Jim Stewart always has an automotive project on the go, and his latest success story involves getting a 1952 Buick Roadmaster back up and running.
The 70-year-old retiree told the Sun on Monday that he acquired the classic full-size car from fellow gear head Warner Buck last year, since the Buick’s old-school look reminded him of the vehicle that got him into this hobby as a teenager.
"My first car was a ’53 Plymouth," Stewart said outside his home in the Rural Municipality of Whitehead. "So a ’52 Buick helps bring me right back to the beginning."
Of course, Stewart had to put some work into making this nostalgic ride a reality, spending all of last winter tweaking the Roadmaster’s engine and brakes in order to get it safetied.
"I also put in power seats so my wife could drive it, and I put in air conditioning and I had the whole interior out of it and painted all the metal parts … because they were in pretty bad shape," he said.
By the spring, Stewart got the Roadmaster to a point where he felt comfortable driving it around the Westman area, even though most regional automotive get-togethers were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite lacking a proper showcase, Stewart still made the best of a less-than-ideal situation, using the summer months to test out the Buick’s 320-cubic-inch Straight 8 engine by taking trips to nearby Neepawa and Minnedosa.
"It doesn’t steer like a new car," he said. "It wants to do a little wander just because of the way it’s built. And your stopping distance is longer. It’s got good brakes, but they’re not the same as the disk brakes you have nowadays. So you just have to watch what you’re doing."
Of course, this is far from the first time Stewart has brought a classic vehicle back from the brink, using his 12 years of experience as an auto body mechanic to accumulate a pretty impressive collection of old-school cars, trucks and motorcycles that all bring something unique to the table.
"My Buick Wildcat is a ’68, so it’s a lot newer and has more creature comforts," he said. "My ’46 Chevy truck is a hotrod, so it’s got a new drive-line under it. I do have a Harley … and I’ve been riding those all my life."
As such, the Roadmaster is far from the last restoration project on Stewart’s list, with a gutted 1976 Corvette Stingray currently sitting in his garage.
Moving forward, Stewart expects that working on these various vehicles will keep him occupied during the upcoming months, and encourages other members of the Westman car community to follow suit if they want to stave off the slow winter season.
"This year we’re not even going to be able to have our social, I don’t think," he said. "So get yourself a project car and go to work on it. Get yourself something for next year."
The Buick Roadmaster’s life cycle can be split into two distinct eras, since it was produced from 1936 to 1956 and from 1991 to 1996.
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson