Tech Before Its Time: 30 Years Ago Buick Put The First Touchscreen In A Car

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It looked awful and beeped a lot but damn was it futuristic.

Buick isn’t exactly known for its cutting-edge technology, at least not today. Nowadays when people think Buick, they think of the elderly. Or they think of massive sales success in China. Or both. But that wasn’t always true, at least when it comes to the cutting-edge tech. In fact, Buick created the world’s first production car with a touchscreen, the 1986 Riviera. The “Graphic Control Center” was in color (all two of them) and let drivers control features like climate control and the radio.

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But the GCC did much more than just let a driver adjust the radio’s volume and the A/C. You could run a vehicle diagnostic and get information on the brakes, powertrain and electrical system. Hell, it would even tell you how much gas was left in the car. You could also use it to track your trip. All of those features may sound pedestrian but remember that this is the 1980s we’re talking about and this is an American production car, not some Italian supercar. At 3x4 inches, the screen itself wasn’t very large, but the unit was. It was a cathode-ray tube design, basically a miniature TV shoved into the dash. Reaction to the touchscreen was about the same across the board. Outlets like Popular Mechanics praised the tech and bashed the ergonomics.

The Christian Science Monitor was sufficiently wowed, saying “no other automaker offers the motorist so much information at the touch of a button. They also said it was a barrel of fun! My how times have changed. But like Popular Mechanics, the Monitor noted that the touchscreen was distracting and that it takes the driver’s attention off the road. This led to the death of the touchscreen in 1990, although it did see life in the short-lived Buick Reatta as well. Alas, this piece of cutting edge tech wasn’t enough to save Buick from GM’s downward spiral. In fact, Riviera sales dropped a stunning 70 percent in 1986. It obviously wasn't the GCC's fault but it's hard for new tech to gain acceptance when it's in so few cars.

As mentioned earlier, Buick isn’t exactly known for producing tech-savvy cars today. But that obviously wasn’t always the case and may not be the case going forward. History repeats itself, as seen in the Avista concept. Forget about the two-door’s looks for a second and focus on that interior, the one that took a mini scandal to create. It’s like something straight out of a sci-fi film/BMW i. Could Buick be gearing up to drop another tech bomb on the world? It seems unlikely, but so was a touchscreen as an option on a car in the mid-1980s and we all know how that worked out.

If you’re dying to see the GCC in action check out this awesome video. Do your best to not go nuts every damn time the screen makes a beep…which is every time you press it.

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