Junkyard Find: 1986 Buick Riviera T-Type

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The General’s Buick division went all futuristic starting in the middle 1980s, hoping to win back (younger) American buyers who were switching their loyalty to high-tech European machinery at that time. The sleek Reatta two-seater came along in the 1988 model year, but the 1986 Riviera (and, to a lesser extent, the Somerset) were the first models to get the science-fiction touch.

Here’s a maximum-options Riviera T-Type coupe, which came with 800-way power seats and a touchscreen computer interface, spotted in a Silicon Valley self-serve yard last month.

The T-Type name first appeared on the 1981 Riviera and spread to other Buick models as the 1980s went on. T-Types had sporty badges, bucket seats, and (often) performance-oriented mechanical upgrades.

All 1986 Rivieras came with digital instrument panels and the revolutionary Graphics Control Center system, which boasted a touchscreen CRT interface sourced from the same hardware used for high-end automatic teller machines of the era. These screens get grabbed pretty quickly from junkyard Buicks (and Oldsmobiles), but I already have enough GCC components to build at least one system into a car-parts boombox (the GCC system involves many mysterious steel boxes and wire bundles, some buried deeply under the dash).

Sunroofs were regarded as super-luxurious items in the 1970s and 1980s, and this car got a costly aftermarket installation immediately after purchase (or perhaps it was dealer-installed).

I found some paperwork in the car that led me to its final address. Here’s a Google Earth view of the car, with big sunroof, moldering away in a blocked-in driveway in suburbia. My guess is that it broke a decade ago and its owners finally ran out of motivation to get it fixed.

Crevices for dust and fast-food crumbs abound in these complex leather seats.

With a 140-horse 3.8-liter pushrod V6 driving the front wheels and no manual-transmission option, the 1986 Riviera lured away few BMW or Mercedes-Benz shoppers. Still, this car was a radical departure from the geriatric-grade Buicks that American car buyers had come to expect by the 1980s.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this drawing I found in the back seat.

This was the most expensive new Buick you could buy in 1986, listing at $21,577 (about $50,600 in 2019 dollars). That was pretty close to the cost of a new 1986 BMW 325es ($21,950) and you got 19 more horsepower with the Buick. However, the rear-wheel-drive Regal T-Type with turbocharged 3.8 engine had a mighty 235 horsepower in 1986 and its MSRP was a mere $13,714 (plus $635 if you wanted the Grand National appearance package, which you did).

This ad is sort of a combination of Top Gun and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

If you like these Junkyard Finds, you’ll find links to 1,800+ more at the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.








Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Namesakeone Namesakeone on Dec 25, 2019

    I remember a Car and Driver test of the 1986 Riviera T-type--where they gave both an introductory test and then kept it for a 30,000-mile "long-term" test. In the initial test article, CD widely criticized the car, especially the touch-screen interface. And when GM read the magazine article, they called CD and demanded the car back--and picked it up that day. The magazine ran an abbreviated long-term test article. The (black and white) photographs in the article, IIRC, appeared to be a silver car. These probably were pretty rare when new; I wonder it it could be the same car?

  • Namesakeone Namesakeone on Dec 25, 2019

    I remember a Car and Driver test of the 1986 Riviera T-type--where they gave both an introductory test and then kept it for a 30,000-mile "long-term" test. In the initial test article, CD widely criticized the car, especially the touch-screen interface. And when GM read the magazine article, they called CD and demanded the car back--and picked it up that day. The magazine ran an abbreviated long-term test article. The (black and white) photographs in the article, IIRC, appeared to be a silver car. These probably were pretty rare when new; I wonder if it could be the same car?

  • Daniel J Until we get a significant charging infrastructure and change times get under 10 minutes, yes
  • Mike I own 2 gm 6.2 vehicles. They are great. I do buy alot of gas. However, I would not want the same vehicles if they were v6's. Jusy my opinion. I believe that manufacturers need to offer engine options for the customer. The market will speak on what the consumer wants.For example, I dont see the issue with offering a silverado with 4cyl , 6 cyl, 5.3 v8, 6.2 v8, diesel options. The manufacturer will charge accordingly.
  • Mike What percentage of people who buy plug in hybrids stop charging them daily after a few months? Also, what portion of the phev sales are due to the fact that the incentives made them a cheaper lease than the gas only model? (Im thinking of the wrangler 4xe). I wish there was a way to dig into the numbers deeper.
  • CEastwood If it wasn't for the senior property tax freeze in NJ I might complain about this raising my property taxes since most of that tax goes to the schools . I'm not totally against EVs , but since I don't drive huge miles and like to maintain my own vehicles they are not practical especially since I keep a new vehicle long term and nobody has of yet run into the cost of replacing the battery on an EV .
  • Aquaticko Problem with PHEV is that, like EVs, they still require a behavioral change over ICE/HEV cars to be worth their expense and abate emissions (whichever is your goal). Studies in the past have shown that a lot of PHEV drivers don't regularly plug-in, meaning they're just less-efficient HEVs.I'm left to wonder how big a battery a regular HEV could have without needing to be a PHEV.
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