: Flipping A Roadmaster Pt. 2



ted tcb
11-03-10, 02:26 PM
Cut and pasted from Winding Road, a fun article on purchasing a beater.



Taming the Beast

Two days ago, I received not my first, but second compliment on this car. And I’ve only had it for about a month. That’s good news, right?

“Boy, you got yourself a bus there, what year is it?”

I looked up from depositing goods in the back seat to find a man that could’ve been my dad’s great grandfather. He was approaching from the direction of a late model Lincoln Town Car, flanked by a woman with hair as silver as his own.

“1994, first year for the cop motor in these cars” I reply, trying to recoup at least a few cool points with others in the parking lot. This is a college town after all, and there's a guy in a black Grand Am GT a few cars over snickering at me.

“They just don’t make them like this anymore,” he continued. I had one of these new, back when I retired from GM.”

“They sure don’t,” I said, giving up on the whole cool factor thing. This is a Buick Roadmaster after all; no amount of de-chroming is going to erase the fact that this big boat was once coveted by folks who remember the first season of I Love Lucy. I did have an opportunity to recoup a little dignity, however, as I pulled up next to that college kid in the black Grand Am not a quarter mile down the road, stopped at a traffic light. Poor guy even had a girl in the passenger seat, whom I suspect was either goading him into a fun run, or at least playing the “impress-me-with-your-fast-and-furious-driving-skills” card to the fullest. I won’t say anything illegal happened, but I suspect he slept alone that night, and I’m pretty certain he won’t be snickering at Roadmasters in the future.

That little story actually does a good job of summing up my first month with the Roadmaster. Sometimes, I’m reminded all too clearly just how non-performance oriented the Roadmaster really is. This car is riding on truck tires for crying out loud, and it has enough body roll to be a platform for a Jackass stunt. It doesn’t even have a rear sway bar, but when I romp the gas I remember that many 60’s muscle cars didn’t have sway bars either, and look how much fun they were to drive. That’s been my main lesson from this pivotal getting-to-know-you phase of used car ownership—this will never be a nimble corner carver with a fun powerband, despite a host of handling upgrades available from the Impala/9C1 Caprice enthusiast community. No, it’s a muscle car hidden inside a bathtub, and to make it into anything other than a straight-line fun machine just doesn’t fit the character of this particular Roadmaster.

As for the origins of that character, I was somewhat coy about details in part one (http://www.windingroad.com/articles/blogs/flip-this-car-1994-buick-roadmaster/), so here’s the deal. I scored the Beast (so named for both its size and a rather absurd first oil change that literally broke my filter wrench) from a lady in her 50s who owned the car for seven years. It “scared the hell” out of her the first winter she had it so, at least in her care, it didn’t see much Michigan salt. That’s also where the light truck tires came from, though when I asked why she didn’t run snow tires, I got a blank stare that told me she smoked more than Marlboros.

The initial meeting wasn’t pretty. The check engine light was on. The change oil light was on. The ABS light was on. The finish was rough with tree sap and surface scratches. The driver rear door looked like it had been sandblasted. Several exterior trim pieces were either damaged or completely missing. One of the A/C vents in the dash was missing. The controls for the passenger power seat were broken. The only real good news was that none of the glass was cracked, and it was virtually rust-free, with the only cancer showing up down low on the rear rockers.

Does this sound like a $2500 car? That was the original asking price.

The test drive revealed a speedometer that was non-functional and a transmission that, once it shifted into third, would stay there unless manually shifted to second—first wouldn’t engage at all. Major transmission issues were at the top of my disqualification list, so I’d pretty much written the Roadmaster off before I was at the end of the street.

The engine, however, clearly wasn’t lacking in the pony department. The suspension was positively sublime, absorbing the pitted, medieval roads of northern Michigan without even a suggestion of a clunk or rattle. The brakes were firm and noise free. The steering, though overboosted by design, was without slack. It was rock solid, it tracked straight and true, and despite a transmission that wouldn’t downshift or the dashboard with more lights than a Christmas tree, it felt like a car with less than half the 142,000 rounds showing on the odometer. It may not have received the best attention, but it was the recipient of at least some significant work through its life.

Still, I returned the Buick without even making an offer. I wasn’t interested in a car requiring a major component that I didn't have the pleasure to destroy, and even if I was interested, I had a feeling the owner would’ve pulled a shotgun with the lowball offer I’d have made for a car needing such work. And yet, later that evening I found myself on the Impala SS Forum (http://www.impalassforum.com/vBulletin/), searching up trans issues to see if maybe—just maybe—the fix would be something simple like a sensor. Their archives of information pointed me toward the transmission going into limp mode, a condition that could be totally unrelated to the transmission itself. Still not having a great deal of knowledge on B-Body cars, I decided to take the gamble; I called the owner the next morning and threw down $1800, which she accepted without even making a counter offer.

That made me nervous, but when the speedometer came back to life after a backhand to the instrument cluster on the drive home, my motoring sense told me I’d made a good call.

As for the other issues, after learning the nifty procedure for reading computer codes through the automatic climate control, they pretty much became non-issues. The check engine light was the result of an EGR code, which has yet to return in the four weeks since I cleared it. The oil change light simply needed a reset. The ABS light is still lit—I have no ABS codes so that is still a work in progress. The transmission issue was initially a code 84, pointing to a faulty 3-2 control solenoid that was an easy fix in the trans pan. That turned out to be a red herring, as the local GM dealer identified a short in the PCM itself. Rather than plunking down $300 parts and labor for a new factory PCM, a used box sourced from a local boneyard for $75 solved the problem. Patched up and serving daily driver duties, I now have four good forward gears, a muscular V-8 turning the rear wheels, and a big back seat. Call me crazy, but I think this car has some devilish potential.

These last few weeks have also been devoted to making the Beast a bit less ugly, and to that end I think I’ve been fairly successful. Details on that work, as well as the official road test, will be the basis for FTC part three. By then, I’m hoping the Beast will either have sharper wheels/tires, or a better louder exhaust with a PCM tune. Regardless, I suspect part three will either be deliciously entertaining, or delayed a few weeks while I try to post bail. What can I say? This whole old man sleeper thing is just way too much fun.



1994 Buick Roadmaster
Vehicle status: Loathed by Grand Am GT owners, admired by retired GM workers (and girlfriends of Grand Am GT owners)
Miles driven: 1186
Observed fuel economy (60% highway): 21.5 mpg
Tire tread depth: 8/32 rear, 9/32 front
Broken parts since the last article: None
Total parts investment to date: $49.15 (paint and supplies), $75.00 (PCM), $144.76 (3-2 solenoid replacement and transmission service), = $268.91 total


http://www.windingroad.com/articles/blogs/flip-this-car-1994-buick-roadmasterpart-two/?src=Nextscreen

ga_etc
11-03-10, 03:39 PM
That article makes me smile. I knew I wasn't crazy for like our Roadmaster as much as I do. And the comment about it being "a muscle car hiding in a bathtub" is pretty much spot on.

Stingroo
11-03-10, 04:49 PM
I've noticed a lot of people take notice of my car too - I find it odd. Many of my parent's friends have wagon stories from when they were a kid, and at gas stations once in awhile an older gentleman will come up and ask about it. It's odd, but.. kinda cool.

And I would call it a sofa, rather than a bathtub. :thumbsup:

I~LUV~Caddys8792
11-04-10, 12:24 AM
Man, I really miss my Roadmaster. Too bad the new Buick is faster and more fun to drive.

Aron9000
11-04-10, 02:20 AM
Man, I really miss my Roadmaster. Too bad the new Buick is faster and more fun to drive.

Yeah but it doesn't make all those cool V8 sounds. Although the blower scream is pretty sweet as well.


Also, the roadmaster is a 1000x better looking car than the caprice sedan IMO.

Stingroo
11-04-10, 02:24 AM
PERSONALLY, in sedan form I don't like either of them - the Fleetwood blows them both out of the water. The RM sedan nose is weird to me.

Jesda
11-04-10, 09:18 AM
That was exceptionally well written. 90s Buicks are interesting cars -- they weren't high-level luxury cars, but they were satisfying (usually) and durable. If GM manages to pull itself out of its hole, I could see the Holden-based RWD Park Avenue sold in China making its way to North America.

Bro-Ham
11-04-10, 11:21 AM
I enjoyed the Roadmaster Limited Sedan I owned for a few months and I suspect Chad's good buddy Brandon is still very much loving it now too. :)

I~LUV~Caddys8792
11-04-10, 08:44 PM
Yeah but it doesn't make all those cool V8 sounds. Although the blower scream is pretty sweet as well.


Also, the roadmaster is a 1000x better looking car than the caprice sedan IMO.

I will agree to that. The 91-96 Caprices never looked as good as the Roadmasters or Fleetwoods. The 1995-96s looked pretty decent, but compared to the earlier ones, especially the 1991-93's, they looked like a work of art. The thing I never liked about the Caprice sedans was how "informal" the roofline was, especially the C-Pillar and HUGE rear glass. It looked like a 12/10ths 1996 Lumina, not a traditional classy full size Chevrolet sedan.

The 1991-93's looked like a whale, only came with the TBI 5.0 and had a really cheap looking dashboard. Atleast the Caprice Classics got some amazing seats with their pillow top velour design. The 1993-94's lost the rear fender skirts, but didn't get the kicked up rear windows like on the 1995-96, so they looked really....plain by comparison. Atleast in 94 you could get the LT1 though...

I do miss having the V8 sounds and stuff, but the 3800 is a TON better with fuel and is quicker, and that blower whine is pretty sweet too, if a little subdued. I wish I could hear it more, but a CAI would take easy care of that.


That was exceptionally well written. 90s Buicks are interesting cars -- they weren't high-level luxury cars, but they were satisfying (usually) and durable. If GM manages to pull itself out of its hole, I could see the Holden-based RWD Park Avenue sold in China making its way to North America.

It's amazing to me how many of those late '80s-late '90s Buicks are still out there, floating around. I see tons of the late '80s Electras and LeSabres still, even after 20 years and umpteen million miles of use and abuse. Buicks are very popular in Minnesota, because they're favored by a lot of the well to do farmers living in the rural parts of the state because they offer the comfort they like and deserve, without being too flashy or hoity-toity like a Cadillac.


I enjoyed the Roadmaster Limited Sedan I owned for a few months and I suspect Chad's good buddy Brandon is still very much loving it now too. :)

Brandon is really liking it! Got the new exhaust system on it, with it's Thrush mufflers, so it sounds nice but isn't too loud. He got it all waxed up too.
http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash2/hs452.ash2/72543_10100353948536230_13908159_66229038_1707648_ n.jpg
I still don't believe it's got 246k on it!

EChas3
11-05-10, 12:25 AM
My '93 Buick was a great car. It took me to the moon's nearest approach (225,000 miles) in comfort effecient style. I oughta dig out a picture, only photographic paper could do justice to a car of that era.

Alas, my STS is a better car. But my Roadmaster Limited was an example of automotive excellence. And fun, too!

I~LUV~Caddys8792
11-05-10, 12:43 AM
Here's me and my Roadmaster, the day I bought it. 4/17/04.
http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc3/hs483.snc3/26434_627126648002_199104188_35695813_5100331_n.jp g

Here it is right before I sold it.
http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/1/3016/61/7537530007_large.jpg

Bro-Ham
11-05-10, 12:58 AM
Chad, you still look the same! :)

Bro-Ham
11-05-10, 01:00 AM
Chad, The blue 245k Roadmaster still looks good, Brandon got a hell of a deal, and it still needs more chrome. :)

ga_etc
11-05-10, 05:30 AM
I'm still impressed that these cars hold up as well as they do and live to such high mileage.

http://i685.photobucket.com/albums/vv220/austin99etc/P5300408.jpg
She's at 137,6xx right now. Think we can make it to Dave's mark?