Low-Mile Cruiser: 1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon

How times change. When I was a lad, nothing marked you more as a member of the motoring uncool than to own or be seen in a station wagon. They were considered to be practical, but totally unexciting. Slowly but surely, mini-vans and SUVs killed the traditional station wagon off, and we all thought that we’d seen the last of them. Today, classic station wagons have joined the world of the motoring “must-have,” and good examples are eagerly sought. This 1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon fits the mold perfectly, and it is a low-mileage example that is in excellent condition. It is located in Arvada, Colorado, and has been listed for sale here on eBay. The owner has set the BIN for the Buick at $10,500.

This Roadmaster represents a lot of car for your dollar. With a length in excess of 18-feet, a total width of 6½-feet, and a curb weight of 4,560lbs, it certainly is no shrinking violet. The Light Driftwood paint generally looks to be in good condition, as does the woodgrain. There are a few minor marks on both surfaces, but they really seem to be insignificant. The exterior trim looks to be in good condition, as do the original alloy wheels. One of the styling cues that I like with this car is the enormous amount of glass. As I said previously, this is a seriously big car, but the significant amount of glass stops this from looking like a big, heavy, and cumbersome vehicle. That glass itself looks good, and the inclusion of a factory sunroof is an added and welcome bonus. Speaking of bonuses, the aftermarket tow hitch definitely is one, and given the fact that this is a wagon that packs some reasonable ponies, it should make for a pretty effective tow vehicle.

When I got my first glimpse inside the Buick, I was immediately taken by the amount of wear on the wheel rim. The first thing that I noticed is that it isn’t consistent from one side of the wheel to the other, and it is still far higher than I would have expected in a car with a genuine and documented 63,000 miles on the clock. I have seen wheels worn and damaged by people who have a habit of “twisting”  the wheel rim as they drive (similar to the action of twisting the hand-throttle on a motorcycle), which can cause undue levels of wear. I’ve even seen one where the owner has managed to successfully break the bond between the rim and its steel support by doing this. Perhaps one of the owners of this car had just such a habit. Otherwise, the rest of the interior of the Roadmaster presents extremely nicely and tends to indicate that this is a vehicle that has led a pampered life. From a purely practical perspective, the inclusion of a 3rd row makes this a wagon that would be ideal for carting around a decent-sized clan. The inclusion of air conditioning, power operation for the seats, windows and locks, a tilt wheel, cruise control, along with airbags for both the driver and passenger, should make these journeys quite pleasant as well.

I have heard some motoring writers claim that the Roadmaster is a Corvette clothed in an estate body, but I think that this is a description that flatters just a little bit. Sure, both cars share what is essentially the same basic engine, but not only are they tuned differently, meaning that the Roadmaster’s engine produces less power, but the Buick is a significantly heavier car. Still, that 350ci V8 manages to punch out a healthy 260hp, which is sent to the rear wheels via a 4-speed automatic transmission. Performance certainly isn’t in Corvette territory, but a 0-60 time of 8.6 seconds and a ¼ mile ET of 16.6 seconds is pretty impressive for a vehicle that is only marginally smaller than your average aircraft carrier! During its lifetime, the Roadmaster has only ever had two long-term owners, and the car has been properly maintained throughout this time. As stated earlier, it has a genuine 63,000 miles on the odometer, and the owner says that it runs and drives perfectly. It would seem that this is a vehicle that is ready to tackle a serious cross-country journey in style and comfort.

As I said at the start of this article, owning a station wagon used to be a great way to find yourself tagged as being uncool. Inept anti-hero Clark Griswold seemed to confirm this fact with his exploits in the movie, ” National Lampoon’s Vacation.”  Amazingly, this same movie’s cult following somehow managed to help transform the perception of the station wagon over time into something quite cool. Today, wagons like this Roadmaster continue to grow in popularity, and this fact is borne out by their steadily increasing values. The 1996 Roadmaster is a shining example, with values having increased on average by around 30% in the past 3-years alone. Depending on condition and mileage, prices can range anywhere between $8,000 and $18,000, although pristine examples can command prices in excess of $20,000. Given this vehicle’s overall condition, I tend to think that it represents a pretty reasonable buy at the $10,500 BIN price.

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Comments

  1. John

    Hi love the wagon but a tow hitch is not a plus you don’t know if it towed a 15ft boat or a 30 ft rv
    I had a 93 caprice sedan with trailer towing and the first thing they did when I traded it was to remove the hitch
    Great tow vehicle pulled s 21 ft boat over 5000 lbs with no problem just 4 mpg

    4
  2. Bob_in_TN Member

    I haven’t reached the “I want one of these” stage, but I’ll admit big wagons such as this have successfully moved into the “now cool” stage. For me, I guess they still carry too much of their former stigma. But if at the local cruise-in, I’d gladly take a look and visit with the owner.

    5
  3. Michael

    Put a mattress in the back, and hey!!! Let your fantasy run wild. Oh an some curtains so no one can see in either. HUBBA HUBBA!!!

    3
  4. Chunk

    The poor panel-gap and alignment between the front passenger door and fender look like a poorly-repaired collision on front right-hand side. The oddly over-worn (airbag-equipped) steering wheel makes me even more suspicious.

    4
  5. JeffD

    As a former owner of one of these behemoths, I can fill you in on the steering wheel thing. The worn wheel is common. It’s only dyed with color when new, and black underneath. They are all worn, and yes at 60K miles.

    12
    • Ted

      Owned a ’94, which I bought w/ 50k on the clock, and can confirm the steering wheel issue.

      4
  6. SubGothius

    We have our absurd CAFE regulatory scheme to blame for killing off wagons (along with compact trucks) in the US market, and why the few wagons we do still get tend to be from premium marques to help justify the higher price resulting from their gas-guzzler tax:
    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/how-cafe-killed-compact-trucks-and-station-wagons/

    3
  7. angliagt

    A lot of us forget just how much we hated riding in
    those wagons – especially when they had vinyl seats,&
    no A/C.
    That said,I love them,but don’t want to own one,&
    wouldn’t pay a lot for one,if I did.

  8. Ryan Hilkemann

    Remember the roadmaster in the state farm commercial?😁

    • Moparman Member

      You beat me to it!! “Brown Betty”!! LOL!! :-)

  9. FrankM

    It doesn’t have the tow package or a 7-pin connection, so I wouldn’t worry about it having towed a large trailer. The hitch was probably added to tow a light weight trailer, less than 1,000 lbs. You can tell a tow package car by the presence of an old style mechanical fan on the engine.

    1
  10. 200mph

    Adam , There’s a good chance, that’s “wedding ring” wear on the left side of the steering wheel.

    2
  11. Sheldon Renaissance Kirschbaum

    200 mph is on target. Wedding ring or bones sticking out?

  12. w9bag Member

    Looks like that the washer reservoir holds a gallon of fluid ! I’ve always wanted a big, full size wagon. This would definitely be a long distant lux-cruiser !

  13. Hank Kaczmarek

    Won’t Last Long—-A Big wagon is plan B if I don’t find a nice late 40’s early 50’s Packard Sedan.

  14. George Mattar

    The steering wheels all faded due to sun and oil from the drivers hands. I detail cars and have a guy whI can dye them. The engines last forever. Biggest problem is the oil cooler lines rot. I planned on buying a Caddy Brougham, Impala SS or one of these built from 94 to 96. Found a GM NOS one on Craigslist. It is in my garage. Another problem is the water pump leaks onto the already lousy Optispark distributor. These cars get great fuel mileage. I made an offer on a 40,000 mile 96 about 10 years ago on ebay. Refused. I will own one some day.

  15. chrlsful Member

    big cars have big problems. A nice luxo-barge. Need it for the long hauls, not the daily. Has the OBD for a lill help. Nice one like this in the darker version near here. Gimmie the ‘down sized’ models (fox LTD/Marquis). Got one for sale?

  16. P Wentzell

    If it weren’t so far away….

  17. Stevieg Member

    These are excellent cruisers & road trip cars. The perform and handle surprisingly well, especially with the LT1, and get incredible gas mileage for this size car. Approaching 30 miles per gallon is not unheard of, depending on driving style. If I had a use for it, along with funds & room, I wouldn’t even think twice about this one.

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