CON­SER­VA­TIVE EL­E­GANCE

1957 BUICK ROAD­MAS­TER

New Zealand Classic Car - - Front Page - Words: Ash­ley Webb Photos: Adam Croy

Buick’s Road­mas­ter arose from any­thing but hum­ble be­gin­nings. The brand’s new flag­ship was in­tended to spark im­ages syn­ony­mous with power, han­dling, and el­e­gant styling — all el­e­ments miss­ing from Gen­eral Mo­tors’ Buick di­vi­sion since the 1928 model year.

So Road­mas­ters were among the first in line to re­ceive Buick’s lat­est and most pow­er­ful en­gines, the most re­cent sus­pen­sion up­grades, as well as in­te­rior com­fort and con­ve­niences that ri­valled Cadil­lac and other lux­ury brands. When the Road­mas­ter was first re­leased in 1936, the ad­ver­tis­ing stated: “So we built this great-pow­ered, trig­ger-quick, light-han­dling Buick Road­mas­ter, and it lit­er­ally named it­self the first time a test model lev­elled out on the open high­way.” Over the next 20 years Buick’s stylish new Road­mas­ter was to be a sta­tus sym­bol tar­get­ing a more youth­ful mar­ket au­di­ence with mod­er­ate means, as well as the af­flu­ent.

Fast for­ward to the 1950s, and catchy ad­ver­tis­ing slo­gans such as “The joy that only the finest can give” and “This you take in glow­ing pride” helped pro­pel 1955 Road­mas­ter sales to a re­spectable 64,527 units. The sharp, less cur­va­ceous lines, an ex­tended bon­net, and a taller rear boot-lid com­bined with an over­all more ag­gres­sive body stance, in­stantly ren­dered pre­vi­ous mod­els as out of date. In essence, the new Road­mas­ter body was con­tem­po­rary and stylish. Ad­di­tion­ally, on­go­ing sus­pen­sion de­vel­op­ment con­tin­ued to im­prove the silky smooth drive, re­gard­less of the road sur­face, and it was touted as the “Mil­lion Dol­lar Ride.” Fur­ther re­fine­ments were on­go­ing, but de­spite Buick’s best ef­forts, pro­duc­tion and de­mand for large, medium-priced cars be­gan to wane.

The 1956 re­ces­sion cer­tainly didn’t help Buick. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to many, the styling re­fine­ments made dur­ing this tu­mul­tuous time were a vast im­prove­ment over the pre­vi­ous year. Such up­grades in­cluded a new grille and a V-shaped front end, while chrome trim re­mained slim and taste­fully ap­plied. How­ever, that taste­ful phi­los­o­phy was short-lived thanks to the rein­tro­duc­tion of a chrome-laden three-piece rear light on se­lect Road­mas­ters. The car was length­ened once again, and low­ered, but cus­tomers and crit­ics alike crit­i­cized the sus­pen­sion for be­ing far too soft.

In its last in­car­na­tion, the 1958 Road­mas­ter was ei­ther viewed as stun­ningly beau­ti­ful or a de­mon­stra­tion of ex­cess in chrome — af­ter all, it was the late ’50s. Af­ter Road­mas­ter sales reached a dis­mal 14,054 units, its re­place­ment, the Elec­tra, was ush­ered in for the 1959 model year, thus end­ing pro­duc­tion of one of the most iconic mod­els in Amer­i­can au­to­mo­tive his­tory.

The Road­mas­ter name still res­onates with col­lec­tors to­day, much as it did when new. Fifties-era Road­mas­ters are un­doubt­edly com­fort­able high­way cruis­ers, with in­te­ri­ors bet­ter de­scribed as a lounge on wheels, and of­fer un­pre­ten­tious lux­ury at a frac­tion of the cost of a typ­i­cal lux­ury col­lec­tor car.

Fea­tured Road­mas­ter

Ac­cord­ing to the own­ers of our fea­tured 1957 Buick Road­mas­ter, Shaun and Rita Eastell, “Burger King has got a lot to an­swer for in our house. That is where the Buick story be­gan”.

Way back — when it fea­tured the old che­quer­board vinyl and chrome, with rock ’n’ roll photos and ’50s car brochure shots — the burger joint was a drop-in treat. Whilst queu­ing one day and pe­rus­ing the lit­er­a­ture on the walls, Shaun spied a beau­ti­ful sleek, long and low stun­ner that re­ally caught his eye — a 1957 Buick Road­mas­ter. That was that! The poster had him dream­ing at ev­ery sub­se­quent visit.

Many years later, af­ter a long flight, he got lost and ar­rived late one night at a rel­a­tive’s home in New Jer­sey, USA. It had been a tir­ing day, and af­ter a quick catch up, the ladies re­tired for the evening. Alas, that left the boys to their own de­vices, and as they didn’t feel sleepy, out came Jack’s finest. Shortly af­ter, the topic of choice be­came clas­sic cars, and a dis­cus­sion en­sued about their

likes and dis­likes. Af­ter he’d pro­claimed his love for the above-men­tioned ve­hi­cle, Billy (Shaun’s rel­a­tive) asked if he would like to take a look at one in the metal. Silly ques­tion! The next morn­ing found them at the home of Billy’s close friends — a New Jer­sey po­lice of­fi­cer with a keen in­ter­est in clas­sic cars and mo­tor­cy­cles. Lo and be­hold, there it was: an ex­tremely tidy ex­am­ple that he had ac­quired from a nearby house. Since own­ing the car he had com­pleted some mi­nor me­chan­i­cal re­pairs and main­te­nance to get the en­gine run­ning, af­ter it had sat for 25 years in a garage with a bent valve, and he was now en­joy­ing it with his young fam­ily. Shaun was im­pressed with the gor­geous sleek lines of the Road­mas­ter, and was even more im­pressed when he stood along­side it. Af­ter lunch and a few beers, Shaun left them with the sug­ges­tion that if ever they were to sell the car, could he and Rita have first op­tion?

Done deal

For­ward to 2003, and a new kitchen was re­quired in Red­bank, New Jer­sey — the Buick had to go! Phone calls were ex­changed, and a deal was done. Then the fun re­ally be­gan, with the ar­rival of a ‘driver’ in Kumeu — well, that is what Shaun told Rita. It’s just that Rita’s idea of what she would be seen driv­ing around in was some­what dif­fer­ent to what was sit­ting in the drive­way! To­day, it would have been per­fect as it was, with a beau­ti­ful patina …

Not too many months passed be­fore the cou­ple be­gan to ex­plore what they could do to “tidy the car up a bit” them­selves, and they made the mis­take of pulling things apart. They soon called on the ex­per­tise of Craig Reynolds to help dis­man­tle the stain­less steel trim and re­store it back to its orig­i­nal con­di­tion. There was such a lot of stain­less trim on this car that they were very happy to have found Craig at Auto Trim Restora­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Shaun, he has the pa­tience of a saint and pos­sesses the in­ge­nu­ity to sort out a method to re­pair dents and dings where you would think it can­not be done. Craig’s work is the ‘bling’ that com­ple­ments and shows off the great lines on the beaut Buick.

Be­fore Shaun and Rita knew it, the car was be­ing trans­ported to Gra­ham Rid­land at Cre­ative Au­to­body in Glen­field, and the se­ri­ous stuff be­gan. The body was com­pletely stripped apart, then acid dipped. Af­ter Gra­ham had sorted the plethora of parts into many crates and boxes, things be­gan to slow down, as he’d de­cided to have a change of di­rec­tion. The car and all and sundry was trans­ported back to Shaun’s shed un­til such time as they could find some­one else to en­trust with their project.

Project restarts

Fast for­ward a few years, and the many boxes, the pan­els, body, and rolling chas­sis all found them­selves at the be­gin­ning of the long fi­nal stage of the re­build, in Fe­bru­ary 2009! This time de­lay was in some ways a bless­ing, as the afore­men­tioned dip­ping process had re­vealed some is­sues ev­i­dent when the first seam was opened up for a re­pair, un­cov­er­ing cor­ro­sion that had also oc­curred on some other ve­hi­cles. Greg Wells, now R3 Fab­ri­ca­tions, asked Shaun what he wanted to do about it. There was ba­si­cally no choice but to open every­thing up, clean, neu­tral­ize and re­pair. So, truly every­thing has been re­newed over the eight years of the build. Ac­cord­ing to Shaun, Greg’s crafts­man­ship is truly amaz­ing; he can form and re­pair, re­place and im­prove, ab­so­lutely any metal panel, part or sys­tem. Cont. P.12 ...

John, Adam, and Sam at Cas­cade Aut­ofin­ish in Paku­ranga han­dled every­thing from the tini­est parts of sus­pen­sion, chas­sis and in­te­rior, to the largest pan­els and ro­tis­serie of the body. John’s in­put and ad­vice was in­valu­able when the big de­ci­sions needed to be made. As usual, their work­man­ship pro­duced a stun­ning, eye catch­ing, yet tra­di­tional fin­ish.

Then James and Bren­don at Jasco Au­to­mo­tive, in Manukau, worked their magic to bring the old beast to life again.

They had first be­come in­volved with the build back in early 2009, with the Buick al­ready dis­as­sem­bled. A bare chas­sis, a bunch of old parts and thank­fully, an even big­ger bunch of photos — which proved in­valu­able through­out the whole restora­tion process — ar­rived at their shop, along with two very en­thu­si­as­tic own­ers.

As far as the me­chan­i­cal side goes, Shaun and Rita’s amaz­ing Buick has been stripped down to the very last nut and bolt, and re­stored with pas­sion. Ob­vi­ously, the whole en­gine, trans­mis­sion, diff and driv­e­line assem­bly have been stripped, two-pot painted, and re­built, sourc­ing many new parts from the States: noth­ing was left un­touched. Brakes, steer­ing, and sus­pen­sion all re­ceived the same de­tail. The link­ages, rods, and vir­tu­ally ev­ery other sus­pen­sion com­po­nent was re­fur­bished and gold zinc plated. Any and ev­ery ex­posed bolt was also gold zinc plated. Ba­si­cally, Shaun and Rita gave the team at Jasco li­cence to treat the Buick as if it was their own, and do what­ever they wanted, and they did. Ev­ery­one was so in­volved that when Shaun pro­cured an old 1957 Buick sales brochure show­ing some parts of the mo­tor chromed, he sug­gested — and con­sen­sus was reached — to go ahead and add it to the look. Other items also re­ceived ad­di­tional treat­ment, such as hy­per-coat­ing mas­ter cylin­ders and ex­haust man­i­folds, and fit­ting a cus­tom stain­less ex­haust sys­tem in an ef­fort to main­tain

a clean no-rust look. Nu­mer­ous com­po­nents were re­con­di­tioned or NOS parts were sourced from the USA, but plainly, the car speaks for it­self.

The many stages of the build were al­ways doc­u­mented, and shown on Jasco’s web­site, to the joy of its many followers. Along the way, ideas were ex­plored and im­prove­ments made to keep every­thing orig­i­nal me­chan­i­cally, apart from aes­thet­ics, paint colour and chrome work.

The up­hol­stery, trim, and sounds were han­dled beau­ti­fully by Ross and Stu at Stu’s Trim & Sound in Manukau. They were tasked with de­liv­er­ing a clas­sic in­te­rior and colour scheme that re­ally cel­e­brated the ’50s whilst com­ple­ment­ing the ex­te­rior colour choice, a cus­tom green and off-white. The best pe­riod-cor­rect green vinyl and fab­rics sourced from Amer­ica were close but not quite, so the ex­te­rior paint was changed slightly to match the vinyl. The off-white was matched the same way. The seats had been treated to new cov­ers over the old ones prob­a­bly 40 or more years ago, so strip­ping re­vealed the orig­i­nal seat de­sign and some very tired up­hol­stery. The un­cov­ered orig­i­nal de­signs were cho­sen to be used for the re­birth. The seat frames were rust treated and the cush­ion­ing re­built, adding lum­bar and lat­eral sup­port. The colos­sal elec­tric frame be­neath the front seat was over­hauled and rewired. Door pan­els were fab­ri­cated as per the orig­i­nal de­sign, as were all the other in­te­rior el­e­ments. No kick pan­els were found, so new ones were fab­ri­cated from panel steel, and cov­ered. For the au­dio sys­tem, the orig­i­nal ra­dio was gut­ted and new in­ter­nals were fit­ted by Neil, from Phoenix Au­dio. It now fea­tures ra­dio, aux­il­iary and USB in­puts, and it drives am­pli­fied speak­ers — a sin­gle dual-voice coil speaker in the orig­i­nal dash­board lo­ca­tion, and two six- by nine-inch speak­ers in the par­cel shelf be­hind the rear seat. The Alpine dig­i­tal am­pli­fier was mounted in a cus­tom-made steel shelf be­neath the back win­dow, in­side a cus­tom-de­signed trunk stor­age area. This is where Shaun and Rita wanted to splash out and give the car a real defin­ing touch. In the style of the ’50s in­te­rior, the team de­signed a boot space that hid away the spare wheel and other un­sightly ob­jects, while keep­ing them eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble. Cus­tom-made stain­less-steel lug­gage rails can sup­port suit­cases and yet-to-be-made match­ing bags for long cruises.

By late 2016, the Road­mas­ter was near­ing the fi­nal stages of com­ple­tion, and with a wed­ding loom­ing, the push was re­ally on to have the car fin­ished. While it was be­ing fit­ted out at Stu’s Trim shop, Glen and Greg from R3 Fab­ri­ca­tions in Takanini were brought on board to com­plete the ac­tual fi­nal fit­ting and last assem­bly tasks, to have the car road ready for the big day.

The jour­ney has been long, but the re­sult speaks for it­self. Shaun and Rita set out to achieve their dream ma­chine, and Shaun doesn’t need to visit a Burger King any more — even if he could find one still as they were way back then!

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