By on July 20, 2021

Today’s Rare Ride represents the only time in history Buick built a two-seat car, and the only time a Buick had pop-up headlamps. It was also the last time Buick made a factory convertible in the United States, as the Opel Cascada wasn’t built domestically and was not a real Buick.

Let’s check out the Eighties low-volume experiment that was Reatta.

Designed in 1983 by Dave McIntosh, the Reatta was meant as a halo product for the Buick brand: more special than the larger Riviera, but less ambitious (and stupid) than GM’s other halo two-seater, the Allanté. Reatta was produced at the Reatta Craft Center, a special facility that assembled each car at various independent stations rather than via assembly line. Stations carried out their assigned work, and when completed the Reatta was transported via robot to the next station. Almost sounds British if you remove the robot factor.

Based on the E-body platform with the larger Riviera and other GM personal luxury coupes, Reatta received the common and very excellent Buick 3800 V6. For 1988 through 1990 the LN3  (165HP) version was used, and 1991 cars swapped it for the newer L27 (170HP). Three different versions of four-speed automatic were used depending upon the year. 1991 examples also had an electronically controlled transmission and a revised ABS module.

While bucket seats and lockable storage bins were permanent Reatta features, its CRT center screen was not. A touch-based system called the Electronic Control Center, the green and black screen controlled climate, radio, a trip computer, and diagnostic functions. It was very advanced for the time, but most customers and media were not about it. For 1990 the Reatta was updated slightly, and while exterior visuals remained largely the same, the interior received a driver’s airbag and optional CD player, a new center console, and conventional buttons took the place of the CRT. All examples of Reatta had digital gauges, which were revised to look more modern in 1990 and matched those in the Riviera. 1990 also saw the introduction of the convertible, a version which intended to launch at Reatta’s debut. Its folding roof design was complicated and engineered by ASC. Convertibles were built at the Reatta Craft Center alongside coupes.

Worth a mention is the special Select Sixty program in 1988 and 1990. In 1988, about 60 Reattas were allocated to top Buick dealers. They had a black interior and tan paint, along with special Select Sixty badging. In 1990 Select Sixty was repeated, and 65 white convertibles were made with white tops, red and white interiors, and unique Select Sixty white wheels. Your author’s never seen an ’88 example of the Select Sixty, but the ’90 is very striking.

Given the exciting halo nature of the Reatta, Buick planned to shift around 20,000 per year. Unfortunately, they never reached even half that number annually, and only sold 21,751 in total between 1988 and 1991. The Reatta was too expensive for a Buick, and at a base of $28,300 in 1990 ($60,300 adj.) its convertible version cost an additional $6,700. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $74,600. A relative bust, the Reatta program was canceled without replacement, and Buick never again built a sports coupe. The Reatta Craft Center was renamed Lansing Craft Center, and went on to build other convertibles, the EV1, and finally the Chevrolet SSR before its closure.

Today’s Rare Ride is a 1990 Reatta cabriolet, in a nice black and grey color scheme. It’s never been owned by an individual, but went straight into its dealer’s collection. With 16,000 miles on the clock, it asks $19,500. Recent years have seen the value of Reattas escalate given their rarity. Clean ones are even harder to find, given they were at bargain-basement prices by the late Nineties and fell into careless hands.

[Images: GM]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

49 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1990 Buick Reatta Convertible in Nearly New Condition...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    A glorious failure is still glorious.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    The pompous, blustery Human Resources Manager at my OEM coatings plant had one of these, a gold convertible. He’d transform after he left his office heading home – suit coat and tie off, sports car cap on, cigar in his maw, and a smile on his face.

  • avatar

    I have always wanted one of these. Would be a great car to be tooling around in during the upcoming Woodard Dream Cruise on August 21st. I’ll have to be content with driving my ’96 Chrysler Sebring convertible instead.

  • avatar
    tyrade

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dd/'87_Buick_Skyhawk_Sedan.jpg

    There was another Buick with popup headlights.

    • 0 avatar
      Mackey

      Close, but not quite the same. The Skyhawk had fixed headlights behind drop down doors.

      So they were hidden, just not pop up headlights.

      Still always my favorite J car though!

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    This is one of the GM cars of this era that I wish they would have done something special with the powertrain. Supercharge the 3800. Manual transmission. Something…anything. I just think it was let down terribly by being given the wrong powertrain. It didn’t feel special when it had the same combination as the much cheaper Bonneville SE or Oldsmobile 98.

    I liked this car as a teen, and the convertible was really nice looking. But I don’t think it was made exclusive enough to justify the steep cost. By this time, when it lost the CRT screen, it really looked and felt cobbled together with the parts at hand. See the 2005 Ford Thunderbird as another example…

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Full disclosure: I’m one of the few Aughts T-bird fans around here. I’d love to have one to cruise around in on weekends. But 100% agreed with you on this car’s engine – it was the same thing you could get in a LeSabre, for goodness’ sake.

      It’s a lesson GM didn’t learn at the time, and I think it came back to haunt them in the 2010s with the Cadillac ATS and CTS – both vehicles had engines donated by Chevys. And now we have a CT-whatever-they-call-it with a four-banger…from a truck. And they wonder why they don’t sell?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The Reatta was designed in the early 1980s, if GM had done a “special” powertrain 99.5% of them would have been crushed ten years ago or earlier.

      @Freed

      The DEW98 T-bird would make a sharp weekend cruiser, I think for similar way-too-much-money one could do better though.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        We’ve been looking for a new weekend toy and it must be a convertible. The T-bird keeps coming up as one of the more desirable choices for us in the 10-15k price range I’d like to stay in.

        Comfortable cruiser is the priority over maximum performance and I don’t want to deal with a 10-20 year old German car, so no Mercedes, BMW, Mini, Audi, VW or Chrysler Crossfire.

        So that pretty much narrows it down to the T-bird, Lexus SC, V70, TC, Reatta and Sebring if comfortable cruiser is the higher priority. I don’t like the looks of the SC, I’d prefer RWD over FWD so the Volvo isn’t that appealing, the TC and Sebring…..

        #1 T-bird
        #2 SC

        In the more balanced/larger size category you have the Mustang, Camaro, SSR, G37, 350Z and Eclipse.

        #1 Mustang
        #2 SSR

        In the true sports cars you have the Miata, Sky/Solstice, Corvette

        #1 Miata

        Drill that down further and it is

        #1 tie T-bird/Mustang
        #3 SC

        And yes 1 Reatta, 1 SSR and 1 TC have turned up in my 200mi radius search.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    One of the best digital instrument clusters of all time. This design would be modern today only needing improvement in the resolution.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Had a brief ride as a passenger in a brand-new one of these in 1990. No. Just no.

    Corey, the correct spelling was “Reatta Craft Centre” – because exclusivity. [Will be watching for TTAC’s recall of this obviously defective writeup – because fastidiousness is a double-edged sword, eh?]

    • 0 avatar

      I may edit it, I may leave it a while. You’ll just have to check to see when/if it happens huh? :)

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “Corey, the correct spelling was “Reatta Craft Centre””

      Some backstory on that, it was created as a special gift/demand to/from UAW for its senior workers to hand assemble the Reattas. My understanding was it was intended to be a cake job for those with seniority and the fact GM apparently thought Reatta would be so successful as to warrant its own *permanent assembly* makes me chuckle.

      • 0 avatar

        LOL I love it. Guys preening, ready to assemble some Reattas before retirement.

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        Well that was the days of the “jobs bank” and there were a lot of surplus workers in the Flint/Lansing area. So the financials were calculated based on “free” labor, because these guys got paid by the General even if they were playing cards or shelving cans at the local food bank.

  • avatar

    @tyrade

    I can’t reply to your comment for some reason, but hidden headlamps are not the same as pop-up.

  • avatar
    jmo2

    I guess I sort of thought cars aged wether you drove them or not. But covered and garaged and kept free of mice they really don’t. At least cosmetically.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Friend of mine had one of these, died in it a couple years ago, head-on collision on a two lane highway. He was very much a car guy, I guess there’s worse ways to go.

  • avatar
    detlump

    I always thought it strange that Buick felt it needed a halo car above or along with the Riviera. Most Buick buyers by this time were interested in sedans as coupes in general were fading all through the 80s and into the 90s. Granted, the Riviera was on hiatus for a time there but still – 2 luxury coupes?

    They may look at a Reatta or Riviera in the showroom but but a LeSabre.

    Perhaps the money spent on Reatta could have been invested in their volume products to make them more attractive to a wider audience.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    A Riviera with a big hunk in the middle removed. I remember these as being the mid-life, newly divorced revenge car. Nothing terrible about them, but nothing great either. In other words, a Buick

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      …except for the same money, you could get the ULTIMATE “divorce revenge car”: Corvette.

    • 0 avatar
      DungBeetle62

      I believe an article “at the time” noted the idea was a car a fairly well-heeled guy could give the Mrs., a more-affordable American SL/SLC.

      Thus the motivation for no hot-rod T-Type madness at the outset. That was Pontiac’s gig. There was another article circa 1990 once the Good Ship Reatta was clearly in trouble where Buick was experimenting with light-pressure Turbo, serious Turbo and even RWD; but at that point I think the writing was on the wall – and it said “this assignment was turned in incomplete from the outset.” If they’d let the guys who’d unleashed the GNX get involved in the initial R&D…

  • avatar
    AmsterCub

    Remove the black trim, throw led lights and a touch screen on this today and you’d have no problem side-eyeing a TT driver in the next lane. The design was that strong.

    (ok maybe give it a proper engine too)

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    Was that branding designed by someone stuck in 1976?
    Twice the cost of a Prelude for something that looked like just another old person car but smaller.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Since the Trofeo and Reatta were halo cars they should have been offered with the 3800 SC.
    This one listed seems very pricey but I see plenty of coupes listed in various conditions in the $3-6k range.

    • 0 avatar

      Lovely red/red example on ebay asking $10.

      https://www.ebay.com/itm/124818231997?hash=item1d0fbf12bd:g:xIkAAOSwqKVgp4ZL

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Nice, but that’s a LOT of money for a 30 year old car with the same basic running gear as a LeSabre.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          “same basic running gear as a LeSabre.”

          Feature, not a bug. Would you prefer the Jaguar V12?

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            Yea, back in 1990 I think an expensive Reatta having the same engine and output as a LeSabre Custom would be an issue but in 2021 I don’t think it’s a big deal.

            If the Reatta came with a 220hp *whatever* originally it would still be slower than most things on the road today but very likely have the added issues of parts availability and decreased reliability.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Feature, not a bug. Would you prefer the Jaguar V12?

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Have to agree. At this point having a powertrain from a LeSabre would actually be a plus not a negative. Would make for a nice, reliable ‘cruiser’ with lots of available parts. The digital gauges (or was GM still using ‘gages’) would however now be something of a minus.

            There is a Reatta parked outside on the outskirts of Stouffville Ontario. It has been there for a number of years and I believe is still plated/licensed although it has been in the same spot every time that I drive past.

          • 0 avatar

            Being real, the only other thing they would have slapped in there was a Cadillac 4.5.

            And you don’t want that either.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            The Allante version of the 4.5L was 200hp/270lb-ft. That would have been a decent jump in the Trofeo/Reatta/Riv over LN3 and although it isn’t a 3800 it would be easier to live with versus a Eurospec diva.

            However that power level would require the use of the F7 transmission and then GM would have charged even *more* for the vehicles.

          • 0 avatar

            Oof.

            I can’t see how the marketing and product people thought Buick in 1988 had the prestige to pull off such an asking price.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    “I can’t see how the marketing and product people thought Buick in 1988 had the prestige to pull off such an asking pric

    Remember this came out of product planning in the mid 80s. Hubris was still in abundance at the General then. It wasn’t until Lexus showed up that reality slowly started setting in.

  • avatar

    I know of a red 1991 convertible 55,000 miles for sale at $16000

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • slavuta: Old_WRX Remember, when Trump was president, CDC guidance was to write every death as covid if it tested...
  • slavuta: It is all “philosophical” until you get it. There are more studies on that site with real cases
  • Lou_BC: LOL
  • Lou_BC: @slobuto – I take it you don’t read what you post? “The issue of the risk of vaccination...
  • slavuta: “In this line of argument, “vaccinated America” has “had enough” of the unvaccinated. “This was the...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber