Digestible Collectible: 1996 Buick Roadmaster

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
digestible collectible 1996 buick roadmaster

It’s an election year. In theory, media outlets should be doing everything in their power to ensure equal time for all candidates, lest a bias influence voters on the public airwaves.

Well, I’ve come to expose a bias here at TTAC, and to demand equal time for a car not getting equal airtime to a beloved competitor. That candidate is the General Motors B-Body. TTAC certainly loves the Panther, but to completely ignore the big GM platform simply isn’t fair.

I certainly could have tracked down an Impala SS for this feature, but I love wagons and so do you. I’m also planning an autumn road trip to visit a mouse, so the extra cargo room would be welcome.

About seven years ago, a second dependent took up residence in the living area attached to my garage, forcing the sale of my beloved Sentra SE-R for something with an accommodating back seat. The Ford dealer down the street had a clone of this 1996 Buick Roadmaster on the lot, taunting me daily on my commute. It sold the day before my Sentra did.

As I’ve trolled the web searching for cars, it seems a disproportionate number of these big wagons have remarkably low miles. For example, this one only shows 67,000 miles, which is quite low for a 20-year-old Buick. It’s not quite concours quality, but it looks stunning.

Is the dreaded Optispark distributor to blame for its lack of moment for years? At this point, I don’t think the unreliable dizzy is a problem, as the aftermarket has developed fixes. This looks like a great, if thirsty, family cruiser. $10,750 is more than I’d comfortably spend, but this is clean enough to justify the price.

If only Ford had restyled the Panther-based wagon in the ’90s …

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7 of 86 comments
  • JDG1980 JDG1980 on Jan 11, 2016

    The '96 Roadmaster Estate Wagon was rated at 17 MPG for city driving and 26 MPG for highway. Not bad for a vehicle that could carry seven passengers (well, technically 8, but you wouldn't want to be the middle guy in the front seat), haul full 4x8 sheet goods with the seats down, or tow up to 7,000 pounds depending on the options package. The only reason this didn't survive is the stupid US prejudice against station wagons. For the vast majority of people who bought Ford Explorers or Chevy Suburbans in the late 1990s/early 2000s, the Roadmaster Estate Wagon would have been a superior choice. I bet that if they brought the design up to date (modern safety/convenience features, no wood paneling, etc), jacked it up a couple inches, added all-wheel drive, and called it a crossover, it would sell like hotcakes.

    • See 1 previous
    • JewelOrJalopy JewelOrJalopy on Jan 12, 2016

      @kefkafloyd But the customer wanted SUVs. They still do, they are now killing the Minivan. It's a shame.

  • Relton Relton on Jan 11, 2016

    The 96 cars had an OBD II engine control system. 93-95 had an OBD I system. The logic inside the computer for the ignition system is different. The later, more reliable module will not work with the earlier systems. Just for fun, when they went to OBD II, in 96, they also completely rearranged most of the service manuals. In other words, if you could find things in the manuals for 91 through 95, you had to start over in 96. This is especially noticeable in the electrical diagnosis sections. Some Optispark problems were also caused when the water pump wore, and started leaking. It is arranged so that the weep hole in the water pump will direct the leaking coolant right to the most vulnerable spot in the Optispark. One of the reasons that GM trucks didn't use the LT series engines is because truck engineering would not accept the weak Optispark ignition. Seems that the failures were well known inside GM, even if nothing was done to fix them. Bob

    • Kefkafloyd Kefkafloyd on Jan 12, 2016

      "Some Optispark problems were also caused when the water pump wore, and started leaking. It is arranged so that the weep hole in the water pump will direct the leaking coolant right to the most vulnerable spot in the Optispark." Us F-body owners know that one all too well. Imagine these cars with an LS1, they would have been beasts.

  • Frylock350 Frylock350 on Jan 12, 2016

    I had a Chevy Caprice B-body wagon and I'd give anything to have a new one. I'd buy this if I had the cash lying around. I loved that wagon! An E-class wagon is NOT a replacement for this it can't hold a candle to offering the utility this wagon did. The only true modern replacement is a Suburban.

  • MyoNen MyoNen on Nov 26, 2017

    Ok where to start. My Granny had the 1996 version it's one of the greatest cars ever made... Exhibit (1) season 1 episode 5 top gear America "beater boot camp" It will swallow 4x8 sheets of plywood like they are nothing The rearward facing 3rd row rules, and it can tow a boat without complaint. The sedan version is actually a different platform which is why they look so different Now to the downsides Speed limited to 110mph total BS. Self leveling air ride suspension fails early and often but is easily swapped out for the leaf springs from the Caprice or Impala. Shit for fuel economy. I would love to see GM buy Wrightspeed and apply their power train to this car and bring it back to the modern era