Junkyard Find: 1989 Buick Reatta

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

My trip to California to judge the Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500 24 Hours of LeMons started with a jaunt to Los Angeles, where I saw this extremely rare Hyundai Scoupe in a junkyard. Not so rare as the Scoupe, yet more interesting from an automotive-history standpoint, was this Buick a few rows away.

For reasons I can’t explain, the interior of this Reatta was full of bowling balls. Mysteries abound in junkyards.

At this point, all the Reatta fanatics are going to freak out, because this one still has its touchscreen ECC. ZOMG!

The Buick two-seater didn’t sell as well as The General’s commanders had hoped, for reasons that every TTAC reader can no doubt recite in his or her sleep, and so it joined the Allanté as another costly GM exercise in German-fearing squanderitude.

The luxury competition on the other side of the Atlantic wasn’t building a lot of cars with pushrod V6s based on late-50s technology, and we don’t need to get into discussions about front-wheel-drive and the lack of a manual-transmission option.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Bikegoesbaa Bikegoesbaa on Oct 27, 2011

    What foreign cars ever had a CRT? Edit: This was supposed to be a reply to the above comment. I don't think anybody really "pulled ahead" in automotive CRT technology as much as the industry abandoned it entirely.

  • Whuffo2 Whuffo2 on Nov 01, 2011

    Wow. I made my living restoring classic cars for a number of years. Much of what this group declaims as junk was actually pretty well engineered and a pleasure to work on. But not a Reatta. They had so many bad ideas; I had the misfortune of being contracted to restore one of these. Nobody here mentioned the Teves antilock brakes; what a nightmare. Imagine power brakes where the power comes from pressurized brake fluid stored in an accumulator and pressurized by an electric pump. That's not the worst of it; the antilock computers are failure prone and good replacements for them are incredibly rare. The master cylinder assembly tends to leak like a sieve; changing one of these will spoil your day in a big time way. How about that cam sensor? They mounted a magnet in a plastic holder and clipped it into a hole in the cam gear. This triggers the cam sensor mounted in the front cover of the engine. Wrong plastic; it gets brittle and crumbles and drops the magnet into the bottom of the front cover. The really bad news: it clips into the back of the cam gear; you'll have to pull the cam gear to install a new magnet assembly. Got a code 15 check engine on your Buick V6? Have fun. For extra bonus fun, change the serpentine belt. See that motor mount that passes through the middle of the belt loop? Yup, have some more fun. WTF were the engineers thinking of? Fortunately the one I was cursed with working on was a '91 and it didn't have the touch screen. Those are a nightmare, too. I spent a huge amount of time and effort putting that mess back into order - the owner knew it was going to be expensive. He ran out of money before the job was done, though. Don't lust after one of these unless you have more money than sense; they're a nightmare. Fundamental rule: DON'T BUY OLD LUXURY CARS. Don't do it, you'll be sorry. And I'd strongly recommend that any vehicle with the early Teves hydraulic-boost antilock system be immediately banned from the roads. It's horribly unreliable, failures lead to no rear brakes and no boost on the front disk brakes, and good replacement parts are almost impossible to find.

    • See 1 previous
    • Whuffo2 Whuffo2 on Nov 01, 2011

      @ajla Yes, I know about grinding down the rim and installing it through the cam sensor hole. You forgot to mention JB Weld - and it's not exactly easy - but it's possible. That's fine for a fix, but a restoration doesn't allow this kind of stuff - it's all about putting it back in the condition it was in when it rolled off of the assembly line. Pulling the front cover on the 3800 in a Reatta isn't really any easier than any other engine job. Because of the way the engine sits in the cradle on those cars, you can't pull the front cover unless you pull the engine first. May as well change that serpentine belt while it's out; saves trouble later. I'm simplifying a lot - you have no idea how badly these vehicles were designed. They've got the "multiple computers talking across a network controlling everything" like modern cars do, but they were using version 1.0 Delco electronics to do it. Yow; headlights wont' turn on? The "body control module" is mounted on top of the "transmission tunnel" close to the firewall; you'll only have to pull the dashboard to get to it. Looking for the Teves antilock module? It's screwed to the inside of the left rear wheel well; in the trunk, pull the trunk lining to find it. There's all kinds of bad in late 80's GM products, but you can't find so much bad in one place as you can in a Reatta. Just say no; you'll avoid a terrible experience.

  • Slavuta I just though, with this rate we could make Cinco De Mayo a national holiday as well. Since we have tens of millions of American Mexicans, and probably more than African Americans
  • Wjtinfwb Well, it LOOKS pretty great for 36 years old and 356k miles! I've seen plenty of 2 decade newer trucks that looked like a shrapnel bomb went off inside and and exterior that looked worse. This owner got everything out of that truck it had. Time to let it retire to the farm.
  • Wjtinfwb Stellantis. They've gone from Hero to Zero in 24 months with some really stupid decisions and allowing politicians to influence their business. They also hung onto old products way too long and relied on RAM and Jeep to pull them through. RAM plays in the most competitive market of all, full-size trucks and competition is brutal with Ford and GM keeping their foot to the floor on development and improvement. Chrysler now has one model, a 5 year old van. Dodge made a living off old cars with stupendous power, that's gone with the mothballing of the Hemi. The Hornet is an overpriced joke. Now they have new Durango Pursuit's self-destruction because of a plastic oil cooler that self destructs and dumps oil into the coolant lunching the engine. Grand Cherokee, a staple of Jeep has not been well received and has limited power options due to canning the Hemi. Now they've got to build interest around the Hurricane turbo in-line 6 in trucks, Charger's and Jeeps. If that engine turns out to be problematic its likely lights out in Sterling Heights.
  • Ajla Tim, any chance when you "pop on" you can have someone look into why comments under your authored posts don't allow any formatting, links, or editing?
  • Rick Old I.T. security weenie here.Not only can I live without it, I recently boughta 2024 Civic sport touring because the 2025 did awaywith a couple of things I wanted.First no manual transmission.Second the Garmin map went away and Google apps willcome installed. Google apps are a big security hole.Android auto and Apple Play just end up sending even more info off to Apple or eventually Google. I will spend extra for Sirius XM to avoid any google routed audio. or Apple Itunes. I never pair my phone to any car I own or rent and I leave locationservices disabled.