By on December 23, 2019

1986 Buick Riviera T-Type in California junkyard, LH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1986 Buick Riviera T-Type in California junkyard, steering wheel - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1986 Buick Riviera T-Type in California junkyard, GCC - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAll 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).

1986 Buick Riviera T-Type in California junkyard, American Sunroofs warranty sticker - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSunroofs 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.

1986 Buick Riviera T-Type in California junkyard, power seat - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsCrevices for dust and fast-food crumbs abound in these complex leather seats.

1986 Buick Riviera T-Type in California junkyard, engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWith 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.

1986 Buick Riviera T-Type in California junkyard, drawing - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI’m not quite sure what to make of this drawing I found in the back seat.

1986 Buick Riviera T-Type in California junkyard, RH rear view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis 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).

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40 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Buick Riviera T-Type...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I had one of these and when it ran it was wonderful. The CRT touch screen was the stuff out of science-fiction. It was quick, luxurious and as fun to drive as any American luxury car could be. It had a sunroof, but I’m sure it was factory installed. It may have listed for $22K, but I remember paying about $15K for it

    Unfortunately it was plagued with a laundry list of problems, so as soon as the warranty ran out the Buick and I parted ways

  • avatar

    This was so much better than the baroque styled Riviera that came before. By 1986 GM sedans suddenly looked modern.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The problem with these and others like this being manufactured/marketed by The General is that they did not meet the expectations/wants of the traditional Buick buyers, and they were not regarded as ‘sporty’/prestigious enough by the younger demographic to to them from wanting European cars. As they say ‘neither fish, nor fowl’.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I agree, really the only reason I bought it was the deep discount Buick offered

    • 0 avatar
      j3studio

      Agreed. From my ongoing Riviera Project:

      “The 1986 Riviera was more than a foot shorter than that year’s Buick Regal coupe—whose base price of $10,654 was $9,177 less than the $19,831 that the supposedly senior coupe went for. A persistent rumor stated that Buick dealers were told not to place the Riviera too close to the similar-looking but much less expensive Somerset Regal coupe on their showroom floors. As early as September 1985, Popular Mechanics pointedly queried, “why make an expensive car look like a cheaper model?”

      Due to all of these factors and more, sales collapsed, declining 66% to 22,138—a painful state of affairs for General Motors which the Riviera shared with it’s Eldorado (off 72%) and Toronado (down 62%) stablemates. It probably did not help that 1986 Riviera prices were up almost 16% over the 1985 version, even when accounting for inflation. Buick had utterly misjudged the appeal of the new platform. One wonders how many future sales were lost as the revised E-body offerings for 1986 got buyers permanently out of the habit of buying big personal luxury coupes.”

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nooooooooooo.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      At least it isn’t an ’88 MY.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Do you mean the restyled MY89-93?

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Nah, I’d stick with the ’88 for the Riv. You could still get a T-Type that year and you got the 3800. I actually prefer the shorty look on the Buick compared to the more “Brougham” style for ’89+.

          On the Toro and Eldorado I prefer the added length though.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Oh man though you gotta have Brougham.

            The Toro till 89 looked too stubby to me, very close to an N-body Calais in appearance but the 89+ was a huge improvement. I also feel that way about the Riv, but the Eldo could have simply retained the the same sheetmetal and I would have been happy.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    – In 33 years, OEM’s still have not figured out how to arrange the digital dash and where to place all the pushbuttons.
    – The robust design of the two “cupholders” included in the glove compartment door might tell us more than we want to know about the depth of engineering talent and the regard this company had for its customers.

    Take computer from 1986, a television from 1986 and this Buick from 1986. Set them next to a computer from 2019, a television from 2019 and a Buick from 2019. Notice anything interesting?

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The Computers? Meh, they both run Doom. The TV? The new one has a better picture but the shows were better on the old one. The Buick? Probably made in the same country as the 2019 TV.

      Incidentally, only my PC’s case is made in China. It was assembled in my house from mostly Taiwanese stuff. The Chinese case will be on to my kid as soon as I weld the ATX backplate into the IBM Model 60 Server case I am modding.

      And cupholders weren’t as big of a deal in 1986. Check out the ones (or lack) in an E30 BMW…or an NA Miata. Did those cars lack engineering talent?

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I believe that those back of the glove box door indentations shaped like the bottom of a take out cup, were for use when parked at the drive-inn theatre or while eating at a fast food drive-inn. Any use as a cup holder while in motion would inevitably result in disaster.

        Insulated, transit coffee mugs/cups were not a thing in the 70’s/80’s. In fact ‘distracted driving’ was not a thing. If you wanted access to a cup while driving, you could buy a ‘clip on’ device that hooked into the top of your door between the window and the interior panel. If I remember correctly, they were not very popular.

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          Arthur,

          We grew up – in station wagons – with a succession of the plastic injection molded “window” cupholders (purchased at Kmart or Western Auto, because that’s all there was). The process of attempting to get the ‘cupholder’ to interface with the door card gave me a general disdain for the cupholder manufacturers (horrible design), the OEM’s *and* Kmart. (But I did learn about parting lines.)

          In 1983 Chrysler put real cupholders on the minivan. I strongly suspect Buick’s 1986 stamped steel depressions referred to above were a direct (and lacking) response to all the cupholder hubbub going on at the time.

          The 1985 Chevrolet Caprice Estate we got had deep ‘cupholders’ (and a small squared-off storage cubby) molded into the side panels in the third row (one side only – lol). It was a revolution.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            ” strongly suspect Buick’s 1986 stamped steel depressions referred to above were a direct (and lacking) response to all the cupholder hubbub going on at the time.”

            nope, GM had those depressions in the glove box door for a long time. When I was in high school, a guy in my auto shop class had a hand-me-down ’77 Cadillac which had those.

            which- come to think of it- so did the glove box door of my ’84 F-250.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            “In 1983 Chrysler put real cupholders on the minivan”

            My 1984 Turismo had cupholders, first car I ever owned with cupholders. I thought they were the bee’s knees :)

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Our 1985 Dodge had good cupholders that folded out of the dash and then slid out like a drawer to hold two cups, one of them potentially a coffee mug. Our 1971 Plymouth had two flat circles stamped on the inside of the glovebox door.

        • 0 avatar
          conundrum

          Hell, my 1960 Volvo 544 had the cup indentations on the glove box door when opened. Swedes drank beer post war. Worked fine when stopped. The drive-in hang on the window tray wasn’t exactly wonderful burdened with giant glass mugs of A&W Root Beer bending things, so those mugs were relegated to floor level ASAP.

          Of course, I know cars didn’t really exist before calculators and CAD and the internet, so all these memories may just be a figment of my imagination.

          Oh, the Buick? The ’80s was a lost decade for GM – they didn’t know what to make – big, smaller, small, Cimarron, bag of everlasting bolts GM A body FWD’s. You had that dope Roger Smith running the place from 1981 to 1990 and he thought the answer to everything was robots.

          It was bad and the Riviera was as well. TTAC addressed this in 2009.

          https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/06/curbside-classic-gms-deadly-sin-1-1986-buick-riviera/

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            OK, I was wrong about the stamped metal impressions. GM wasn’t trying to respond to customer desires, they were continuing with their same old same old. (I gave them too much credit.)

      • 0 avatar
        Gayneu

        I own an NA Miata – has 2 cupholders between the gearshift and the locking console compartment.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Cup holders weren’t a big thing in the 1980s – period.

      The first vehicle I owned that had an even remotely functional cup holder (and that includes ‘merica, Germany and Japan) was in 1995.

      Those slight indentations were for sitting in your car at a drive-thru to capture the few drops of condensation that form.

      A computer from 1986? Well, the hard drive if it was even equipped likely failed decades ago and good luck on having the floppy drive aligned. Where do I connect this line to access the Internet and where is the Wifi icon? Why does the mouse have one button? This 13″ CRT display is KILLING my eyes.

      The TV, the tube is likely burned in at this point with all of its glorious 240 lines of resolution. How come it doesn’t get anything? Oh that’s right, the analog broadcast signals were turned off a decade ago (give or take). Where is the HDMI port? I want to wirelessly send my Apple display to this thing? Hello??? Anyone????

      Admittedly not an ’86 but I didn’t really want to spend my life on this. Here is a ’92 Buick I found in 5 seconds:

      http://www.brooksbiddle.com/used-cars/detail/Pre-Owned-1992-Buick-Century-Special/998/1G4AG54N8N6490030

      Looks pretty clean to me and still running.

      So a computer from 1986? Irrelevant for any modern function.
      TV from 1986? Irrelevant and useless for any current format.
      Buick from 1986? Steering wheel? Seats? Brakes? Runs on 87 octane? Can I buy parts? Does it keep me from freezing to death in the winter? Do lights turn on? Does it have a horn?

      Yup – I sure do notice something.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        APaGttH,

        My point was the opposite. The level of technological change seen in the computer or television since 1986 is revolutionary (for example, multiple generations of flat panel technology vs. cathode ray tube). While the manufacturing process (for example) for a Buick in 2019 is not fundamentally different from that 1986 model. Why is that?

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          “While the manufacturing process (for example) for a Buick in 2019 is not fundamentally different from that 1986 model. Why is that?”

          So robotics use has not increased? Mfg processes have not changed significantly?

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            Pick a manufacturing area and we can discuss:
            – Body
            – Paint
            – Powertrain
            – Trim

            Or if you’d rather focus on functional vehicle areas:
            – Interior
            – Exterior
            – Driveline
            – Electrical
            – Suspension/Steering/Braking

            The 1986 Buick has more in common with the 2019 Buick than the 1986 Buick has in common with Corey’s 1952 Alfa Romeo 6C. And that is because GM has been dragging its feet for three decades.

            (I’ll give you airbags, crumple zones, *some* additional automation [not as much as you might think], and hanging USB ports on the audio system. But this in no way, shape or form approaches the level of innovation we have seen in less oligopolistic industries, which is why the 2019 computer and television are unrecognizable in the world of 1986.)

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            Functional area: Electrical. In 1986 CANbus multiplex wiring was just leaving the lab. This Buick was wired the old-school way.

            That is remarkably different

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            CANbus yes.

            But by now we should have 42V-48V and full multiplexing, no?

            12V (13.8) is so 1950’s.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          Robotics building cars?

          The paint process in 2019 is vastly different from 1986.

          Many OEMS don’t even design various components anymore including major systems like transmissions. The 8-speed auto in a BMW is the same as a Lexus is the same as a Buick.

          I could make the same argument in a 1986 vehicle, hey where is Bluetooth and how come there is only one charging port? USB??? Hello? What the Hell is this thing in the charging port that glows red when I push it in??? Were people crazy?

          The process of screwdriving a computer together sure hasn’t changed from 1986.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “Many OEMS don’t even design various components anymore including major systems like transmissions. The 8-speed auto in a BMW is the same as a Lexus is the same as a Buick.”

            Hm? Only a couple of models use the Aisin 8 speed; most of the Buick lineup uses the GM 9TXX 9-speed.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            “The process of screwdriving a computer together sure hasn’t changed from 1986.”

            Apple begs to differ.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Amazing, nearly every major change/improvement mentioned in vehicles were implemented due to government mandate.

            Airbags, crumple zones, ABS, stability control, Bluetooth, back-up cameras, improved MPG etc. All legislated requirements.

            So then just what improvements/innovations have the auto companies introduced in order to gain competitive advantage over their competition?

            As for computers only Apple machines used mice. The rest were operating on DOS.

            Any TV from 1986 is now a boat anchor. We could not even give away a ‘large screen’ TV from 2000 that had hardly ever been used by my parents.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        That dealer is high @ 4K. Those are decent runners but aren’t overall that great even back in the day.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I like these coupes! Not just the mini-Riv but also the contemporary mini-Toronado. They are cleanly styled, a really nice size to drive, and light enough to be quick for the time. But they were certainly a bit too minimalist for the target buyer.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Nice. Too bad about the CRT screen. I’d give 20 bucks for it just to be able to jump it to life like they did with Bishop in one of the Alien sequels.

    I admit to not being familiar with these. Would it give me data from long ago drives?

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    It’s easy to criticize the product plan with 20-20 hindsight, but these were concepted when crude was $120/bbl (inflation adjusted) and came into production when it was in the $30s.

  • avatar
    Mike-NB2

    A powered retractable sunroof as an aftermarket add-on must have been insanely expensive. And risky. I had a similar experience (Not!) in ’87 when I had a pop-up sunroof installed in my ’87 Escort. To 1987 me a sunroof seemed like a necessary thing. To me anywhere north of 2000 they aren’t even ever opened.

  • avatar

    And at the same time Ford came up with hugely successful Taurus/Sable pair which made GM cars as well as Japanese boxy designs look old. I wonder if Sable competed with these.

    BTW I also screwed my PCs from Taiwanese parts plus Intel CPUs but last time I did that was in 2000. After that I got rid of PC and bought only laptops.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    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?

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    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?

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