This week’s found in the classifieds is unabashedly American. Not only that, it’s one for the long-roof lovers out there, so if you like estate cars - or as we like to say in the States, wagons - then we have a treat for you. This is a special wagon too, because it represents the very last of the big body-on-frame estates that took millions of American families on cross-country journeys for decades. I’m talking about the 1994 - 1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate Station Wagon, and for those who don’t really know why these 18ft-long land barges are special, let me enlighten you.
For starters, they wield the same 5.7-litre LT-1 V8 as the infamous Chevrolet Impala SS of the same period, making 260bhp. That engine also powered Corvettes to the tune of 300bhp, so there’s plenty of easily accessible horsepower to be had without much effort.
The wagons also had shorter gear ratios for towing, and many came straight from the factory with a limited-slip differential. Yeah, the Rhody estates weigh over 2000kg, but you still have a gutzy V8 driving the rear wheels with a limited-slip differential. Yes my friends, the ingredients are there for something epic.
Some people have caught onto this, because the lower-mile wagons in good condition are starting to go up in price. Be patient in your searching, however, and you can find Roadmasters like this 1994 model selling on eBay near Cleveland Ohio for $4000. But here’s the thing - I’d bet very good money you could buy this car for $2500, possibly even less. $4000 is the buy-it-now price, but the no-reserve auction opens at $3000 and with just a few hours left, there isn’t a single bid.
Why is this one so cheap? For starters it has a rebuilt title - the seller says someone wiped out the passenger front fender, which was replaced along with all the mechanical bits up front. The exterior trim also looks fairly beat up around the outside; there’s a little bit of rust on the rear quarter, it needs new tyres and the air lines for the load-levelling suspension need redoing. Sounds like a bit of a fixer-upper.
Here’s where I can speak from a bit of direct experience. I’ve owned one of these, and the issues described aren’t that tough to handle. The air lines could be tricky, but that’s only for the load-levelling option. The suspension itself is fine (and actually, all fairly new according to the seller), and the crusty trim is remedied in a weekend with a bit of elbow grease, polish, adhesive remover and some automotive spray paint. The rust is in a spot that’s easy to patch for a do-it-yourselfer with minimal skill, or just leave it alone if you don’t fancy getting your hands dirty. This is a body-on-frame car so it’s not going to hurt the rigidity at all.
Now if the rest of the car was still all original, I’d say pass. But the seller lists a replaced transmission, rebuilt rear-end, completely rebuilt front end including steering and suspension, new carpet, new exhaust, and a bunch of other little bits.
Plus, it’s riding on 17-inch American Racing Torque Thrust wheels, which are about $700 on their own. It runs and drives well right now, it’s had considerable maintenance, and the existing issues are minor. And for those like me who fuss over air conditioning, it’s listed as fully functional. Bonus.
So while most people might see an old wagon that’s seen better days, I see a car that can look pretty darn good with just some polish, a rattle can of paint and a weekend’s worth of effort. I see a car that has recent suspension work all around, recent steering work, a lower mile transmission and a rebuilt limited-slip differential. At $2500 the rebuilt title makes little difference to me, though if I were thinking of buying this to fix up and flip I’d have to offer a bit less.
But, if I were looking for something cheap, muscular and rear-wheel drive that could also grab some attention, I’d be flipping my lid over this. Furthermore, if I were looking for a rear-wheel drive project in America that wasn’t a Mustang or Camaro, this is a great shout as you can buy conversion kits to install six-speed manual transmissions in these cars.
There are step-by-step procedures for performing LS swaps, or dip into the LT-1’s extensive aftermarket support and build the existing engine. And keep in mind, this car already has thousands of dollars in recent maintenance, not to mention the American Racing wheels.
If the auction ends without a bid, call the seller and offer $2000 since it has a rebuilt title and needs some work, then close the deal at $2500. Even if you leave it completely stock, you’ll be amazed at how much fun these big estates are to drive. Or, add $7500 and create a properly fast cruiser with a manual transmission and more cool points than you could possibly imagine for a $10,000 investment.