The word ‘boat’ often refers to a means of transportation over bodies of water. However, this term also can be applied to non-aquatic vehicles that sail on land, taking up as much roadway as a yacht-in-tow. These cars are the tankers or aircraft carriers of America’s highways, and have been beloved by everyone from West Coast rappers to grandparents.
These kinds of cars have gone in and out of style many times over the past century. Usually, their popularity is dictated by the prices at the gas pump, as it takes a big engine to move a large set of wheels. However, vintage car lovers can’t get enough of these models, as some of the most beautiful boats still demand top dollar at the auction block, while rebuilders prefer this kind of car for the creative freedom they offer in “pimping’ out” a ride.
Buick is perhaps the marque most closely associated with the term boat, having produced more large cars over the course of its brand history than any other automaker. The name that truly connotes the term is probably the Buick Roadmaster.
This car was produced in 1936 on the longest non-limousine wheelbase that GM made at the time. For the next two decades, the Roadmaster was the counterpart to every non-entry level Cadillac, making it the luxury flagship of the Buick line.
This excerpt from the 1936 Buick Roadmaster catalog says it all: “It literally named itself the first time a test model leveled out on the open highway.” When you look at this car today, you can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped back into a scene from “The Untouchables,” as this car has old-school gangster written all over.
With flared wheel hubs that appear to pull the car forward, the front end of the original Roadmaster is perhaps the sleekest fascia Buick has ever produced. The simple bulbs frame the top of an elongated grill that gives the car the appearance of having a snout. With beefy spare tires on either side of the engine hub, this car already had everything going for it before you even got to the cabin.
Suicide doors flanked the lengthy interior of the body – again, recalling the perfect getaway car for a group of gangsters firing shots before speeding off. Despite being a whale by today’s standards, this car actually did have a lot of pep compared to its peers.
It was by far one of the heaviest rides of the period. At 4,098 pounds, the Roadmaster was roughly 88 pounds heavier than its platform mate the Cadillac Series 60, although it had enough engine under the hood to not be weighed down by its ample girth. 1936 was the year that Buick heavily revised its valve-in-head straight-eight engines, reducing the number of options available to consumers from four to two: a 233-cubic-inch, 93 horsepower and a 320.2-cubic-inch, 120-horsepower option.
Buick also introduced an all-steel turret top that year, which added to its weight but made the Roadmaster an especially more solid vehicle. If a buyer wanted to forgo the top, though, they could look into purchasing the four-door Phaeton convertible. And although it featured many of the same luxury amenities of its sibling, the Cadillac Series 60, it sold for roughly $1,200 – almost $450 less than the Caddy.
The Roadmaster would go on to be a huge hit for Buick in 1936, as the companies sales more than tripled the year it was introduced.
Buick ran with the Roadmaster name for another 20 years with several hits and a few misses when it came to redesigns. The original Roadmasters, the brainchild of legendary Buick designer Harley Earl, take the cake when it comes to the ultimate boat.
Do you think this was the best “boat” to ever “sail” the streets, or does that title belong to a different car? Leave your thoughts below:
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