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 March 2014 Longroof of the Month

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buickwagon

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PostSubject: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Fri Feb 28, 2014 8:30 pm

Prologue

(A brief history of my past wagons)

When I was asked to do the LRoTM for March, I didn’t realize just how few pictures I had of my past wagons. Except for my latest, they all date from the era where film and developing cost money, so our photos were of people and perhaps places, not cars! As sacrilegious as this may sound to some, for me, a car was just a thing, a tool, a means of transportation. Not something of significant personal meaning, like family, friends or a motorcycle.

However, I scoured the family photo albums and found a few shots where the car snuck into the photo.

Here’s my first wagon, a 1975 Mercury Colony Park:


The car had an unusual provenance: The local Ford dealer’s son worked as a salesman, and all the salesmen got a new company car every year, for use as demonstrators. The young man in question had a habit of ordering sporty models (eg: Mustang, Cougar) and had acquired an impressive collection of performance awards whilst demonstrating their capabilities to the local constabulary. Eventually his father had enough of this, and told his son to order a station wagon as his next company car. What you are looking at is possibly the prototypical factory sleeper wagon: Junior conspired with the Ford rep to order a one-off custom tricked out with a 460 Interceptor package normally reserved for police pursuit vehicles.

My father (in the photo, RIP) owned a small company, and sourced all the company cars and trucks through that dealership. The company colours were yellow and brown, so all the trucks were fleet yellow with chocolate brown lettering. He was a big enough customer that the owner handled his account personally. Naturally, that was the first place Dad went when Mom needed a new car. When the owner heard that, he said “Have I got a deal for you!” The wagon had been sitting in a back corner of the lot ever since he figured out what his son had done, and he didn’t want to sell it to someone for fear they would hurt themselves in it or something. Dad got a very good deal on it. And it was even the right colour!

A few years went by and, like all Fords of the era, the rust belt started to take it’s toll. Then the timing gear went – a common problem with the 460s. Mom really liked the wagon though, so the replacement was a 1978 Colony Park – albeit with the standard 400 and transmission. A rusty old wagon with a dead engine really didn’t have much trade-in value, so Dad kept it around to “tinker with” – which turned out to be DadSpeak for a body-off father and son project:



We peeled off the front end, disconnected everything, unbolted the body mounts and constructed a frame of pipe around it to support the two chainfalls we used to lift the body off. Then we rolled the frame out from underneath and supported the body on wood cribbing. New sheetmetal was welded in as required, the frame sandblasted and painted with black Tremclad, engine repaired, new exhaust, lines, mounts, etc. etc. That’s Dad installing the new brake lines shortly before we rolled the frame back under the body.

As we all know, one of the problems with the wagon design is getting sufficient heat to the rearmost passengers in the winter. Not to mention defrosting those rear side windows. The lighting in those old wagons wasn’t the best either: there was a single dome light in the centre of the rear window, which obscured the rear-view mirror view at night. We thought we would correct that problem since we were in so deep. Scrounging around the wreckers provided us with some goodies like dash vents, opera lights and power window hardware:



Ok, the dash vents are obviously our new rear defrost, and the opera lights are so the kid’s can read or play at night, but you are probably wondering where the power window hardware comes in. We used that mechanism to control the temperature:



The power window mechanism controlled a ball valve which regulated the flow through the new rear heater core. A fuel gauge sender monitored the valve’s position. The rest of the wiring is for the fan motor and resistor block. The heat was controlled from up front:



The former fuel gauge swung from left to right as the valve was opened using the power window switch in the centre. The fan was controlled via the switch on the right. Note the chains and spreaders that we used to hoist the body, visible above the dash through the windshield.

During all this, Mom had an oopsy with the ‘78, and dinged up the front end. So we temporarily borrowed the front of the ’75 until we sourced another. It was an, ummm, interesting colour combination:



What with work, and the demands of my young family, and keeping Mom in front ends and all, the project dragged out over a couple of years. Once the 75 was finally reassembled, Dad really didn’t have any use for it. I was still dragging the family around in an old ’76 Laurentian, which suddenly gave up the ghost one day. So Dad gave me the wagon. Tight on cash and in need of a car right now, I discovered that mixing 1 part white Tremclad with 2 parts yellow Tremclad was darn near a perfect match for the factory yellow! I peeled off the remains of the vinyl woodgrain and an electric spray gun spat it out reasonably evenly. Ok, maybe not quite as good as a professional auto paint job, but it looked OK from 10 feet away.

I really wish I had a photo of the completed, painted car, but the last photo I have found is just after we lowered the body back on the frame:



Look at the bend in that pipe! 2” sch. 40, with 2-1/2” reinforcement in the centre. That sucker was HEAVY! I don’t know exactly how much the body alone weighed, but the shipping weight of these cars was listed at 4,878lbs.

We drove that car for about 4 years, hauling kids and pets and our travel trailer all around the countryside. Then one day, the dang timing gear failed again. I parked it beside the firehall while I scrambled around for an immediate replacement and the boys mistook it as a donation for auto extrication training. I almost cried…

Meet the replacement:



The 1981 Buick Electra Estate Wagon. AKA “The Gutless Wonder”. I liked the car itself, but after the 460 Interceptor, the 307 was a huge disappointment. On our first trip, it took us 12 hours to travel about 300kms, because I had my foot to the floor just to get it moving and the damn thing kept overheating. It’s a good thing the fresh water tank in the trailer was filled before we left! I yanked the rad and replaced it with a triple-core rad in the campground so we could get home again. IIRC, I had to replace the baked rocker cover gaskets too.

Running premium grade gas, in 3rd on the flats and 2nd going up grades, and limiting the speed to 55mph, we made do without overheating for the next few years. Then in 1991, Buick introduced the new Roadmaster wagon, and I fell in love with the styling. Until I found out it came with a 305 and I slunk out of the dealership dejected. But when Buick announced the 350 in 1992, my interest was piqued again. A bit out of my snack bracket though – it was over $40,000 up here! But I kept dreaming and the Electra kept getting older. Then one day in the fall of ’93, I stumbled upon one priced to sell. This was a demonstrator and had been kicking around the dealership since late 1991 and they needed to make room for the ‘94s. Interested buyers had always rejected it as soon as they learned it was a “3rd row delete”. What’s the point of a wagon without the extra seating? I was about to do the same, but as I stood there staring at the empty hole under the cover I realized the mounts were all there and the size was pretty close… Some careful measurements of the Electra confirmed the seats would bolt right in!
It took a bit of negotiating, but I wangled the price down, way below the sticker price, painted the brown Electra seats with blue vinyl paint, and drove this blue beauty for the next 17 years:



You would think I’d have more pictures of it over all that time, but these are all I can find:







That car never lacked for power or space. It hauled kids, travel trailers, building materials, pets and groceries. I took 7 other firefighters in full gear to relieve the night shift on scene. I hauled my wife’s full-size washer and dryer home in the cargo bay (I did have to take off the rear roof trim under the wiper motor to get them in). I delivered my daughter’s china cabinet/hutch with that car. I was always a popular guy on moving day – you can squirrel more boxes of junk into a wagon than into a pickup truck. One day I was helping a buddy renovate and we went to Home Despot to pick up 15 sheets of 4 x 10’ x 5/8” drywall. As we stood in line at the checkout, he suddenly said “How are we going to get this home?” I nonchalantly said “We’ll throw it in the car of course” – and we did. He was stunned. I accidentally drove it down a snowmobile trail once – then did a 10 point turn and drove it back up the steep grade with all-season tires. I pulled an outbuilding on pipe rollers to a new foundation with it. I have towed everything from a Ford N9 farm tractor with calcium-filled tires to a 35’ park model trailer and pulled umpteen cars out of various ditches with it. It didn’t have the tow-pack option by name, but it had all the constituent components (with the exception of the auto-levelling compressor) and I added a class IV hitch receiver. The transmission was rebuilt 3 times.

Eventually, I wore it out. I kept extending it’s life – I welded in a new left rear quarter when that disintegrated, I replaced the oil pan when it rusted out from the outside, I replaced sheet metal and fabricated a new gas tank suspension when the straps pulled out. I replaced many electrical connectors as they slowly corroded away from the inside. But it was a losing battle and with the kids all growed up and moved out, #3 son eventually convinced me to give it up for a pickup truck. But I don’t think I really realized how much that car meant to me until the day it went to the wreckers. I was finally converted to one of you fanatics the day it was too late.

I drove that pickup for 2 years. I tried to let the wagons go, really I did. I told myself that I just had to get used to something new. I installed a trailer hitch so I could haul my boats. I bought a tonneau cover and a bed liner to protect the load. But I couldn’t flip up the seats to take all my grandkids out for ice cream, and I couldn’t fit a washing machine under the tonneau cover. It didn’t matter what I added: you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and you can’t turn a pickup truck into a station wagon. So I secretly started perusing the auto trader…


(end of part 1)


Last edited by buickwagon on Fri Feb 28, 2014 8:52 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Part 2 (My current Pride and Joy)   Fri Feb 28, 2014 8:31 pm

The search was on for another RMW. I found a beautiful blue one in decent shape almost right away – but it was a ‘91 with the puny 305. I found some later models, but they were all suffering from the rust belt.
Eventually, I found this ’95:







Not perfect, there were some small dings and rust bubbles and the clearcoat on the roof and hood was flaking off, some of the rubber side mouldings were missing, the radio antenna was MIA, the cassette player was dead, the front door panels and the windshield were cracked, and the steering sloppy, but over all a solid car and on the plus side: it was a towpack and even came with a set of studded snows. I took She Who Must Be Obeyed to see it. SWMBO shrugged her shoulders, said “Well, if that’s what you really want” and we did the deal. She drove it home.

But the grandkids still wanted to ride under the tonneau cover…



Soon after I took this picture, I happened to google “Buick Roadmaster Wagon” and stumbled onto this forum. It was an epiphany: My God! I’m not alone! There are others like me!

It’ll never be a trailer queen, I bought this car to drive and use. But I am trying to rejuvenate it. After I got it home, I discovered this hiding under the “rustproofing” in the wheelwells:



Both sides. So that had to be ground out and new metal welded in.

She's sporting new paint, windshield and grill on the straightened bodywork. New tie-rods, ball joints, centre link, shocks, and so forth firmed up the steering and suspension. (Well, the steering anyway. I’m not happy with the Sensa-Trak shocks.) The snows are now mounted on steel wheels and I found a set of wire wheel hubcaps, so it doesn’t look too bad even wearing winter shoes.



Oh, and I added a trailer hitch. Had to fabricate my own, of course – it is one of the many things I’m kicking myself over not stripping the ’92 for:



Buickestate supplied the final piece of missing rubber and centre air-dam, so that’s all complete now. I just need an antenna. I tried an aftermarket power antenna, but that didn’t work out so well. Right now I have a manual telescoping antenna on there, but it’s hit one too many tree branches on the way in the driveway and came second in the encounter.

One thing that did get stripped from the ’92 was the engine. In a strange-but-true story, my son was looking for a replacement motor for his ’91 K1500 heavy pickup, used for plowing in the winter. He went to the same wrecking yard that got my first Roady, and the owner told him he still had my engine! He had stripped it out and put it in storage before crushing the body. I was a bit sceptical, but sure enough, it really was my old engine. My son pulled it apart, put in all new gaskets, seals, bearings and oil pump (just because it had been sitting) and now it’s happily back on the road pushing snow. I know the LT1 is sexier, but you just can’t kill those old 350 small blocks, and with the right gearing they’ll move mountains.

Actually, after pulling all the stuff I hauled with the ’92, I expected more out of the ’95’s LT1. After all, the numbers are better, right? But the first time I pulled any real weight with it (a Dodge Stealth on a car hauler) I found it sluggish going up a grade by comparison. Now, there were several years between the two and the ’92 towpack rear end was geared lower than the ’95 towpack rear end, and I haven't towed with the new opti, plugs and wires, so maybe my memory is playing tricks on me or maybe it was gearing or maybe it needed the tuneup more than I realized, but I found the LT1 would not hold the speed the way the old 350 did, even with my foot up against the floor.



Before Compnine got all commercialized, I learned that this car is one of a kind. There were only two ‘95s made in DCM woodgrain delete and grey accent trim with the ruby red limited leather interior. This was the only towpack. This spring I’d like to refinish the leather, and there’s some interior pieces I’d like to replace (rear cargo area plastic has shrunk or warped, rear cargo carpet has a couple of burn marks, front door panels cracked in all the usual places, seatbelt and rear window escutcheons missing, off the top of my head.)



I have made some minor upgrades inside, but tried to keep them unobtrusive. I added a few power outlets under the dash



The radio and dead cassette deck was swapped out for a NOS radio/cassette/CD player, and I did add a cell phone holder/amplifier:



And I added a dash camera (which is now tucked up out of sight in front of the rear-view mirror) and heated seats:



In conclusion, I admit these cars have some small flaws (like the hard-to-service Opti-Spark distributor system). That said, I present for your viewing pleasure an example of the finest, most versatile and well thought out car ever produced by GM, if not any car manufacturer. The Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon:

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PostSubject: Re: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Sat Mar 01, 2014 1:19 am

Great story Dwayne,cool pics too!
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lakeffect
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PostSubject: Re: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Sat Mar 01, 2014 9:18 am

Thanks Dwayne. Nice to read the background info that lead up to your insanity, causing you to join the rest of us crazy folk here at the forum.

I liked the "frame off resto " pic with your Dad.... On a Ford no less... proof of insanity being genetically inherited as well.

Dave
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buickwagon

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PostSubject: Re: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Sat Mar 01, 2014 5:56 pm

There are some who have argued the last photo of part 1 is sufficient proof of insanity.  Very Happy 
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PostSubject: Re: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Sat Mar 01, 2014 7:03 pm

At least we veterans of the forum know we aren't the only crazy ones out there. The insanity keeps coming.
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PostSubject: Re: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Sat Mar 01, 2014 7:18 pm

lakeffect wrote:
At least we veterans of the forum know we aren't the only crazy ones out there. The insanity keeps coming.


Correction,the insanity keeps growing?
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phantom 309

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PostSubject: Re: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Sat Mar 01, 2014 7:53 pm

A real wagon lover,.. good story,..a big mirror dcm is what i,d like.


Nick
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PostSubject: Re: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Sat Mar 01, 2014 10:03 pm

After consultation, the Jeopardy judges rule "growing" acceptable and concur that it was in the form of a question.

( OK, it wasn't the official jeopardy judges , just some talking sheep)
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PostSubject: Re: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Sun Mar 02, 2014 9:29 am

Great Story, Great looking car!!
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PostSubject: Re: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Sun Mar 02, 2014 10:14 pm

Great Story!!! Welcome Home
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PostSubject: Re: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Mon Mar 03, 2014 10:19 am

Loved reading your story. Thanks for sharing the memories. Wink 
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PostSubject: Re: March 2014 Longroof of the Month   Mon Mar 03, 2014 12:08 pm

Great story, and loved the pics!
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