While the Riviera name in the Buick scheme dates as far back as the late…
Is the Buick Reatta a hidden gem of ’80 GM style?
With the infamy of the Pontiac Fiero and Cadillac Allante, it’s easy to forget that General Motors made another two-seater in the 1980s (in addition to the Chevy Corvette). That car was the Buick Reatta, a curvy two-seat coupe and convertible hand-built in Lansing, Michigan, from 1988–91. With fewer than 22,000 units produced, the Reatta belongs in the special class of unintentionally-rare cars from high-volume manufacturers. And while less than perfect at the time, affordable prices today mean you can capture the quintessential late-1980s GM styling vibe on the cheap.
A brief history
The Reatta was based on a modified E-body platform that underpinned GM’s personal luxury coupes like the Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Toronado. Power came from the venerable 3800 V-6 which made 165 horsepower, with the tuned-port fuel injection 3800 Series 1 bumping output to 170 hp for the final model year. A supercharged version of the 3800 was never offered, and a four-speed automatic was the only available transmission.
While it was meant to be Buick’s halo car; the original $25,000 sticker price for the coupe was just more than half that of the Allante. That didn’t seem to matter to buyers, however, as Reatta sales were slow. A convertible was added in 1990 with an innovative hard tonneau cover built into the decklid, but that didn’t kick up sales at all. (This Car and Driver cover, featuring a California-Raisins-knockoff avocado probably didn’t help.)
Another noteworthy feature of the Reatta was its touchscreen interface in the dashboard, called the Graphic Control Center, an industry-first that launched with the 1986 Riviera. The green-and-black cathode-ray tube display was used for stereo, climate control, and trip computer adjustments—at least when it worked. Like many first-time automotive gadgets, this one was too far ahead of its time. Buick replaced the GCC in later models with a more conventional dash.
Motor Trend highlighted the Reatta as a future classic in 2006, noting: “The Reatta attempted to bridge the gap between Buick’s traditional silver foxes and the younger, sportier boomers it had temporarily pandered to by combining the best attributes of a sports car and an exclusive luxury tourer while eliminating the negatives of both.”
The good news is that Reattas are affordable today, with most #3 (good) values under $10,000 and even #1 (concours) coupes top out at $13,500.
Expect to pay about twice as much for a convertible model, as well as a slight premium for any of the ultra-rare “Select Sixty” special edition cars offered to the top 60 Buick dealers some years.
Prices have dropped 10 percent across the board in our latest Hagerty Price Guide. That’s more due to belated correction rather than the bottom dropping out, but with insurance quote activity down, it looks like the Reatta is failing to gain a new following, despite an overall ’80s nostalgia in the collector car market.
If the Reatta still gets your heart pumping to retro beat, however, current owners are ready to help, with a handy list of resources at the online Reatta Owners Journal and the Reatta-specific division of the Buick Owners Club, which hosts an annual meetup.
On a final note, the Reatta’s assembly plant would later be home to the EV1 and Chevrolet SSR. As if the Reatta wasn’t already rare and pretty, no other car can claim kinship with both an electric vehicle and a convertible truck.