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'92 ROADMASTER IS MOTHER SHIP OF CARS

It's deja vu - make that Dyn-aflow - all over again.

Buick Road-master! Just writing those two words takes me back to the early 1950s when that magic date, Dec. 30, 1955, the day I would turn 16 and could get my driver's license, seemed impossibly far off.I was even more car crazy then than I am now - most of the kids in my neighborhood were - and there were few products coming out of Detroit in those days that we didn't lust after. One of the few was the Buick Roadmaster.

Even for those times, when "entry level" cars (that phrase hadn't been coined yet, of course) would barely fit in a double garage (of which there was only one in my neighborhood) we understood that Roadmasters were not for kids; they were for grownups. Rich grownups.

The father of a friend of mine (the neighborhood's wealthiest resident) had a Roadmaster and we paid him the respect that was his due. But we didn't covet his car. (If his Roadmaster had been a convertible, such as the 1949 model Tom Cruise drove in "Rain Man," we might have had second thoughts.)

Even in those days of tailfins, bench seats that would easily accommodate four across, and huge V-8 engines that gobbled gas at the rate of 10 miles to the gallon, the Roadmaster seemed excessive.

In the age of Hyundai, Isuzu and Geo, it seems downright anachronistic.

Anachronism or not, the Buick Roadmaster is back, 1992 style. It is one of the largest cars I've ever driven but that's about the only thing it has in common with the Roadmasters that "ruled the road" from 1936-58.

Gone are the "port holes." Gone is the Dynaflow transmission (although Buick calls its suspension system "Dynaride"). Gone is 10 mpg, and gone (compared to R-masters of yore) is the ferryboat ride.

What's left is an automobile, that those who have stayed true to domestic cars through the decades of import mania, will love. Others, particularly those of a less-is-more, "Green" persuasion, will likely get out the picket signs.

I won't be marching in protest against Buick for introducing this Mother Ship of cars, but I won't be buying one, either. The Roadmaster wasn't my style in 1952 and it won't be in 1992, but I suspect that there are more than a few who will think this car is just what the country needs to get back on track.

The folks at Buick probably breathed a collective sigh of relief when Saddam went down early in the first round, thus quashing the rumors of impending $2 a gallon gasoline. But it is astonishing that this rear-wheel-drive, 217-inch long (more than a foot longer than Buick's top-of-the-line Park Avenue but four inches shorter than the '58 Roadmaster), behemoth, powered by a 5-liter V8 engine, is EPA rated at a respectable 16 mpg city and 25 highway.

Despite its Brobdingnagian size on the outside, the Roadmaster doesn't feel particularly huge on the inside. Granted, you can seat six adults in reasonable comfort in both front and back, but several passengers who rode with me during the week that I evaluated a factory loaner commented on the surprising paucity of leg room in the back seat.

No so in the trunk. The first time I popped the lid on the Roadmaster's trunk I was reminded of standing on the edge of Kennecott's open-pit mine. It's big.

But not as big as the car's hood. The expanse of sheet metal between the driver and the standup hood ornament takes a lot of getting used to. The front bumper of the Roadmaster reaches whatever is in front of the car (like the back of my garage, for instance) a lot sooner than the driver does.

Speaking of drivers, this is not a "driver's car" in the "sports sedan" sense of the phrase. Isolation from road noise, engine noise - any kind of noise - and a cosseting, boulevard ride is what Buick sought for the R car and that's what they got. A cushy ride is what the majority of domestic four-door sedan buyers want anyway, so they should be pleased.

Acceleration is more than adequate. I don't have the 0 to 60 mph figures but I suspect the new Roadmaster would leave its Dynaflow ancestors of four decades ago at the stoplight still spooling up.

As noted above, this car is not the top of the line Buick despite its size and all the expected luxo features. That position is reserved for the Park Avenue which, at $28,500, goes for $3,000 to $5,000 more than the Roadmaster, depending on options. My test car was sticker priced at $24,384.