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Monday, July 9, 2007 The Roadmaster

They just don't make them like this anymore a very rare 1957 Buick Roadmaster 75 two-door hardtop, in original condition, at Ed's Airport Service, 3127 Ocean Park Boulevard, Santa Monica.  This was fifty years ago, and of the 26,529 built that year few are left.  But then nothing much rusts out here. Everything you need to know about this more than two-ton creation follows the photographs.  Humboldt von Fleischer drove a Roadmaster in Saul Bellow's novel Humboldt's Gift.  Those were the days.

1957 Buick Roadmaster 75 two-door hardtop
1957 Buick Roadmaster 75 two-door hardtop
1957 Buick Roadmaster 75 two-door hardtop
1957 Buick Roadmaster 75 two-door hardtop
1957 Buick Roadmaster 75 two-door hardtop
1957 Buick Roadmaster 75 two-door hardtop

The name -

    The origins of the Roadmaster name date to 1936 when Buick renamed its entire model lineup to celebrate the engineering improvements and design advancements over their 1935 models. Buick's Series 40 model range became the Special, the Buick Century took the place of the Series 60 and the Series 90 - Buick's largest and most luxurious vehicles - became the Limited. Buick's Series 80 became the Roadmaster.

    Roadmasters produced between 1936 and 1958 were built on Buick's longest wheelbase and shared its basic structure with senior Oldsmobiles. Between 1946 and 1957, the Roadmaster was Buick's premium and best appointed model, and was offered in sedan, coupe, convertible and station wagon body styles between 1936 and 1948. In 1949 a hardtop coupe, designated "Riviera" joined the model line-up; a four-door hardtop joined the model range in 1955.

    The 1953 Buick Roadmaster station wagon, Model 79-R, was the last wood-bodied station wagon mass-produced in the United States. Its body was a product of Iona Manufacturing which built all Buick station wagon bodies between 1946 and 1964. Priced at US$4,031, the wagon was second in price to the Buick Skylark. Only 670 of these final woody wagons were produced for 1953.

    In 1959 Buick again introduced a model range that represented a significant shift in its body design, and the Roadmaster name was replaced by the Electra name.

The year

    For 1957, the entire Buick lineup of Special, Century, Super and Roadmaster models all wore new body styling. Like the other GM cars, this was to be a single-year body shell, superseded in 1958 by the heavily chromed and highly flamboyant new styling. This body again lasted only a year before being replaced by a much sleeker and linear design complete with graceful canted fins in place of the awkward chrome blobs on the 1958 rear fenders.

    The 1957 Buicks, by comparison, were models of conservative design in that era of ever-growing wheelbases and tailfins. The two-door hardtops shared the sedan and four-door hardtop roof treatment that included two metal divider strips making a three-piece rear window. This was undoubtedly the Bill Mitchell influence at work, for even in his earliest design days special rear window treatments culminating in the split-window 'Vette, had always been a Mitchell touch. Of course, the wrap-around windshield was retained as a standard feature, as it had been on Buicks since 1954. The one exception to this window treatment was found on the scarce - and new for 1957 - Roadmaster 75 series, which distinguished themselves from the other Buicks by featuring a one-piece rear window, a huge amount of standard equipment and very posh interiors.

    Up front, the Buicks eschewed the currently fashionable quad headlamps in favor of the traditional pair of lights; and out back, the '57's taillamp treatment was a slightly sleeker refinement of the 1956 design. Buick's traditional sweepspear side treatment was also retained in an updated form while streamlined versions of the famous Buick "portholes" rode on the front fenders-three each side for the Special, and four each side for Century, Super and Roadmaster.

    All in all, in that time of excessive design statements from most auto companies, the 1957 Buicks, like the '57 Chevys, were good-looking, understated cars. Unfortunately, such moderate simplicity did not help the sales department in that year. Sales were down from the banner year of 1955 and even 1956, when the Buicks enjoyed only a slight facelift. For instance, the Super Riv hardtops for 1957 found 26,529 customers while in 1956 they sold a total of 29,540 Super Riviera two-door hardtops.

    Super Riviera hardtop interiors were attractive combinations of Nylon and Cordaveen and the cars came in a myriad of single- and two-tone colors.

    Today, a 1957 Buick from any model series is a somewhat unusual sight at shows and other old-car events. Like many cars from the '50s, they were susceptible to body rot and rust and this took many of them to the salvage yard prematurely. But if you find a solid one with a good interior you'll have a relatively smooth restoration as mechanical parts are very easy to come by, and the "nailhead" V-8 is a very long-lived motor. Not only that, the very active Buick Club of America offers plenty of expertise to help you along as well as a large array of activities to enjoy with your '57 Super once it's back in shape.

Specifications: 1957 Buick Super Riviera two-door hardtop:

    Base price: $3,536

    Base weight: 4,271 pounds

    Body: All-steel, five-passenger, two-door hardtop coupe

    Frame: Ladder type with X members

    Wheelbase: 127.5 inches

    Suspension: Independent coil with A-arms front; torque tube with coil springs rear

    Steering: Power-assisted steering standard on Supers

    Brakes: Hydraulic four-wheel drum, internal expanding

    Engine: OHV V-8, 300 bhp @ 4600 rpm, 4.125 X 3.4" bore and stroke, 10.0:1 compression ratio

    Transmission: Dynaflow automatic standard

If you wish to use any of these photos for commercial purposes I assume you'll discuss that with me. And should you choose to download any of these images and use them invoking the 'fair use" provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976, please provide credit, and, on the web, a link back this site.

Technical Note:

Most of these photographs were shot with a Nikon D70 - using lens (1) AF-S Nikkor 18-70 mm 1:35-4.5G ED, or (2) AF Nikkor 70-300mm telephoto, or after 5 June 2006, (3) AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor, 55-200 mm f/4-5.6G ED. They were modified for web posting using Adobe Photoshop 7.0.  Earlier photography was done with a Sony Mavica digital still camera (MVC-FD-88) with built-in digital zoom.

[The Roadmaster]

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 - Alan M. Pavlik