By on July 15, 2014

18 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAhhh, the Buick Somerset! One of my favorite obscure General Motors cars of the 1980s, right up there with the Oldsmobile Toronado Troféo and Buick Reatta. The Somerset started out in 1985 as the Somerset Regal, but then GM’s marketers must have become as confused as an octogenarian Buick shopper confronted in the showroom by this little coupe with thrashy four-banger and science-fiction radio pod, changing the name to just plain Somerset for 1986. Not easy to find, the Somerset, so I was happy to spot this one last winter in a Denver self-service yard.
06 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSomerset buyers got this cool digital dash, which might have appealed to Japanese octogenarians but didn’t resonate so well with American ones who grew up with a more traditional sort of Buick coupe. No, I didn’t buy this cluster to add to my collection— I already have a Somerset digital cluster, pulled from another car that I found the week before photographing this one.
03 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWant to upgrade to an aftermarket radio in your Somerset? Not with this setup in place, you won’t!
04 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNobody has ever been able to explain what GM was thinking when they came up with this idea.
13 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinUnder the hood, the good old Iron Duke, the least luxurious engine available to General Motors at the time. The 3.0 liter Buick V6 was optional for the ’86 Somerset.
17 - 1986 Buick Somerset Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one ran when crashed.


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85 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Buick Somerset...”


  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    Ahhh…the good ‘ol No-Tech 4. I think that pod stereo was to prevent anyone from installing an aftermarket stereo. I can hear GM now, in all their hubris, “why do they need a different stereo? Our Delco is THE BEST”

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Nope, that radio STILL doesn’t top the one installed in the early versions of the 3rd gen Camaro. My aunt had an 83 Berlinetta with this setup. The whole thing swiveled on its base when equipped with a cassette player.

    http://propaholics.wolfchasers.com/uploader/users/tk5378/DSCN4197.jpg

    My aunt’s had a V8, T-Tops, plastic hub caps, and no spoiler. Quite an odd combination.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    What’s up with that Pontiac steering wheel?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Years back my old mechanic had an entire steering column from an Olds Ninety Eight sitting upright near his desk and I inquired. He had a customer with a Buick Park Ave or Lesabre which had stolen/recovered by a relative (without police involvement) and the trick to stealing these was to break the ignition with a screwdriver or something to this effect. He bought the steering column with key out of a yard and was going to install it in the customer’s Buick as I suppose the ignition was broken in her car. Since the part was interchangeable the brand did not matter. Perhaps the same happened with this one, at one point it was stolen and the whole column replaced after recovery.

      • 0 avatar
        Halftruth

        The GMs were super easy to steal. You would break the weak side of the column near the directional to gain access to the left side of the ignition switch. There is a flat sliding piece with teeth on it.
        It is easy to undo that side of the switch and slide that piece up and start the car. They did have kits with two-piece collars you would rivet over the column to deter thieves. One guy I knew installed one and they tried to go thru the steering wheel out of spite but could not get to the switch so they gave up. He had a mess to clean up but the truck was not taken and the ignition switch still worked.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          This sounds about right now that I hear it, thanks for sharing.

          Additional: I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts the original steering wheel/column did not come with an airbag (being it was MY86). The Pontiac column was also an upgrade. LOL no wait on second glance there is no air bag, my bad.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            I don’t see how an airbag would have worked anyway if the impact sensors and airbag control module were not also installed.

          • 0 avatar
            dtremit

            That’s where the ’80s-tastic wheel buttons went:

            http://imgur.com/85TsALr

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          That’s what happened to my ’80 Buick Regal. The steering column was made of some pot metal that shattered with a whack of a hammer. You still have to do some hot wiring with the ’80s, and the idiot who stole mine fried the alternator and abandoned the car when the battery went dead, about 40 miles away. With 140k and burned transmission fluid, plus $900 in storage fees, the damage was too much to repair.

          I always tell people Governor Pete Wilson stole my car. The CHP towed the car the day it was stolen (the thief took the plates), but Wilson cut the CHP’s budget and they had no clerks to process the paperwork. The CHP captain said he took his officers off patrols every month or two to catch up, and by the time they put my car on the stolen vehicle recovery list, I had 60 days of storage fees from a private yard. I’d paid $950 for the car, so I let the storage yard have it.

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        Nice theory, until you look at the car. Who the f–k would steal one of these? Unless they were drunk, in which case they probably immediately returned it after sobering up, LOL!

    • 0 avatar
      Nichodemus

      I am pretty sure my mom had that same steering wheel in her ’89 Pontiac Sunbird. I’d say something, but I drove a Grand Marquis that had a Lincoln hood ornament (on the hood, just above the Mercury badge on the grill).

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    So it’s a car for film directors, and secretaries who leave work at 3:00. Got it.

    It looks very similar to the coupe Regal of a similar time period, as well as the Skylark coupe. I think I’ve seen a Somerset maybe twice, ever.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I couldn’t think of what that radio pod reminded me of, then it came to me. An old thermostat.

  • avatar
    crtfour

    Does anyone know why the digital dash buttons on these older GM cars have the incorrectly spelled word “GAGE”?

    Wow I’ve never seen a factory dash pod like that. It’s amazing how something that odd can reach the final design stage and they say “yeah….that’s it!”

    • 0 avatar
      ChiefPontiaxe

      The C5 Corvette also spells it this way

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Could be an artifact of GM’s internal dictionary, which dropped letters that seemed superfluous. Or somebody was trying to be pretentious, since spelling “Litre” had gone out of fashion.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        ‘Employe Relations’

        That’s what the sign said at the Delco Electronics plant where I worked in Kokomo. I had to ask about the missing ‘e’, and they told me that’s the way that GM spells it. Just think about the seconds saved every time a secretary (yes, they still had plenty of those back in the 1980s) didn’t have to type that second ‘e’!

        • 0 avatar
          koshchei

          Reminds me of the signs in Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems, the fictitious defence contractor run by evil ginger aliens in Buckaroo Bonzai: Beyond the 8th Dimension.

          NOBODY CUMZ IN HERE

    • 0 avatar
      autojim

      GM still spells “gauge” as “gage” — many even have a warning light that reads “CHECK GAGES”.

      After working there long enough to thoroughly understand that I make a horrible GM employee, I also came to understand that GM does things its own way and if you come to work there after working outside of GM and do things the way the rest of the planet does things, GM lifers look at you like you’ve just grown an extra head.

      Most likely, someone (maybe during the Roger E Smith era of bean counters running the show) that they could save $0.001/vehicle by deleting the “U” from “GAUGE” and multiplied over 5 million vehicles, that would save them $5000/year.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      Because ASME (The American Society of Mechanical Engineers) writers use “gage” as a publication standard. GM follows ASME style in its technical documentation.

      • 0 avatar
        AllThumbs

        Thanks for this. I was wondering the same thing.

        For the record, Dodge did this too, as I just sold a 91 Dynasty with a “check gages” light that drove me crazy as an example of sloppy workmanship.

        Turns out I was wrong. About that, anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      OliverTwist

      General Motors wanted to make the labels more readable for the senile blue-haired ladies and old geezers. The letter U was omitted to maximise the label ‘readability’ by increasing the type size without making the buttons larger.

      That was reported in one of the American car magazines during the 1980s. I’m sorry I cannot recall which one.

    • 0 avatar
      Drewlssix

      Cough mazda3 cough.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    My cousin had one of these their family inherited from a 90 something great aunt in the early 00s. The Somerset was silver, but as I recall it was a sedan and not a coupe, I believe MY87. The more I think about it, I recall seeing several of these around my area in the same period. We also have had out share of Yinzer edition Reattas driving around (to this day). Buick was a big deal here at one point I suppose.

    Assuming this one was already damaged in the front end, no matter of “vehicle starts” was going to save it.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I don’t get this car in their lineup then. It’s far too similar (especially as a sedan) to the other stuff they were already selling.

      I had to look up Yinzer – I thought it was some slang to reference old Jews or something.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Evidently it was an N-body coupe to the N-body Skylark sedan from MY86-91, and basically superfluous to the Grand Am. Although in those days I recall some standalone Buick and Olds dealers still in operation, so somehow for twenty minutes a Buick Grand Am copy made sense. Now that I read the wikis, my cousin had a Skylark sedan which was also called Buick Somerset (in spite of the fact it was a Skylark).

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buick_Somerset

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buick_Skylark#1986.E2.80.931991

        If you want to understand Yinzer, listen to DVE’s online broadcasts.

        http://www.dve.com/main.html

        • 0 avatar
          Tim_Turbo

          Don’t forget about the unicorn of the bunch-Olds Cutlass Calais 442. 180hp, 5 speed manual. Somewhere I read that not very many were made, but I can remember at least 3 running around my area when I was a kid.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Never seen it but have heard of it. Quad-4 never really impressed me, if I happen to come across a manual N-body coupe I’d be looking to swap it with a 60V6 or 3800.

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          WDVE is still broadcasting? Damn, I can remember when they first came on the air, summer of ’69, and if you were in Johnstown they were the alternative to the local Top 40′s AM station (WCRO) which was all we got.

          I can still remember the two big artist promotions they were doing that first summer. One was a solo artist advertised as “having the most talent in the studio since The Beatles”. A guy named Elton John.

          The other was a rather progressive band named Atomic Rooster – I still listen to them occasionally.

        • 0 avatar
          geozinger

          I married a Yinzer…

      • 0 avatar
        zamoti

        My experience is that most Yinzers preferred the Pittsburgh Cadillac, AKA a Pontiac. However, since Pontiac left, I’ve noticed that the shift has finally gone over to Buick. I guess you can idenfity your hoopy-yinzers from their betters by whether they drive a ratty Chevrolet or a ratty Buick.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I agree the Pontiac was more popular, but you’ll still see a fair amount of Buicks, mostly H/C/G, an occasional E-body Riv or Reatta, or a 3800 W-body.

          “whether they drive a ratty Chevrolet or a ratty Buick”

          Essentially, although you don’t see as many ratty Chevy cars as you used to (trucks yes). The ratty cars I see are mostly DN101 Tauruses, Mopar not using 2.7, and all manner of early 00s Hyundai/Kia.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Most trucks I see made before about 1994 are very, very ratty. Especially the Dodges.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            Nobody loves the 1993 or older Dodges (Unless they have the CTD- Then, they’re still worshipped)

            Save restored/classic trucks, most made before 1990-1995 out here are usually pretty clapped out.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            @matador: Well the W250/W350 trucks usually end up at least slightly better off diesel or no, because people customize them. But nobody wants to bother with the 2WD D150. Seems like Dodge made more 2WD D150s than anything else.

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          One of my fathers memories of the car business was that, in Johnstown (an incredibly segmented town of eastern European ethnic groups), you couldn’t sell Chevrolets to the Polish. They all wanted Pontiacs.

          Then, when you walked in St. Casmir’s church, took one look at the sacristy, you understood why. They liked their chehcke (sp? – bling to you non-Polish types).

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      The Buick, Olds and Pontiac brands were very popular with Yinzers. I remember seeing quite a few Somersets in my youth. Didn’t know about the wacky radio, but well aware of Iron Duke, it seems they all had it. I see more older Pittsburghers driving Kia and Hyundai products in place of the Olds and Pontiac brands. Buicks aren’t nearly as plentiful as they were.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Not a bad little looking car. I dig it. I definitely disliked GM’s button fetish of the mid to late 80′s though. Huge distraction while driving. They were on this “buttons good/knobs bad” kick. You constantly had to look down to adjust anything. Nothing was set up intuitively.

  • avatar
    mars3941

    I had one of these gems back in the early 90′s in the 4 dr Skylark version with the mighty iron duke. Drove the pis- out of it city driving for over a year and it never let me down. High tech it wasn’t, but serviceable it was.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Well, clearly I know nothing about design, because I think for an ’86 car, that “pod” radio control looks pretty neat. Could use some large rockers for volume and tune instead of a bunch of same-sized buttons, but designers today are still making that same lazy cop-out when designing things like remote controls.

    It’s certainly no less usable than many of the touchscreen-driven systems of today.

    • 0 avatar
      matador

      I actually like the idea, too. It was probably a decent radio (Before today’s head unit-swap crazed times), and was in an easy to get-to spot. Just add a tuning knob (or rockers), and a volume rocker, and it would be good to go.

      Plus, it could be upgraded: http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/1/3085/4701/7712350005_large.jpg

      For an AM/FM only unit, why not make it cool looking?

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    My high school best friend had one in the early 1990s. Came off the “budget” lot at the Car Dealer his Dad was a salesman at. The trunk had hail damage so they slapped a chrome luggage rack on it to hide it.

    His was a creamy yellow beige color and although it looked pristine when he got it, I never saw a car rust so fast. I called his radio the “fish finder” because it looked a lot like the primitive sonars the old fellows were installing in their boats to “see” the fish.

  • avatar
    ChiefPontiaxe

    The Regal Somerset Edition started out in 1980, not 1985. My Cousin Stanley had one in two-tone navy and manila (both interior and exterior were two-tone): http://oldcarbrochures.org/var/albums/NA/Buick/1980_Buick/1980-Buick-Regal-Somerset-Folder/1980%20Buick%20Regal%20Somerset%20Folder-02-03.jpg?m=1341591306

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      That is truly gauche.

      “We gave the Somerset a truly distinctive touch by attaching an umbrella pocket to the back of the front seat and then fitting it with an umbrella.”

      Wow. Such exclusive. Many luxery.

  • avatar
    dwford

    I grew up a car nut in the 80′s, subscribed to every car magazine, yet I’m only just seeing these crazy GM pod radio setups for the first time today?!

    Of course, in another example of GM being way too far ahead of its time, I’ll point out all the current vehicles with with pop up or tacked on nav/radio screens on the dash – Mercedes CLA, Audi A3, Mazda3, etc. And let’s not forget the touch screen radio set up in the Buick Reatta.

  • avatar
    northshorerealtr

    If I recall correctly, the “pod” type radios were marketed as “reducing theft chances, since we mount the actual radio elsewhere and this is only the display/control module.” Elsewhere was in the trunk, under the front passenger seat, or bolted on the firewall.
    Ford did the same thing on one of their models–maybe the 1st or perhaps 2nd generation Taurus? Tempo?

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      I saw a 1936 Plymouth whose radio was a big box stuffed under the dash, with cables to the knobs and dial on the dash.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        Makes sense – a radio in those days was a big vacuum-tube unit that probably weighed 40-50 lbs – made more sense to mount it to the floor/firewall.

        I remember the AM radio in my Grandpap’s ’53 Ford – He’d turn it on and you’d hear the “vibrator” (mechanical DC/AC converter) kick in, and it would hum loudly until the tubes warmed up, after which you’d be treated to sonorous AM radio music… that would fade into a loud buzz every time you drove under high-tension power lines.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Third generation Taurus — the display module was oval shaped to go along with the oval theme of that car, and became know as the “football.” I think it also had the A/C controls built into it?

      First and second generation Taurus just had a DIN 1 radio.

      • 0 avatar
        matador

        The Gen III Taurus had the controls for HVAC integrated with the radio: http://i3.ytimg.com/vi/pUFIuhGe5BA/hqdefault.jpg

        The whole module could be pulled out. IIRC, you couldn’t upgrade the radio if you had the electronic climate control buttons.

        If you had the three knobs, though, you could swap the radio. It just looked really goofy:

        http://www.taurusclub.com/forum/attachments/electronics-security-audio-visual/40495d1140648106-97-aftermarket-radio-s4010010.jpg

        • 0 avatar
          dtremit

          At least in the ’96, the actual radio module was in the trunk — I can’t recall why, but they weren’t able to fit everything behind the dash. I’m pretty sure getting that DIN radio in there required some dash mods.

          The one advantage of that ovoid pod was ergonomics — different buttons had different shapes, and were intentionally arranged so you could learn them by feel. The nighttime illumination colors for the radio and HVAC controls were different as well.

      • 0 avatar
        silverkris

        I think the Ford Focus around 2000 also had an ovoid design for its instrument panel…

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          1st gen Focus was more of a mash-up of angles and ovals. That was Ford’s “New Edge” design I believe and everything was very angular inside and out. Even the complete ovoids of the Taurus and Sable got straightened out a bit in 2000.

          http://sunautoworld.com/ford-focus-zx3/ford-focus-zx3-3.html

          Pic makes me miss my 01 ZX3 5 spd a bit more. Not a high quality interior, but it wasn’t terrible to look at considering the competition then.

        • 0 avatar
          dtremit

          You’re thinking of the last NA Escort, I’m pretty sure. Ovoid pod from ’97-’01 (and through ’03 in the ZX2).

    • 0 avatar
      hgrunt

      Were thefts of OEM radios that big of a problem back then?

  • avatar
    friedclams

    My dad and I rented one of these back when they were new. I remember it as being pretty plush with a nice highway ride (the wheelbase seems quite long relative to the width). He let me drive it at one point and let me open it up on a remote straightaway “to see what speed feels like”. It got up to 90 mph pretty quickly. You could have done a LOT worse than this in the 80s.

  • avatar
    Prado

    I never drove one, but always kinda liked the Somerset Regal. I remember they had a T-Type version of it that was supposedly pretty quick for the day (a C&D ‘short take’ comes to mind). I thought it had a 3.3L, but maybe it was the 3.0.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    The 1980s were a good time, but a lot of weird-sized cars came to market. Ford Tempo, these small GMs, Corsica, Beretta, etc.

    Yuppies bought the Pontiac Grand Am in droves because it looked like the BMW they really wanted! I thought the Somerset coupe looked the best of the bunch. Goofy name, though.

    Personally, I think the pod stereo looks pretty cool. I wonder how it sounded?

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    The brand managing geniuses at GM managed to put the Regal and Cutlass names on about a dozen cars across 4-platforms. our customers literally had no clue what they drove

  • avatar
    justinx

    Can you imagine this is what GM threw against 1986 Accord.

  • avatar
    Zoodles95

    I remember these cars really well. As someone who came of age in the 1980s I have fond memories of the Pontiac 6000 STE, Chevy Celebrity Eurosport, and this car. I particularly like the rear light treatment on this car and the digital dash was considered pretty cool back in the day.

    This car with a V6 made a nice 1980s version of the “personal luxury coupes” which were so popular on my street as a 7-10 year old in the 1970s.

    What would be the current car which would be similar to this? Accord Coupe? SUVs seem to be the rage nowadays and that has seemed to replaced cars as a higher end vehicle for the average Joe.

  • avatar
    shaker

    My female cousin (dental hygienist) owned one of these; it seemed like a plush little ride for a lady on a budget.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    The N bodies were concieved in 1980, when gas was to go to $5 a gallon in 1985 money, or $10+ in our era. So, small was it. GM figured spend $ on fancy interiors and call it a day.

    Then gas prices eased, so the G bodies were kept, and the N’s renamed. Somerset Regal was to be the all new Regal. By the 1987 MY, all Buick N’s were called Skylarks, and to keep market share up, the rental fleet dumping started.

    If renting a car from Alamo, National, Avis, or even Budget, in 1989-98, you could pick which N body looked the best to you. Olds/Buick/Pontiac, once mid level brands, became fleet queens. Up until the last Acheiva, N’s were mostly rental fodder.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Yes, the Buick steering wheel in the Somerset/Skylakr was just like the X bodies. Only the T Type got the sportier wheel. And yes there was a blacked out version, to try aping the GN.

    My cousin got his first car after college from family friend who worked at Buick only dealer, and they had one manual trans ’86 Somerset, with Iron Duke. He wanted at least to have ‘fun car’. But it was so ‘fun’, it was dumped for an ’88 Toyota Celica 5 speed 18 months later.

  • avatar

    I really wish GM had built these better, as I really liked the styling. I still see a few on the road occasionally, but sadly most them were scrapped by their tenth birthdays, if not sooner…


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