Buick Reatta had a touchscreen interface in the '80s

In a collection of design flops that includes products that many of we nerds often lament, the Wall Street Journal also remembers the Buick Reatta, a strange little two-seater that featured among other innovations a touchscreen interface for its radio and climate controls. And people hated it. Wikipedia remembers:

During the first two years of production, the Reatta, like its Riviera stablemate, featured a touchscreen computer interface called the "Electronic Control Center", or ECC. The touchscreen controlled the radio and climate control functions and provided diagnostic access to the vehicle's various electronic systems and sensors, mostly eliminating the need for a diagnostic scanner. It also featured a date reminder, a trip computer, and a user-configurable overspeed alarm.

You can see the interface in diagnostic mode in the video above. Unfortunately I can't find a good video showing the basic, user-facing functions of the ECC.

When Design Goes Bad [WSJ.com via Core77]

Join the Conversation


  1. I remember my father brought home a demo of the Reatta’s touchscreen computer on floppy for the PC, I believe. It had pretty snazzy graphics, IIRC, and even had ‘music’ when you turned the radio on, and had different tunes for different stations.

    I hadn’t thought about that for years…

  2. My father had an 1989 Reatta new, which my mother took over after a year or so. I still remember climbing into the ‘backseat’ which really was just a deck about 2×4′. Good luck trying to get away with that these days.

    Anyways, the touch screen was not hated by everyone, I liked it when I took over the car in ’94. It really wasn’t that hard to get used to, just no tactile feedback is all.

    The GM ‘Iron Horse’ 3.8L V6 in that thing really moved it out. I immediately found out about the user-configurable overspeed alarm when a buddy and I passed 130mph. I’d reset it to 60mph when I knew my mother was going to drive it again cause the alarm would freak her out. The whole touch screen would flash a message and the cruise would kick in and push the pedal back on you. She yelled me out for that a few times…

  3. I recall a demo with “high tech” (for the 80’s) graphics running on my Mac SE back in college…

  4. My uncle had a Riviera with that touch screen setup. It was odd but kinda neat. Right up until it started to fail and there were parts of the screen that didn’t register the touch anymore. I believe it got so bad at one point that he couldn’t change the radio station anymore.
    Then the engine snapped a timing belt and ate itself so the whole car was sold for scrap.

  5. I absolutely remember My Cousin Ardith having one of these in her car. In her living room, there was a lamp that you could simply tap on for different brightnesses. And she had an incredible Betty Boop collection. I thought she was made of magic.

  6. My mother drives a fire-engine-red Buick Reatta with touchscreen and all the fixin’s. It has been garage-kept since it was purchased but has not had any other special treatment.

    Everywhere she goes people constantly tell her how awesome her car is. She’s had people offer to buy it out from under her on several occasions. If she sold it today, she’d make a profit.

    It’s got pretty good acceleration and handling for an american luxury car, but mostly people like it for the body styling.


  7. I used to have a 1990 BMW 325is which was my first encounter of a touch interface in a car. And I think at the time BMW used a responsible amount of discretion in their implementation. The only thing that was controlled was the bass/treble/fader levels of the radio on a simple one-way slider. But for 1990 it was an impressive techno add-on to the car.


  8. i think its funny that that guy traveled back in time to the 80’s with all these little “innovative” touch screen features thinking he was going to quietly make tons of money only instead to have the admins and moderators go back and neutralize his actions, steering public opinion such that these genuinely neat features were thought lame. haha, oh well, at least he didn’t try to kill hitler.

  9. I knew someone on the design team. It was a good ride. The original interior did invoke the AMC AMX.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *