By on August 6, 2012

The Buick Reatta is one of the many GM cars of its era that didn’t make a lot of marketing sense; the average age of Buick buyers in the late 1980s was about 113, and that’s not a demographic whose members tend to be comfortable with low-slung two-seaters full of intimidatingly futuristic electronic devices. You still see Reattas on the street now and then, and I found an ’89 in a Los Angeles junkyard last year. Here’s one that I spotted last week in a Denver self-serve yard.
The Reatta had a lot going for it, but it listed at $25,000 (about a grand more than the BMW 325i), it was sold under a marque associated with the elderly, and it was a front-wheel-drive car with no available manual transmission.
The Buick 3.8 liter V6 was a sturdy, well-proven engine, but it was a pushrod unit that made the kind of vacuum-cleaner-sucking-up-a-rubber-band noise under full throttle that turned off buyers of high-end European machinery.
It looked good, though, and some younger folks appreciate that. My fellow Alameda High alum, Kreayshawn, daily-drives a ’90 Reatta on the East Bay streets, and she says “Oh my God, I like love that fucking car!”
Someone has yanked the touch-screen instrument clusters out of this one, which means there’s some other Reatta that will benefit from this one’s demise.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

44 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Buick Reatta...”


  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    I was a Buick salesman back when these came out, and although I knew back then that they were destined to fail, it still pains me to see one of these at the junkyard. Not a very practical vehicle, but they were nice cars. Would love to own one nowadays, especially one of the ultra-rare convertibles.

    • 0 avatar
      p4nya

      FYI, this one by my house has been sitting on the lot for at least 3 months…
      http://www.lhmford.com/used/Buick/1990-Buick-Reatta-0665dda50a0d064901bdd27a6577e503.htm

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        Thanks p4nya! Interesting, I’d never seen one in white. Two things against it, though. Second generation instrument panel, which I don’t like as much as the first’s. Also, the interior as a whole is in really bad shape. That one’s gonna be sitting at that lot a lot longer, or will probably be wholesold.

  • avatar
    j3studio

    Reattas have a small but surprisingly strong presence on the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) forums.

  • avatar
    patman

    Beautiful cars.

    The headrests look like alien parasites that are attacking a pair of helpless low-back buckets.

    Can you imagine what a classic this would’ve been if they’d draped that body on an f-body chassis.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Drop-dead beautiful cars. I really wanted one back in 1991, but with not a lot of resources and a still-young family, it was sedans forever…

    I still like these, and there are several still on the road in the northern Cincinnati suburbs. Red or white. I don’t think they came in other colors, at least not the ones I saw.

  • avatar
    John

    I remember when these came out – they were a bit bland but appealing. It was a huge mistake giving the the Buick marque. The price was astronomical for what you got.
    A while after them were introduced I remember reading they were selling “like they were epoxied to the dealers’ floors.”
    I wonder if they’d have been successful if the expensive leather and touch screen had been dropped, a supercharger added to the 3800, and sold as a Pontiac?

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Reattas, little V6 Toronados, I never did understand the point of these cars nor what they were trying to compete with. They’re fine looking cars but with strange proportions.

    I do know that they must have had the best touchscreens ever built for a car, everything works. its readable, easy to figure out, and you never have to patch it!

    I still see these here and there and they just make me want one of the old (and more efficient) V8 barges, better ride and no pretensions.

    EDIT: The styling reminds me a bit of the late 80’s Nissan 200SX’s, I hope that isn’t what Buick wasn’t trying to compete with.

    • 0 avatar
      chicagoland

      GM’s FWD coupes were meant to sell to all the 70s/early 80’s personal lux coupe owners. Thinking they would trade in rwd Cutlasses, Monte Carlos, etc, for whatever GM would have in showrooms. GM still figured they’d have 50% market share in 1988, but it was bleeding and going downhill.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Hmm, wisely the owners seemed to have declined.

        I just don’t understand why the newer, smaller and lighter models couldn’t get the early 80’s 29 highway mpg.

  • avatar
    NotFast

    I remember these were built at the “Reatta Craft Center”. No, I don’t feel like looking up what that really was, but I thought it sounded pretty funny considering GM’s quality at that point.

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      Basically, it was a way for GM to dodge expensive UAW layoff costs by keeping an obsolete factory running a few years longer by only bleeding money instead of hemorrhaging it. They downsized a surplus WWI-era foundry in Lansing into a small batch, hand-build style car assembly operation that was still crazily overstaffed and crammed into a corner of a vastly outsized and mostly dilapidated complex. It was almost the same principle used when the Wilmington plant switched over to the Kappa roadsters, or, more recently, a lot like what SAIC is doing with their Longbridge plant over in the UK.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    There’s a guy in Northern VA who must have 20 of these parked in frront of his shop, some actually can run. He wants a lot of money for a runner.

    I had a girl friend who owned one of these in the early 90s. I always thought they were chick cars like the Lexus SC430.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Had a friend of mine who was seriously (I can’t make this crap up, trust me) considering trading his 1986 Porsche 944 for one of these. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and he enjoyed the Porkchop for years to come…

  • avatar
    PeteRR

    1988 was the year Buick went insane. They kill off the GN and replace it with a bland fwd Regal. They introduce the Reatta.

    • 0 avatar
      Gannet

      Now be fair. Buick didn’t kill the GN. The platform itself was killed. What was Buick supposed to do, try to keep the G-body alive just for the GN?

    • 0 avatar
      jayzwhiterabbit

      I always thought the Regal sedan that debuted in 1988 was a great looking car, especially at the time. The pity is that it was FWD, but unfortunately the trend was to fight Camcords in every way (though not apparently in regards to interior quality or engine technology). The Regal coupe had such a stodgy C-pillar, though. The Cutlass Supreme coupe was the best looking of the bunch, IMO.

  • avatar
    Hank

    This is why personal luxury coupes died.

    Murilee, this is off topic, but I had to share. Did you see that Matchbox is celebrating 60 years, and that the first commemorative edition on this list is a ’66 A100 Dodge van?

    http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2012/08/06/matchbox-to-celebrate-60-years-with-special-anniversary-series/

  • avatar
    John

    Being Buicks, these were not quite chick cars – they were COUGAR CARS!

  • avatar

    Autotrader search turns up many of these weird spaceships for sale, including one in Indianapolis listed at $595. Tempting…

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    This was the era of the pop-up headlight; I think these are some of the nicest. The nose and bumper are pretty nicely integrated.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    Problem with the Reatta was the same as the Fiero. The second version fixed all the problems with the first, but by then it was too late. Too bad they were good looking cars.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    Wasn’t the dashboard of this car common to the Riviera of that year? I remember that there had been a request to the Riviera Owner’s club to allow Reatta owners to join too, though it was turned down. As I recall, Buick could not justify a different dash for such a low volume car, and hence used the Riviera’s.

  • avatar
    moore101

    Was this one of the first cars with a cosmetic engine cover? Normally I hate those things but this one looks like serves a function (even though it probably doesn’t)

  • avatar
    rnc

    Always thought it was one of the most beautiful cars made. but a two seat coup with FWD? Would still love to have one (read a case study somewhere that the design, tooling, new factories, etc. for the Reatta and it’s Caddy cousin (a luxury super car coup, with FWD???) cost GM $5 billion) Was also the event that finally at least partially convinced GM’s executive management team that they didn’t know what the public wanted and that consumer input might be a good idea.

    But if those cars would have been RWD, they would have been huge, but like releasing the STS without the Northstar being ready, GM did what GM always did and paid the price.

  • avatar
    SuperACG

    These guys were made alongside the EV1. Notice a resemblance? Not too many GM cars I’d own, but this is definitely one of them! Almost hurts to see it like that…

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    Wow, that looks like its in better shape than most of the $7000 Reattas advertised on AutoTrader, but, of course, most of those cars have been listed for years with no sale.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    “…sold under a marque associated with the elderly…”

    Do some history research. Buick in the 80’s was aiming for Europe, and had the Grand National, for one. But in 1988, GM brass decided that Olds should be ‘youthful’ and Buick ‘traditional’. We know how well that worked!

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    I just want to say thank you for pointing me towards Kraeyshawn. That is the best rap music I have heard since Eminem’s last, and I’m looking forward to the debut!

  • avatar
    jayzwhiterabbit

    Good looking car….then I see the pic of the hood popped and I’m looking at another one of those goddamned 3800’s!! HOLY CRAP, GM put that motor in EVERY one of their cars, from the cheapest to the supposed “prestige” models, since forever! I HATE that motor….I don’t care if it’s bulletproof, it was sorely underpowered for it’s displacement and it sounded like a fucking tractor. I know, we had a W body with it. I’m so glad that pushrod V6 crap is finally dead!

    I have an encyclopedia of American Cars 1977-1999. A bunch of the GM’s had that 3.8 going into 1977 (I gather it was already old as dirt), and then practically all of them had the slickly-renamed “3800” by 1999. And FINALLY the 3800 and all of it’s derivatives have died this year, 2012, thank you emissions standards! :) It’s obvious GM didn’t even have a powertrain division for 30 years apart from the Corvette team and whoever did Northstar. All the other cars got the same old crap for 40 years. He he….one time I pissed my dad off so bad when I was a kid, when I told him GM cars should be priced less than half of comparably equipped cars from other companies because you were getting such outdated technology.

    Yes, the Reatta could have been great….with a DOHC engine, RWD, and an available stick. Oh yeah, and maybe a dashboard that didn’t look like an X car.

    Was this car related to that super-pricey Cadillac with the bodies built in Italy that had to be flown in? My guess is no, but I can’t remember the name of those.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Wow man that’s alot of 3800 hate there. While you make some valid points, Ford and Chrysler/Jeep are just as guilty in running aged platforms, and whats funny is the aged ones are the ones which *worked* (Panther 4.6L, Ranger 4.0L, Chrysler 318, slant six, AMC 4.0 forever) and to a lesser extent those which are coveted (Jeep XJ 4.0, Ford Bronco 5.0/5.8). From about the mid eighties on GM ran two V6 engines, a 60 degree type (2.8/3.1/3.4/3.5/3.9) and a 90 degree type (3.3/3.8), various 4 bangers (quad 4, 2.2 OHV), odd Cadillac 4 litre V8s, and SBC types as 305/350 and the 4.3. So in your typical GM FWD, you could have had one of two V6 types or a 4 banger, that’s it. How are the Japanese any better? I don’t follow the Asian makes much but I doubt they are no less guilty than building a decent block and making minor changes to it over the course of 10-20 years calling it something new each time. GM is guilty of lack of RWD and stick for the last 25 or so years, I agree but its starting to change.

      Personally I want low end torque and a growl, I don’t want to hit 6800RPM before my car can really cruise. OHC forces me to gun it where as my 3800 I can ease into and feel it open up. I agree the technology is dated but its cheap and effective.

      “Was this car related to that super-pricey Cadillac with the bodies built in Italy that had to be flown in? My guess is no, but I can’t remember the name of those.”

      That was this car’s cousin, the Allante.

      • 0 avatar
        jayzwhiterabbit

        Yeah, I think it’s largely a matter of driving style. I like the high-rev power style of engine. I guess that’s because I was raised by someone who will absolutely NOT consider any car but a GM. So, as you see in my post below, I do try to be as fair as I can about the car’s attributes.

        Like, my Dad has an ’06 Impala. Off the line, it is quick. But after 45 MPH or so? It’s like it’s dragging a caboose, or something. Just absolutely dead. It’s got the 3.5 V6 OHV. He thinks he’s getting the new style ’14 Impala when they come out, but has already decided he will not accept a 4-cylinder. And unfortunately, because the new 3.6 OHC V6 is going to be reserved for the top-of-the-line LTZ model at $33k+, they have priced him out of the market. I don’t know what GM car he will buy – Malibu is all 4 cylinder now, Buicks are too expensive, so I have no idea what the hell one he will be able to get.

        God, that car is so embarrassing to ride in :) It has a column shift and a front bench seat, for God’s sake. That kind of tells you the demographics of Chevy Impala buyers…besides rental fleets.

        I wish they would find an Allante for this column. That car’s appearance and engine were actually convincingly premium, I thought.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Engine families can legitimately have very long lives. VW is still selling millions of cars with EA111/EA113 OHC engines; these were first introduced as the EA827 in 1972 in the Mk1 Audi 80, and their genealogy dates back to the 72 hp OHV engine introduced in the 1966 Audi 72. Since then, the engines have seen displacement changes, multi-valve heads, fuel injection of many types, turbo- and supercharging, and a variety of cylinder configurations. Still competitive today, though

        VW may have had coil pack problems with their engines in the 2000s, but that’s really got nothing to do with the 40-year lineage of the engine family. VW is gradually switching to the new EA888 engine family, though.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “I wish they would find an Allante for this column. That car’s appearance and engine were actually convincingly premium, I thought.”

        I’ve seen a few up close and actually got to drive one briefly, the Allante was a nice looking car which was very flawed in execution. The Reatta’s had a number of their own problems between the known issues of the PacMan digital dash, the touchscreen not working as expected, and from I was told the motors on the popup lamps die and there literally are no replacement parts available. However the Reatta ran and runs well enough for there to be a club’s worth of examples to this day.

        The Allante was basically a disaster, about half the examples used the craptacular alum block 4.1 OHV, and many of the ones that do no were plagued with electrical gremlins. If it they were not so GM propitiatory and wrong wheel drive I could see a cottage industry rebuilding/upgrading them but its not worth doing. Many examples were long gone by 2000 anyway I would imagine, coming back as your Chinese junk du jour.

        “my Dad has an ’06 Impala. Off the line, it is quick. But after 45 MPH or so? It’s like it’s dragging a caboose”

        I have to agree having recently an ’11 six weeks ago. Two words came to my mind when feeling it sadly try to accelerate: “chevy engine”. What do I mean by that? Well since I started driving, you could always see the difference between Chevy FWD and the Pontiac/Olds/Buick counterpart. Cheaper everything and lacking in power. 3500 is an updated 2.8 from the mid eighties, don’t get me wrong in the mid eighties not too bad but by 2006 very outdated for a car of that size. Should have made Buick 3800 standard across the board from 05 to the end of the W Impala, or to your earlier point have replaced it with something more modern years before.

        I have to be honest with you though, I share you father’s concern. I don’t see a current GM car product worth buying new or used down the line. I think for me GM died in 2010, I’m not sure yet what I will be buying in the future. Maybe I’ll hush up later on and pickup the 2014+ 3.6 Impala at the auction since the 3.6 seems to be becoming the new 3800, anything could happen.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I think you are selling the first generation 3800 short. The first “3800” was introduced in 1988, and represented many major upgrades over the previous versions of the Buick 3.8L.

      The engine made 165 hp, which was only 5 less than the 305 V8 made, was more than what was offered in the 3.8L engines from Ford and Chrysler at the time, and a match for what was offered in the V6s of the Legend and Maxima of the era. The LN3 did have worse hp/L compared to the imports, but the GM cars still gave out better fuel economy (city AND highway) and took regular gas.

      You can argue that the 3800 lived on a decade too long, but you shouldn’t let your experience with your dad’s 3500 or your family’s W-body sour your feeling on this particular engine because in the late 80s/early 90s it was a very worthy powertrain.

      Did the low-revving power delivery of the LN3 match the overall mission of the high-priced Reatta? No, not really. Still, if GM put one of their DOHC engines in it, I bet that this particular car would have ended up in the junkyard in 1997, not 2012.

      • 0 avatar
        jayzwhiterabbit

        28: Ha, your comment about the old 2.8 liter V6 brought back memories. My first car was an ’89 FWD Cutlass Supreme 2 door, and it had that motor with the 4 speed auto. I got it when I was 16….dude, seriously, I LOVED that car. And it was respectably quick (I think the car only weighed 3000 lbs if that). My sister is a lot older than me and remembers when my Dad bought an ’89 Grand Prix coupe brand new, and she always talks about how fast that car was for the time (3.1 V6). The W platform was pretty cool when they first came out, a lot sportier than the Celebrity/6000/Ciera/Century cars. And they weren’t the usual “GM cookie-cutter” bodies of that period.

        You’re all correct about the reliability of those OHV motors….I got my Cutlass in 1998 when it was 9 years old with 94k miles, and when I finally killed it in 2002 it had near 180k with very few problems. Nothing a weekend trip to NAPA couldn’t fix, ever. Very inexpensive to maintain for a high school kid.

        ajla: good point about a DOHC engine vs. the 3800 in this Buick.

        As I said before, I’m not a real GM basher. I drive a 2010 Cobalt, and I love it too. Frankly, I don’t give a flying crap what anyone thinks about anything I buy….I got it b/c it was the best deal at the time. And I have not been disappointed one bit. Zero has gone wrong so far….of course, all the recalls had been worked out or performed by the time I bought it, LOL :)

  • avatar
    Featherston

    “The Buick 3.8 liter V6 was a sturdy, well-proven engine, but it was a pushrod unit that made the kind of vacuum-cleaner-sucking-up-a-rubber-band noise under full throttle that turned off buyers of high-end European machinery.” Sorry, but the exhaust burble on my parents’ LN3-powered Pontiac was nicer than that on their M20-powered BMW. And the former had the added bonus of not hesitating under acceleration or hemorrhaging oil as the latter did.

    The “when it doubt, bash GM” M.O. on this and other sites gets really old after awhile.

    • 0 avatar
      jayzwhiterabbit

      I don’t know if you were referring to me, but I’m no GM basher at all…I do give them credit where it’s due. I’m a current GM owner, and I LOVE the car. And it’s a one of the GM basher’s most favorite targets: a Cobalt coupe. My point is just that all of these cars could have been nicer and more competitive with modern engines – it’s just a matter of my opinion, because I prefer the driving characteristics of a DOHC motor. I think it’s sad that such a beautiful design as this Reatta was saddled with the same motor available in just about every other GM mid/fullsize car.

      I’ve always had a large interest in the W body platform, as I and my family have owned six. My first car was an ’89 Cutlass Supreme coupe. In some ways the original W bodies were ahead of their time, especially in exterior design. They really continued the “Euro” style midsize designs that were becoming mainstream thanks to Ford’s ’86 Taurus and others. And the cool thing is that GM offered so many variations and special editions, like the Olds International series, the Euro Luminas, and sometimes special DOHC or supercharged motors were offered like in the Grand Prix GTP’s and the Olds Intrigue. We have experienced nothing but utter reliability from these cars, hence my father has so far considered nothing else :)

      GM has made and is currently making some great cars, and I also get angry when people point out major mistakes from 30 years ago to justify their hatred of this company. Stuff like the X-cars and the Vega, stuff that is hardly relevant today. The current Buicks and Cadillacs are beautiful, wonderfully crafted cars. Buick interiors are certainly on par with Lexus, and some of them are better. To me the Caddy ATS looks awsome….and Chevy is also putting out some superb vehicles. I’m very excited about the 2014 Impala, as my Dad is a die-hard GM guy and he’s going to purchase one – and finally it will be our first GM midsize with globally competitive interior and drivetrain. Not to mention it looks kick-ass!

      Yes, after coming to this site for a few weeks, after my initial excitement wore off, the focus on GM and how awful it supposedly is has begun to wear thin. It seems to me some of the reviews of new cars would be completely different if the manufacturer wasn’t known….and the review of the Pontiac G5 on this site is pretty shameful. Yes, it and it’s platform mate have their share of problems but the review was hardly a review at all – just an obviously biased person’s attempt to drag a car company through the mud. And it’s been dragged though the mud and worse, for 30+ years. It may or may not be based on truth, depending on the writer, but constantly hearing about it gets old. Sometimes I wonder: if GM is so obsolete and an object of derision for these people, why are they so obsessed with it? Anyway, I like GM when it does things right and I’m always prepared to cheer them on heartily when they hit a home run.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        @jayzwhiterabbit – I was replying to Murilee Martin’s post itself, hence the quotation at the beginning of my reply.

        But to you points, I largely agree.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States