By on March 25, 2019

1990 Buick Reatta in California wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Buick Reatta is one of the more interesting attempts made by The General to steal back some North American buyers who had defected to European luxury brands. For a while, I’d photograph every junked Reatta I found, but more and more kept showing up in big self-service wrecking yards and I stopped paying attention for a while.

Only about 20,000 Reattas were made, but the last 10 years have seen Full Depreciation for these cars. Still, I hadn’t done a Reatta Junkyard Find since 2012, and I spotted this shiny-looking ’90 in a San Francisco Bay Area yard a couple of weeks back, so here we go!

The E-Body Riviera served as the basis for the Reatta, which meant that this supposed Mercedes-Benz 560SL-killer got its power from a primitive pushrod V6 engine. Shifting was slushbox-only, of course.

1990 Buick Reatta in California wrecking yard, dashboard - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Electronic Control Center went away after 1990, but the ’90 model came with a futuristic-looking digital instrument cluster.

1990 Buick Reatta in California wrecking yard, front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsLike many GM cars of this era, this Reatta had a broken hood latch, and I wasn’t willing to tear up all my knuckles trying to pry the hood open for engine-compartment photos. If you must see an early-90s Buick 3800 V6, you can look at this car.

1990 Buick Reatta in California wrecking yard, RH rear view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Reatta’s radical styling and two seats scared away the increasingly elderly “traditional” Buick buyers, and the younger crowd preferred the R107 Benz (which outsold the hell out of the Reatta in the United States). The same sort of thing happened with the Oldsmobile Toronado Troféo.


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58 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1990 Buick Reatta...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    It’s already been 12 years since the first Junkyard Find Reatta exposé?

    I was never sure how to pronounce the name of these. The first time I saw one, parked in the owner/driver’s upper middle class neighborhood, I though the letter g was missing from the name (as in regatta, a boat race). Where *did* the name come from? Was it a proper noun, was it computer-generated sound, a focus group-generated sound, or was it a real word?

    Looking back, I’m not quite sure if these were intended to be middle age man crisis sports cars or cougarmobiles… or both. They worked fine in both roles.

    Pretty neat story behind these with how GM used them to experiment with different manufacturing methods.

    I don’t remember a single TV commercial for these, and I was of driving age when they were new.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I just love these despite what they are, so to speak.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yeah, me too. Friend of mine just got a convertible one, so jealous.

      Frankly, I love the fact that this came with the pushrod 3800. Not sexy, but powerful enough and I’d much rather deal with that than a 25 yer old Mercedes engine.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        Your not kidding there. I have seen plenty of this generation 3800 engines with 300-400K miles and they still run quite well. They can keep the Mercedes mills of this time era. The 3800 of this time would have made this a mid 8 second car going by weight and it’s rated 165 HP.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Per the Reatta linked by Murilee: “The Reatta Coupe listed at $28,335, which was smack in the middle of the BMW 3-Series price range, just a bit less than the new Audi Coupe Quattro, and a couple of grand less than a Mercedes-Benz 190E. As for the much faster Nissan 300ZX Turbo… well, that was $21,399.”

    I believe that explains the lack of sales success for the Buick. The 300ZX Turbo was the car to buy from among that group.

    Otherwise, why the dismissal of the 3800? It might be old technology but it should outlive the other engines in the other cars mentioned. And with just a little bit of ‘tuning’ it performs more than adequately.

    Coincidentally this weekend I saw a silver Reatta for sale, on a rural property just north of Markham, Ontario. Not sure what its undercarriage would be like, seeing how much salt it may have been exposed to. The body on the red Reatta in the article looks to be too good to scrap.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I bet it still runs.
    I think most of these E-bodies (and higher end C/H cars) get scrapped for brake issues. The early ABS system used has relatively expensive parts (if you can even find them) and is tricky to fix. A nonABS conversion is possible, but most people don’t want to hassle with it.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      I cut my teeth driving GM cars of that era (1989-1991) and they all had the 3800 V6 and ABS, which to you younger readers here, was A REALLY BIG DEAL around that time! You normally could only get ABS on high-end sports cars and expensive German sedans. It’s like the surprise seeing an airbag in a GM car around that era when most of their cars used those God-forsaken ride across your neck and face door-mounted seat belts from Hell.
      They might have advertised ABS all over the place, including on the side of the car, but that was one scary system. Even new, it seemed like the system had a mind of its own and would let the car drift and move all over the place. I think GM’s use of drum brakes in the rear had a lot to do with the poor performance.
      And I wonder into what piece of neck-wear has the Reatta emblem that was on the hood been welded into?

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      “A nonABS conversion is possible . . .”

      A fuse pull? That dramatically improved the winter braking capability of every ABS-equipped GM vehicle I’ve driven!

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    I know Buick REALLY wanted this to be their halo car, but for the last time GM…you cannot make a halo car out of spare parts lying around and call it a day! It had daring 1988-era GM styling, but the rest of it was filled with parts hanging round the factory floor.
    The Reatta really could have been something. If GM would have hung onto it, it could have eventually received the engine it deserved – maybe the Supercharged 3800 introduced a few years down the road. It was in a different market than the Corvette so no toes would have been stepped on.
    Mercedes and Lexus, among others, have shown that regardless how small the market might be, there are still buyers for luxury-filled, two-seat coupes and convertibles. Yet another area/market where GM tried, didn’t like the results the first time, packed up and went home instead of fine-tuning the product.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “for the last time GM…you cannot make a halo car out of spare parts lying around and call it a day!”

      I respectfully disagree. What else are you going to build a car out of? These cars had a good engine, four wheel disc brakes…

      The original Mustang was made out of spare parts inside an attractive new body. The Reatta could really haul butt compared to the competition in 1990; the competition in 1964-and-a-half was a lot faster than the pokey original Mustang.

      *shrug*

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        I think @geo expressed some of what I wanted to say as well. I remember this being marketed as Buick’s halo car- the top of the line, crafted car. It deserved better than the same engine found in a Bonneville LE, or the same glitchy screens found in an Oldsmobile.
        I’m glad GM at least took a stab at this because this era in GM history wasn’t the greatest, but when you want to compete with the big dogs, it has to feel special, not just look different.
        It’s like the Fiero. They started with something that could have been special, but cost-cutting and not listening to the engineers caused those pesky engine fires! When they figured it out and put a nice looking body on it…bam, cancelled. “No market” they said. The Miata and redone MR-2 proved them wrong.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    This always reminded me of what a middle-aged housewife might buy after a fat settlement from her cheating ex-husband. Not a good look

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I thought it looked very similar to the contemporary Mercury Capri, which was more or less a Ford of Australia product brought to US shores. Note that neither of these is around, while the MX-5 Miata—which also debuted around that time—still is.

      As segments shrink, the also-ran brands pack up their toys and go home and you’re left with The Best of the Best. We’re seeing this now with compact cars, in particular. The Detroit brands built piss-poor small cars for years and years. When they finally became decent—as the latest versions of the Dart, Cruze, and Focus certainly were—buyers still expected thousands on the hood versus a time-tested Civic or Corolla…such that it became unprofitable for the Detroit brands to make those cars.

  • avatar
    geo

    If GMs cars of this era were as good as they looked on the exterior, the industry would be in far different shape today. GM’s exteriors were truly top-notch.

    I’m surmising that this is because GM did their cost-cutting near the end of the design cycle, cutting value out of the mechanicals and interior — after the exterior was designed. I’ve read that since the interior is designed and approved last, this is typically cut as budget and time runs out.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Indeed, the Riviera was a sawn-off, two-seat Riviera that no one wanted. Then again, my cousins’ wealthy grandparents had His & Hers Reattas. My aunt once managed to get one stuck in the snow.

    You all should really read Aaron Severson’s write-up on the development of the Reatta, on Ate Up With Motor (link below). The synopsis of it is that it was originally proposed as a sort of Buick counterpart to the Pontiac Fiero, and would likely have been canceled during GM’s depressed 80s sales era if anyone had been paying it any attention. Moreover, the GM design team was offended that the design work for the Cadillac Allante—which incidentally also used the Riviera’s E-body platform, although it was designated a V-body—went to Pininfarina in Italy. The Reatta was a sort of reprieve for them.

    https://bit.ly/2FyKMOA

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    The Reatta combined the mechanicals and dynamics of a full-sized rental car with the utility of a sports car. It was a spiritual predecessor to the Solstice, which was an affordable sports car with the luggage space of a GSXR750. These days people will buy a station wagon that rides like a teenager’s tuner car if it has a Porsche badge, but I once had a GM exec stick his fingers in his ears and hold his breath when I insisted that people who spend $30K on cars do their own grocery shopping. Maybe GM really should give up on the car business.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    Back in the ’90’s we still owned the ’64 Riviera, and belonged to the Riviera’s Owner’s Association (ROA). Reatta owners requested admittance to the ROA, as the Reatta shared parts like the dashboard with the Riviera. The ROA basically told them to get lost, that car is no Riviera.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Did they, indeed? Wow. To be fair, though, the Riviera itself wasn’t much of a Riviera when the Reatta was around. The one thing a Riviera had in spades was styling, and they lost that for the ’86-’93 seventh-generation, especially the stubby pre-’90 ones.

      Also, I definitely recognize the distinctive corner of a first-generation Riviera in your avatar; nice!

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        I had an ’86 Riviera, awful car. I also had a ’69 Riviera, wonderful car

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        When they restyled the mid-‘80s Riv and added the length to it, it came off better. The Eldorado was also improved; I can’t recall whether they tweaked the Seville.

        Only the Toronado came out frumpier to me, and was probably my least favorite of the three.

  • avatar
    CobraJet

    Interesting how much better today’s airbags are integrated into the car’s design. That steering wheel airbag is as big as a loaf of bread and ugly too.

  • avatar

    As I’ve said before, If it weren’t for General Motors, nobody would have anything interesting to talk about.

    This car is peak “IIWFGM.”

    Interesting how this car today has two completely divergent economies around it…

    Convertibles are near-hallowed treasures, revered by their owners, and commanding high single-digits for tidy drivers to mid-teens for Select Sixties.

    Hardtops are nearly all aborted projects or fixer-uppers that no one cares to fix up. You have to have C3 Corvette levels of enthusiasm and electrical know-how to end up with…this.

    I still like them, though. They have character, aren’t sporty in the slightest, but are very unique to spot.

    I will own a Maui Blue ragtop one day because once I have it titled in my name, I would’ve won the game of GM FWD 3800.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I had no idea this car cost that much. I always associated it – at least during the time it was released – with hairdressers.

    IMHO it’s really not that bad looking of a car but GM being GM, since the 80s just can’t seem to build many inspirational cars beyond the Corvette and Camaro.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      I, too, at the time just thought it was cute & cheap.

      Then again, it didn’t make any less sense than a little BMW so why not cost the same?

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      The eighties Corvettes, before the ZR1, were part of what made malaise cars era so depressing. America’s supercar car was slower than a few less expensive sedans and coupes… so let’s distract everybody from that by making this generation the “handling Corvette!!” So sad.

      The eighties and late seventies Camaros were even more depressing- slow, heavy, all show and no go. One of the car magazines, I think it might have been C&D, had a humor column around 1990 of “top ten inventions we’d like to see” or something along those lines. One of the fictitious inventions was “Camaro-lert,” a device that would know when there was a primer colored Camaro nearby being driven by a rough looking guy on his way to hold up the local 7-11. Lots of guilty laughing about stereotypes when I read that one. Then a couple years later, a real life Camaro and driver very much fitting that humorous description ran a red light and broadsided me in my first car, so that didn’t much help my opinions and perceptions of Camaros.

      I wouldn’t call either car inspirational.

      The Reatta came out a few years after the Buick GNR. The Reatta could have been inspirational- Buick had it in ’em! It just didn’t quite hit the mark.

      edit: Google helped me find a “Camarolert” shoutout by none other than TTAC’s Jack Baruth about four years ago. Ha!

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        What cheaper sedan was faster than any C4 of the same model year?

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          Not the C4, the last few years of the C3 ;)

          And not to turn it into a Ford vs Chevy (because both brands have made their share of great cars and terrible cars), but how about the Mustang once the 302 HO returned as an option?

          Sedans, yeah, I’ll give you that one and I apologize for speaking out of turn on that one.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            As much as Car and Driver hated the C3, even the lamest of them were faster around a race track than anything from Ferrari or Porsche in the early ’80s. I think ’79 was the only year they weren’t the fastest American cars at the strip too. That year there was a Pontiac 400/4barrel/4-speed Trans Am with an enhanced valvetrain that was quicker than the best Corvette. Usually GM protected the Corvette from internal competition, Chrysler was too busy trying to survive, and Ford was more interested in how to sell lots of cars without any concern for performance at all.

          • 0 avatar
            ponchoman49

            I remember that year really well. It was 1982 and the usual rags at the time proclaimed that the 5.0 was back in the Mustang and it was real quick. The only way to get this engine was the top GT trim with stick and that netted you a 157 HP 2BBL HO 302. Otherwise it was 88 HP 2.3 L4 and 200 straight sixes and the wheezer 4.2 with 111 Horses with automatic. Still that 157 HP engine made the 1982 Mustang GT one of the quickest American made cars of the time. The F-bodies were a bit heavier and the only way to get a stick was the de-tuned 145 HP 305 4 BBL V8 and automatic buyers could get the 165 HP cross Fire engine which was good for an 8.8 second 0-60 time at best. The 82 Vette may have been quicker with the 200 HP 5.7 Cross Fire which was tied to the then new 700R4 transmission but I have no actual times on that car so it may have been close.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “I remember that year really well… I have no actual times on that car so it may have been close.”

            I think they were quite close. When you look up all the quoted numbers online (old car magazines, fanboi sites, etc.) the spreads overlap. If you ask former owners of either car I’m sure you’d get strong responses both ways.

            The sad part of that era was there were still a lot of very quick cars on the road from the late 60s/early 70s (even if a lot of them needed leaded gas). Seeing them one day to the next made it really in-your-face if you were shopping for a new car. Let us all have a moment of silence for the early 1980s… great music but bad cars.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            I said usually Ford wasn’t worried about performance during the C3s long run. 1982 was the last year, and much of the excitement of the 5.0 GT was how much better it was than what Ford had been selling since 1973. I still think the Corvette was in the 7s while the Mustang GT 5.0 did 0-60 in 8.2 seconds. Ford started showing some promise in the ’80s, but they fizzled out again.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            They all had decent performance, just not on paper or the way they left the factory. You just had to start with the biggest V8 they offered.

            Era V8s made lots more torque than HP and simple rear-end gear swap unlocked the power. Most only offered 3.00 gears or worse, thanks to CAFE and other madness.

            My ’79 5.0 Mustang came with 2.42 gears and it was pathetic. It could barely chirp a tire at full launch. I bought it sight/unseen, but 4.10s and a posi turned it into an absolute monster! Like holy sh!t, and still otherwise bone stock, full 49 state emissions, etc. I settled on 3.73s.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    That car is (or was) in excellent shape, too good to be in a junkyard. All it took was a broken hood latch? Maybe it was the disc brake parts expense/availability, as ajla mentioned, but it’s too bad. These were the kinds of cars that got handed down to the kids of well-to-do parents, or picked up third hand by older buyers going through male menopause on a budget.

  • avatar
    trout

    I remember seeing these on display in the Detroit airport in 1989. I thought the convertible looked pretty cool.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    The digi cluster in the 90+ models would look modern and fresh today with added color. It was a gorgeous cluster.

    The CRT touch screen controls was light years ahead of its time, and I am amazed at how many examples still have fully functioning touch screens in them.

  • avatar
    rogold99

    The windshield may be cracked, and those are hard to find.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    These went completely under my radar when new, when I opened this article I thought ~ looks O.K. to me, then watched the TV commercial ~ OH, MY GHOD ! it’s a geezer mobile and I like it ! Nooooooooooooooo

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    GM couldn’t make flush fitting fog lights for this car? The way the square lights just stick out is very sloppy. BMW had angled fog lights at that time (and I’m sure many others).

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Who the heck though it was a good idea to put the fuse panel down beside the driver’s right foot?

  • avatar
    Garak

    Slow, ugly, impractical, leaf-sprung front-driver, what a truly epic halo car.

  • avatar
    hifi

    Seeing this sitting next to an Aveo, which is over 20 years newer than the Reatta, it’s clear that GM has not evolved since the 1980s. In fact, GM has regressed.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      hifi,

      Here are the vehicles GM cares about/makes an effort on (US market):
      – Fullsize utilities
      – Corvette
      – Fullsize pickups, sort of

      Now even judging them on just those products, they still aren’t evolving very quickly.


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