Final Parking Space: 1989 Buick Reatta

Murilee Martin

General Motors was one of the most innovative vehicle manufacturers in the world for many decades, giving us the first genuinely successful automatic transmission, powerful and cheap V-8 engines for the masses, leading-edge touchscreen interfaces, head-up displays, and the first production overhead-cam engine with a timing belt. With all that, though, European manufacturers became better-known for their technologically advanced and futuristically styled machinery by the 1980s, and GM needed to catch up. What better way than by designing a gorgeous two-seater to be hand-built by the Buick Division’s most experienced workers? This was the Buick Reatta. I found this well-preserved example in a Northern California car graveyard.

1989 Buick Reatta badge
Murilee Martin

The Buick Division had to work with the platforms it had on hand for the Reatta, and its front-wheel-drive chassis was based on one borrowed from the Buick Riviera/Cadillac Eldorado/Oldsmobile Toronado and then shortened a bit.

1989 Buick Reatta aftermarket infotainment
Murilee Martin

The 1988 and 1989 Reattas came with the radical Electronic Control Center touchscreen interface as standard equipment. This system was based on cathode-ray-tube hardware sourced from an ATM manufacturer and required 120VAC power behind the dash. It was decades ahead of its time.

1989 Buick Reatta engine bay
Murilee Martin

Unfortunately, the traditional Buick-buying demographic at the time wasn’t very enthusiastic about electronic gadgets or two-seaters in general. Meanwhile, prospective buyers of BMWs, Audis, and Mercedes-Benzes who might have been lured into Reatta purchases were put off by the pushrod Buick V-6 under the Reatta’s hood; while a reliable and reasonably powerful engine, its ancestry stretched back to the 1961 Buick 215 V-8 and it was decidedly less sophisticated than the double-overhead-cam engines coming from Europe at the time.

1989 Buick Reatta interior shifter
Murilee Martin

The only transmission available in the Reatta was a four-speed automatic, which probably wasn’t as much of a sales limitation as the old-timey engine.

1989 Buick Reatta interior front driver side view
Murilee Martin

Still, it was a beautiful and luxurious car and deserved a better sales fate than what it got. This one looks to have been in good shape when it ended up in its Final Parking Space.

1989 Buick Reatta rear lettering badge
Murilee Martin

Let’s hope that local Reatta fans harvested all its good parts before it went to the crusher.



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    The real down all of this car was two things. One the touch screen failed. It was the future but often GM has the future tech before it is fully reliable. Anyone remember the 8-6-4.

    The other failure here is the FWD. This car really needed RWD but GM was in the middle of a panic to move to FWD to meet MPG regs. This compromised the car much.

    Imagine if they had made it RWD and put the GN engine in it with the drop top from the start.

    GM’s budget was already taking a toll as GM was already well on the way to going bankrupt at this time. If they had put this car and Alante on a RWD platform both would have done much better.

    There WAS a “prototype” RWD turbo V6 Reatta built! There was a story in Hot Rod years ago about some of the oddball creations, one-offs, and exercises in GM’s Engineering department. Apparently, GM or Buick wanted to see how some ideas worked,so it built a number of Reattas with non-standard power trains. Another one had a supercharged V6 FWD powertrain.

    Wish we could post pictures here. Someone at my work daily drives ones of these things. It looks to be in good shape too.

    I know the Reatta was basically dismissed in the comments of your “’80s Classics You Can Buy for $5000 or Less” article ( but I like it.

    As for needing to be RWD, or have a GN motor, I disagree. The 3800 is a great and reliable engine. I’d rather leave it FWD and swap in a supercharged version (L67) from a Buick Rivera or (L32) from a Pontiac Grand Prix GTP.

    No, the instrument cluster technology wasn’t quite there yet to be reliable long-term but the concept was far ahead of its time. And there are companies today that can repair the electronic screens.

    I’ve got an ’88 and LOVE IT! I have a nice salvage yard nearby with at least 5 all nicely tucked together but they get picked over FAST. I’d be grabbing that hood badge, console and touch screen no matter what. I think by now I have enough parts to rebuild mine (doors too) to keep mine out of the yard. It’s odd how a lot of them seem to be driven very hard with most in this condition or worse.

    This could have been a bunch of fun with the supercharged 3800. It was an interesting and good looking car but the touchscreen is the big weakness here.

    I love my 88 Reatta. It’s a great little car that runs excellent. Mine only has 75k miles. Looks like new. That touch screen works good with some hidden features. Buick was thinking about putting on a turbo. They built several the last year with turbos front wheel drive and rear wheel drive.

    According to Buick engineers, one reason the CRT was discontinued was reflections, it would be unreadable when Reatta made the convertible in 1990. The real reason was probably cost, as it was also used in the Riviera from 1986 to 1989. The Reatta is overlooked as a collectable car and the common excuse was it did not have a V8 however one report said the Reatta was just as fast (0-60) as the Cadillac Allante which had a V8. All Reattas are rare as only 21,751 were made in 4 model years. They were premium Buicks, costing more than any other Buick the years they were offered. The really rare Reattas are the convertibles 2,437 in 2 model years… in 1991 only 305 were made and something like 247 actually made it on the road…. Buick donated 45 of them to tech schools for training and cannot be sold or driven on the road.

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