Junkyard Find: 1986 Buick Somerset Custom

junkyard find 1986 buick somerset custom

Because General Motors felt that the world — or at least Michigan and maybe Wisconsin — needed a small, affordable personal luxury coupé with a digital instrument cluster, rackety pushrod four-cylinder engine, and a name that started life as the designation for an early-’80s Regal trim package, the 1985-87 Buick Somerset, sibling to the N-Body Pontiac Grand Am, was born. I have an unexplainable fascination with The General’s attempts to compete with high-end German sporty luxury in the 1980s and 1990s, so I was drawn to this California Somerset like a personal-injury attorney scenting an Accord driver with Takata airbag fragments embedded in his flesh.

Somerset buyers could get an optional 3.0-liter V6 making 125 horsepower, but the standard engine was the 2.5-liter Iron Duke four-banger, a sturdy-but-primitive engine based on one bank of the Pontiac 301 V8. The Iron Duke would have been a fine powerplant for a Soviet irrigation pump, but it seemed out-of-place on an alleged luxury coupé.

The coolest thing about the Somerset was this odd pod-mounted radio perched atop the HVAC controls. If a Somerset owner, weary of Delco sound optimized for Dream Academy, felt like upgrading to more modern audio gear … well, tough luck!

According to the ’86 Somerset brochure, “new fabric will be found in the Somerset Custom and an extraordinary velour cloth in the Limited.” Since this is a Custom, we are looking at the “new fabric” in this photograph.

Standard on all Somersets (as well as many other 1980s Detroit cars) was a headliner that fell down and had to be re-attached with staples, thumbtacks, or simply tied in a knot to keep the cloth from blocking the driver’s vision.

The second-coolest Somerset feature was this classy hood ornament.

Gimme savvy! Gimme cool! Gimme a car that breaks all the rules! The only place to get cheesier False Rock in this era was within a Cavalier ad.

The car of choice for sexy lawyers late for an arms-for-hostages negotiation with Adnan Khashoggi.

[Images: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]








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  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Apr 11, 2016

    There was a guy 3 or 4 yrs my senior who spent a fortune integrating an alpine amp and subwoofer with that goofy OEM stereo. One of my buddies had a turbo Pontiac variant of this model. It was a convertible in red/red. Seemed quick to me.I think it was only a 3spd auto though. It was much better looking than the oldsmabuick version.

  • Akear Akear on Dec 23, 2019

    In 1986 GM sedans suddenly looked modern. The baroque styling of the late 70s disappeared overnight, which was a good thing.

  • Snickel Fritz I just bought a '97 JX 4WD 4AT, and though it's not quite roadworthy yet I am already in awe of it's simplicity and apparent ruggedness. What I am equally in awe of, is the scarcity of not only parts but correct information regarding anything on this platform. I'm going to do my best to get this little donkey back on it's feet, but I wouldn't suggest this as a project vehicle for anyone who doesn't already have several... and a big impressive shop with a full suite of fabrication/machining/welding equipment, and friends with complimentary skillsets, and extra money, and... you get the idea. If you don't, I urge you to read up on the options for replacing anything on these rigs. I didn't read enough before buying, and I have zero of the above suggested prerequisites... so I'm an idiot, don't listen to me. Go buy all of 'em!
  • Bryan Raab Davis I actually did use the P of D trope, but it was only gentle chiding, for I love old British cars of every sort.
  • ScarecrowRepair The 1907 Panic had several causes of increased demand for money:[list][*]The semi-annual shift of money between farms and cities (to buy for planting and selling harvests)[/*][*]Britain and Germany borrowing for their naval arms race[/*][*]San Francisco reconstruction borrowing after the 1906 earthquake and fire[/*][/list]Two things made it worse:[list][*]Idiotic bans on branch banking, which prevented urban, rural, and other state branches from shifting funds to match demands. This same problem made the Great Depression far worse. Canada, which allowed branch banking, had no bank failures; the US had 9000 failures.[/*][*]Idiotic reserve requirements left over from the Civil War which prevented banks from loaning money; they eventually started honoring IOUs illegally and started the recovery.[/*][/list]Been a while since I read up on it, so I may have some of the details wrong. But it was an amazing clusterfart which could have been avoided or at least tamed sooner if states and the feds hadn't been so ham handed.
  • FreedMike Maybe this explains all the “Idiots wrecking exotic cars” YouTube videos.
  • FreedMike Good article! And I salute the author for not using the classic “Lucas - prince of darkness” trope, well earned as it may be. We all know the rap on BL cars, but on the flip side, they’re apparently pretty easy to work on (at least that’s the impression I’ve picked up). On the other hand, check the panel fits on the driver’s and passenger’s doors. Clearly, BL wasn’t much concerned with things like structural integrity when it chopped the roof off a car designed as a coupe.
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