Junkyard Find: 1988 Buick Reatta Coupe

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Just over 20,000 Buick Reattas were made during the model's production run for the 1988 through 1991 model years, and I had documented seven of them in car graveyards prior to today's Junkyard Find. All of those cars were in reasonably good condition, but today's '88 is an example of a Reatta that was loved to death by its final owner.

junkyard find 1988 buick reatta coupe

A 1970s desire on the part of Cadillac dealers for a two-seater to compete with the Mercedes-Benz R107 plus fierce intra-GM political battles led to the development of a couple of interesting two-seat designs that hit American roads during the late 1980s. One was the Cadillac Allanté, while the other was the Buick Reatta.

Both the Allanté and the Reatta rode on modified versions of the front-wheel-drive Cadillac Eldorado/ Oldsmobile Toronado/ Buick Riviera chassis, so they weren't exactly direct competitors for sporty European machinery.

The Reatta's engine was the good old 3.8-liter pushrod Buick V6, which was quite dependable but not so sporty. This one offered 165 horses (which made a sound more bovine than equine).

The only Reatta transmission available was a four-speed automatic.

One futuristic Reatta feature the European competition ( mostly) couldn't match was Buick's Electronic Control Center, which featured a touchscreen computer display (sourced from an ATM manufacturer) decades before such screens became commonplace in vehicles.

The ECC and digital dash have been pulled from this car, though it's likely that they weren't in working order.

It endured some rough handling during its final years. Someone appears to have spray-painted the seats flat black, for starters.

The hood has been pried open, but we can blame that on time-pressed junkyard employees who had to drain the fluids right now.

Same goes for the mangled decklid.

This car started out red, but got a rattle-can/Plasti-Dip two-tone paint job late in life.

The multi-bolt-pattern aftermarket wheels aren't what the Reatta's designers had in mind.

These wheels are a bit scraper-ish, but that's an East Bay style and this car is in a yard just outside Denver.

Perhaps the final owner of this car was inspired by East Bay native Kreayshawn's 1990 Buick Reatta when it came to customizing touches. Like Jim Morrison, Mrs. Fields, and myself, Kreayshawn attended Alameda High School on the Island that Rust Forgot.

Even though California now has legal cannabis, those West Coast lightweights are far behind Colorado when it comes to slapping cannabis-themed stickers in and on their cars. This Reatta has such stickers inside the engine compartment.

There's an oil pressure gauge under the hood as well. If you must run a mechanical oil pressure gauge (feel free to write a 20,000-word rant on the subject in your comments), this is a good place to put it… if you don't like hot motor oil spraying all over your legs while you're driving.

This car's sticker collection is interesting, culturally speaking, so I'll share some more detail photos. First, the de rigueur "Hellastock" decal on the rear glass.

I've seen dispensary stickers slapped over gauge clusters and on the windshield directly before the driver's face. This one appears to have fallen off from the headliner.

If you say so.

This one is something of a flashback to 1980s-style misogyny.

Here's one that goes back to the 1970s.

It is indeed.

I believe it.

Nothing like issuing a challenge to your neighbors.

Skeletal hand with rose decal? Check.

This Buick Club of America sticker seems older than the others.

If your aim in life has always been high, drive the premium two-seater from Buick.

This ad made it seem that Buick was ashamed of the 1947 Special.

[Images: The Author]

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3 of 43 comments
  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jun 27, 2023

    Remember, tone deaf offerings like this had zero to do with GM declaring not bankruptcy. I actually like this, but I like it as a cheap used car that is something different. On what planet were this and the Alante seen as being good ideas

    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jun 28, 2023

      Mercedes was a luxury maker with a customer base who was willing to pay for a 2 seater like this. Buick was...Buick. The SL wasn't sharing lot space with Skylarks. Buick may have seen themselves as on the level of Mercedes at the time (which in itself is tone deaf), but they were just more late 80's GM rubbish

  • Ron s Kruzyk Ron s Kruzyk on Aug 27, 2023

    My 1988 Reatta has 92k on it. I purchased it from the original owner, had to address the CRT issues w/many investigations & not many options. Finally, a successful analysis & repair. Still Runs Like New, minus the radio/sound issues, BUT, A blessing to own cuz American 'ol Skool RULES!!!

  • Dusterdude The "fire them all" is looking a little less unreasonable the longer the union sticks to the totally ridiculous demands ( or maybe the members should fire theit leadership ! )
  • Thehyundaigarage Yes, Canadian market vehicles have had immobilizers mandated by transport Canada since around 2001.In the US market, some key start Toyotas and Nissans still don’t have immobilizers. The US doesn’t mandate immobilizers or daytime running lights, but they mandate TPMS, yet canada mandates both, but couldn’t care less about TPMS. You’d think we’d have universal standards in North America.
  • Alan I think this vehicle is aimed more at the dedicated offroad traveller. It costs around the same a 300 Series, so its quite an investment. It would be a waste to own as a daily driver, unless you want to be seen in a 'wank' vehicle like many Wrangler and Can Hardly Davidson types.The diesel would be the choice for off roading as its quite torquey down low and would return far superior mileage than a petrol vehicle.I would think this is more reliable than the Land Rovers, BMW make good engines. https://www.drive.com.au/reviews/2023-ineos-grenadier-review/
  • Lorenzo I'll go with Stellantis. Last into the folly, first to bail out. Their European business won't fly with the German market being squeezed on electricity. Anybody can see the loss of Russian natural gas and closing their nuclear plants means high cost electricity. They're now buying electrons from French nuclear plants, as are the British after shutting down their coal industry. As for the American market, the American grid isn't in great shape either, but the US has shale oil and natural gas. Stellantis has profits from ICE Ram trucks and Jeeps, and they won't give that up.
  • Inside Looking Out Chinese will take over EV market and Tesla will become the richest and largest car company in the world. Forget about Japanese.