Junkyard Find: 1986 Buick Somerset Custom

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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]

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Writer d'Elegance Brougham Landau.

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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.

  • RICK Lou, not sure about panthers and Cougars , BUT at 76,I now consider myself a vintage Rolls Canardly. I roll down one hill and Canardly get up the next! Wishing you a Very Happy, Merry HanaKwanzaMas. 🎅🎄
  • Lou_BC The dealbreaker for me is the $80k starting price in Canada.
  • Zipper69 The Grenadier was designed ground up to be a "better Land Rover" and by most press accounts comes close.What little we know about the Quartermaster it's clear that it's intended for serious off road work without additional aftermarket fettling needed.The price is clearly a barrier, but IF it's the real deal, it will have a slot in the market.
  • Michael Charging more for less. Hmmmm
  • FreedMike Meanwhile, over at Nissan, you can get a perfectly nice, well equipped Frontier four-door that has a V-6, 4wd, and is capable of all the "truck stuff" you could ever want for $36,000. And unlike the "pay over sticker or go f**k yourself" nonsense you get at the Toyota place, the Nissan store will probably happily make you a nice deal.