‘Rain Man’ was a blockbuster movie that raked in 350 million dollars after its December 1988 release.
Hoffman and Cruise pushed most of the theater customers into ticket purchases-but not all of them-because the movie also starred a pristine 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible that was a common link for the two human stars in ‘Rain Man’.
The result was most car guys paid more attention to the ’49 Buick drop top than they did to either Cruise or Hoffman in ‘Rain Man’ because the car stole the show for them, including us here at MyStarCollectorCar.
The 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible was a smoother version of the ’48 Roadmaster, with reduced fender bulges in its fore and aft regions. The ’49 Buick was part of an era when domestic car builders headed in a new style direction for their vehicles and separated the newer cars from a long unbroken run of tired pre-war/post war automotive designs.
The net result was a bold new era for North American car-builders and an opportunity for Buick to flex its muscles as a high-end brand in the GM family. The brand’s 1949 Roadmaster convertible was a good fit in their upscale car program and was a limited production vehicle since only 8095 of them were built that year.
The few surviving ’49 Buick Roadmaster convertibles command serious money in 2024 and were already almost 40 years old when ‘Rain Man’ was filmed, a fact that made the iconic cars an attention-getting device even in 1988.
The car became a focal point when the Cruise character (Charlie Babbitt) attended his late father’s (Sandford Babbitt) funeral and found out he inherited very little in the will, aside from his father’s 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible and some rose bushes.
The car was controversial because Sandford Babbitt treasured the Roadmaster and refused to allow a then-teenaged Charlie to drive the convertible. Charlie then took the car without permission, was arrested when his dad reported it stolen; and subsequently jailed for a few days when Sanford initially refused to post bail. It would be very safe to say father and son had a long history with the car in a good and bad sense, particularly when Charlie left home after the incident.
Sandford left the bulk of his 3-million-dollar estate to an unnamed beneficiary in a trust fund. Charlie decided to find out who oversaw the money and found out he had an autistic savant brother named Raymond.
Charlie and Raymond subsequently took a cross-country road trip in the ’49 Buick and discovered they were both connected to the car in their own way. The car became common ground for the Babbitt brothers while they learned about each other during the trip.
The process was complicated by Raymond’s disability but eventually the brothers connected by movie’s end.
Most car guys love the movie because the vintage 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible performed flawlessly on the trip and provided a warm and fuzzy ending for gearheads.
BY: Jim Sutherland
Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section.