The 1991-96 Buick Roadmaster Estate has had a lot of airtime on CC. Is there anything left to say about this big old baleen that hasn’t been written in the previous decade of posts and CComments? Probably not. But I for one will never let fear of redundancy, rank incompetance, nor complete cluelessness about a subject matter prevent me from writing close to a thousand words loosely related to it, if only to accompany some (hopefully halfway decent) photos.
But let’s not kid each other here. As far as this CContributor is concerned, the real meat (or if we’re carrying on with the cetacean simile initiated above, the whale carcass) of the matter of this post are the photos. Feast your eyes on this beast!
We’ve had us some Roadmaster Estates from all over the map. North America of course, but CC has sighted at least three in Europe, which is no mean feat. I was living there at the time, and I certainly don’t recall seeing many about. Park Avenues were the only Buicks we regularly saw in the ‘90s. The curvaceous B-bodies were extremely rare and extremely ill-suited to European roads. I did not really expect to encounter one in Japan, were it not for this country’s well-known affinity with whales-related products.
It probably figures that this one is a later model with the 260hp LT1 Corvette V8 – pretty powerful, for a sea mammal of this ilk. If you’re going to go to the trouble of importing one of these the Japan, might as well be the one with the vitamins. GM thought it best to limit the two-ton fuelie Roadie’s V-max to 108mph (174kph), lest the tyres not be up to the challenge. Wise tactical decision, General.
Judging from the comments I’ve read on some of the previous Roadmaster posts, this car seems to be as big on the inside as it does on the outside, but it really isn’t, according to many who have experienced the Buick (or its Chevrolet and Oldsmobile sister cars). Body-on-frame, full-size wagon, RWD and all that, but legroom’s below par? Who’d have thunk it?
The less-than-stellar legroom is much more evident in the rear seat area. Full-size my foot!
Bulging though they may be in the middle and the sides, these suckers are awful long as well. We’re talking 217.5 inches (or 5.53 meters) here – same as a 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88 sedan. Coincidence? Yes, yes it is. Probably.
According to the numbers I stumbled into on the web, the Buick version of the big GM wagon was just about as popular as the Chevrolet version: both scored just over 50,000 units sold between 1991 and 1996, though the Caprice did edge out the Buick by a 1000 units or so, depending on how you count things such as the Special Service (police cruiser) Chevies. The Oldsmobile version disappeared after about 12,000 were made in 1991-92, so those are the rare ones.
But it was badge-engineering at its finest: all the wagons got the same sheetmetal, based on the Caprice, just as they were in the previous generation. Hence why the Buick Roadmaster sedan looks nothing like the wagon, which I always thought was a bit weird. But not quite as weird as the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, which had no sedan equivalent at all. GM logic…
I guess that GM selling 110,000-odd units of their big-boy B-Body wagon in six model years just wasn’t enough to keep the old gal alive. They needed that Arlington, TX factory space to make more SUVs, apparently. The ‘90s were a depressing time.
I guess the fact that this was “the last traditional station wagon” and everything that implies is reason enough for many CC readers to have a thing for this Buick. Fair enough. But as far as I know, this car’s current status as a semi-icon might not take into account the fact that these are pretty cheaply made (especially inside) and an acquired taste, esthetically speaking. I for one would have changed a number of things on this car back when GM were planning it – the rear door is far too small (visually, at least). And the rear end is probably the ugliest of any full-size GM wagon.
But there are a few things they got just right. Everyone who rode in one raves about the comfort. For a Buick, the Roadmaster’s ample amounts of plastiwood, both inside and out, are just right. The super-thick chrome strip that goes right around the whole behemoth is also a visual treat – Chevies and Oldsmobiles (the latter is pictured above for contrast and because I was not able to get anything resembling a rear-end shot of the Buick) don’t have any of that bling and look all the worse for it.
And finally, there’s that rear wheel cut-out. Some folks really hated it, so much so that it disappeared from the sedans after a couple years. But it stayed on the wagons and, to me, it really makes this design work. The shape is Googie revival chic, which matches the name extremely well. There was no Roadmaster for 1959, but it’s like a little of that model year was tacked on to the ‘90s version to remind us of the Eisenhower years. It’s retro before retro became a thing and was just “old-fashioned,” I guess. Very appropriate for this car, especially in its Buick incarnation.
With all its faults, its size and its status as the last-of-the-line, I bet many of these Buick wagons have already disappeared from the road. Seeing one in person so far from its Texan birthplace was a real treat. Master of the road, may you waft over the Japanese network with as much grace as any whale could. And watch your rear, or they’ll harpoon you for “scientific research” purposes.
CC Outtake: 1991 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon – Flatland Roller, by Johannes Dutch