Home » Let’s Compare Two Generations Of The Same Car: 1990 Buick Estate vs 1993 Buick Roadmaster Estate

Let’s Compare Two Generations Of The Same Car: 1990 Buick Estate vs 1993 Buick Roadmaster Estate

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Today on Shitbox Showdown, we’ve got two of the same car, in the same color, for the same price, within a few miles of each other. The difference is that they’re one generation apart, and that makes all the difference in the world. We’ll get to them in a minute; first let’s see how our rarities did yesterday:

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Well, it’s a little earlier than I usually call these, but I don’t think this tally is likely to change much. I personally don’t get the love for those AMC Eagle wagons [Editor’s Note: What’s there not to get?! I’m worried about you, Mark. -DT], but I know they do have their fans. (Now the SX/4 hatchback, that I understand.) Between the Eagle and that Mitsubishi van, I think I’d take the latter. But then, I’ve been looking curiously at small vans for a while now.

Shifting gears: Automotive styling went through a massive shift in the late 1980s and early 1990s, from boxy and angular to soft and rounded. Often, the new rounder cars were replacing a decade-old design, instantly making even a year-old car look ancient. I’m sure this did wonders for the resale value of those final-year-for-the-boxy-one cars. But now thirty years later, we find two comparable cars on either side of that generational gap, in roughly the same condition, for the same price. Which one is the better deal? Let’s take a look at them and then you can decide.

1990 Buick Estate Wagon – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 307 cubic inch OHV V8, 4 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Glendale, CA

Odometer reading: 83,000 miles

Runs/drives? “No issues” the seller says

GM’s full-size rear-wheel-drive B platform was all but retired after 1985, when most of the lineup went front-wheel-drive. Only the Chevy Caprice, the Cadillac Fleetwood, and the station wagons soldiered on as traditional RWD body-on-frame cars. By 1990, when this Buick was built, this body style had been in production for thirteen years, and it looked wildly out-of-place among newer designs.

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By this time, Buick’s own 350 cubic inch V8 had been ditched, so this Estate is powered by an Oldsmobile engine, specifically a 307 equipped with a Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor. It’s a smooth, low-revving torque monster, perfect for a big people-mover like this. It spins a TH200-4R four-speed overdrive automatic — not the biggest gun in GM’s transmission arsenal, but it gets the job done. The Estate is an eight-passenger wagon, with a rear-facing “way back” jump-seat and a tailgate that can either open downward pickup truck-style, or swing to the side like a normal door.

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The seller says this old wagon runs well and recently passed a smog inspection, but doesn’t give much more information. They say it has a dent in the right front fender, but no photo is included. What the photos do show is sun damage to the fake woodgrain paneling; the California sun hasn’t done it any favors over the years. We only get one interior shot too, and it’s of the back seat; if the seams are split there, I imagine the front bench is in similar shape if not worse.

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Scruffy condition aside, I kinda like this big oaf. It looks comfy and friendly, and reminds me of any of a number of cars I rode in as a kid. It may have been a dinosaur when it was new, and a fossil now, but it does have its charms.

1993 Buick Roadmaster Estate – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 350 cubic inch OHV V8, 4 speed automatic, RWD

Location: North Hollywood, CA

Odometer reading: 161,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Also says “no issues”

One year later, a new B-body was introduced, bringing a sedan back to the Buick lineup under the Roadmaster model name. The new Estate wagon inherited this title as well, becoming the Roadmaster Estate. This car looks substantially bigger than the earlier square car, but it’s actually a couple inches shorter, though a bit wider.

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Mechanically, the new car was largely an evolution of the old, but the Oldsmobile V8 was retired in favor of the ubiquitous Chevy small block, here in classic 350 cubic inch displacement. Sadly, this particular Roadmaster is one year too old to have the engine everyone wants – the 260 horsepower LT1; instead, it makes do with 180 horsepower from a “regular” 350.

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This old wagon is nearly as scuffy as the square one, but in my opinion it doesn’t wear its age as well. Something about the newer shape makes it look older than the more seasoned one, even with similar wear and tear. But refinements like fuel injection, an electronically-controlled 4L60-E transmission, and aerodynamic improvements do make it a quieter, more efficient ride on the highway. The seller says it runs fine, but again, no other information is given. A careful going-over is in order, I think, before purchase.

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I wondered in the past how well the fake woodgrain on these wagons would age, and I guess I have my answer: not well at all. The polycarbonate headlight lenses don’t look so great either; some polishing is necessary. Still, the Roadmaster Estate has a presence that’s hard to ignore. [Editor’s Note: I’ve always thought that squared-off cars tend to wear fake wood trim better than round cars, but in this case, I think the newer Roadmaster looks just as good with the vinyl. What do you think? -DT]. 

So there you have it – two old Buick wagons, almost the same, but worlds apart. It’s amazing how much difference a generation can make. Whether it’s an improvement or just a change is up to you.

 

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Steve Balistreri
Steve Balistreri
11 months ago

My family used to have the Oldsmobile version of the B-body wagon when I was a kid. I remember being amazed by the thickness of the doors compared to my friend’s familys Toyota. Many memories of roadtrips in the “way back” seats.
Somehow it ended up in the hands of one of my friends over a decade later and I got to finally drive it. It was a boat as expected but an excellent cruiser.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
11 months ago

“Sadly, this particular Roadmaster is one year too old to have the engine everyone wants – the 260 horsepower LT1; instead, it makes do with 180 horsepower from a “regular” 350.”

Nothing a 400HP LS6 can’t fix. Throw in a modern(ish) transmission too FTW.

unclesam
unclesam
11 months ago

I remember thinking the bathtub shape was a welcome change when I was a kid, although it had a weird retrofuturism vibe that anticipated the PT cruiser in a way I’ve never quite loved. The boxy style looked positively ancient then and was ugly when it was new, but it seems more honest in this particular match up, so that’s how I voted

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
11 months ago

Dad bought a Roadmaster – I think it was a ’96.
I drove it from Florida to Wisconsin for him
Nice ride, terrible seats. Really…could not get comfortable.

Brummbaer
Brummbaer
11 months ago

You’ve got to be shittin’ me to tell this is a choice! The ’93 is so far ahead the answer is obvious, despite you’re obvious bias in the write-up.

Chris Trapp
Chris Trapp
11 months ago

Somebody needs to Donk a Buick Roadmaster wagon, this could be the one!

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
11 months ago

The bubble wins over the box for me. Looks to be in far better shape.

Slack00
Slack00
11 months ago

SHAMU!!

Seriously, you’re going to pit a boxy period-correct alternative in the ring with “Shamu”?? Shamu wins every time, my friend.

Bartosz Soltys
Bartosz Soltys
11 months ago

I’ll take the 93 as it’s similar to my 92 Caprice wagon. Might be a TBI but doesn’t lack power for it’s intended purpose. While the 90 may be a classic shape right now, the 91-96 (in my opinion) will surely become a classic.

2500 is a great price for my area for both of these honestly.

Mike S
Mike S
11 months ago

They both have their charms, but I think I’d prefer the ‘93 with its EFI 350. It should adequately haul ass. Both interiors look like they need a thorough scrubbing and some de-stenchification. But I imagine aftermarket support would be greater for the ‘93 since there’s many parts available for ‘90s Caprices (Capricii?) and Impalas. Either would be fun tho, you can’t go wrong here 🙂

Redfoxiii
Redfoxiii
11 months ago

This one hinges on how much else you want to do with it.

The 90, some restoration, and a summit racing catalog would probably be a lot of fun.

I’d go with the 93 if I didn’t want to spend a bunch more making things fun.

StillPlaysWithCars
StillPlaysWithCars
11 months ago

Owner of a ‘92 Estate Wagon here and I can tell you that while the LT1 gets all the praise and glory the one you actually want to own is the 350 TBI. Is it fast? Hell no, it’s actually impressive how little power it makes for 350 cubic inches of displacement. However, that engine will run, and run, and run, and run, and run. You literally cannot kill them. They were also used in damn near every GM truck so parts availability is a non-issue and you could probably build one from scratch from parts sold through AutoZone/Advance/Napa. I’ll take the ‘93 please!

Bartosz Soltys
Bartosz Soltys
11 months ago

Same except mine is a Caprice wagon. Definitely unique and a great family/friends hauler. Specifically looked for the 350 TBI version of the wagon for the simplicity. I’ll leave the LT1 for a Camaro/firebird/corvette.

JDE
JDE
11 months ago
Reply to  Bartosz Soltys

I would leave all LT1’s tot e curb, Optispark water whoas, reverse cooling water pump nightmares and scarcity of parts make them a headache overall.

StillPlaysWithCars
StillPlaysWithCars
11 months ago
Reply to  Bartosz Soltys

Interestingly mine wears a Caprice front clip lol! It was in an accident prior to my ownership and they pieced it together with junkyard parts. Just need some Olds Custom Cruiser parts and I’ll have a litter bit of every B-body.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
11 months ago

Despite the lower miles, the 1990 looks more beat up for some reason. Also, late carbs are bad when compared to decent fuel injection. Mileage means less on a car this simple.

Add in the fact that the 93 has a Chevy 350, which is easy to find, replace and upgrade, and you have a winner. It probably wouldn’t take much to make it quite entertaining.

Eva
Eva
11 months ago

If I wanted the rounded aero look I would just buy a modern car so my vote goes to the 90.

I also had a piano teacher that drove one of those 93s with the fake wood paneling so in my mind that car will always be associated with little old church ladies.

LarsVargas
LarsVargas
11 months ago
Reply to  Eva

I’ve never liked the rounded look of the Roadmaster (Caprice, etc.) that GM put out. The square ones have always been more attractive, and have aged a LOT better as well.

Then again, I drive a Ford Flex, so I might be biased toward boxes. 🙂

Frankencamry
Frankencamry
11 months ago

Had a ’90 Caprice wagon, and in its own truckish way, the 307 is a hoot to drive. Especially in snow.

Plus, there’s bragging rights in owning the last carbureted passenger car sold in the US.

I never cared for the upside down bathtub look, and it hasn’t improved with age.

MegaVan
MegaVan
11 months ago
Reply to  Frankencamry

I guess if we’re just counting sedans and wagons maybe? I believe there were still holdouts from Jeep and Isuzu after that…

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
11 months ago

The 1993 Roadmaster is the winner for me. High miles don’t scare me on one of these sturdy and simple vehicles. The old school 350 is perfectly adequate for something that was built to haul stuff instead of hauling ass.

Bryanintowson
Bryanintowson
11 months ago

The 1990 is something that was pretty common in my childhood but I remember it looking old fashioned even when it was new compared to the equivalent Taurus of the era. If you compare it to the final revision of the Country Squire, it still looked kinda frumpy and old. I remember when the Roadmaster/ Caprice redesign launched and they seemed to have finally caught up with the times and maybe even jumped ahead a few years.

paintedwalls
paintedwalls
11 months ago

I had an 80s Buick just like this one. Still the most comfortable car I’ve been in. For cruising it was incredible. The 307 with Quadrabog carburetor is awful though. Never ran right. Probably not the better buy in this case, but for the nostalgia I choose the 90.

Mr.Asa
Mr.Asa
11 months ago

Damnit, I can’t remember that term Torch coined for the bubble-ification of cars that happened in the 90s. Aero and evolution?Aerolize? I can’t remember.

Anyways, the ’93 looks… bad in the condition its in. The ’90 wears its age much much better.

Either one would get an LS motor and a T56, though.

Mr.Asa
Mr.Asa
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

AEROSION! There we go.
There definitely needs to be an Autopian glossary. Hopefully in 3-5 years we can be speaking our own little language.

Maybe that’s how Jasonia starts… I’m not ready for big money.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
11 months ago

The 93 seems to have less issues per the photos, for the price I would take it. I do like the 1990 though.

Geoff Dankert
Geoff Dankert
11 months ago

When I opened the article, I had every intention of voting for the box … but the prospect of modern-ish engine management, plus that nifty Vista Cruiser-like sunroof over the second row, put me in the ’93. Now, if I could have it with the wheels from the older one …

StillPlaysWithCars
StillPlaysWithCars
11 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Dankert

Good news is that GM has used the same bolt pattern for like ever so I’m willing to bet the ‘90 wheels will swap.

Frankencamry
Frankencamry
11 months ago

Can confirm. I swapped ’91-’96 Caprice snowflakes onto my ’90 to replace the steelies.

One of very few times I’ve strayed from steelies being the better option, but those alloy snowflakes were a great looking OEM wheel.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
11 months ago

I had a ’94, and that car is one vehicle I never should have sold. Yeah, the ’93 doesn’t have as much power because it doesn’t have the LT-1, but at least it doesn’t have the dreaded optispark distributer either. If the AC works, that ’93 is an outrageous deal. Even if it doesn’t, that’s in great condition for the price.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
11 months ago

Ugh. I’m not in love with either of these. Stylistically they’re more or less equal to me. The interiors are both in pretty lousy shape. The engine on the newer one is a bit better but it has 80,000 more miles, which is a sizable chunk. I guess I’ll go with the square one, solely because of the mileage and the fact that if you throw a few grand into it I’ll bet you could have yourself a fun discussion piece for cars and coffee.

J G
J G
11 months ago

Neither are worth $2500, but if forced I would take 93 due to it having EFI; appears to be in slightly better condition even though it has more miles.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
11 months ago
Reply to  J G

That ’93 with no rust would easily go for $4k, and maybe $5k in my corner of the rust belt.

Dave Horchak
Dave Horchak
11 months ago
Reply to  Shop-Teacher

What’s with the green steering wheel?

Captain Video
Captain Video
11 months ago
Reply to  Dave Horchak

Probably UV damage.

StillPlaysWithCars
StillPlaysWithCars
11 months ago
Reply to  J G

Blaspheme. $2,500 for a car that will outlive the strongest cockroach on the planet is a steal of a deal in this market.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
11 months ago

Even without the LT1, I’d take the 93

Also, I think it’s nuts that the Delica didn’t win yesterday!

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
11 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

Some of us aren’t into having our knees be the crumple zones.

Redfoxiii
Redfoxiii
11 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

The automatic transmission killed it for me.

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