History of the 1988-1991 Buick Reatta
The Buick Reatta was originally penned as a two-seat (possibly with turbocharging and rear-wheel-drive) sports car for Buick, but the Reatta instead arrived—as the brand refocused on an older-luxury-minded buyer—as a front-wheel drive personal-luxury coupe with a cushy interior, a relatively soft ride, and an automatic transmission. Today, the Reatta still stands out for its distinctive exterior, as well as its futuristic (for its time) driver interface. It’s also one of the least expensive “handmade” modern cars; it was made at GM’s Lansing Craft Center, and each car included a “Craftsman’s Log” that accounted for its assembly.
The Reatta had a fairly conventional powertrain, with a 3.8-liter V-6 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. This engine’s output figures of 165 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque were fairly impressive output figures for the time, and thanks to a number of improvements—most notably a balance-shaft system—it had a smoother, more sophisticated feel. In 1991 the Reatta got an additional series of engineering changes and a boost to 170 hp and 220 lb-ft. In 1991, the transmission received electronic controls that made shifting smoother and more consistent.
In general, Reattas don’t drive much differently than GM’s front-wheel-drive sedans of the same era, but they’re good, comfortable highway cars; and while they’re not tuned to be sporty, their fully independent suspension does a good job in filtering out road shocks.
One of the Reatta’s most striking features is its touch-screen system, called the Electronic Control Center (ECC), which was considered to be one of the most advanced interfaces of its day. Remarkably full-featured, ECC provided access to audio, climate control, and trip computer functions, and it even included vehicle-diagnostics functions. The 1990 and 1991 Reattas instead got a more typical interface for the time, and GM subbed in vacuum-fluorescent gauges.
An ASC-designed Convertible version of the Reatta—with a vinyl or cloth soft top and glass rear window—was offered starting in 1990, and the design was improved somewhat for 1991. You could get a cloth interior in the 1988 Reatta coupe, but otherwise the cars came with leather interior. 1989-91 Reattas have keyless entry, while throughout the run, the only significant options were a sunroof and a 16-way power driver’s seat.
The most valuable Reattas from a collecting standpoint are likely those originally sold with a “Select Sixty” emblem on the hood. These models had a black exterior and tan interior for 1988 and a Flame Red exterior with white seats and white wheels for 1991. A total of around 120 made for those two years combined, so check for factory documentation.
For those planning to purchase a Buick Reatta, body integrity and corrosion are known issues; stay away from models with excessive rattles, or any significant rust or collision repair. Transmissions are the powertrain’s weak point, while the anti-lock braking system is prone to failure; the revised ABS system introduced for 1991 has been less trouble-prone. Inoperative folding headlamps are relatively easy to troubleshoot and repair, but replacing that curved, “bubbleback” glass rear window in the Reatta coupe will cost a fortune, so consider walking away from any car that needs it (and never parking the car near kids and Frisbees once you buy one).