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I remember the one time I rode in a Buick Reatta. It was bright red and had a beige leather interior. Its notchy silhouette flashed up to the curb on alloy rims. There were three of us, and only two places. Being the smallest, I was nominated to slide around the parcel shelf behind the seats. The car was definitely flashy, but more like "real estate agent" flashy than "kick your ass" flashy. The GNX was covering the whoopin's for Buick at the time. The digital dash was a thing to behold for a techy-geek in the late '80s. The floorshift dropped into "D" and the 3800's balance-shaft muted growl provided a soundtrack for the firm shove we all felt. And... that was about it. The 4-speed transaxle couldn't handle too much grunt, so the 3800's torquey stepoff was about all the excitement the Reatta would muster. The cars were quite fully-optioned, as well, adding to a 3,500-pound curb weight. 0-60 times were almost 10 seconds. That's a long time to listen to the 3800.

More after the jump

Ed. note - we're thinking of making Future Classics a regular, weekly feature. What are some cars you'd like to see here that are generally underappreciated gems from the past? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

No matter the letdown underhood (though it was entirely adequate for everyday driving, and remains so), we headed for the twistiest, roller-coasteriest road around. It may not have had the cojones to match its traditional "Buick Coupe" lines, but that sucker could stick! I'd never imagined what it'd feel like to be inside a clothes dryer, but after that ride in the Reatta, I knew anyway. With only 20,000 or so built from its 1988-1991 run, the Reatta garnered the response "a Buick what?" even when new. They've since been scattered into further obscurity by the sands of time. Of course, I did see two just today. Their relative rarity and lack of go-fast cred equals a car that's cheap to own and run while sharing common running gear with other GM rides. What that means for you is that maintenance will be inexpensive, while actually making your Reatta fast will be easy, relatively speaking.

The Reatta was begun while Buick was still actively cultivating an image of performance capability. The Regal Turbo and Grand National were carrying the torch of the musclecar out of the dark days of the late 1970s. GNs were being dipped in Darth-Vader black and whipped into a frenzy by a turbocharger nestled underhood while V8s were still climing back from their low point of power ratings. A Turbo Buick is a wonderful thing, and the GN and GNX had some serious attitude. For those that wished to fly along incognito, there were less-conspicuous Turbo Regals as well. These A/G body cars were all well and good, but the Reatta was intended as a halo car, kind of like what the Solstice is currently doing over at Pontiac. The same 231 cubic-inch V6 with a Garrett turbine was slated to provide motive force in the Reatta.

The Reatta shared GMs V platform with the Cadillac Allante, itself a halo car. The V was essentially a shortened version of the E platform underneath the Buick Riviera, Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado. The V and E platforms also share lots of DNA with the Cadillac-specific K platform and the more widely used G platform. We could go on and on like the Old Testament, K begat E, which begat V, brother to G. K and G live on, known as the DTS and Lucerne, as well as some very recently departed Pontiacs, Buicks and Oldsmobiles. What should be obvious by now is that the GM toybin is wide open to the Reatta owner.

Right from the get-go, the Reatta was concieved as a fully-equipped personal-luxury coupe. Suspension was all-independent, brakes were 4-wheel discs with anti-lock, the interior featured the touchscreen controller from the Riviera (how's that for forward think?), and construction featured a lot of hand work. Each Reatta came with a logbook carrying the signatures of the individual assembly supervisors. Absent was the AiResearch huffer on the V6. What happened to Buick during the Reatta's development years was that the brand's management thought a focus-shift was in order. Instead of creating a coupe with the moves to rival the C4 Corvette, Buick brass wanted to move the brand on from musclecars to a more conservative approach. Going conservative wimpy in an attempt to focus on the older buyer demographics represents a seriously squandered opportunity. No use in being bitter now. Lets just say that the FWD platform wasn't really capable of putting down buckets of power, and finding an automatic transaxle that wouldn't end up as detritus was equally a challenge. At least they didn't mess up the handling.

A quick squiz at eBay shows that the Reatta is currently trading in the sub to mid-1,000 dollar range, though realistically you'll spend more. That's not that bad for a nicely styled coupe that offers you a lot of exclusivity. If you want even more exclusivity, there was a convertible made, but they're quite rare. Not only that, the coupe is better looking and we're sure body rigidity took a big hit without the roof. We'd love to get one of these in our hot little hands and start cruising boneyards looking for swap parts. Supercharged 3800s are plentiful, and for something even more special, platform-mate Allante managed to get the Northstar for its last year. Hmmm.



Walk around

'80s Automotive Touch-Screen Technology

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Years Ago
      for those not familiar, the Reatta was hand-built at the Reatta Craft Centre in Lansing, Michigan. there were no such things as "quality issues"; if there were ANY problems beyond minor in the first year, a duplicate vehicle was built, and replaced the original car. "bad GM quality"? they replaced six cars over the four year period (1988-1991) that the Reatta was built. I call that putting their money where their mouth is.

      the 3800 engine in the Reatta (and 25 million other GM cars) is nothing short of indestructible. my 1990 Reatta convertible has over 412,000 miles, and is still running perfectly on it's original (untouched) engine and transmission. is a real gas guzzler, too; I average 28-31 miles per gallon every day. we have several Reattas here with over 700,000 miles, and still run perfectly.

      it's nice to see all the "buff books" finally giving the Reatta the attention it deserves, and we've seen values triple in the past two years. and they'll keep heading upward, too. how many hand-built two seaters were built in the USA?

      as far as the touch screen in the Reatta (1988-1989) goes, it's about as reliable as they come. the cost for replacement is a whopping $350. when you stop and realize that most have been on an average of 8,000-10,000 hours, thru cold, heat, humidity, and bumps, that's not doing too bad. must be that bad GM (and Zenith)quality again, right? can you think of any other cars today that have touch screens that control climate, audio, gauges, and monitor and diagnose your car every moment it is running? we're just getting there now on a few high-end cars...and this was the norm for the Reatta almost twenty years ago.

      I stare at 150+ Reattas here on a daily basis, and it never ceases to amaze me how well-made these cars are.

      so what killed the Reatta?

      well, several things. first, the price. a base (if such a thing exists) 1988 Reatta had a bottom line MSRP (with freight) of exactly $25,000. that's about $2K cheaper than a Corvette.

      there were many internal battles (this was the Roger Smith era at GM, remember) over the Reatta. Smith envisioned the Reatta with 43 options, with the standard Reatta resplendent with 14 inch white sidewall tires, and wire wheel covers, and a vinyl roof. the powers at Buick prevailed, however, and when the Reatta hit the market, there were only two options, a sixteen way driver's seat, and a sunroof. everything else was standard. not a whitewall tire, wire hubcap or vinyl roof to be seen anywhere.

      I think the major killer for the Reatta was the promise of a convertible that took forever (two years) to reach the market. they originally showed the convertible on the show circuit in 1988 (we have the first prototype here), but the convertible didn't show up until 1990. most folks who wanted one had already moved on.

      as far as collectibility goes, the rule is ALWAYS that the cars that couldn't be given away new are always worth the most later. the Shelby Mustang would be an excellent example. bad examples of collectible cars would be Trans-Ams, 1976 Eldorado convertibles, and all those Buick GNX's "still in wrapper".

      by the way, 91% of all Reattas built are still registered and on the road. can you think of too many manufacturers who can make the same claim for their 1988-1991 production?

      Mike, buickreattaparts.com
        ET HOME
        • 7 Months Ago

        Well said! Thank you. I still have my 1990 Reatta. I remember that each individual that worked on this vehicle had to sign off.

      • 8 Years Ago
      "classic" cars as we know it are a thing of the past. All the "tech" in modern car's makes older modern cars not practical to maintain. It's like buying a lexus or mercedes from the 95-97 and you spend almost the price a new one just to keep it running. It's not like owning a 71 mustang. Imagine owning a mercedes CLS 25 years from now? That being said if I had to choose any future classic based on design it WOULD be the CLS, yea, I just contridicted myself, so what.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I took my great aunt's white 89 Reatta to my senior prom. Got a ton of looks...all good.

      Future classics...I know I'm echoing several here (my first thought was the Yamaha V6 Taurus SHO), so here's a bunch off the top of my head:

      Yamaha Taurus SHO V6 (the V8 version was lame)
      86-90 ish Toyota Supra Turbo (love that wedge shape)
      88-ish Toyota Celica All-Trac (awd wedge, much rarer than the Diamond-Star Eclipse/Talon/Lazer)
      Galant VR-4
      83-88 T-Bird (esp Turbo Coupe, first of Ford's 80's aero cars, and light years beyond the previous generation bird)
      Scirocco 16V (2nd gen)
      323 GTX
      Buick GNX (what more do I have to say)
      Any of the Shelby-ized ChryCo products of the 80s
      86-89 Acura Integra
      86-87 Prelude Si
      88-91 Prelude Si
      All CRX models
      86-87 Civic Si
      • 8 Years Ago
      I have a few:

      1.) Mitsubishi Eclipse (second gen)- this car still turns my head every time I see one in good condition.

      2.) Chrysler 300C- the 300C brought back the idea of what a true American sedan was supposed to look and be like. This car is truly a trendsetter.

      3.) Current Gen. Mustangs- this is an obvious choice, because they look very much like the 60's, which are already hot classics.

      4.) Mitsubishi 3000GT- simply, it looks like a ferrari or lamborghini of it's time.

      I can't think of any more currently, these are just the ones off the top of my head.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Saab 9000 CDE - Pre 9-5, Saab made an attempt at the "true" luxury sedan segment. This slightly upscale version of the 9000 ditched the hatch in favor of a real trunk.

      Also-The old 900 verts will def. be a classic
      • 8 Years Ago

      What's model years are you framing as "Future Classics", Dan?

      Some of us old codgers may still consider stuff from the 1960's as modern and contemporary but kids today would consider them medieval ox carts.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "Future Classic," I dunno, but I've always had a soft spot for the late-80s Pontiac Fiero Formula. For a kid who drove a beat-up hand-me-down Silverado pickup, he Fiero was practically a European sports car. Had a boss who let me run errands in his and it was such a kick!
      • 8 Years Ago
      1970-1977 Ford Maverick/Mercury Comet.

      They ranged anywhere from the 170ci I-6 to the 302ci V8, same engine in the popular Mustangs of previous and later generations. They were surprisingly quick and were always known as the "simple machine," one of the most dependable cars ever made.

      There's a decent fanbase at http://mmb.maverick.to/ and tons of information on how to turn them into pretty mean street machines.

      They can still be had for extremely cheap, sub-$2000 for cars in damn good shape.

      They could be had with the V8, front discs, and are incredibly easy to work on and maintain. Fantastic little cars indeed.

      • 8 Years Ago
      Weekly -- must show,the Toyota MR2 1985-87 model
      • 8 Years Ago
      The Taurus SHO with the Yamaha V-6
      • 8 Years Ago
      Brian beat me to my suggestion (I'm the proud owner of one, btw). But roughly along the same lines I'd say the '88-ish Mazda 323 GTX qualifies.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Suggestion: 1989-1990 Pontiac Turbo Grand Prix. I own one currently, owned another in the past. Great cars, limited production, the engine was built by McLaren and the body by ASC...Truely a modern toast to the hot-rodded hearts. I would be more than willing to supply pictures and information if needed.
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