Today I Learned Buick Created A Website Before There Was Even A Web

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The other day I was looking through a box of old Apple II diskettes (I was trying to find this, to explain to my wife who Dr.J is) when I found something I had forgotten all about: a 1986 disk from Buick that is, essentially, a website that predates the web. I loaded the 26 year old disk into my old Apple //c, and, after a few tries, it booted. What I found was simply amazing.

I remember getting this disk in the mail when I was a kid; ostensibly, it must have been addressed to my dad (I wasn't really liquid enough for a new Riviera at the time) but, like most dads of the mid-80s, any floppy disks received in the mail went immediately to the kids. I'm guessing he was on a mailing list for these because we had been car shopping last in 1980, when he replaced his old '68 Beetle with an '80 Honda Accord. I was pushing for an AMC Pacer, but I don't think my opinion counted for much. Upon looking at this thing now, it's amazing to see how far ahead of its time it was.

Essentially, the disk is an electronic catalog of Buick's '86 lineup, complete with detailed technical descriptions (some animated and even a little interactive), comparisons with other makes (Rivera vs. BMW? Ok, Buick.), a way to print the car's window sticker, a loan calculator, printable dealer invite.

It was, essentially, all the stuff you'd find on an automaker's site today. And this was three years before Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote his 1989 proposal for what would eventually become the World Wide Web.


And it was all done in 286K (the disk is 143K per side), and on a screen that measures 280x192 pixels. Compare that to a lowest possible average screen today of 1024x768. Oh, and with about 15,999,994 colors less than what most computers have today.

Let's think about that a little more: just by chance, the JPG that makes up the splash image on this post happens to be exactly the same size, 143K, as what each side of that disk could hold; that's one image. And the size of the screen — it's less than a quarter of what you have on your phone. And, all this ran on a computer that was just over 1Mhz; a factor of a thousand less than what you're likely reading this on now.

We lived like animals back then.


I made a gallery with a bunch of screenshots of this because I think it's so amazing. It's sort of like finding a missing link between pre-web and web-era computing. This had a Mac-like user interface (all custom-coded, as the Apple II didn't really have a set GUI toolbox at this point, and even the text engine had to be custom made, since you couldn't really mix text and graphics normally on an Apple II) that actually works pretty well.

[gallery 5895961]I love the crude 8-bit graphics, the color bleed, and the liberal use of a grid to show something's "technical". What's really remarkable is how well it actually works; I could see it being useful if I was seriously looking for a car back in 1986.


I have no idea how many of these Buick actually sent out (they do seem to have made an updated one for the Mac in 1990), or if any other manufacturers did this. It makes sense Buick would have tried it; we forget, after years of thinking of Buicks as septuagenarian Cracker Barrel-shuttles, but in the mid 80s Buick was playing with some advanced tech, like the grandfather of all the touch screens in modern cars, the CRT touch screen in the Riviera.

It's no secret I'm profoundly geeky, but now that we're all geeks, I think we can all appreciate the magic of a proto-website, sent over a network of mail Jeeps and shoe leather. Now please geek out with me.