Flip This Car: 1994 Buick Roadmaster—Part Five
By Christopher Smith
January 23, 2011
A bit of time has passed since the Beast’s rallycross adventure.
Truth is, winter has set in through these mid-Michigan parts, and the cold combined with the hustle and bustle of the holidays simply hasn’t left much time for neat-o things to do with the Roadmaster. And then last week the “other” car was sidelined by a disagreement between myself, a deer, and Sir Issac Newton. Yeah, the Beast is a daily driver just like the 1989 SHO was, but I leaned long ago to never fly solo when dabbling with older fixer-uppers. Well, while the insurance company decides what to do with car number one, the old Roadmaster is now well and truly the single vehicle in this household. If you’re curious how that makes me feel, let me sum it up in two words: Just fine.
In these articles I spend a lot of time talking about fun factor, but reliability is really what makes these kinds of challenges sink or swim. The Roadmaster, for all its bulk and waterbed handling, has not once failed to start or move in the four months I’ve owned it. Even today, after sitting outside for 24 hours in temperatures as low as -11 Fahrenheit, the big LT1 V-8 cranked just a touch slow before firing to life. As for handling in the snow, the Beast has been equally impressive in conquering everything from hardpack snow to powder, slush, and even ice with a surprising amount of grip and stability. Of course, I can also apply just a touch more throttle and hold the car sideways long enough to convince other drivers I have four-wheel steering. Credit for this control goes to my experiences at the rallycross, but also the fact that it’s still a two-ton, long wheelbase car that’s presently toting an extra 100 pounds of wheels and tires in the trunk (destined for the other car should it not be a total; turns out the Roadmaster’s trunk also excels in the role of storage shed.) Am I having a ton of fun behind the wheel? Honestly, not really. But that's okay, because right now, the Roadmaster's rock solid reliability is the magic binding this relationship.
It’s also still sitting on truck tires—I know I know, this is a car and it would handle much better without these tall rubber sticks at all four corners, but the fact is these tires also do really well in adverse weather, which here in mid-Michigan is pretty much every day now that we’re into January. At this point, switching to car tires will likely be a mission for the Beast’s next owner, because these knobby white-letter off-roaders are really earning their keep right now, and I only have a few weeks left behind the wheel. For the sake of the flip, the current tires will stay.
Even the maintenance work has died down, with nothing new to report since part four. I just finished a repaint on the rear bumper, completing at long last the monochrome look I’d envisioned from the beginning. I ended up sticking with the existing rear fascia, as the replacement I’d sourced had a bit of an outrageous price tag that was non-negotiable. This really isn’t maintenance so much as just freshening up the car, but the maintenance summary for the Buick is actually somewhat brief. Swapping the engine computer was literally as easy as changing an air filter, done way back within a couple weeks
of purchasing the car. The most involving projects were the thorough cooling system flush I performed back when the ground was still green,
and more recently, the new inner/outer wheel bearings for the passenger front wheel. That job was actually a bit tense, as the inner wheel bearing was stuck on the spindle, telling me it was definitely due for a change. In between the mechanical bits, the Roadmaster also got new dash vents and a new passenger side window/seat control panel, making the interior a comfortable, fully functional escape for driver and passengers. And of course there was the trans flush and fill at the beginning,
as well as an oil change. In fact, oil change number two will likely come in the next week or so, provided temperatures climb out of the single digits so the garage isn’t quite so torturous.
As such, the past month of ownership has been a very pleasant if not terribly exciting experience, endless drifting on snowy back roads notwithstanding. Had this been posted a week ago, I would’ve left it at that. But now that I’m relying on the Beast for 100 percent of my motoring duties, I have an all-new appreciation for its strength and fortitude. Sometimes, having fun in a car means simply having a comfortable, reliable machine to get you where you need to go. And hey, if that destination has a large, empty, snow-covered parking lot, well that’s just a Buick Roadmaster bonus.
Since my fun factor has waned a bit since the rallycross, I’ve decided to look closer at the enthusiast community for these cars. It’s no secret that the Roadmaster shares the same B-Body platform as the Impala SS, not to mention the Chevy Caprice and of course, the 9C1-packaged Caprice ex-police cars. I’ve enjoyed the Roadmaster, but since I haven’t completely fallen in love with it, I thought I’d seek out people who have, to see if there’s something I’m missing before I hand the Beast to a new owner.
“In many ways, these cars are the last of the classic Detroit iron, “said John Chapman. I first encountered John some years ago while doing the car show scene in west Michigan; back then he had a thing for ex-cop cars and he still has a thing for them, more specifically the 1994-1996 Caprice. He currently owns three, two of which run while the other he keeps handy as a parts car. His pride and joy is a black 96 that he proudly proclaims was an ex-detective car so it “didn’t get beat on quite as bad.”
“This is how American cars used to be,” he says with a tinge of pride. “Big, roomy, powerful. Body on top, frame underneath. It’s easy to work on; stuff isn’t crammed up under the hood. And it’s tight; unibody cars can flex but this big frame doesn’t really move around. My 96 isn’t a little sports car, but it can still turn a corner good enough for me, and when I floor it, it’s all vintage muscle.”
Bill DeBlasio has been into the B-Body Impala SS since the General unveiled them for the 1994 model year. In fact, he still has the 1995 SS he bought brand new, though it now runs a 396 LT1 and turns 11-second quarter-mile times—all while carrying Bill, his family, and a set of racing slicks in the trunk on road trips across the country.
“I originally got interested because my wife and I needed a family car for our first child,” said DeBlasio. “The only non-dorky four-door cars were BMW 5 or 7 series (out of the budget) or a used Tahoe/Suburban. So when I saw the SS in 1994 I was smitten. Today, I think a lot has to do with the fact that you had to have some bucks to own one back in the day, so you started with a more mature crowd. It's a very supportive group who would do anything for one another.”
Cory Magner is a bit closer to my enthusiast heartstrings because his B-Body fetish is Roadmasters, and to be more specific, red Roadmasters, of which he currently has three. He grew up with cars, notably big cars, and when he went hunting for a replacement engine to power an old Cadillac, he stumbled upon the LT1-equipped B-Bodies and eventually fell in love with the Roadmaster.
“Right after I totaled the Fleetwood, I had bought a set of drag rims off an internet forum member named Buffman,” recalls Magner. “He brought them in his 95 Buick Roadmaster; when I saw that car, I was in love, and it’s what sparked my initial interest in buying my first Roadmaster. Everything about it—the lines of the car in dark cherry color, the race-inspired exhaust note on a car that looked like a grandma should own it. He had talked about selling it, or parting it out, and I told him I would be the first guy at his door. He did a ton of engine/transmission/ rear-end mods, quite a few interior mods, exterior mods, custom $1,000 headlights; he just took really good care of it, and did lots of little things to set it apart. After a year of flip flopping, he finally got serious about selling. I knew better than to let it slip past me.”
Three different flavors of B-Body love, but it all comes back to the same ingredients: Big American car, bigger old-school American V-8 power, and most important of all, big pride of ownership for what many feel are the last great American sedans. I’d like to personally thank these enthusiasts for taking the time to chat with me; check the photo gallery to see some of their cars.
My passion for driving the Roadmaster has admittedly dipped these past few weeks, but I get it now. I get why people fall in love with these cars, I get why they keep going back, and I especially get the pride bit. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find another B-Body in my garage at some point in the future; one with a bit more aftermarket tinkering perhaps. To that end, I could’ve done more with the Beast but hey, I still have a few weeks to go, so who knows? Realistically, smaller tweaks and modifications aren’t going to drastically change the final selling price, and at this point I’m thinking more about the flip than the fun. That is, except for one final rally-based adventure that may yet be in the Roadmaster’s future, especially now that it’s my only ride in the barn. Ironically enough, that adventure will depend on what happens with a potential candidate for the next Flip This Car series, which I found only recently in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. You’ll be hearing more on this machine soon enough.
In the meantime, the 1994 Buick Roadmaster is officially on the selling block. If you should happen to be interested in catching the Beast for your own taming pleasure, shoot an email to email@example.com
1994 Buick Roadmaster
Vehicle status: Fully Functional and looking snazzy
Miles driven: 3004
Observed fuel economy (60% highway, 40% snowy highway sideways: 22.1 mpg
Tire tread depth: 7/32 left rear, 6/32 right rear, 9/32 front
Broken parts since the last article: None
Total parts investment to date: $20.00 (orange/white vinyl for rally), $26.81 (inner/outer passenger side wheel bearings), $4.99 (replacement hub dust cap) $3.49 (rear turn signal bulb), $374.78 (parts total from part three) = $430.07