Buick marked their 50th anniversary in 1953. With V8 engines gaining popularity, it was quite natural that Buick would celebrate its golden anniversary by introducing a modern overhead-valve V8. Remarkably, in addition to the first Buick V8 engine and the first use of a 12-volt electrical system, the 1953 Buick Estate Wagon was the very last woody station wagon offered by an American automobile manufacturer. These factors, combined with Buick’s beautiful styling, make this one of the most desirable and sought-after woody station wagons ever produced.

In 1953, Buick offered two models of Estate Wagons: the Super a
nd the Roadmaster. The two cars are easily distinguished from each other, as the Super has three portholes on each front fender while the Roadmaster has four portholes. The production numbers for the 1953 Buick Estate Wagons were only 1,830 Supers and a minuscule 670 Roadmasters. There are thought to be approximately 15 Roadmaster Estate Wagons left in the world today.

The stunning example offered here was originally a California car that was put into storage in the 1970s, showing approximately 58,000 miles on the odometer. A meticulous, no-expense-spared restoration to the highest standards was just completed on the car. During this 2½-year restoration virtually everything that could be done was attended to, including one of the most important aspects of a woody restoration—the wood!

Ron Heiden, one of America’s foremost automotive woodworkers, carefully selected the very best pieces of white ash available “in the rough.” Using the old original pieces of wood as patterns, he very carefully handcrafted each new piece of wood to create a fit and finish second to none. Once Mr. Heiden achieved a precision fit of the wood on the car, each piece was carefully removed for the very important varnishing process. The wood was then carefully refitted onto the car for the final finishing process. The engine, transmission and rear end were all completely rebuilt.

Mark Stevens, one of Arizona’s premier body and paint specialists, disassembled the car. He then carefully reworked each individual panel, as required, before applying five coats of black acrylic enamel. Mr. Stevens reassembled the car, keeping as close to factory specifications as possible. Striving for perfection, he logged more than five hundred hours in completing his portion of the restoration. All chromework was either replated or replaced. The interior was retrimmed with the correct style of leather, new carpets and new headliner. A photographic history of the car during the restoration is included, along with several pieces of literature, manuals and a dealer facts book.

This automobile was given the maximum attention to detail throughout its restoration with one specific goal in mind—to recreate the most beautiful and correct 1953 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon in existence. The result is simply stunning and it is difficult to find faults anywhere on the car. The standard of restoration is a credit to all those involved.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1953 Buick Roadmaster Woody
Years Produced:1953
Number Produced:670
Original List Price:$3,254
Tune Up Cost:Approx. $250
Distributor Caps:$30
Chassis Number Location:Driver's door post
Engine Number Location:Stamped on left side of block
Club Info:Buick Club of America, P.O. Box 401927, Hesperia, CA 92340-1927
Alternatives:Custom-built ’50s Cadillac woody wagons

This car sold for $160,000, including buyer’s premium, at Christie’s Pebble Beach auction on August 19, 2001. It was estimated to bring $80,000-$120,000 by Christie’s, and the high bid of $140,000 brought an audible gasp from the auction crowd. We’ve seen woodies hover at the $100k mark at auction before, but this one marched right past that barrier and into the collector stratosphere.

I owned an original, low-mileage ’53 Buick (a Super sedan) at one time and, from my recollections of details on that car, this woody was as right as any Buick to ever leave Flint—or the Ionia Body Company where the wagons were built.

The senior series ’53 Buicks were an attractive combination of old and new. The all-coil suspension and torque-tube drive harked back to the ’30s and one tire-screeching, rocker-scraping ride through a few hard curves would quickly convince you that roadability was not one of their strong points. The new 188-bhp V8 engine, however, was of a superior design with its “nailhead” valve/combustion chamber arrangement, while the refined Dynaflow transmission made shifting utterly seamless. The updated styling, inspired by the XP-300 dream car, was just modern enough to attract new buyers while retaining Buick’s traditional crowd of conservative loyalists.

As the catalog description emphasized, the restoration on this car was absolutely impeccable, with a scant 13 miles showing on the odometer since its completion. As gorgeous as this car was, though, did the new owner pay too much? In terms of what the restoration likely cost, probably not. In terms of market value, however, it has to be hoped that the reason it was bought for this figure was because that’s simply what happened when two determined bidders were after the best example in the world, rather than the financial return.

Does that make all the remaining ’53 Roadmaster wagons worth $140,000-$160,000, or even close? Not a chance. First, to my knowledge, there are no other Roadmaster wagons restored to this level of perfection. Second, achieving this price required the highly sought-after but rarely achieved auction ideal of the right car, in the right place, with the right bidders in the house.—Dave Brownell

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