Vintage car touchscreen from the ’80s was way ahead of its time (and still works)

Sometimes things that are written off as a novelty end up being far ahead of its time.

Josh Brinson runs the YouTube channel Neighborhood Car Reviews, and in one video he revisited a Buick Reatta’s decades-old display system — which actually looks pretty modern.

During the 1980s, technology was becoming trendy and computers increasingly ubiquitous. At the time, General Motors (GM) wanted to make its cars more competitive on the market. The result was a touchscreen cathode ray tube (CRT) called the “Electronic Control Center” in Buick Riviera and Reattas and the “Visual Information Center” in its Oldsmobile Toronado.

Today we’d recognize it as the first iteration of the touchscreen control displays in most cars. However, what’s innovative is not only the touchscreen but what you could do from it. When Brinson got his hands on an old Reatta, the CRT with glowing green letters against a black display, was still fully functional.

“For a 30-year-old system, it is still very responsive and very comprehensive,” Brinson said in the clip. “They were very advanced for the time and as a result, GM over-engineered them so they were incredibly reliable. Long since discontinued by GM they are increasingly rare and harder to find.”

Brinson went through each feature in detail in the video. Drivers could control the car’s climate, set personal reminders and use a radio with an equalizer. You could even retrieve diagnostic information about the brakes, powertrain and electrical system.

Despite the touchscreen being ahead of the curve, GM abandoned its CRT systems. The displays were criticized for being too distracting for drivers and GM went back to radio dials and buttons. However, these days most cars have similar screens thanks to more advanced GPS navigation systems. This time around, it’s likely they are here to stay.

If you enjoyed this story, check out this woman who went viral after making multiple turns to pump gas in her car.

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