric fuel pump. Not the gerotor type that comes to mind by default, though; this looks like a motor-driven version of the reciprocating diaphragm pump usually driven by an eccentric on the camshaft. Don’t think I’ve ever seen one before. It looks relatively modern; who made/makes them?
At first I wasn’t putting too much weight on my guess, because the vacuum wiper motor (green arrows) is still present, and that would’ve meant the engine-driven original fuel pump would have also served as a vacuum pump, without which the wipers would stall when manifold vacuum drops, as when starting from a stop or climbing a hill. But then I saw the original fuel pump still in place (yellow arrows), and it looks big enough to be a dual-function type, so I guess it was left in place to provide for the wipers, while the electric pump addresses vapour lock issues made likelier and worse by the increased underhood heat from the air conditioning.
But I could be wrong about all this. Anyone confirm/refute/correct?
(Also, the feature car in this post is reminding me of the ’54 Buick in Stephen King’s “From a Buick Eight”)
Unfortunately I have no idea, but it sounds plausible. I wish I had been able to ask the owner,. He was nice enough to let me take my pictures, but I didn’t want to take all his time asking tons of questions even if I had been thinking of the good observations people have brought up (which I hadn’t, needless to say).
My grandfather bought his fourth big Buick, a new ’56 Roadmaster sedan, black with red/black interior, months before he died. Grandma got herself a new ’64 black Cadillac 62 and sold the Buick to her BIL. I got to drive it once in the late 70’s. It was much larger, heavier, and slower than my other great-uncle’s ’56 Olds 88 hardtop that I’d been driving to HS. Some of that was old Dynaflow vs. Hydramatic, but there was a bigger difference between B and C bodies than a little more wheelbase.