Building an award-winning show car isn’t easy; let’s get that right out of the way first. But, building and caring for an award-winning show car such as this Buick Roadmaster, that can put miles on the odometer and allow its occupants a certain level of comfort kicks up the difficulty level a couple of notches.
Building a custom car where all of the components fit, look and operate properly takes practice and experience, and that’s exactly what the craftsmen at Carl’s Custom Cars have when it comes to making cars that are built to be enjoyed. This 1957 Buick Roadmaster 75 Series is a perfect case in point. When the current owners Steve and Michaela Giles began looking for a car that would not only sweep the trophy table, but also be able to rack up the miles afterward, they eventually settled on the flowing lines and classic style of the Buick.
For 1957, Buick replaced its premium Roadmaster Series 70 with the Roadmaster Series 75 as the top of the line model. The new moniker came with power windows and seats as standard, and other visual cues consisted of deluxe hubcaps, carpeted lower door panels and special chrome script that read “Roadmaster 75”, which replaced the standard chevrons.
Of course, no self-respecting car of the class of ‘57 would be caught without copious amounts of shiny stuff and the Series 75 Roadmaster followed suit. A one-piece rear window was optional for ’57 and then became standard for ’58. Never missing an opportunity for more trim, there’s even two runs of special stainless trim that travel from the roofline, down over the trunk lid, dissecting the one-piece rear glass. The one-piece rear window and stainless trim was a rare option on two-door Series 75 cars and are designed to brand it with the rest of the family of Buick’s Century and Special models.
Roadmasters were available as 2-door or 4-door hardtops or as a 2-door convertible for 1957, but the previous 4-door sedan body style was gone from the lineup. Buicks were still powered by the easily-recognizable Nailhead, now consisting of 364 cubic inches and rated at 300 or 330 horsepower. The Giles’ Roadmaster still had its engine, wearing horizontally-mounted valve covers, but they intended to upgrade their car for better fuel efficiency and reliability than the old Nailhead could ever provide. Eclipsing those 300 ponies was just another case of icing on the cake. In fact, the original plan was simply to make a great driver that looked good; hauling home awards was actually an after-thought, conjured up during the initial build of the car.
The best way to build up a relatively rare car is to have two examples of the relatively rare car and soon after the this Roadmaster was shipped to Carl’s Custom Cars, another donor vehicle was sourced. This proved to be a good move. Since, for the princely sum of $500, the Giles’ not only benefitted by having many necessary parts, but also gained two more sets of the rare, optional stainless trim that ran down over the rear glass. As a side benefit, after running the numbers of the car’s trim tag, it was discovered that this car was the second Roadmaster produced for ’57.
It had been sitting for a decade and a half and was the recipient of a partial disassembly. Sections of the lower body were succumbing to rust and the air bags and bent rear crossmember hinted that the car may have been a tow vehicle at some point in its life. Upon complete disassembly and sand blasting, it was determined that the car’s goals would be re-defined slightly. The Giles put it best, “It started out as a nice driver, but we got a little carried away.” Instead of being simply a good driver, the Giles’ and folks at Carl’s Custom Cars were now determined to build not only an awesome show winner, but one that was just as great to drive.
It started out as a nice driver, but we got a little carried away. – Steve and Michaela Giles
The donor vehicle gave up its complete chassis, trunk lid, doors and various body panels to replace the rusted originals. Beyond replacing original parts, the crew at Carl’s did over 100 body modifications to the car throughout the process. Some of those modifications are only detectable if you positioned the car next to another completely stock example. Good luck finding one!
Beyond body mods, the car also received an updated power plant in the form of an LS3 engine pushing over 500 hp and the frame was modified with the appropriate mounts and clearancing that allows for the upgrade. The front suspension now features custom control arms that mate first-gen Camaro spindles from Classic Performance Products to the frame. To control those spindles, a rack and pinion from RetroRack was installed to control the left and right movement while a set of QA1 double-adjustable shocks control the up/down movement. The rear suspension now features a 9-inch rear end from Strange Engineering fitted with 3.55 gears. A set of Eibach springs give the rear bumper the necessary clearance and linear actuators control the car’s ride height both front and rear, electrically lifting or lowering the car’s body five inches in just as many seconds without the help of airbags.
A Hands-On Approach
One of the best ways to know your car is to be directly involved in the build process and that’s exactly what Michaele Giles did when it came time to start wrenching on their Roadmaster. She would show up to Carl’s Custom Cars and help with the disassembly, sandblasting and painting of various components, as well as the installation of the Dynamat throughout the car’s interior. The car is as much a labor of love for her as it was for the crew at Carl’s Custom Cars. And now, should there ever be an issue down, or along the road, she has an acute knowledge of how the car is constructed, which will be incredibly valuable, whether they are doing the work, or a technician somewhere along the way. Remember, this is a custom car, service manuals typically don’t apply here!
We’ve hinted that the bulk of the work was to the body of the Buick. Though some of it may not stand out unless you can compare this car with an original, other work to the body is quite evident. It may not make a difference when driving, but if you’re going to build a trophy-troller custom, it needs to be smooth and this car covers that in spades.
The front-tilting hood makes its presence known quite easily, but the fact that the front end has been chopped down one-quarter of an inch is less obvious. Also, there are enough shaved emblems, removed badging, inset door handles and frenched-in lighting to shame even the most modest thorny bush.
At the rear of the car, another half an inch was removed from the leading edge of the trunk so it would more closely match the body lines of the car. Also, the original trunk keyhole now serves as a port for the rear-facing back-up camera, the new latch being operated via a fused connection. The rear buckets for the taillights were modified so that the taillight housings would be more closely mated to the body by removing the gasket between them. Likewise, both bumpers were given a similar treatment to tighten up the profile a bit more.
Once the body mods were complete and all traces of previous work eliminated, Pete McGrath poured out the Matrix System Candy Cognac hue that was spread out over either a silver or gray base to give the subtle two-tone appearance. Not all body mods were completed under the paint though. If you look closely, the “Roadmaster 75” script on the sides of the car were modified by a jeweler. We’ve told you where to look, now see if you can find the difference.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to driving the car, which is what the Giles’ had intended to do with the car from the start, the difference is night and day. While the original design of the car put it as the premier offering from Buick, its new level of comfort and convenience would astound even the original designers. From the minute you grasp that Con2R custom wheel and adjust the Ididit column to your liking, you’ll enjoy upgrades such as modern air-conditioning, custom-built seats and a sculpted interior by Brent Davidson of Sculpt Garage, which were then finished in fine leather by Phil Cato of Cato’s Custom Upholstery. A custom center console houses an eight-inch flat screen for a modern touch while the hydrographically-dipped, burl wood appearing panels are a throw-back to the vintage theme. A CNC-milled, custom tear drop was also treated to the faux Burl wood effect that houses the Watson’s StreetWorks switches controlling the twist-shifter control, touch starter, Vintage Air assembly and the windows of the ’57.
Much like the exterior of the car, all of the modifications reside in a spectrum between obvious and imperceptible, but when assembled together, the sum is definitely greater than its parts. That becomes apparent by the numerous awards that this “nice driver” has garnered since it’s completion in 2014. It has stood at the head of the class, winning many “Top 100”, “Top 10” and even “Best of Show” awards in the three short years since the paint has dried. Just recently, shoppers at Summit Racing’s newest mega-store in Arlington Texas would have noticed this fine ’57 sitting in the showroom.
With the show circuit in the rear-view mirror and the trunk full of tin and ribbons, the Giles’ can begin their original plan of enjoying the open road with their Roadmaster. You’ll still see the car gracing the show field from time to time, you’ll also see it more often on the road to and from such events. The magnetism this car exhibits on trophies will still be there, but even more telling will be the miles of smiles that it will delve out to Steve and Michaele as they get to enjoy all the drivability built into the car.