Jump to content

1952 Roadmaster Estate Wagon project.


Recommended Posts

This is my latest venture, a 1952 Roadmaster Estate Wagon. Only 359 of these babies were produced in the Roadmaster (79) Series, so there are probably not many left today.

I have got a head start on the frame, having cleaned it up and painted it, including all the running gear.

The main body is the biggest challenge, so far.

The floors were pretty rusted, so all the jagged edges were cut away. I have a 4 door sedan with good floors, so they will be used to fill in the gaps. The wagon A-pillars have a gusset above and below the floor, and usually the top ones are gone, so I had some made.

(I have a few pairs, if anyone out there needs some.)

First, I will use my Harbor Freight sandblaster to clean off the roof, then I will take it to get professionally sandblasted and primered. Then on to the task of removing the floor from the sedan.

I parted out a 52 Roadmaster 2 door hardtop a few years ago, and it had a great front clip & hood (light blue), so I will use these on the wagon.

I recently was very fortunate to pick up some really nice original wood, which I will supplement with some new that I will make.

I have a long way to go, but will try to keep this thread updated, Mike










Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Rob McDonald

MIKEWW, thanks for sharing this ambitious start on a complicated project. I notice how you dismissed the frame restoration as just part of the startup. Many of us never get even that far.

I've been crazy about woodie wagons forever, although I'll probably never own one. The National Woodie Club - National Woodie Club - is a terrific place for us armchair restorers to get our fill of this unique sort of car. I let my membership lapse years ago but it's satisfying to know the club is still going strong, should I ever feel the need to re-up.

Wood Is Good!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey Rob, I have been through this before...

(and will again, as long as I possibly can!!)

...With a 1951 Buick Super Woodie (pics added), so I fully know what I am in for!!

But, hey man...get out of your armchair, they are not really as hard as you may think, and with a little effort, you too could do one, and the feeling when you see your efforts...cannot be conveyed with words!!

Not even remotely!! Not even pictures!!!

I would be extremely happy and grateful to pass on anything I have learned, and talk you through the tougher parts, by phone or emails with pics...no problem!!

The last 3 pics posted shows how the '51 looked upon arrival, well mostly!!

It took 3 trips with my truck & trailer, you are seeing only one trip's load!!

Now it is nearing completion, and sometimes that drags out, held up by a simple item!!

But, it will show up, and on we go!!

Meanwhile, there are still bargains to be had out there for derelict Woodies...ie: poor souls that have been left to the elements, which are particularly tough on Woodies, in any climate!!

As time goes on, they only deteriorate worse, so save one, or two!!

After all, Detroit, or Japan, China, whoever will never build anything even remotely like it again, so it is a lost treasure!!

Unless we save them.

Thanks for the kind words, Mike











Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest shadetree77

Wow Mike, that 51 looks good. Can't believe that is the same car shown in the last few pics. Gives me hope for my car when I start the real restoration process in a few years. Gonna drive her around rusty for awhile first though. Hope you had a more productive day than I did. I pulled an old injury in my back crawling around under mine yesterday. I was draining the trans. fluid contaminated oil out of the differential and twisted around the wrong way. As a result, I took today off....not by choice though. I'll swallow a handful of tylenol and be back out there putting my new steering wheel on tomorrow! Keep us updated on those wagons.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I got the '51, it was TOTALLY disassembled...there was just the main body section sitting on the bare-bones frame. We had to roll it on several 6" dia logs to winch it onto my trailer, which the seller donated for unloading. In those pictures, it is sitting on some dollies and the front clip and hood are barely tacked on, mainly for storage space. As are the rear fenders.

The front suspension and rear end had been left outside for quite a while, and were pretty well rusted.

I was very lucky to find an excellent rolling 2 door sedan chassis and engine for sale cheap. The seller had removed the body from a good running car to put on a modern chassis.

I was planning to exchange the running gear over to the woodie frame, but when I set the frames side by side, I discovered they were the same!!

That really motivated me, and moved the project well on it's way.

(I later noticed the woodie frame was reinforced with strips welded to the bottom of the x-frame as is the convertible frame, so I still have to do that, not a hard job.)

I'll try to post more pictures soon, Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

OK, you guys, Woodie pictures it is!!

The first one is a 1949 Super, came here with some wood already made and installed. I was just to finish it. Well, it doesn't always go that well!!

It turns out that the new wood was not made very accurately, so the rear fenders do not fit, and upon fitting new wood to the doors, they don't match the rear quarter wood!!

Oh, well we will work it out!!

When it came here, it was painted only on the main body section. The hood, doors and fenders were just stripped and primed. I cannot fit the door wood if the doors are not properly fitted. So off it went to get the doors and fenders painted, fitted and aligned...except the rear fenders wouldn't fit!! That is when we discovered the problem!!

On top of that, it had sat in storage for a few years, with bare wood, which darkens with age, and there were some watermarks, due to leaks, perhaps. So the new wood is whiter, and it will take some doing to make all match!!

More on this one later, and on to some others!!






Link to comment
Share on other sites

And another one...

This is another 51 Super, came here for a full set of new wood.

I made the wood, but couldn't properly fit it, since the car was not fitting well. doors were way off, etc.

So right now it has all the wood removed, and is out for paint, and alignment.

I am looking forward to fitting the wood when it returns.









Link to comment
Share on other sites

And another...

This one came here for all new wood, and it has 1-2 coats of varnish in these pics.

I don't enjoy varnishing (it is truly a hassle!!), but do truly love to see the woodgrain start to blossom!!

On this one, I carefully selected pieces that had an awesome grain, and one piece flows to the next, as much as possible.

Not an easy task, since it is truly up to the piece of wood being shaped!!

But, Mother nature smiled on me in this case, because I was thrilled!!

When I restored my 51, I used 75% old wood, which is darker, naturally, so the new wood had to be darkened to match.

( I do not like to bleach old wood, it never comes out even, so I deal with it in its natural state.)

But with all new wood, that is not necessary, hence the lightness, and accompanying grain structure showing.

On my 51, with darker wood, the grain is there, but is not too photogenic.

Cheers, Mike










Link to comment
Share on other sites


Let's say a person with an unsound mind like mine decided to get that woody I used to own out of the woods. I kind of read into the description that the '52 in your shop might be a customer car. Are you in the business of selling the wood to rebuild these cars.

I am thinking if I had the two rear roof supports I could "make the car somewhat whole" and evaluate the best path to take with it. A little dreaming here, but I am intrigued.


Link to comment
Share on other sites


I went back to your thread and looked over the pictures of the 50 wagon.

The second picture, which I have added here, shows a definite angle projected by the rear fender. I would suspect that the floor is rotted beyond repair, wholly based on this picture.

I have an extremely rusty 53, and the rear fenders are this way. It would be a difficult task to rework the floor and inner rear fender areas, since with the wood gone, there is not much to guide you to get it right.

I would also suspect the door bottoms are pretty bad also, but perhaps you are good at repairing rust.

Here in CA, wagons that sit out for 30 years get pretty rusty, but still have enough integrity to restore. I wouldn't think that would be the case in NY.

But, perhaps another visit, with a chain saw is in order, to really assess it. You should go before it has to endure another winter!!

I would be happy to help you in any way I can.

As far as wood kits, no.

Half the work is fabricating the pieces, the other half is fitting it. These were hand built wagons when new, but after 60 years, things can really change, so each one is a little different.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Rob McDonald

MIKE, I'm intrigued that there's no visible means of support for the roof pan, in the "before" photos of your '51. Is there no steel structure at all, behind the windshield pillars? It looks like the roof was just resting on the tops of the door frames, after the tailgate and quarter window frames were removed. No wonder woodies were famous for creaks and rattles. Was a similar structure used in the last Buick woodies of 1953?

The only wood-trimmed wagon that I ever came close to buying, many years ago, was a Packard Station Sedan. The only structural wood in that poser is the 2-part tailgate. All the other timber is just wallpaper.

Packard had the Budd Company built these bodies, alongside the Chrysler Town & Country. I read recently how Budd created the in-fill panels of these cars. The mahogany veneer was glued to a shaped steel panel and pressed with a matching mould. The assembly was then bombarded with microwaves to cure the glue. Makes for challenging repairs today - "Honey, I'm just taking the microwave oven out the garage for a while."

Chrysler eventually swapped this complexity for Dynoc transfers, then skipped woodgrain panels altogether on their '51 T&C hardtops. I don't actually know if Packard persisted with bonded veneers throughout the Station Sedan's production cycle, 1948-50. I've seen far too few of these plus-size beauties in person, to really know how they were put together. Same goes for all types of woodies - not a lot of them made their way this far north.

I will be eagerly watching your progress, as you bring this rolling furniture back to life.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

ROB, The roof is supported by the windshield pillars and the "B" pillars (between the front and rear doors).

In my original post in this thread, I showed a few pictures of the main body section of the 52 with the doors removed, but the pictures were not very good. It was crammed between two other wagons.

Since then, I have moved all of them around, a major task, but allows me to clean the floor as I move them. (Plus, I had to make room for another one!!)

Due to that, it is now in a better position to photograph, so I added a couple of shots showing the roof support.

You can see that 2/3 or so of the roof is not supported by steel. The "C" and "D" pillars are structural wood.

My experience is that the rear corner posts ("D" pillars) usually rot badly, but the "C" pillars don't as much, and they make a big difference on roof support as these wagons sit outside rotting.

If you look at the picture that I posted of Bernie's old 50 Super (he posted more on another thread), you see there is no rear wooden corner posts, but the "C" pillars are there. They are starting to go, though, sadly!

Prior to 1949, Buick Woodies were all wood bodied, including the roof. In 1949 they used the steel roof and doors, and this was continued until 1953, the last year of real Woodies.

The 50-53 used the same body, with some minor changes, the 49 is a one year only body, but it is structurally like the 50-53.

Most of the changes in the 50-53 were on the grilles and rear fenders, so the main body wasn't affected. Mike



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Rob McDonald

MIKE, this does make more sense. Of course, the front doors need something sturdy to latch onto. All stripped down like this, one can see that the rear doors latch to the quarter panels, just like on a convertible or a 2-door hardtop. That long, long cantilevered roof makes GM's 4-door flattops, from '59 to '61, look like bank vaults by comparison.

So, tell us about this new '53 - Roadmaster or Super? Basket case or rolling project? In the early 1980's, I had the pleasure of being shown a one-owner 1953 Roadmaster Estate Wagon. Amazing survivor car, with at least five years of dust on it. The ancient lady owner was not yet willing to part with it. In her mind, she was still using the car. Eventually, Vern Bethel of Vancouver was the lucky man to be at the right place and time to buy this amazing piece of history.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

ROB, Well, the new one is a 53 Super.

It probably looks like a basket case to the average person, but is actually very decent. The white paint appears to be the original, mixed with surface rust, but no apparent rust through. There is no evidence of any other color on it anywhere.

It seems to have had a desert life.

There is the usual floor rot, but limited to the front only. The wood is very weathered, but at least the "C" pillars are still supporting the roof. We made a temporary support for the rear roof for the trip here, only a couple of hundred miles. I am amazed just how well the doors fit and open and close with ease.

I am a retired hobbyist, but occasionally take on an outside project (only wood work), mainly to fund my own projects. This one will get a new set of wood and be on its way. I am anxious to get started!!

I have a buddy, Frank, who is into 46-48 Chevy Woodies, and yesterday we cruised north on Hwy101 to Solidad, CA where we met his friend Joe, from Oakland. Joe had trailered Frank's latest project down, and we transferred it to my trailer and brought it back to Frank's place. (Sorry, no pictures.)

It was a great run, and I didn't have to drive through any heavy traffic!!

We got a lot of lookers, but I am sure most were wondering what it was...no wood!! It is pretty hard for the average person to know it is a Woodie when the wood is not there. One guy thought it was a truck!!??

That one will keep Frank busy for quite a while. And the 53 will keep me busy, too. Mike







Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Rob McDonald

Wow, what a great start! Nice solid, straight tin with an undercarriage that's cleaner than the bottom of my semi-restored car. Notice the "old-fashioned" wide whitewall tire turned to the inside. Would that be the car's original California black plate? I love that about some States, that the license plate stays with the car for its whole life.

I see some pretty elaborate brackets attaching your temporary D-pillars to the roof. Are there a lot of special steel pieces holding the wood members together? If they're cast shapes, it must be a real challenge when those are missing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are two robust corner brackets in the rear upper corners.

We did attach our temporary posts to them.

Luckily, they are attached to the roof rails that go along the inside of the roof from windshield to tailgate, and these are usually very good. I have never had those missing, but some smaller hardware can be frustrating to find.

The first two pictures show the corner bracket: the first one is my 51 (still don't have all the screws in it yet), and the second one is in the 53, and you can see it gets covered by some wood trim after the headliner is in.

In 1953, California would have provided a 1951 license plate (larger than the black plate you see) with a corner metal tab with 53 on it, covering up the 51. In 54 and 55 I believe new corner tabs were issued. In 56, a completely new yellow plate with black letters was issued, and it was the same size as the black plate. From 57-62, foil stickers were issued each year. In 1963, the black plate was issued, and each year a new sticker was issued to the present day. New plates have been issued over the years, but as long as the car maintains its registration and the plate is in good condition, it can stay in use, I believe.

If you look at the rear plate, you can see the orange sticker on the right upper corner. This has 1970 on it, but the left corner has a 1971 damaged green sticker, so that was probably the last year it was registered. Mike




Link to comment
Share on other sites

Gorgeous! What beautiful work! Your white 51 is absolutely beautiful. Thanks for saving all those Buicks Mike. And thanks for the education on what goes into restoring one. I'd be interested in what the process is to make some of those curved rear "D" pillars.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

JOHN, Actually the 51 is "old ivory", but I call it cream!!

Some of the pictures make it look washed out, white!!

I have a couple of duplicating carving machines, which are quite labor intensive, but can duplicate about 90% of the shape of any wood pattern.

I will be duplicating some pieces in the near future (for the 53, above), and will add some pictures of the process.

You are correct about the rear "D" pillars, John, they take about a week to create...each one!!

They are made up of 3 pieces of 2 1/2" thick raw wood (planed down to about 2 1/4") laminated together, and the laminations are important to get them to come out where they are supposed to be.

They are the most labor intensive part of the wood, but some other pieces come really close!!

I was a machinist, working with CNC (computerized) machines for 30 or so years (until I burned out!!), and I draw on that experience constantly, working with the wood on these carving machines.

But the wood gives me pleasure to see the grains I expose, never had that with metals!!

And it does cut much faster, which I enjoy! (But it sure creates a lot of wood chips!!)

I added some archive pictures of when I was carving the drivers door lower piece of wood, my first endeavor.

They may not make much sense to you, but I will try to explain:

The pattern is on the left side, held "between centers" which means it is held at each end approximately in the center. The blank of raw wood is held similarly on the right side.

I can crank a handle and rotate the parts simultaneously a full 360 degrees, they rotate in tandem around the "centers".

So I can carve all around, but the ends (where I hold them) have to be dealt with later...by hand!!

The first 3 pictures show the pattern on the left, in various rotational positions, with the blank following.

The probe moving on the pattern follows the shape, and a cutter on the right transfers the shape to the blank, but that is oversimplification...it takes quite a bit of time, depending on how much excess stock has to be removed!!

The probe has to match the cutter in diameter and shape, as the last two pictures show. The groove is round, so the probe & cutter are also.

I will try to take more explicit pictures as I make the wood for the 53, but it is not so easy, a video would be much better, but over my poor head!!

Thanks to all for the kind words, and encouragement, Mike






Link to comment
Share on other sites

Actually, John, no!!

Wagons do that quite easily!!

Fill the shop, that is!

My shop is 50' X 100', and the "wood room" as I call it is about 25' X 25'.

I have 8 wagons here, and you can visualize their size...

So, you go figure...I am too tired for all that math!


I added some (rather rudimentary) shots of Buick roofs, as I see them as I retire to my loft...only to revisit them in the morning as I descend!!

Pictures do not convey the image I see...never can!

Yes, my morning commute is just to descend a flight of stairs (amid gloating!!)...I am a shop dweller..SHH, don't let that out!!

Cheers, Mike LOL



Link to comment
Share on other sites


Thanks for taking the time to share all this with us. I found your cutting setup interesting, it reminds me of a duplicating lathe that one of my grandfather's had, at one time, so that one could make exact copies of spindles for making chairs, etc.

I once restored an early fifties wooden speedboat, and went from metal working (my norm) to wood working! My boat was rather like those woodies, a lot of work but fabulous to look at, and not so practical.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Rob McDonald

MIKE, your duplicating jig is so cool and so essentially simple! Of course, every moving joint would have to be smooth-acting and tight, to hold some semblance of tolerance, thereby minimizing the amount of remaining handwork. Is the one rig large enough to accommodate all the wood members of a Buick wagon?

Up close, those fabricated steel brackets aren't so complicated. Careful layout, cutting, and welding would result in a good facsimile. The necessary accuracy is really achieved by the woodwork. I love the look of the old wood that you've reused in that rear quarter of the '51. That it's darkened and even black in places, is part of the legacy of the car.

The art world and the antique furniture world has understood this for decades and I'm glad the old car hobby is now catching up with that. As long as new material inserted during repairs doesn't "catch the eye", by being completely off-colour, there is no reason to make the result entirely as-new. Unfortunately, the auction industry and its investors (a few of whom are actually hobbyists) stubbornly disagree.

You're living my dream - sleeping quarters above a shop full of fascinating cars is all I ever wanted. And those roofs! Probably because most of us rarely see it, my favourite view of many cars is from directly overhead.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

ROB, I can make every part for 50-53 wagons on that machine as far as size.

The upper door frames are too weak to be made by holding the ends, though. For those parts, I have a second carving machine, same as the one shown, except it has a table mounted on it. I have mounted 6 vices on the table, 3 for the pattern, and 3 for the blank.

The blanks have to be planed to the finished width and left oversize on thickness and length. I mount them in the vices and finish the inside shape, then turn them over and complete the other side.

I am afraid the machine is too cluttered right now to post pictures, but when next I use it, I will post some pictures.

As for the corner brackets, you are right. The angles are very important to get exact, since they are a major help in keeping the tailgate opening square. Also, the wood surfaces they mount to have to be accurate for the same reason.

I'll see about getting you some more roof pictures!! Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites


I should have a few, but I don't know where they are. I'll take a look through some of my old stuff, and see if I can scan and post one or two for you.

The boat was an 18' Shepherd, mahogany runabout, with large 6 cyl engine, Crysler Crown, marine, if I remember correctly.


Link to comment
Share on other sites


I see you are in Toronto.

I lived there in the fabulous era of 1957-8.

Across the street from where we lived there was a local Chevy dealers storage lot, and I remember the new 58 model Chevy's being brought there, in the wee hours, very cloak and dagger!!

When we awoke, there they were, with covers on each and every one of them!!

The climax was when the covers were removed, many weeks later, to reveal the new year's styling!!

What suspense!!

Meanwhile, we had to look at covered cars!!

(Perhaps that is why I never like to cover my treasures, but enjoy seeing them daily!! LOL)

We lived at 20 McGill St., a rooming house that my parents ran for a while, perhaps it is still there....

Then we moved to Whitby, 30 or so miles east.

I have very fond memories of our time in Toronto.

Thanks for reminding me, Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...
Guest Rob McDonald

MIKE, there's a post over on the GENERAL BUY/SELL Forum -http://forums.aaca.org/f119/1953-buick-roadmaster-estate-wagon-woody-316574.html

A high end restoration shop is looking for tailgate glass for a '53 Estate Wagon. Thought you might be able to accommodate.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Rob,

I have 4 Buick Woodies, 1950-1953, one of each year, and 4 rear windows, slated for each of them.

These windows are difficult to find. (An understatement!!)

I have recently found one and had an immediate buyer for it, but I do run into them occasionally, so thanks for the heads up.

I will check it out.

When found, they are usually quite pricey!!

Regards, Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

mike, i'm restoring a '53 super woodie and i'm in need of the outer door handle sliding retainer for the left rear door. do you have one that you would part with or any leads? also, i need to buy new rubber for the windshield, front vents, liftgate and rear quarter windows. steele? what have you found that fits well? thanks, john walker, seattle, 206 789 6800 jwworkshop at aoldotcomm

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

I have removed most of the wood from the 53. I left the "C" pillars in to support the roof.

To remove the door wood, the doors have to be really stripped down. The glass must be removed since there are screws behind the felt channels that it slides in.

I am now getting ready to start carving some wood for it, and will soon post some pictures of the wood being made.

Happy New Year to all, Mike







Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was perusing the AACA Forums, scanning for Buick Woodies, and came across one that has some great pictures of a 52 Roadmaster Wagon.

The amazing thing is that it is the very color I had picked for mine from the color chip booklet I have!!

(Sorry, don't remember the title...senior moment when extremely excited!!)

I was unsure of my color choice not having seen a wagon in this color, since it can be quite difficult to envision one in any given color all finished.

But it looks just so elegant and classic, which it truly deserves (only 359 were produced), so I have confirmed my color choice, and am so very anxious to move along with it!!

I have added some shots of the one I found...I am so stoked!!

I will have to be very careful to pick wood that has a great grain showing to make the wood really stand out, but I am getting better at that every day!!

Cheers, Mike







Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...