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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Did Ford beat GM to touchscreen tech with the 1985 Continental Mark VII Comtech? | Hagerty Media

Most know the 1986 Buick Riveria as the first automobile to boast a touchscreen display, but vintage footage of an elusive, electronics-laden, 1985 Continental Mark VII may reveal the rightful heir to this title. Months before the Riviera could boast of its touch-activated display, Ford added a similar setup to its flagship coupe, gracing the console-mounted screen with a bizarre yet period-appropriate name: Comtech.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/did-ford-beat-gm-to-touchscreen-tech-with-the-1985-...
28 REPLIES 28
relton
Intermediate Driver

Sorry Sajeev, but Ford wasn't first with 4 wheel antilock brakes. The 1972 Imperial offered them as an option. Discs all around, too. I had one of these cars. Once I finished the development that Chrysler should have done, they worked extremely well. Rest of the car was a piece of crap, though.

What was truly a breakthrough on the Mark VII was the modern air suspension. Ford did a heroic job reinventing air suspension, from zero leak connections for nylon lines to self drying air dryers. It was so reliable that lots of Ford owners didn't even know they had it, including untold thousands of cop cars. Millions of perps rode to the slammer never knowing they were riding on air. All modern cars with air suspension have copied most of the features of the Ford system.

I was at GM when the Riviera came out with the touchscreen. It was terribly unreliable, warranty costs were through the roof, and customers were angry. Word came down from on high that "we're never doing this again".
kyree-williams
Pit Crew

I’m curious what compelled GM to put the touchscreen in the Riviera, and before the Toronado got one. It appears that, despite its visual flair, the Riviera was actually the most conservative of the three E-body coupes. And even if it wasn’t, it doesn’t seem like Buick buyers, of all people, skewed toward futuristic tech.

Were they looking for a “killer app” for what was a thoroughly underwhelming car (the 1986 redesign and downsizing was awful)? But then, the Toronado and Eldorado were also victims of that...and I think either would have made a better candidate for “first touchscreen ever.”
Sajeev
Community Manager


@relton wrote:
Sorry Sajeev, but Ford wasn't first with 4 wheel antilock brakes. The 1972 Imperial offered them as an option. 

That's a typo (or brain fart?) but I have corrected it to say four channel, not four wheel. And it was standard, not optional. The 1980s were a great time for technology, well at least relative to the 1970s. 

 

Agreed on the air suspension, as they had a useable lifespan that was at least a decade, which is far longer than most owners keep them from new. 

 

Thanks for your insight on the Riv. That makes a lot of sense!  

OldRoad
Instructor

Sorry Sajeev. Those air suspensions didn't last 5 years in southern California. Starting in the early 90s I replaced many of those air springs. Some customers were smart enough to know their Lincolns were worthy of the most extensive extended warranties possible at the time. Those that didn't invest were reeling. I could see the dry rot just a few years after the 85 model year even though they were not leaking yet. My thoughts were along with other service personal," In a short period of time these cars are going to be suspended on their frames.
Sajeev
Community Manager

Wow, that's good to know. They apparently last much longer in humid climates. 

OldRoad
Instructor

Sorry relton, those Lincoln air bags were a first class flop dry rotting in just a few years and leaking like the cheep basketballs the Lakers used to give away years ago. They would start leaking just as the factory warranties would expire and the factory replacement kits were a handy $800 plus tax. I know I used to replace them. And then watch the nervous writer get read the riot act when the repair was completed. The usual customer quote after they paid the damage was," I'm selling this piece of ( ) or I'm trading this ( ) box in for a car with real springs.
Tim
Advanced Driver

Hagerty did an interesting article on who was first to implement ABS: https://www.hagerty.com/media/archived/antilock-brakes/

Sajeev
Community Manager

Yeah its a lot better. Well maybe just a little better in most circumstances.

kyree-williams
Pit Crew

I love that you’re nerding out over this, Sajeev.

As far as why Ford didn’t do it, I agree with your assessment. Ford didn’t have the money to absorb a giant snafu if the technology turned out to be unreliable or buggy...and testing probably revealed it to be not up to snuff for production.

And besides, it’s not like GM won *anything.* The Buick Graphical Control Center (GCC) in the Buick Riviera and Reatta was poorly received and problematic...and it disappeared upon the 1990 interior refresh for both cars. The similar Oldsmobile Visual Information Center (VIC) disappeared after 1992, with the demise of the Toronado line, IIRC. Touchscreens popped up here and there as novelties in both concept and production cars, but the first cars to successfully implement them in any meaningful way were...not GM cars.

Beyond that, I say that, yeah, GM earns the dubious honor here...strictly for being first-to-production with not one, but two distinct touchscreen systems. As for the Ford Comtech units, how much did Ford actually publicize these? Do we know that the units were even remotely functional? For all we know, the engineers failed to overcome some key issue, like overheating after 40 minutes or something.

Sajeev
Community Manager

I am pretty confident that the Comtechs had a rough time in the hands of real people and Ford was like, "Screw this, we got a Taurus to deal with." Would be nice to know for sure, though. 

 

And I love to hear that you love to read me acting like a total geek about this. 

Tim
Advanced Driver

25 years later, Ford was taking a beating in J.D. Power's initial quality surveys because less-than-tech-savvy owners couldn't understand how to use Sync's touch screen, so that surprises me none.

Although some of those Comtech features seemed to be of questionable value. I can't think of a time when I needed my car to provide me with a calendar. 😁
Land_Ark
Intermediate Driver

Wait - $3,000 adjusted for inflation or $3,000 in 1985???
Sajeev
Community Manager

Oh, I woulda told you if I adjusted for inflation in the article. It was $3000 back in 1985. 

Land_Ark
Intermediate Driver

Oh my, someone please fetch my fainting chair!

Tim
Advanced Driver

That was back in the era where mini pickup trucks were being advertised for $5K-and-change. And the Hyundai Excel would debut in '86 for $4,995. So, that *option* cost 60% of the price of a crappy car! 😆
Sajeev
Community Manager

Oooh, that's a really good point.  Good bragging rights for the midwestern yuppies that flocked to these Marks. 

drhino
Advanced Driver

Touch screens, because dials and knobs and switches didn’t work at all.

Another example of BS crap added to cars for no other reason than “gee wiz”.

Unintended consequences then require more engineering. Like keyless ignition. People killing themselves leaving their cars running in garages because they don’t have to take the key out of the ignition. Brilliant. So now we have to have the car shut itself off if it’s been running for a set period of time.
Wilscaal
New Driver

I thought I would share some additional info on this topic. I was the E/E Staff Engineer at Buick responsible for the CRT program at that time.
I wanted to point out that like Ford, Buick actually did a concept build of the CRT touch Screen system in 1985. It was to be a 50-100 car build with the CRT system and some discussion about selling these cars after the evaluation was complete, but later decided against it.
I have provided a link to an article (video also included) of this 1985 Buick program.
Buick was the first for both the concept and actual sale of the touch screen technology.
Thought you might be interested.
Sajeev
Community Manager

Oh wow!  Yes, thank you so much for sharing this ... good thing I phrased the title of this article as a question! 

auto-mark
Pit Crew

Thanks Cary. I was going to point that out as well, since I had an "entertaining" hand in that system! And hope all's well with you, as well.
Reinhold_Weege
Intermediate Driver

The entire time I was reading the article, I was recalling a visit to Don & Hank's Highway Autoparts (aka junkyard) in Roseville, MI. Inside the yard, circa late 80s or early 90s, were a number of cars that appeared to have been purchased as a group from GM. Among an unremarkable assortment of mid-80s GM vehicles was an '85 Riviera with a CRT in the dash. Remind me to tell the story of encountering a 1975 Buick Century Turbine car at a grocery store.
JLM
Pit Crew

Yawn
Merc57tbird
New Driver

A few years before my time with Lincoln, but I believe that Mr. Zeniuk is alive and well and living in Scottsdale AZ if you would like to follow up with him on the details of why it was killed (I'm guessing MSRP).
TG
Advanced Driver

It is amazing how many of the general concepts of 'modern technology' have been around for quite some time
hyperv6
Technician

These electronics were poor and have rendered most of these cars impossible to restore. 

Sajeev
Community Manager

Definitely not impossible. Not easy like a Mustang with a catalog of parts at your fingertips, but absolutely not impossible. Take it from the guy who's become pretty handy around a Ford Tripminder computer. 

MaverickNutron
Intermediate Driver

..."SHALL WE PLAY A GAME?"
Hee! Hee!