Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Car Of The Day: June 6, 2012

Today's car of the day comes from Firehawk73's collection and is Racing Champions' 1949 Buick Roadmaster Custom.

The Roadmaster was an automobile built by the Buick division of General Motors. Roadmasters produced between 1936 and 1958 were built on Buick's longest non-limousine wheelbase and shared their basic structure with entry-level Cadillac and, after 1940, senior Oldsmobiles. Between 1946 and 1957 the Roadmaster served as Buick's flagship, as it did when it was resurrected for the 1991 through 1996 model years.

For more information and pictures of the real car please visit: Buick Roadmaster

The Roadmaster received its first major postwar restyling in 1949. Its wheelbase and overall length were reduced but its weight was actually marginally increased. The biggest change was a much larger two-piece, curved glass windshield that the sales brochure described as like an “observation car.” It was also in 1949 that Buick introduced "VentiPorts." Four were displayed on each of the Roadmaster's front fenders, with three on the fenders of all other Buicks. The sales brochure noted that VentiPorts helped ventilate the engine compartment, and possibly that was true in early 1949, but sometime during the model year they became plugged. The idea for VentiPorts grew out of a modification Buick styling chief Ned Nickles had added to his own 1948 Roadmaster. He had installed four amber lights on each side of his car’s hood wired to the distributor so as to flash on and off as each piston fired simulating the flames from the exhaust stack of a fighter airplane. Combined with the bombsight mascot, VentiPorts put the driver at the controls of an imaginary fighter airplane. Upon seeing this, Buick chief Harlow Curtice was so delighted that he ordered that (non-lighting) VentiPorts be installed on all 1949 Buicks, with the number of VentiPorts (three or four) corresponding to the relative displacement of the straight-eight engine installed.

Dynaflow was now standard equipment, and engine horsepower was increased to 150 through a slight increase in the compression ratio. In the middle of the year the Riviera, joined the body style lineup selling 4,314 units. Featuring power windows as standard equipment, the 2-door Buick Roadmaster Riviera, along with the Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville and the Oldsmobile 98 Holiday, was among the first hardtop coupes ever produced. The Riviera was also notable for its popular optional "Sweepspear" chrome body side molding, which would soon become a Buick trademark. This chrome-plated strip started above the front wheel, after which it gently curved down nearly to the rocker panel just before the rear wheel, and then curved around the rear wheel in a quarter of a circle to go straight back to the tail-light. The "Riviera trim", as it was initially called, was also made available on the Roadmaster convertible very late in the model year. With a total of 88,130 sold, the all-time annual record for Roadmaster, the model accounted for 27 percent of all Buick sales, a remarkably high proportion in light of its price, which was only slightly less than a Cadillac Series 61.

The 1950 restyling featured a grille so toothy that Consumer Reports commented that "a toothbrush for the dentures comes extra." The Sweepspear had proved so popular in its first year that it was made standard on most body styles at the beginning of the 1950 model year, and on the station wagon and the new long wheelbase sedan mid-year. The long wheelbase sedan was stretched an extra four inches (102 mm). Like the convertibles, the Riviera and the extra plush long wheelbase sedan came with both power windows and power seats as standard equipment. The only change under the hood was that hydraulic valve lifters were fitted to the engine. Overall Roadmaster sales fell to 75,034, with Roadmaster’s share of total Buick output plummeting to 12 percent, thanks mainly to the surging popularity of the Special.

In 1951 the long wheelbase sedan was also called a Riviera although it was not a hardtop. The Sedanet and regular wheelbase sedan were cancelled.

Styling changes were minimal in 1951 and 1952. Power steering was added as an option in 1952 and horsepower climbed to 170 thanks primarily to a new four-barrel carburetor. Sales continued to slide falling to about 66,000 in 1951 and to 51,000 in 1952.

By 1953 the Roadmaster straight-eight was 16 years old and had become seriously dated. All of Roadmaster’s major competitors had shifted to short-stroke V-8 engines, and if Buick wanted to continue to be the paragon of longer, lower and wider, it needed one of its own. The new engine was ready in time for 1953, Buick’s Golden Anniversary year. Although the Nailhead (as it was popularly called) was nearly identical in displacement to the straight eight Fireball (322 versus 320 cubic inches), it was 13.5 inches (340 mm) shorter, four inches (102 mm) lower, and 180 pounds lighter, but with 188 horsepower, it was 11 percent more powerful. The compression ratio increased from 7.50:1 to 8.50:1 and torque increased from 280 to 300 pound-feet (410 N·m). With its new engine the 1953 Roadmaster proved to be the first Buick with a top speed of over 100 mph (160 km/h) since the prewar days.

The compact dimensions of the V-8 engine enabled Buick to reduce Roadmaster’s wheelbase by 4.75 inches (121 mm) across the line, although styling differences behind the engine cowl, apart from new V-8 emblem hubcaps, were largely nonexistent. Buick also introduced a new "Twin-Turbine" Dynaflow as a companion for the V-8 engine. Estimated to increase torque at the wheels by 10 percent, the new transmission provided faster and quieter acceleration at reduced engine speeds. Both power steering and power brakes were made standard. Air conditioning was a new option and, years before many other makes, a 12-volt electrical system was adopted.

A new body style for 1953 was the Skylark convertible. The Buick Roadmaster Skylark was one of three specialty convertibles produced in 1953 by General Motors, the other two being the Oldsmobile 98 Fiesta and the Cadillac Series 62 Eldorado. The Skylark featured open wheel wells, a drastically lowered belt line, a four-inch-chop from the standard Roadmaster's windshield, the absence of VentiPorts and a new Sweepspear that anticipated Buick’s 1954 styling. Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels and a solid boot cover were standard. At $5,000 only 1,690 units were produced. The following year, and for one year only, it would become its own series built on a Century body. This was the last year for the Roadmaster Estate, and it was the last wood-bodied station wagon mass-produced in the United States. Its body was a product of Ionia Manufacturing which built all Buick station wagon bodies between 1946 and 1964. Priced at $4,031, the Estate was second in price only to the Skylark, with 670 being sold. Overall Roadmaster sales bounced back up to 79,137.

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