My first experience with a '53 Buick Roadmaster was in 1969. I was in Lexington, Kentucky driving my '67 Chevelle SS down Vine Street and there was a '53 with that big Buick grin on the back row of a car lot. It was tutone Green, light body, dark top with wire caps. I opened the counter-balanced door and got in. Was there ever a car so out of sync with the times! Muscle cars were in and the big road locomotives were out! But when I started it, the sound and smoothness of that V-8, and the "50s" feeling of plush broadcloth and green leather interior, complimented by a machined effect on the dashboard and surrounded by EZ-Eye green glass was a feeling I'll never forget! At the time, I was in search of a '40s Packard, so I decided not to spend the $225 the guy wanted. Two weeks later, I found my Packard: A '46 in nice drive-home condition for the same money. Since then I have always wanted a '53 Buick Roadmaster 2 door hardtop. In recent years, they have become increasingly harder to find. Then, late last year, I found a '53 just like I had been looking for. The ad read "good driving condition, probably 32,000 miles from the look of the original interior. Drive while you restore." I decided to buy it, sight unseen, leaving the door open to restoring, in case it was misrepresented in the ad.
I was excited when it came via Autobahn Transport, and it really was no surprise that we had to push it off of the trailer, but then it started and I was able to drive it into the garage. A fuel fitting was loose on the fuel pump. As I took inventory on the car, it appeared solid, but probably had 132,000 miles and definitely needed to be restored. I sat behind the banjo steering wheel staring at that great-looking dash and realized that I really did want to restore this car! I wanted to know every nut and bolt of it. I looked at Joe and said, "Let's get started!" In the next issues, join us in bringing this car back to life. We will remove chrome, sand blast, paint, do a complete mechanical rebuild and more. But first, here is the way Buick introduced it in 1953:
This was Buick's Golden Anniversary, and they celebrated with a new V-8 engine, twin-turbine automatic transmission, air conditioning and some of the best styling to come out of Harley Earl's Art and Colour Studio. "Our Greatest Cars in 50 Years" was the marketing theme. The lineup consisted of the new Skylark Convertible, billed as a sports car. In fact, it was a lowered 2-door version of the Roadmaster with Kelsey Hayes wire wheels, sweepspear side trim and a Darrin-esque "dip" running along the top edge of the doors and rear quarters. It was a marque leader that would continue through 1954. This was also the last year for the all-wood wagon, available in the Roadmaster or Super series. Completing the lineup were the Roadmaster, Super and the Special, which alone retained the F-263 straight 8 engine. The Roadmaster (our project car) is the model we will cover in this series.
Engineering advances for the '53 Roadmaster included its new vertical head 322 cubic inch V-8. It was a 90-degree engine with 8.5:1 compression. It was equipped with either a 4 barrel Stromberg or Carter carburetor and developed 188 horsepower, continuing with the "fireball" principle: Combustion chambers were designed to give a high turbulence to each charge of fuel, shaping the charge into a whirling ball of gas and air particles. The spark plugs were positioned to ignite the heat of the charge, transform it into a fireball that drove the pistons with a "terrific force". Buick stated that the fireball turbulence produced a more highly-explosive fuel mixture and more even combustion, giving maximum power, helping to eliminate fuel knock and improve fuel economy. The new V-8 had a large 4" bore and a 3.2" piston stroke, resulting in a more compact engine with lower piston speed and decreased piston travel, which reduced wear on the pistons, rings and cylinder walls. The valves were positioned vertically and were considered small by some in the industry, thus the nickname "Nailhead Engine". The vertical position of the valves sends the fuel charge into the cylinder on an angle, contributing to the fireball's turbulence in the combustion chambers, helping to make this a smooth and powerful engine.
Also new was the 12-volt electrical system. This was necessary with the new high-compression V-8, plus helping to run the new power options and air conditioning system.
The new V-8s were coupled with an updated version of the Dynaflow automatic transmission called the Twin Turbine. It had a new 4-element torque converter, utilizing two turbines, one of which was geared. This helped to reduce engine revolutions and improve performance from a stop and upon acceleration. These transmissions were used for a period in 1953 by Cadillac after a fire destroyed their Hydramatic plant.
As great as the new Buicks were, they were not without problems. In the first months of production, there was a power brake failure issue. The power assist units could fail because of a faulty seal, which resulted in complete loss of brakes. Buick quickly redesigned the faulty units and supplied them to their dealers to correct the problem.
Air conditioning was becoming popular, and with Buick's new 12-volt system (Cadillac still used 6-volt), they offered air for the first time on their cars, installed inside the trunk, blowing cold air toward the front compartment through two air vents mounted in the rear package tray. All of this made for a great year for Buick, which sold almost 489,000 cars! See you next month when we start work on this fabulous car. Enjoy your cars and keep 'em driving!