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The cars we loved.

1988-1991 Buick Reatta: Securing the Middle Ground


1988 Buick Reatta

1990 Buick Reatta Convertible

Many a conspiracy theorist has speculated that the Pontiac Fiero was axed because it potentially got too close to Chevrolet’s Corvette in performance and mission. The same might have been said of Buicks Reatta, a car closer to intruding on Corvette’s territory than the short lived Pontiac. Just as Pontiac finally polished up the Fiero was rolling into the sunset, Buick had been developing their own two seat sports car, its first 2 seater since the 1940.

1988 Buick Reatta

1988 Buick Reatta

While the Fiero was busy trying to shed its roots as an econocar, Buick was planning a real two seat sports car with a level of polish that could only come from Buick. If left alone GM’s plan seemed sound. Pontiacs could have a low end sports car, Buick near luxury and Cadillac the high end. Unfortunately for Buick, the Reatta was more than half way through development when the news came from GM that it wanted to refocus the Buick brand back to its core competency: affordable near –luxury.  

As its new flagship car, Buick took great effort to build the Reatta to exacting standards to insure optimal quality control. The cars were hand built in Lansing Michigan at the Lansing Craft Center. Painting was done on site by PPG representatives while owners received documents with the signatures of team members responsible for various stages of the cars construction. It was all very Lexus like before Lexus perceived quality spoiled near luxury consumers. The Retta was priced somewhere between the popular Chrysler Lebaron on the low end and the Cadillac Allante on the high end.

1990 Buick Reatta Interior

1990 Buick Reatta Interior

Had Buick been allowed to continue the performance car roll it had started with the Grand National cars, it’s very likely that there may have been a turbo charged Reatta or at least a T-Type variation. Instead, the program, based on GM’s E platform was scaled down with luxury being its primary focus. All this downscaling of concept did not happen before the Reatta got out the door with a fully independent suspension and four wheel disc brakes: very sports car like indeed (on paper).

Technically the Reatta looked like what the Fiero’s spec sheet should have looked like. A V6 engine, fully independent suspension and a comfortable high tech interior would have made any personal sports coupe proud. The recently redesigned Thunderbird and Lebaron had some variation of this theme with drastically different outcomes. Aside from the single transmission choice, a four-speed automatic, its basic specs put it squarely in the middle between the cheaper Lebaron and Thunderbird in performance.

The initial car suffered from ambitions of high technology in the first two model years. The innovative touch screen dash that displayed system information was a bit too much for the older crowd who traditionally bought Buicks. It was toned down for a more conventional push button driven system with a traditional dash layout. The comfortable leather seats were more in line with what Buick buyers wanted, while the 3.8 L engine made 165 hp. Although no lightweight street brawler, the Reatta could get to 60 from a stoplight in a respectable 8.8 seconds and go all the way to an electronically limited 125 mph.  Anyone looking to go faster was probably not looking at Buicks anyway. Twisty roads and high jaunts is where the Reatta would really shine. The supple suspension combined with the well-insulated interior filter out noise and road vibrations.

PPG Turbo Reatta

PPG Turbo Reatta

Sales peaked once a convertible was offered in 1990 to over 8,000 units only to drop to a low of less than 1,500 cars in its final year. Oddly enough many refinements were made to improve drivability, like the addition of tuned port fuel injection, ABS brakes and a electronically controlled transmission. Power was boosted to 170 while outside the Reatta looked slightly more aggressive with 16 in wheels replacing the previous 15s. Overall the Reatta was a odd car. Not particularly sporty or overly luxurious looking. As a result of this conflicted mission, its popularity as a used car is just average. In 1990 Buick actually experimented with the ideal of a turbo charged Reatta. It was only a concept but was said to use a turbocharged version of the standard GM 3800 V6 good for 245 hp. Its interesting to speculate on the possibility of a Reatta Grand National or T-Type, but fate and GM corporate conspiracies would have it otherwise.

1991 Buick Reatta

1991 Buick Reatta

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This entry was posted on January 7, 2011 by in 80's Cars, 90's cars, Buick and tagged , .
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