Photography by Dave Cruikshank
It’s funny how memories from our childhood can so heavily influence the person we become, and the cars we keep. For David Gongora of Pomona, California, it was the sight of a “monster Buick grille” that first transformed his passion for automobiles into an obsession, with a lifelong dream that eventually materialized into what you see here.
Like many auto enthusiasts, David had pined of taking a classic chassis and outfitting it with a bevy of updated amenities and go-fast goodies. This obsession with tinkering led to the modification of his prized 1949 Buick and resulted in a build a wee-bit more challenging than most.
Fortunately, David is no newbie to high-end rod builds. Being the proud owner of Gongora’s Body and Paint, in SoCal, he has a reputation within the community of providing exceptional workmanship since 1979. So you better believe that the tweaks made to this ‘49 Buick Roadmaster are nothing short of spectacular.
Things weren’t always so easy. Like most of the guys in this game, David started life unsure where he might end-up. By the age of 14, a petrolhead uncle took the youth under his wing and began teaching him all he knew in regard to vehicle maintenance. One thing quickly led to another and before long, David learned the tricks of the trade in order to keep his own car running right. Consequently this caused him to become “that guy” in the neighborhood who worked on everyone’s car in his driveway.
The thought of turning wrenches for a living never seemed appealing, so he began attending a tool-and-die school in order to jump off the mechanic train. Before long it was apparent that adjusting dials on a lathe all day long wasn’t his thing either. At this point, David got into body work, a practice the young man immediately developed an affinity for, and the rest you might say, is history.
Having grown up in East LA, where the lowrider scene was blossoming, David found himself torn between a love for low-to-the-ground looks, and unbridled hot rod performance. Fast forward to modern times, and this inspiration is clearly personified via his 1949 Buick Roadmaster, a slammed two-door that is driven regularly and favors cleanliness over craziness.
When the vehicle appeared on David’s radar over a decade ago, he jumped at the opportunity of owning one of his dream machines and high-tailed it over to Orange County in order to take a gander. What he found was a body that was in pretty damn good condition, a dash so pristine that to this day it still rocks original paint, and a bone-stock original Fireball Straight-8 that ran, but barely. After taking possession of the vintage Tri-Shield flagship, Dave set about restoring as much of the vehicle as possible to its original state, which soon proved easier said than done.
You don’t see a lot of Buick Roadmaster builds. Aftermarket support for these old GM sleds are about as scarce as the vehicles themselves on the open road. For instance, part of the right quarter needed to be replaced. This resulted in intense scouring, with little luck requiring the welding together of two pieces of metal in order to make the damn thing work.
From there it was on to the trim, which proved to be another pain in the patella. Finding molding for the vehicle proved to be about as straightforward of a procedure as Brexit. The original radio was toast as well, so David needed to source one that he could modify in order to provide modern audiophile music clarity, all while retaining that period-correct, factory look he loves.
Over time the coupe came together, with David foregoing radical mods in favor of a clean, classic look that’s not overstated, but still remains far from stock.
At the time, Gongora’s had a bunch of old Camaro clips sitting around, along with a rebuilt 454 motor and a 700R tranny, which all wound-up on the Roadmaster. With body work complete, a Camaro subframe stuffed underneath, a 4-link rear out back, a hefty drop in ride height dialed-in, and some really cool rollers within each fender well, things were looking good for the vintage Roadmaster and its owner.
In regard to those unique alloys, David turned to Corona, California-based vintage wheel specialists Wheelsmith Wheels for his striking set of American-made 20-inch rollers.
Originally engineered to be outfitted on a truck, these Artillery 201 Series wheels were redesigned for a classic Caddy in order to fit, then finished with Buick centers for a period-correct look. Wrapped in low profile Vogue rubber, and tucked tightly within each wheel well, the classic lines of the coupe are complemented nicely by this rolling stock.
That said, David does admit that due to the vehicle’s reduced ride height and luxurious length, speed bumps can be a bit of a challenge to navigate, resulting in a “slow-and-low” approach to cruising. The car sees lots of cruising as well. He runs the car once a week, in order to keep the pistons pumping and avoid the dreaded “lot rot.”
David’s concerns are well-founded too, considering the nightmarish scenario he experienced a few years ago while on his way to the Morro Bay Car Show. While undertaking the 90 mile jaunt over to the event, an oil sending unit proceeded to fail on the 454, yet somehow the powerplant kept plodding on without issue or oil.
Noticing that something wasn’t right with the vehicle’s oil pressure readings and throttle response, David contacted a friend who lived in the area, and after replacing the compromised component (and cleaning-up the oil-coated car’s hindquarters), proceeded to win best in show the next day.
When asked about his favorite components on the car, David admits that the Wheelsmith alloys are definitely a favorite, as is the custom leather interior, which pays homage to the original pattern found in the vehicle. As with the exterior of the vehicle, David tries not to fiddle with the looks that are spot-on from the factory and retaining the vintage airplane cockpit feel that the Roadmaster was known for back in the day.
Circling back around to the reasoning behind David’s fascination with the chassis, he confesses that the Buick Roadmaster always had this “attitude” that he liked, what with its Fleetline looks and monolithic street presence. However, he also admits that being about a decade old now, there are things he wishes to see updated on the vehicle.
As of late, David’s been kicking around the notion of a 2.0 version of the build, complete with bags, power windows, and an LS3 swap. When asked about his decision to pursue this direction, David laughs and tells us that LS swapping the vehicle just makes sense from an affordable performance perspective. He goes on to explain that the only reason why he did not do so in the first place was because he already had the subframe, engine, and trans on hand, making the big-block transplant the most logical option at the time.
Regarding a window update, David tells us that while the nostalgic look of the manual crank certainly is cool, it’s just one more tedious component that is prone to failure, making their removal a bit of a priority considering the rarity of the glass attached to them. As for the inevitable bagging of the entire chassis, David laughs and says, “These cars were meant to be lowered, and I love the way they look parked, completely on the ground!”
Hot rod meets lowrider, Buick Roadmaster style. Sounds good to us!
1949 Buick Roadmaster
OWNER- David R Gongora
HOMETOWN- Pomona, CA
OCCUPATION- Owner of Gongora’s Body and Paint
ENGINE- 454 Chevy Big Block, Mild Cam, Custom Headers and 3-inch exhaust, K&N filter
DRIVETRAIN- 700 R, Toy Shop Transmissions Custom Trans Bracket
SUSPENSION & CHASSIS- Camaro Subframe, Coilover Suspension, 4-Link Rear
BRAKES- 4-Way Disc Brakes
WHEELS & TIRES- 20×8” Wheelsmith Artillery 201 Series Wheels, Low Profile Vogue Tires
EXTERIOR- Mercedes-Benz Black 2 Stage PPG
INTERIOR- Reupholstered Black Leather Touches, Original Radio With modern head unit hidden inside