Home » Cool California Cruisers: 1952 Buick Roadmaster vs 1956 Nash Ambassador

Cool California Cruisers: 1952 Buick Roadmaster vs 1956 Nash Ambassador

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Happy Friday, Autopians! It’s the middle of winter, and I’m getting a little down, so today we’re daydreaming about a couple of fun summer cruisers. But first, let’s finish up with yesterday’s sleepy-mobiles:

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As I suspected, that low number on the odometer was hard to pass up. And I suppose an Avalon is the perfect way to get around Seattle anyway, because you have to so often take a Ferry.

Now then: I know cars from the 1950s aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I like ’em. I think the trouble is that you always see the same ones: ’55-57 Chevys, ’59 Cadillacs, maybe the occasional two-seater Thunderbird. Those are cool and all, but they’re expensive collector’s items now, and cliches to boot. But there are lots of other cars from that era that can be had for a lot less money, and make better conversation-starters just because you don’t see them all the time. I’ve found a pair of them in the San Diego area that look like fun weekend toys. Let’s take a look.

1952 Buick Roadmaster – $8,499

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Engine/drivetrain: 320 cubic inch overhead valve inline 8, two-speed automatic, RWD

Location: San Diego, CA

Odometer reading: 42,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep!

Has there ever been a better automobile name than “Roadmaster?” I can’t think of one. It sounds like exactly what it is: a large, comfortable cruiser, built to gobble up miles in style and speed. Even though the name was revived in the ’90s, it’s these ’50s models that I, and most people, think of when you mention the name “Roadmaster.” The portholes on the fenders, the flowing Harley Earl lines, and that big toothy grille all add up to an iconic ride.

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This Roadmaster is a four-door sedan, probably the most common body style, but the least collectible; convertibles, coupes, and Estate woody wagons are all more desirable. But this is still a way cool old car, and likely a lot more affordable than the others. Plus, it’s green, which is still arguably one of the best colors for cars. Name me a car that doesn’t look better in a good shade of green. Go on; I’ll wait.

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Like all ’52 Roadmasters, this one is powered by a 320 cubic inch straight-eight, coupled to a two-speed “Dynaflow” automatic transmission. This long, smooth engine is good for 170 horsepower and several zillion pound-feet of torque. The seller says this one has been overhauled and runs like a top. It has had lots of other recent mechanical work, and is ready to roll.

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Inside, it’s in decent shape. The seller says the headliner needs to be replaced, but it’s unclear why. The upholstery sure looks nice. Everything works except the clock, according to the seller. But when you’re out for a summer cruise, who cares what time it is?

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The outside is a bit faded and chalky, and it has a few dings,  but all the trim is intact and in good shape. The Coker reproduction whitewalls are a nice touch. I think you could proudly drive this car around on weekends as-is, and have a grand time doing it.

1956 Nash Ambassador Super – $7,499

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Engine/drivetrain: 252 cubic inch overhead-valve inline 6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: El Cajon, CA

Odometer reading: 109,000 miles

Runs/drives? Not quite

What’s that? A Buick is too common for you? Allow me to introduce you to the Wisconsin-built, Pininfarina-styled Nash Ambassador. The Ambassador nameplate may have ended its life on the trunk lids of stretched AMC Matadors, but it started as Nash’s top-of-the-line model way back in the 1920s, and they were such nicely appointed cars they earned the nickname “Kenosha Duesenbergs.”

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The 1952-57 Ambassador had some strangely flamboyant bits of styling, and it didn’t surprise me one bit when I learned it was an Italian design. For years, Nash cars had their front wheels deeply inset and mostly covered by the fenders; this coupled with a narrow grille gave the impression of a large body stuffed onto a much-too-small frame. By 1956, the front tires had started to emerge from their steel prisons and become visible, but the grille and headlight placement only got stranger.

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Ambassadors were available with either Packard or AMC V8 engines, but this one is a six, backed by a GM-built Hydramatic transmission. The seller says this engine was rebuilt seven years ago, but the car has been in storage since then and they have not tried to start it since pulling it out. It probably would run just fine, as long as you wake it up carefully, but as of right now it must be considered non-running.

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Cosmetically, it’s in great shape inside and out, with a little rust and pitting on the front bumper, but no other obvious blemishes. Black and white isn’t as much fun as most ’50s color schemes, but it suits this car well, and it shines nicely.

Plus, it has a Continental kit!

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Yes, that’s actually the spare tire under that cover, not some fake vestigial bump like a ’70s Lincoln. In addition to adding a cool period flair to the car, it frees up trunk room. Speaking of which, have you ever wondered how you open the trunk lid of a car equipped with one of these? Like this:

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I can’t imagine, if the engine really was rebuilt a few years ago, that this car would be difficult to get back on the road. It’s a rare, cool, weird bit of Americana, and would make a delightful classic to enjoy on weekends. And the seller used the word “splendid” in their ad, which is a word you just don’t hear often enough these days.

So that’s what I’ve got for you today: two 1950s sedans that you don’t see everywhere. Or anywhere, really. Which one appeals to you?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)


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67 Responses

  1. I choose weird.

    Besides, I prefer parking lot conversations that start with, “What the hell is that?” rather someone’s long boring reminiscences of the car Dad or Grandpa had.

  2. So much delightful weirdness going for that Nash. But, the first thing I want to do when I acquire a new (to me) car is drive it. The idea of flying out to California and bombing back home down the backroads to the Midwest in that Roadmaster is just too awesome of an idea to pass up.

  3. I. Want. That. Roadmaster! My “first” car was a 40s Roadmaster, I use the quotes because it was a rusty basket case that never ran, but I sure tried to get it going. It was an odd choice for the 90s but it’s what I cut my teeth on learning to wrench and have good memories from it, even if it didn’t pan out. If I hadn’t just sunk a boatload into our house I would very seriously consider going out to get it, I have family nearby so the logistics would work for me even though I’m 1500 miles away. Hmmmm, maybe I should go back and make a post in the terrible ideas Thursday thread.

  4. The Buick is very worthy, it’s a Roadmaster with a straight eight, good interior, and the patina is great.

    I’d go for the Nash. I give it a slight edge despite it having sat for seven years, which is unconscionable. You don’t see very many of them, the paint and interior are excellent, and if it were red or blue and white instead of black it would be much more attractive to me.

    Anyway… you must be more than “a little down” to call either one of these a Shitbox, I hope you feel better soon.

  5. Nash, I had a friend who dailied a 53 Ambassador and my grandfather drove Nash or AMC most of his life.
    Also you get Weather Eye ventilation and IIRC fold flat seats

  6. I want both.

    It’d be tempting to pull the Continental kit, because a) the car is already long enough and b) I don’t much like it. But I’d suffer if I had to.

    The Buick is also a serious Land Barge, but so what? Neither one is exactly practical where I live, but them’s the breaks. I like ’em.

  7. Buick. I’d maybe buy this now were it closer. Nash is way too ugly, doesn’t run, I don’t like the interior layout, and I hate continental kits.

  8. I like them both, and even think the prices aren’t bad (that is a pretty rare case of shitbox stars aligning in the heavens right) but I have to go Buick, straight 8 and just the right amount of patina, make it reliable and enjoy as is.

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