Future Classics: 1988-91 Buick Reatta

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.

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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

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'80s Automotive Touch-Screen Technology

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