Welcome to Used Car Face Off, where we find two similar or similarly priced used cars and ask you which one you would buy. Choose wisely!
How important is knowing that a used car was a “one-owner car?” Some people say that if you’re in the market for reliable used car transportation, find something that only has one previous owner, not four. Others say a one-owner car can definitely live a hard life and is no safer of a bet than any other previously owned car.
When you’re looking at family haulers like an old Buick station wagon and a practically ancient Oldsmobile wagon, though, what does a one owner car really mean? Wasn’t it still used by children with jam on their hands and home to melted crayons and animal crackers? Well, on the looks of it, neither of these big old wagons from General Motors lived particularly hard lives and are great examples of this long-dead breed. But you’re going to have to pay to play.
First up is a prime example of the kinds of things GM was producing in the mid-1990s and why things, financially, were perilous a decade later. This (one-owner) 1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate was the last of the full-size station wagons sold anywhere. While the outside is rounded and jellybean-like to make it look modern, I can’t believe any car that’s barely old enough to get a driver’s license of its own looks this dated inside. Who thought wood applique was still a good look in the 90s?
So what’s so redeeming about this barge of a wagon? You have to remember that these big wagons were killed off in favor of more profitable full-size SUVs, vehicles that were far thirstier. The original window sticker also reveals that at an EPA-estimated 17 city, 26 highway mpg, it’s not far off of a modern midsize crossover. And hey, this is a big rear-wheel drive car with a 5.7-liter V8 under the hood.
Roadmaster Estates aren’t exactly rare these days (I saw one drive by while writing this) but examples unabused by children are less common and really nice ones can get up to $15,000. This one with 88,000 miles and the vulgar upholstery won’t go that high, but it’s still pricey for any ’90s Buick.
Although, that looks great in comparison to its ancestor. Well, sort of ancestor because this is a 1977 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser that’s actually managed to do just 55,000 miles despite being 19 years older. One reason it wasn’t driven much may have been the color scheme. I’m sure that after 1979 someone realized orange and fake wood were a terrible team and this thing was rarely left out of the garage. I think I’ve seen mobile home kitchens with a similar color scheme.
I do, however, respect how intact this car looks, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a big Olds wagon in this shape in my lifetime.
Even though ’77 was the first year of the “downsized” full-size GMs, this is hardly a small car. In fact, it’s not much smaller than a modern Chevy Suburban. But I like it more and more as a museum piece. I don’t see the Roadmaster at that status quite yet. This, however, is reflected in the $12,000 ask. A lot.
But I’d still fall for the Olds over the Buick in this face-off because of that specialness. I hate the exterior colors, I really do, but they’re to the point of being comical and that’s important in a car. This will be one of the most humorous ways to blow 12 grand, but it’s still a wise used car buy because it’s one-owner, right?
Note: In response to popular demand, I’ve added a poll to the UCFO starting this week. So now you can place your vote in the poll as well as state your case in the comments. Happy voting.