Junkyard Find: 1986 Buick Riviera T-Type

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1986 buick riviera t type

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™.








Comments
Join the conversation
2 of 40 comments
  • 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?

  • Analoggrotto It's getting awful hard to tell these Mercedes apart from one another.
  • Analoggrotto Ah the Fisher Price car for the uncoolest of uncool dad-bods.
  • FreedMike If it were a GLI, it’d be a decent project car. But at the end of the day you have a base Jetta, and those weren’t all that great. Speaking of project VWs - when I was living at my old house a few years ago, one of my neighbors had an OG 1983 GTI sitting on his lawn. Lord, did I want to take that car home.
  • Dukeisduke "Gouging" - lol. California's gas prices are driven by a combination of the highest state gasoline tax in the US (66.98 cents per gallon) and the CARB-mandated California-only boutique fuel blends.
  • Astigmatism Honestly I'm surprised it's not higher. My parents bought two garage spots in Boston for $250k in the 1980s. When I worked in midtown a decade ago, garage spots near my building rented for $500 a month, which would support a $125k mortgage.Places get expensive when lots of people want to live there.
Next