Here’s my 1996 Roadmaster. It currently has 99k miles. It is a fairly unusual combo with wood delete and cloth seats combined with the Limited package and a CD player. The car spent most of its life in Arizona, where the option choices really make sense. I think if I could have bought a wagon new in 1996, it would be pretty much this exact car. White is a very popular color there because it reflects sunlight so it is cooler and also holds up best long term. Likewise, Arizona sun is rough on fake wood. Finally, cloth seats are just a wise way to go there. Leather doesn’t feel so good in a car that’s been sitting out in a parking lot on a 110 degree day. It also dries out, shrinks and cracks over time. You don’t need Positraction in the desert (though this one actually has it), but the heavy duty cooling is very useful. Despite being equipped for the sun, it doesn’t show much evidence that it spent a lot of its life unsheltered. The only noticeable cosmetic flaw on the body is the plastichrome strips on the front bumper have peeled and lost all luster. There is a small faded area on the dash top. Other than that, the car is really pretty pristine. Needless to say, there is NO rust on the underside. Here’s some recent pictures. For those of you who can’t get enough wagon porn, I’ve included pictures of my previous wagons and b-bodies as well as their stories and some more info on my current longroof at the end.
The pedals I transplanted from boneyard cars:
My transmission pan with drain plug installed:
Like many of you on the forum, it’s not my first wagon or first b-body. My strange relationship with wagons goes way back to my first car. It has always been a little odd for someone my age to be into wagons. They have never been my only automotive interest, but I’ve always been drawn to the body style and being as financially accessible as most any other body style, many of my cars over the years have had long roofs.
The very first car, in 1987, was a wagon, sort of: a 1980 Jeep Wagoneer Limited (the one with woodgrain and leather. They changed the name to Grand Wagoneer in 1983, I think, and dropped all the plainer versions when the new smaller Cherokee and Wagoneers came out.) We lived in Vermont during high school. One day when it was near freezing, I got it stuck driving across a field. I left it for a little while and came back with a friend to try to get it out, but the temp had dropped severely and the mud was frozen. The wheels were so stuck, I broke the front driveshaft trying to drive out. By the time I got professional help, it took two tow trucks tugging back and forth to dislodge it. I didn’t have four wheel drive for a while, which was probably best, since I obviously couldn’t be trusted with it. I’d love to have another Grand Wagoneer someday!
Unfortunately, this is the best picture I can find. That is my parents' CJ7 beside it:
My next wagon was a 1976 Buick Estate Wagon. Yay Clamshell! It was a very cool wagon that I bought from a friend’s parents who were the original owners. The car was well maintained, but at 13 years old, it was losing its battle with car cancer. The body was ugly, but the interior was mint. My family moved to Arizona from Vermont after high school. I took the wagon with me, but it was a fish out of water there, in the Valley of the Sun where cars don’t rust. The car didn’t have air conditioning, because you don’t often need it in Vermont, but it sure is nice to have in Phoenix. A couple times I took it to mechanics and they were incredulous. They said something along the lines of, “This car is terrible! I’ve never worked on something with this much rust!” Incredibly, I drove that car to school in Ohio twice, where I also took it on road trips to Florida and Vermont and it never left me stranded. A wheel almost fell off on the highway, the gas tank sprang a leak and the exhaust pipe fell off, but it never stopped running! Living with the clamshell tailgate was not a great experience. The window stopped working and I never got it fixed. The lower gate was power operated, but the motor was too weak to raise it by itself, so I had to pull it up with one hand while turning the key with the other.
The next car I had of interest here was not a wagon, but a convertible, of the 75 Buick LeSabre variety. Great car in red with white top and seats and a 455. I had that one for two and a half years before I decided I just didn’t have the means to maintain a car like that. I didn’t have a garage or the money to pay for things I knew it would need in the future. Accepting my lot in life, I replaced it with a Pymouth Volare coupe with a slant 6. Oh how the mighty fall!
I went without a longroof for several years until I eventually picked up a 10 year old 87 LeSabre wagon. Nice car and fairly trouble free, but I sold it to a German university student named Jurgen after a couple of years when I bought a 94 Caprice 9C1. It was a former Texas DPS trooper car, repainted by the state government in resplendent peeling blue paint. I'd been admiring the Caprice police cars since they put the LT1 in them, as they were reportedly the best cop cars since the early 70's at that point. It was really a sweet car and the fastest thing I'd owned up to that time. I was hooked! At that stage in my life, I could afford more than one car and I realized I made a mistake selling my wagon. I liked having a wagon around and have had one ever since.
To get a wagon back in my life, I decided to change things up a little and got an 84 FORD Country Squire. I liked some things about it, like the tailgate worked better than my LeSabre’s and the doors had a very solid feel when you closed them. The seats were very comfortable and had adjustable seat backs. It had vent windows! I didn’t care for the way it drove, though. The handling just didn’t feel as buttoned down or smooth as my B-bodies and their classic GM drivability. I sold it to the teenaged brother of a good friend. I soon regretted that when the engine cratered on him. It had well over 200k and a substantial oil leak. I think he let the oil get too low, but I still felt bad for selling it to him.
I decided to sell the 94 9C1 and get a 95 9C1 to use as a project car to make a “Caprice SS”, a hybrid with Impala comfort and cop car attitude. The car was recently retired from Fremont, CA and looked fantastic in a California Highway Patrol color scheme, which is my favorite cop car design. Never the less, I painted it black because I think it’s cool for a car to have the no nonsense, performance look of a police package, but not to be actually painted like a patrol car. There’s a fine line between respect and impersonation. Anyway, the car turned out pretty well and I got good experience with fixing that car up.
As it looked when I bought it in glorious CHP style colors:
There have been several times when I bought a car not because I needed one, but because it showed up and was too good to pass up. Those have been the best cars! When a very nice 85 Custom Cruiser showed up for sale near me, I had to get it and sell the Ford.
While I still had the Custom Cruiser and the 9C1, I happened into the Arizona State University Surplus Property Disposal shop. They sold everything a university gets rid of like computers, chairs, sports uniforms, etc. Occasionally they sold vehicles in a sealed bid auction. When I had attended ASU, I would sometimes see a white ASU fleet 94 LT1-powered wagon parked in a parking garage and stop occasionally to appreciate the school’s good taste. I had forgotten about it by 2003 when I was delighted to see that car up for bid and still in really good condition underneath quite a bit of grime. Even the steering wheel still had all its dye. Only 88k miles. The only problem was that they wanted a minimum bid of $4500, which was pretty darned high at the time. I didn’t bid, figuring it probably wouldn’t sell. When the auction ended and it was still there, I approached the manager and offered $3000. She said it had to get approved by the department disposing of the car. I got a call the next day to come on down and buy the car.
This wagon is interesting because it is almost completely base. The only options it had were a tape deck, cruise control and LT1 engine (assuming that the mythical L99 wagon beast was ever built). It had crank windows, no power locks and a non-split bench seat. I believe that the 1994 Caprice was the last car that this seat configuration was ever offered in. I put the 9C1 wheels on it because I think they look cool and I doubt I will ever buy, or probably even see, a real 1A2.
With its original hubcaps:
I was now the owner of three b-bodies and a Honda that I was keeping for my parents while they were living in Europe for 2 years. The 9C1 was the first to go. When I got a job in Houston and was moving from Arizona, I reluctantly decided to sell the Custom Cruiser, too. I really loved the Cruiser. It would probably be my favorite of all the wagons I've had except for one glaring characteristic that any of you who have owned a GM wagon from this era know already. No power! Oh, it ran smoothly and had really good driving characteristics generally. Ride was perfect, handling good for what the car was, brakes smooth, etc, etc. But the darned thing was so slow. So was my 87 LeSabre, but by this time I had owned two 9C1's and knew what actual power in a b-body felt like. This is why there was no doubt in my mind that the car I would keep was the 94 Caprice wagon. Someday I would love to get a nice 80's Custom Cruiser or Buick Estate Wagon and transplant an LT1 or LS1 into it.
I owned the 94 Caprice wagon for ten years, my longest relationship with a car ever. However, I planned on keeping a wagon long term and started thinking that I wanted to upgrade to something with more options and was a 1996 model with OBDII. The search for a Roadmaster or loaded Caprice led me to ebay where I bought my car from Fred Lesinski in South Carolina. Purchasing this car violated most every rule of used car buying. I paid a deposit and agreed to buy the car sight unseen (if I was satisfied with it upon inspection), flew to South Carolina, let the owner pick me up from the airport and take me to a storage facility at night where I looked at the car and handed over $6500 in cash. Having owned several b-bodies, I was betting on my ability to assess the car and seller from pictures, a phone conversation and Carfax. The gamble paid off, as I drove my 78000mi, creampuff Roadmaster from South Carolina home to Houston without incident.
This was taken shortly after I bought the car in February 2013. It has white letter Michelins, which have since been replaced by whitewall Hankooks. The Michelins actually rode and handled a lot better, but IMO a wagon with stock wheels has to have whitewalls to look right. I miss the days when you could get WSW on any brand of tires you wanted.
I have really enjoyed having a Roadmaster. I like the power seats and windows, the split and reclining front seats, the keyless entry, the outside thermometer, the roof window which gives the car a unique touch reminiscent of the glorious Vista Cruisers of the 60's/70's, as well as my 2 year old daughter looks through it and spots things. I think the interior is the nicest looking 91-96 B-body interior, even if it is excessively plasticky.
I have not made many modifications. Bilstein shocks all around. I got chrome trimmed pedals off junkyard cars (brake from a 91 RMW, gas from a mid 80’s Delta 88), which this car really should have come from the factory with. I had a machine shop install a drain plug in the transmission pan. My 84 Country Squire had that (not stock, I’m sure) and it was super handy when changing the fluid and filter. I’ve wanted that again ever since, but only got around to doing it finally on this car. I plan on installing a nice stereo with amp, subwoofer box under the rear floor, good speakers and retaining the stock head unit. I have most all the components, just haven’t gotten to tackling the project. I have thought about getting aftermarket wheels, like maybe 16 or 17 inch torque thrust style. So far I have opted not to because 1) I like the stock wheels with whitewalls. They are classy and look kind of like nice old-school hubcaps, with no spokes and with the lugnuts covered by centercaps. You won’t find anything like them on new cars today. It’s stylish now to show off your lugnuts, and even hubcaps on cheap cars have simulated lugnuts, or the real ones stick through the hubcaps. 2) I kind of think if a car has upgraded wheels and tires to give it a custom, hot rod look, it should have something to back it up. So a Buick with nice aftermarket wheels and stock suspension and stock drivetrain, even an LT1, is talking the talk, but not walking the walk, IMO. I like the idea of a hot rod wagon, but I just don’t have any interest in doing serious mods to my car. I have another car for getting my aggressions out and I just don’t use the wagon that way. It’s for cruising in style!
The car has not been completely trouble free. It likes to have atypical problems that are tricky to fix. The air pump tripped a code and made the check engine dash light come on, which prevented the car from being able to pass emissions, despite the fact that the system was functioning normally. I ended up sending the PCM out to have the air pump deleted off it. The AC has really been my nemesis. First it had a strange issue of the evaporator freezing up and blocking air flow (took a while to figure out what was happening), the fix for that lasted a year or so until the compressor died. It also had a tough to track down condensation leak that I just recently fixed (hopefully). The tubing running out of the fuel sender on top of the gas tank went bad, which I had a shop replace as well as the fuel pump while they were at it. Other than that, it's been great! I did take it on a huge Texas to Arizona to Indiana back the Texas road trip in 2014, which it handled with no problems. It has unfortunately been taken off primary family road trip duty since we bought a new Hyundai SantaFe, which unlike our previous car, is actually a really good highway vehicle. I also have a 2011 Mustang GT, so the Roady gets limited use. I use it when I need to haul big things (most often at Home Depot), when I need to drive in heavy traffic (thankfully not everyday) since the Mustang is a stick or whenever I just feel like experiencing the easy driving comfort of a full size traditional cruiser. It has its own spot in the garage, so it can spend its down time in comfort and safety. My wife is not crazy about the car, mainly because of the quirky problems and repairs it has needed, but she tolerates it because she knows I love it and I have an inscrutable but charming need to own a wagon. I tell her that repairs are just the price of entry with owning an older car and the only thing I would want to replace it with is an even older classic car, which would certainly be at least as much at risk for repairs as my longroof Roady. Thanks for reading my wagon story. If you've read this far, you truly have a problem with wagon addiction. I know, I've lived it.