Ruminations on a Roadmaster

by CFlo

Let me start this with a disclaimer: I never thought I’d be a “V8 guy.” My family history in cars is heavily biased towards small, fun to drive imports or practical utility vehicles with 4 or 6-cylinder engines. Dad had an Alfa Giulia, a Fiat 124 Spider, and now cruises in a Nissan XTerra. His dad drove an MGA coupe followed by a Cortina, a Dodge Colt, and a Triumph. Growing up, I got shuttled around in a FWD Mazda GLC sedan and various Toyota pickups. I read Hot Rod and Automobile magazines and lusted after big V8 domestic iron, but never had much firsthand experience with that type of vehicle.

Sure, I was exposed to pony cars through high school friends, but my own track record has woven through a long string of German, Japanese, and Swedish machines that are thrifty and handle pretty well, but don’t sound like Freedom Ringing with the gas pedal mashed to the floor. That’s why I’m relatively amused that I’m falling for a behemoth of a V8 powered wagon…the 1994 Buick Roadmaster formerly owned by DT Graphics Guru and UK Correspondent Kaibeezy, followed by Vince, our esteemed Editor-in-Chief. Ol’ Vince tossed me the keys to the Roadmonster (as I’m calling it) a few weeks back, and I’ve been at the helm ever since.

My usual train of thought when evaluating a car goes something like this… How does this thing steer? Can I feel every little pebble through the wheel, and can I intuit the exact moment when the rear is going to break loose? Does it go around corners with verve and composure? Is the engine reasonably modern, lightweight, and does it make a rorty growl? Does it feel well screwed together? Can I stand on the brakes with confidence? Is it cheap, cheerful, and kind of quirky? If so, then I’m interested.

The Roadmaster fits none of those criteria, really. The steering has zero feel or feedback. The Dynaride suspension is so soft as to completely isolate the cabin from any feeling of being connected to the pavement. Heavy braking is met with an alarming amount of pedal travel, followed by a porpoise-like dive as the nose squats and the tail hikes its bustle waaay up in the air. The engine not only has an iron block, which doesn’t strike me as odd, but iron heads. The interior has so many extraneous pieces of trim and plastic that it’s not surprising in the least that lots of these bits are disassociating from one another, falling away from their intended positions while rattling and shimmying all around.

But let me tell you, what this thing does have is presence. Not only from an outside perspective – which it does – it’s 18 feet long. But what I mean is that sliding behind the wheel onto the blue leather sofa that GM decided to install as the front seat…takes me into a different state of mind. I relax, slouch back, one hand on the wheel, and take a deep breath. Turn on some big band blues or atmospheric electronica or even the Cactus Blossoms, my new favorite retro country group. The view is the horizon… through the wide windshield and past the thin pillars and expansive side glass, the perspective is horizontal – the prairie, the plains, the high desert – the great American road.

That well respected LT1 V8 is ever at my command. Despite the hefty curb weight, the low-end grunt from this 2nd-gen Small Block Chevy is substantial enough to gather steam rather quickly in this big clipper. But more often than not, I find myself lightly feathering the throttle, letting inertia do its thing. The term slushbox is meant to be derogatory I think, but in this case the 4L60E transmission, descendent of the Turbo-Hydramatic, is just smooth, man. Once up to speed this car will coast for a surprising amount of time before any additional fuel is needed. There’s no jerk, no fuss, just turbine smoothness and a low pleasant rumble from somewhere up ahead.

And back to the steering – while it’s not communicative in the least, it is surprisingly precise, which is a rather strange dichotomy. It will go exactly where you point it and not waver in the least. The turning radius is respectably tight for the long wheelbase, and at around-town speeds I can take corners with some enthusiasm and not come out disappointed or ruffled on the other end. It’s just easy to drive; that’s the simplest way to describe the steering.

The practical benefits of a full-size wagon are pretty clear: lots of space for people and cargo. I haven’t explored that side of it too much yet, but my small family seems to like riding around with room to spare. The two-way tailgate is just awesome. My 5-year-old daughter loves the idea of the way-back seat even though she hasn’t ridden back there yet, and when asked “why do you like the Roadmaster so much?” she replied, “because right now they don’t make this type of car with the big door in the back and the seat,” with a huge smile on her face. I really couldn’t sum that up any better myself; sage words from someone born in 2013.

Sure, there are things that need addressing – the AC still isn’t functional, the brakes pulsate and seem a bit too mushy (even for a B-body), and the headliner is doing the annoying gravity thing. But I’m already planning mega road trips in this car and finding any excuse to drive it. It’s cheap therapy and great stress relief to leave the heavy driving to someone else, and take a load off while lightly guiding this big Buick wherever I need to go.

Mostly it’s just fun, in an entirely different way. I’m seeing rising interest in late model full-size Americana like this, and it’ll be fun to ride that wave for a bit and see if it will become cool again. The next generation already likes it, so maybe that’s the answer right there.

CFlo is DT’s Technical Editor and co-founder. Tell him what you want to see from the Roadmonster, and it just might happen!