Junkyard Gem: 1986 Buick Riviera

The Buick Riviera personal luxury coupe attained monstrous proportions by the middle 1970s, scaling in at well over 4,500 pounds by 1976. After spending 1977 and 1978 as sibling to the Chevy Caprice, the Riviera then moved to the front-wheel-drive platform used by the Cadillac Eldorado and Oldsmobile Toronado

, staying there through the 1985 model year. The Riviera world became a lot more interesting for the 1986 model year, when a smaller and more sophisticated generation hit showrooms with curvier lines and electronic gadgetry straight out of science fiction. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those cars, found in a self-service boneyard in Phoenix, Arizona

What makes this car such a fascinating bit of automotive history is this dash-mounted touchscreen interface, known as the Graphic Control Center

. The 1986 Riviera was the first GM vehicle to get the GCC, which means it was the first production car in history with a factory-installed touch screen display. This system became available in the Buick Reatta
and the Oldsmobile Toronado a few years later. 

The GCC used a cathode-ray tube screen sourced from an ATM manufacturer, which ran on 120VAC power and required an inverter and dangerous high-voltage wiring inside the dash. It was used to operate the HVAC, the radio and the trip computer, as well as to display operating and diagnostic information. The system used numerous bulky components in addition to the dash screen; I’ve extracted a couple of complete sets of GCC components

over the years and plan to build them into a junkyard-parts boombox.

As it turned out, the senior-citizen-heavy demographic of Buick shoppers didn’t feel great enthusiasm for the GCC and there wasn’t a huge sales payoff for this revolutionary technology. That didn’t stop GM from introducing the first mass-produced cars with head-up displays a couple of years later.

The running gear wasn’t quite as sophisticated as the GCC. The 1986-1993 Rivieras got old-fashioned 3.8-liter Buick V6s under their hoods; the one in this car was rated at 140 horsepower and 200 pound-feet.

If you wanted a manual transmission in your ’86 Rivvie, you were out of luck. A four-speed automatic was mandatory equipment. Note the unusual face-loading cassette deck in front of the shifter; the AM/FM radio was a remote-controlled unit living inside the center console.

The MSRP for this car was $19,831, or about $55,691 in 2023 dollars. The higher-zoot Riviera T-Type cost $21,577 ($60,595 in today’s money), making it the most expensive Buick of 1986. Those prices put the Riviera in the same cost league as the BMW 3 Series

, which started at $19,560 for the base 325 two-door.

The final Rivieras sold were 1999 models, though the Riviera name has been used on a couple of Chinese-market Buick concept cars this century.

The GCC gets heavy play in this Close Encounters-inspired commercial.