Car companies attempted quite a few technological leaps forward during the decade of the 1980s. Some of them— say, electronic fuel injection or airbags— made the transition from exotic to mainstream during this time, while others took another decade or three to settle down and become unremarkable equipment in our vehicles. The touchscreen video monitor interface is one of those leaps; you’ll find touchscreens in even cheap econoboxes these days, but General Motors was a quarter-century ahead of its time with the Graphics Control Center touchscreen interface. The GCC debuted in the 1986 Riviera, and it was straight science fiction back then (a few years later, the Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo got an even more advanced touchscreen system). During my junkyard travels in California last month, I found a very rare GCC-equipped 1989 Riviera, and I had to buy all of the hardware needed to make a genuine Buick GCC function.
It’s easy to figure out why this car ended up in a place like this.
I had set up alerts with Row52, years ago, to let me know when any Riviera, Reatta, or Troféo of the relevant years showed up in one of the wrecking yards I frequent, and I hadn’t found any Graphics Control Center-equipped models… until I found this crashed 1989 Riviera in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service wrecking yard, on a trip to Northern California to work at the Vodden the Hell Are We Doing 24 Hours of Lemons race. A thousand miles from home, without proper tools and with a race to work, but I needed that GCC hardware.
When I first laid eyes on this GCC touchscreen (between photographing a 1974 MGB-GT and a last-year-of-production Volvo 240), I figured that all of the necessary electronics were housed inside the dash-mounted steel box containing the CRT-based touchscreen unit itself. This was a very, very incorrect assumption, but I had to wrap up my junkyard trip and get to the race track.
A Buick touchscreen, a Nissan Voice Warning box, and a 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood clock. A good junkyard haul.
I had also found a Nissan Voice Warning unit (which uses a tiny phonograph record to play voice announcements) in a 1982 Datsun Maxima, plus a nice 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood analog clock for my collection of car clocks, and so it seemed like a pretty good junkyard haul. After the Lemons race, though, I realized that the Buick Graphics Control Center had a lot of hidden components, and if I wanted to get a GCC working I’d need to go back and buy a lot more hardware out of that ’89 Riviera.
I went back to the junkyard and bought this stuff to go with the Riviera touchscreen unit.
As you might imagine (and as I should have imagined when I pulled just the touchscreen CRT unit on my first junkyard trip that week), to make such a device work in the technological dark ages of the late 1980s took a lot of equipment, and so I did some online research and learned that I needed the Body Computer Module, the Cathode Ray Tube Controller box, the Central Power Supply, the remote radio unit, and the separate cassette player. It took hours and a lot of cursing and inhaling of nasty 28-year-old Riviera schmutz, but I got all this stuff and bought it.
Now I just need to make all of these components work together again. How hard could it be?
Now that I have shipped all this hardware back to my house and purchased a factory 1988 Riviera shop manual, my plan is to make this setup function on a workbench. Once I have the touchscreen working the way it did in the Riviera— that is, if it wasn’t damaged in the crash that ended the car’s career, and if the computer doesn’t freak out when it gets no signals from the engine computer and/or HVAC hardware— then I might build it into a new junkyard boombox project.