Looking for 1991-96 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon info

Discussion in 'General Station Wagon Discussions' started by Diego, Feb 28, 2019.

  1. Diego

    Diego New Member

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    Was curious if there was a guru on these wagons?

    I'm compiling info year-by-year but it's been difficult, partly because I haven't been able to find brochures for every model year (been using lov2xlr8.com and oldcarbrochures.com). Nonetheless, brochures don't tell the whole story on these cars.

    Anyone a scholar on them? Thanks!
     
  2. 81X11

    81X11 Well-Known Member

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    This is mainly for 94-96 cars, because I know them the best. I always having people asking me about my car and wanting to know what is the "right" wagon, so took the time to write my thoughts. Feel free to point out any mistakes! Just want to help others!

    SO here we go.

    The 94-96 models with the LT1 under the hood are the most fun. Look for ones with the towing package, which includes an engine-driven mechanical fan, an external oil cooler and transmission cooler (which GREATLY adds to the life of the transmission on these) and also includes the posi-traction 2.93 rear axle, which makes these huge cars a LOT faster, more fun, and also helps the transmission life as the car will not be shifting in and out of Overdrive on every little hill on the highway. The base non-tow-pack cars have a silly 2.55 gear that makes them feel like real dogs, especially if you drive a tow-pack and then a non-tow-pack right after. It's not a deal-breaker that the car is not a tow-pack, but a rear axle swap is a near-must if it's not...if you want to really enjoy these vehicles. Regardless when you drive the car make sure the transmission falls right into gear and shifts smoothly with no slip. Also feel for any hesitation under load...the '94 was the last LT1 to use the early non-vent-hose OptiSpark distributor...which you can Google if you don't know about. They are more prone to failure and a pain to change. Beyond that it's just the usual, in looking for leaks, listening to any odd engine sounds or noise from the rear. These cars are mechanically built, literally, like trucks, so they are pretty stout, but do the usual once-over. You will want to check that the tailgate opens both down and to the side. Oh and the interior door panels are made of plastic crap...NEVER EVER slam the door on a 94-96 Roadmaster. GM did a fast-an-dirty redesign on the door panels for 94 when they installed the new dual-airbag dashboard, and the panels are prone to cracking, especially toward the front of the panel in front of the arm rests on both front doors. You will also want to make sure all four door power windows open and close fine. There are plastic sliders on the window tracks that break....VERY common, and they DO make redesigned rollers to fix the issue, but it's a bit of labor to change those. I can do those in my sleep now. Other things to check are that the a/c and heat work, and that the climate control switches smoothly from floor to dash to defrost, meaning the blend door is working. And even on a southern car, check for rust under the spare tire well below the passenger-side rear 1/4 panel. The roof racks are known to leak, water ends up standing in the tire well and it rusts from the inside-out. Lastly, these cars have rear air suspension..and in many cases the air shocks are shot or the compressor (mounts under the front bumper) is shot, which makes a soft car REALLY soft. One of the FIRST mods I do on my wagons is to pull the compressor fuse and order Moog variable-rate rear coil springs and KYB Gas-A-Just shocks for all four corners, which TOTALLY fixes the car, takes the float away but still gives a smooth ride. If the buy the car, I would out this mod near the top of your 2-do list.

    The '94 models are somewhat of an odd year, being the first year for the LT1, the updated dashboard, door panels, and they changed the way the 2nd-row seat folds down (simplified hinge design). They do have some leftover parts from the older models, with the main detraction on the '94 being the much-smaller door mirrors. The '94 was also the final year for the older style din-1/2 radios, carried over from 1993 and previous years. Beyond that, these have that older-style OptiSpark I mentioned above, which is a bit more fragile and failure-prone.

    You really are not missing a lot in a 1994. In 1995 the Roadmaster got the new large-format double-din stereos, with large buttons, a bigger digital screen, and the option of having both CD and Cassette in the radio together, along with improved "Concert Sound" 6-speaker audio system. Also in '95 the cars got the much bigger (and better integrated) exterior door mirrors, and as mentioned the redesigned OptiSpark distributor that uses intake vacuum via a hose to remove moisture from the distributor, and removed the vents which allowed water to enter the Opti..the 95-96 Opti is just a lot more reliable. '95 was also the first year for the "Limited"-level interior trim, which included seats in a design shared with the Riviera, that offered seat heaters and power lumber support. The '96 was a carryover year with the somewhat-large exception of moving to the OBDII computer and diagnostics system...meaning for tech issues the '96 is easier to diagnose for most shops, as OBDII is still the standard for cars and almost all shops have scanners for them, but the downside is you now have FOUR oxygen sensors instead of just two, and some mods are a bit more difficult without tripping a Check Engine light. The only other "updates" in '96 were, being the final year, they got the big round "Collector's Edition" hood ornaments and some have special fender emblems as well, and the seat belt's got interior color-matched plastic caps on the male part of the buckles.

    Oh, ha, in mid-95 they changed to a larger 1-piece fold-down center armrest that is a bit more comfy when you are using the cupholder. I know, zippity-do-dah, but you asked for year-over-year changes.

    Just to note on a non-tow-pack car....in addition to being a bit weak power-wise due to the rear axle gearing, it most-likely will have a badge on the dash that says DYNARIDE. That is the base-level suspension and it is very VERY soft and floaty. The tow-pack cars got the Gran Touring Suspension option, which was a bit firmer and more stable. See my notes way-up-high about the spring and shock most...highly recommended mod if you buy the whale-wagon. Oh and be prepared if it has the wire wheels that are known to creak and rattle. I would find a set of stock Roadmaster wheels if you want to keep the original look or Impala SS wheels bolt right on.

    If you do decide to change the rear gearing, a super mod is to find a rear axle from a 1991-1993 tow-pack Roadmaster/Caprice/Olds Custom Cruiser wagon. Those had a 3.23 rear axle, and let me tell you, going from a 2.55 to a 3.23 will feel like you added 100-horsepower. Those can still be found in salvage yards or online forums/Craigslist. You will have to have the ecm flashed for the new gearing for the correct shift points and speedo reading, but there are quite a few good tuners that know the drill. I can't stress enough what a great difference that makes to a non-tow-pack car to move to the 2.93 rear from an LT1 car or a 3.23 for a TBI car. Totally wakes the car up, makes the transmission live longer, and makes the car feel 1000-pounds lighter.
     
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  3. 81X11

    81X11 Well-Known Member

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    Since I've now written you a novel, check if either of the front seats "rock", feeling like they are loose from the floor just a bit. GM used cheap plastic sliders for the seat tracks, and they break, and then the seats will rock just a bit. You can get new sliders, made of better materials, but it's a project to change them. Broken sliders can also lead to jamming seats, so make sure the power seats work in all directions.

    That's ALL I can think of now. Good Luck!

    As-Found in 2007
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    And now 2019 (well late 2018 in this pic)
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    I hope I haven't scared anyone off....I love these cars a lot, and wanted to give you the common things to look for.

    -Texas Mike
     
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  4. 81X11

    81X11 Well-Known Member

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    I also had this beautiful '92 Olds Custom Cruiser....for less than a year. It was a wonderful car and had the LO5 350 with a towing package, really low miles, and I liked it a lot...but when I had the opportunity to get my LT1 Roadmaster back, the Olds went bye-bye fast.

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    If I had never owned an LT1 car and had nothing to compare the Olds with, I would most-likely still own it today. BUT the LT1 car is just so much quicker and feels lighter on it's feet.

    Little things stood out. The a/c vents sit higher in the LT1 car so it cooled better here in Texas. The LT1 car is both quieter and smoother (could be because the TBI intake sticks up and sits right in front of the windshield, while the LT1 intake faces toward the front of the car, and the TBI car had a mechanical fan vrs electrics on the LT1)...the LT1just felt a lot more...well..modern.

    I also prefer the door panel comfort on the LT1 Roady, where there is a ledge on the windowsill to put your elbow on, vrs the way the door panels curve away on the TBI cars (but that door panel design DOES make the car feel even wider and more spacious). The Olds lacked roof grab handles, only had single exhaust, and well...on and on.

    As far as reliability, the TBI cars are known to be bulletproof mechanically and easier to service in general. I also feel the interior QUALITY is better on the TBI cars.

    In 2016 I refurbished this really nice 1992 Roadmaster Sedan, with the L05 350, but NOT the tow-pack, and it was shocking how that rear axle ratio cripples the power. This too is a fantastic low-mile car, but it felt 1000lbs heavier than my LT1 wagon when you drove it, and the same comment applies regarding the "curve-away" door panel design. BUT the Limited seats in the '92 ARE fantastic!

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    These b-BODIES are ALL great cars, TBI or LT1, and everybody has favorites, but that's my two cents.

    I hope others chime in!

    -Michael
     
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  5. Brad

    Brad Well-Known Member

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    Hi Diego! Good to see you here asking about the Roadmaster wagons. Nice Seeing you at MCACN's last November! My avatar shows my 1972 Buick Estate Wagon, one of my 3 1972 Big Buick's. We'll have to get together soon! Brad Conley...
     
  6. Diego

    Diego New Member

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    Hi, Michael, sorry for the delay in responding.

    I'm trying to create a mini buyer's guide for an "unnamed website" but I think it's going to require a visit to the library for some info that I can't find online, or to confirm things I've learn so far. I appreciate your input and will eventually return to this.

    Hey, Brad! Your car is similar to my mom's, it seems. Even though I have a hankering for a 4-speed, I'd be happy finding an Estate Wagon. Even though I'm biased, I think it's the best-looking out of all the GM clamshell wagons. See ya in Nov?
     
  7. Brad

    Brad Well-Known Member

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    I would agree with you on the '72 models were the best looking "Big Buick" of that era. Yea, pretty sure I'll be there in November with Duane Heckman and his '69 Motion GS Stage 1 4 speed. He and I are best friends and talk every morning. Just an idea, but there is an extremely rare Buick...Maybe an article?
     
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  8. Diego

    Diego New Member

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    I'm not sure I prefer the '72 over the '71—my mom simply owned a '72. I can't make up my mind! The '71 bears a stronger resemblance to the GS up front.

    I am not a photo pro but will get in touch with Duane, but feel free to tell him to hit me up, as I'm headed to Mecum tomorrow.
     

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