The '95 Longroof GS as it appears today. Fresh Corvette engine installed, upgrades shocks, and lots of parts taken from a donor wagon and installed. Not yet complete, but better. This photo was taken in front of my house in Colby, WA.

By Russell Neyman, Port Orchard WA____________________________________________

STARTING POINT: A raggedy-looking Granny car with missing parts. (March 1, 2011)

I wrecked my beautiful 1995 Chevy Impala SS Clone on a very rainy night a year ago, and it has taken me until now to get my hands on a suitable replacement. In this case, it’s a ’95 Buick Roadmaster; technically, a different brand name, but nearly identical. Same gray-green metallic paint, same engine, same transmission.  Heck, even the interior is the same color.

It turns out that this is a fairly rare car, when you factor in all the options. According to a website that tracks these sorts of things, this one is one of only two exactly like it. Most of the Buick Estate Wagons had the simulated wood side panels; mine never did. Mine also has a rare upgraded leather/cloth interior,  extra large cooling system, and factory pinstriping.

The Chevy SS Wagon, in the glory days.

Before I go further, let me explain a few things about my love affair with the Chevy wagon and these cars in general. These are big, smooth-riding cruisers with lots of style and power. The General Motors B-Body platform cars (as it’s called) are comprised of  Chevrolet, Buick, and Oldsmobile, plus a Pontiac or two.  The larger wagons needed horsepower, and they got them. After the first year or two, the company decided the Buicks and Chevys, particularly, needed an upgrade from the “regular” 305 V-8. They added the famous GM LT-1 350 Corvette engine and a huge four-speed automatic transmission, and trust me they can really get up and go! Mileage? You’d be surprised to learn that I once got 26 miles per gallon out of my Chevy on the highway going from Seattle to Spokane and back. About 15-16 around town.

And wrecked, sob.

Understand that Chevrolet never made a Super Sport  version of the station wagon; the previous owner and I both added the necessary equipment to the Chevy to “upgrade” it to the SS status. I loved that car and felt like a friend passed away when I skidded into an intersection last January and smashed it beyond repair.

So that brings us to the current project, which is to take this Buick, clean it up, and add Gran Sport ugrades, which would give me a Buick GS wagon. A “theoretical” car, you could say. It isn’t a clone, because there never was a GS Roadmaster in the 1990′s. And I’m taking it one step further by replacing the “Roadmaster” name with “Longroof.” A big, beautiful, comfortable car that will rumble down the turnpike. No, it will never serve as a family car as it was originally intended. I will keep the second and third rows of seats folded flat almost all the time, add some noisy exhausts (for better gas economy, of course), and cruise around Puget Sound in style.

The left side, missing the infamous door "fly away" trim. Note all the sticky tape around the windows.

As it arrived. Talk about ugly wheels and tires. Missing vent window. Faded paint, too.

When the Buick arrived — I had to drive roughly 15 hours round trip from Port Orchard, WA, to Cottage Grove, OR to pick it up — it was pretty rough. It had old nasty truck tires mounted on the stock Buick aluminum alloys, which had their own layer of decay, three non-working power windows, and a broken rear vent window. The leather interior was is good shape, but the carpet was a disgrace.  The task ahead would be to take the good parts from the Chevy and switch them over to the Buick. In the end, I hope, I will “create” a GS.

One of the most bothersome tasks was to remove all sorts of glue and spattered paint from the darn car. The prior owner stuck those over-the-glass plastic hoods over all the windows, and the adhesive was tenacious! It took every trick I knew — razor blades, Goof-off, lacquer thinner, and just plain muscle — to get it off. Then, some bright guy used blue paint on the rear quarter windows to let us know that the car was “FOR SALE” and there are still blue specks here and there.

Two days after it arrived here in Port Orchard I took it down the street to the D&W Automotive guys. I really trust Kelly to give me good advice and fix things correctly. Besides fixing a few things, I also wanted them to give me an overall assessment of the mechanical inner-workings. For the price I paid, I expected that the engine/trans would be worn out with a future as a boat anchor but, it turns out, it’s in pretty good shape. Nice and strong, with 150 pounds of pressure in all eight cylinders. I plan to pull the nearly mint engine out of the Chevy and install it in the Buick — they’re exactly the same LT-1 — but it’s nice to know that I don’t need to do it any time soon. I’ll probably sell it, and the new owner has the rare opportunity to actually test drive the drivetrain he’s purchasing.

D&W fixed the brakes, gave it a tune up, changed the oil, and gave me a shopping list of needed parts. Other than the fact that the heater/defroster doesn’t put out much heat and the parking brake cables are toast, everything works. After that, it was on to the cosmetics.

First tank of gas: Pretty crusty-looking, with some oil leaks and all sorts of missing trim pieces. Exhaust pipe rattled like heck.

First thing to do is get the windows fixed, and while I’m at it, I will have them tinted. And the SS rims from the Chevy will look really cool on it, so those will need to be swapped. Problem is, they have a “leaping deer” (impala) insignia on them so that’s gotta go.

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UPDATE: Windows Repaired; Badging installed; repainted grille (March 13, 2011)

Windows all fixed and tinted. I also blacked out all of the door posts, which has the effect of “connecting” the nearly black windows. It makes the car look much better.

Still raining here, but I managed to make some other progress. I installed the custom “LONGROOF GS” and “GRAN SPORT” badging, which makes me chuckle. Stock “Gran Sport” emblems have been placed on the front grille and tailgate in places you’d expect Buick to put them if they made such a car.  Just hours after I put the lettering on the rear quarter panels, I was at the grocery store, loading my goods into the back, and a couple passed by. The man stopped in his tracks, examined the car, and asked out loud, “When did General Motors begin making that car? A wagon with a surfing theme? Pretty cool, Honey, I wonder if we could afford one….”

I had the "LONGROOF GS" lettering custom made and applied them to both rear quarter panels where "Roadmaster" once was mounted. Makes me chuckle when I see it. Just havin fun!

A bit of a stretch, really, but my car still has a 20-foot paint job, but it’s looking better, and the subtle things are noteworthy.

The other minor chores I completed are installing the missing fly away trim (left passenger door) that seems to frequently get fatigued and come off the Roadmasters, and repainting the tired grille to give it more of a Gran Sport look. Just ahead are polishing the SS wheels and switching them over, along with a new set of rear shocks.

Rear tailgate with "Buick Gran Sport" badge just inboard of the tail light. Click to enlarge.

Painted Grille with GS badge. Also note full color Regal Ornament, replacing chrome only stock one.

Other hood ornamentation plans are in the works. For everyday use, I’ll stick with the spring-mounted shield, although I prefer the full color one over the regular chrome-only one. Switched that already. But for special occasions, I’m converting a 1955 Rambler “naked lady” ornament so that it will “snap into place” on the Longroof.  The problem is, of course, vandals are prone to bending and breaking hood decorations, so I won’t leave it in plain sight all the time, bring it out for cruises and special dates.

There’s a lot of work ahead on this, however; gotta prep it and take it to a chrome shop, and also create a clear lucite disk that she’ll lean on. Look at the photograph attached and you’ll get a better idea.

She needs a name! What should I call her? Beatrice? Betty? Interested in hearing suggestions! Drop me a note through the comments section.

With the SS rims mounted, and the paint rubbed out, the car actually looks respectable. I'm not embarassed to be seen driving it anymore.

This is what a mint condition, complete 55 Rambler hood ornament looks like. Mine is pitted and missing the wing shes leaning on. Not sure Im going to go through with this because its pretty garish. But its a fun thought.

Detail. Click to enlarge. I have the girl part, but not the wing she leans on.

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Update: Wheels and GPS Installed (March 17th, 2011)–

It stopped raining long enough today that I was able to switch the SS rims over from the Chevy onto the Buick, and wow! this machine is starting to look like a car! It was quite a chore, though, moving back and forth, jacking one car up, removing a wheel, cleaning and polishing all the bright spots, then mounting them, followed by the re-installation of the old wheel back on the Chevy. These wheels are not as tall, so the change has the effect of lowering the car one or two inches.

I installed the custom Buick triple shield medallions on the center caps, too. Having those leaping deers on my Buick would have bugged me to no end.

I’m not happy with the finish on these rims, but they’ll do for now. Later, I’ll buy an aluminum alloy polishing system, and really brighten them up.

I applied a custom-made Buick decal over the original Impala "leaping deer" to match the Buick GS motif. Need to polish those old rims, though.

Nearly dark when I finished. The wheel swap makes a world of difference, and the lowered body makes it ride smoother.

Earlier in the week, I took a few minutes to fix the missing dash cigarette lighter so that I could also install the mount for the GPS on the transmission hump. I never liked the suction cup system that put the unit on the inside of the windshield. This way, there’s less clutter and exposed wiring. The suction cup didn’t work very well, anyway.

Put the GPS right on the transmission hump. Theres an inverter under the dash, too, for 110 volts.

Up next: rip the heater fan out of the Chevy SS and replace the dead one in the Longroof. Gotta pull other parts, too (SS radio, brake cables, seats, chrome trim, etc) before a buyer shows up next week to haul away the old car. Other B-Body Lovers want parts from it, too.  Lots to do.

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Update: Ornament complete, sort of.  (April 4th, 2011)–

I got the “special occasion” hood ornament finished, inserting the nude Rambler woman into a disk made of Lucite plastic. Looks really good, but I have to say that it’s simply too much when placed on the hood of the car.  Don’t expect to see me showing it off; it’s more likely that it will hang in my house somewhere, and it will fit in to all the other knick-naks I have. It needs re-chroming, and I’ll get to that sooner or later.

Several major parts have been sold from the wrecked Chevy, including an entire rear quarter panel, rear window, and rear bumper. The engine swap is scheduled for next week. Still tinkering with various underdash systems that aren’t quite right yet.

The modified Rambler naked lady, floating in a clear disk. Nice effect, but simply too big!

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UPDATE: New Corvette Engine and Flowmaster Exhaust Installed (April 18, 2011)

D&W Automotive pulled both engines out of  the wrecked Chevy and the “new” Buick, installing the low-mileage LT1 in the Longroof. Having that donor car really makes all the difference in the world, because when we needed a replacement bracket or piece of wiring, it was right there. It took a week — longer than I planned — but it went off without a hitch. We also installed a Flowmaster exhaust, giving the maching a bit of Corvette-style rumble. I know the neighbors will love hearing it when I head out to Lighthouse Expresso for my 5 am coffee run. Ha! I also pulled the valve covers and painted them, with mixed results.

Those D&W guys are great, and the mechanic, Brandon, took the time clean everything up and do things right. I get the impression, though, that one or two of the guys down there think I’m slightly nuts for being passionate for this car. Longroof and I will win them over, eventually.

Next up are a set of Bilstein shocks and new front brake rotors. From what I read at the Impala SS Forum, the Bilsteins will keep the smooth ride but also dramatically improve the handling, just in case I get involved in a high speed police chase. I also purchased an engine dress kit and will add photos of that and the painted valve covers within a week.

Good progress. I’m pleased, even though I have a long way to go.

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UPDATE: Cold Air Intake and Shocks Upgraded (April 27, 2011)

I feel like I’m on the home stretch. While the Longroof is hardly a show car, it IS a tight-running cruiser and turning some heads. A real sleeper; it can get up and go when somebody doesn’t care that gas is $4.25 a gallon, but still has a raspy growl when cruising through the A&W Burgers cruise night line. This week, I upgraded the suspension, tightened the front end,  improved the air intake system, and cleaned up some small things that were bugging me.

The Bilstein shocks are a marvel. The car simply locks onto the Hankook tires through the corners, and it’s hard to believe this is a 4500-pound car. Now, I’m not about to enter any road course events, but it’s so nice to have a big car with lots of horsepower and no plowing or rolling in the curves.

Let’s recap where we’ve been and where we are now.

When I purchased this $900 Grannywagon with 194,000 miles, here’s what we had:

  • Brakes were absolutely horrible, front end wobbled, and rear brakes didn’t work at all. The car barely stopped. Parking brake was literally falling out of the bottom of the car.
  • Exhaust leaks made noises and exhaust smell inside. Lots of rattling baffles.
  • The stock Roadmaster engine was strong, but had a few oil leaks and squeaks.
  • Three of the four windows were inoperative and one vent window was missing.
  • Exterior looked like it has spent the winter under a bird’s nest. Weird plastic trim stuck on the windows.
  • Missing and broken roof rack system.
  • Ugly truck tires and worn out aluminum alloy rims.
  • Intact leather seats but stuffing very worn out from 15 years of hard driving.
  • Almost every bolt underneath was rusted solid, from years of Michigan roadways.

What’s been done:

  • Engine swap — fresh LT1 engine/trans pulled out of wrecked Chevy and installed in the Longroof GS; sold Buick engine/trans for $900.
  • Flowmaster exhaust — less restrictive system that gives car Corvette-style rumble.
  • Repaired windows — put new rollers in three windows and tinted everything; took rear vent window out of Chevy and installed it.
  • Upgraded wheels/tires — installed SS rims with Hankook tires all around.
  • Rebuilt brakes — completely rebuilt rear brakes, repaired parking brake lines and spring, turned front rotors.
  • Shocks — upgraded to Bilstein HD’s all the way around.
  • Grille and GS Trim — painted Buick grille and installed Longroof/Gran Sport badges all around.
  • Repaired front seats and carpet — had padding replaced in the tired front seats; installed new molded carpet. Cleaned everything else.
  • GPS — mounted Tom-Tom GPS on transmission hump.
  • 110-volt system — mounted two-plug inverter under dash for PC and other 110-volt equipment.
  • Fixed HVAC — replaced heater/defrost fan with one from Chevy.
  • Cold air intake — improved horsepower with modification to air intake and removing noise baffles.
  • Fuel rail covers — new Corvette style fuel rail covers.
  • Cleaned up paint — rubbed out the paint job with McGwires medium cut and waxed everything.
  • Repaired roof rack — manufactured new rack hold downs.

Parts sold from both cars:

  • Buick engine, trans, computer — $900
  • Chevy doors — $350
  • Chevy power antenna — $50
  • Chevy third seat — $75
  • Chevy tail gate — $100 (pending)
  • Seat Belts — $75
  • Rear quarter panel, bumper, tail light — $400
  • Rear quarter glass (both sides) — $200
  • Lots of other parts still offered for sale

Still ahead:

  • Detail engine compartment and re-route the wiring harnesses.
  • Paint and detail valve covers.
  • Install chrome bolt dress kit.
  • Purchase and install a forced air or ram air system.
  • Re-apply missing side molding.
  • Upgrade headlights and parking lights to HID and LED.
  • Polish the SS rims.
  • Modify Chevrolet roof rack cross pieces to fit Buick.
  • Replace chipped roof cowl behind vista window.
  • Replace black bottom trim with stainless trim from Chevy.
  • Manufacture and install real wood trim on dashboard and doors.
  • Either install iPod plug-in or CD stack for better sound capability.
  • Raise rear end one inch, either by installing a spring spacer or new rear springs.
  • Sniff out a rattle or two.
  • Weld in replacement spare tire floor where it is rusted through.
  • Adjust bumper stops so wider tires can’t rub on extreme turns.

Posterized Rendering of the Longroof GS, May 2011

It is our intention to document our passion for nice old cars here. The current project will be a good start, but we will happily include the work of others, too.

We  live in Colby, Washington — directly West of Blake Island and the Fauntleroy ferry terminal — so the weather isn’t always condusive to car clubs. But when the weather turns nice, it’s really nice! In the Spring several friends hope to host a car cruise dedicated to 91-96 General Motors cars and wagons in particular. Check back for details.

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