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Hagerty Employee

The unlikely birth and untimely death of Buick’s two-seat Reatta

Buick’s first and only two-seater was conceived more than a decade before its birth. A new leadership team arrived at the brand in 1975 with direction to grow its product line, image, and sales. “I had specific ideas about what we wanted to do product-wise,” then-Buick chief engineer Lloyd Reuss told me in a 2005 interview. “Our volume was not where we wanted it to be, and we were too much like Oldsmobile. So there was a major decision to move away from Olds and more toward Cadillac. We wanted an upscale sportier image—call it sporty elegance.”


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Intermediate Driver

We owned one; a 1989 coupe. Reliable, not one issue. Pleasant enough, but did nothing so great to fall in love. 

Pit Crew

I remember as a freshman at UM-Rolla School of Mines back in the fall of 1988, GM had brought one to campus to show off the vehicle from a technical perspective, and secured display square in the middle of the main campus engineering buildings and campus bookstore, ensuring the most traffic.  I thought it was a visually appealing design at the time, and remembering the touch screen system being so advanced looking.  I also thought it was an interesting way to target a demographic, they were either going to persuade purchasers by its engineering and snag the young single graduating seniors pre-marriage, but I also remember thinking it likely wouldn’t have the desired effect because UMR grads being engineers and critically thinking why would I buy such an expensive toy straight out of school with 4 yrs of student debt. Still was impressed by the overall package even though no manual option.


There is a man in our town who owned the local Buick-Pontiac dealership back in the years when Reattas were in production.  He eventually bought five of them in various years and body styles and kept them, driving each occasionally.  

I'm not sure how many he still owns but I see him driving a red convertible and a silver coupe with a black top every now and then.  

I sure hope he didn't buy them as investments but I'll bet he did.

Intermediate Driver

I always thought of them as a very "milquetoast" design from an aesthetics perspective, and I think history has confirmed this.  They languish at the very bottom of the collector car market, and nice, used examples can still be had at rock-bottom prices.  A decent V-8 may have helped, but it was still seen as a "grandma's roadster."  


To me, it seems the problem was that it either wasn't affordable and sporty enough, (a la Mazda's Miata,) or opulent and powerful enough, (the later Cadillac XLR.) 

Styling-wise, it looks like a bland Toyota Supra. 


My absolute favorite Buick convertible will always be the first-year, 1953 Skylark. 

It only lasted one year in that form. Check it out. It sort of resembles an MG-flavored roadster on steroids. 


Great article, by the way. 


I have always wanted one of these cars but whenever I find one the timing is never right, some day.


I recall the launch clearly and was an Automobile subscriber and recall the article referred to above, and that they had the Riatta on the cover. I recall being enthusiastic as it was more like the re-released Thunderbird two seater. Both failed for arguably similar reasons. Not sporty enough for the Miata/'vette crowd, not luxurious enough for the 'older' crowd. Its an odd niche and one I like and would like to have a convertible now that I am 'older' as well. Sadly there's nothing really like it out there now. My dad had the two seater Infinity with retractible roof. I guess that was close; also a failure.


I don't know what your price range, or desired vintage is, but the Lexus SC 430 might fit the bill. They range from 2001 - 2010, and are still "affordable". They boast pretty decent performance from a flawless V8, and all have retractable hardtops. 

New Driver

An elegant car with potential wasted again by idiots at GM. Who has ever heard of a collectible / desirable car with front wheel drive? Who has ever heard of a collectible / desirable American car with only 6 cylinders? Who has ever heard of buyers of American cars who are impressed by and attracted to gadgets? Total idiots that have no clue what GM or Buick should be.


Actually, there are numerous collectable cars with 6 cylinders.  Porsche makes a car called the 911.  There is another car called the Mercedes SL300, which is worth some money.  Some very desirable BMWs have in-line sixes.  The Datsun 240Z is growing in value.  One problem is that American car companies don't know how to make desirable 6 cylinder cars.  If it's not an 8, American companies can't do it right.


As a proud owner of an Allante, I always cringe when I read stories about American manufacturers trying to do something out of the box... then get criticized for not being in one of the right boxes... only later to be criticized for building boring cars that can't compete with overseas. The worst thing that ever happened to American manufacturers is American car buyers

Intermediate Driver

They were hard to get exited about at that price point.


I always loved the Reatta, still do.  I still have their '88 sales brochure, with an "innovative" animated, ultra-futuristic demo on 5.25" diskette!  I wanted one with the digital touch-screen dash so bad (still do!), but back then to me, $25,000 for such a tiny, impractical car (that's $25,000 in 1980s dollars, mind you) was just nuts.  That's what killed the Reatta for me, and probably a lot of people.

Pit Crew

it's time for Honda to redo the Opel GT, full Japanese style.....

New Driver


In the fall of 1987 I traveled to the AACA National Meet at Hershey, Pa., with the OLD CARS WEEKLY staff. At that time, Buick fans were anxiously awaiting the mid-model-year introduction of the Reatta. Predictive sketches of the new car had been published by then, but Buick was doing a good job of being secretive about actual photos and details. There was a lot of chatter about the Reatta and all of the "big" car magazines--like MOTOR TREND and CAR and DRIVER were salivating to learn more or to get actual photos.

Our esteemed OLD CARS PRICE GUIDE Editor Ken Buttolph was also in charge of driving the OLD CARS WEEKLY Suburban to car shows and making reservations for the staff. For the past several years we had stayed in Harrisburg, but traffic into the show was heavy from that direction and room rates at the big hotels were constantly rising. Ken liked smaller motels where he could park right outside the door of his room.

For that fall, he had located a nice, smaller hotel in the direction opposite Harrisburg. We flew into the city, picked up our rental car and headed for the mom and pop hotel. About the exact time we arrived there, a red Buick Reatta pulled into the parking lot!

Two Buick management employees--I don't know what their official role was -- were driving the car. I'm not sure if they were testing it or just coming home from a dealer meeting or something like that. In any case, they had somehow secured rooms at the motel, which had been sold out for the car meet. Apparently, someone did a last-minute cancellation and Lady Luck was riding with them.

That was funny in itself, but even more hilarious was the fact that they had brought the Reatta--which was officially still "under wraps"--to an area hosting the largest collector car show in the world. (They had no idea what Hershey was.) And they miraculously wound up in the same motel as the staff of a national car magazine. So, that's how one of the first published photos of a Reatta turned up in OLD CARS WEEKLY.

Here was the problem. 

GM made the move to FWD platforms nearly across the board. 
At this time GM was really hurting for money as they just did not go bankrupt in 2008. It was a long slow death. 

At this time even the F body was being moved to a GM80 platform that was FWD based. Note Ford was moving to a FWD Mustang too as the Prob till the Fox body Mustang sales took off. GM killed the GM80 and the used the 1990 Fiero GM styling to start on a new 4th gen Fbody. 

Now back to the Reatta. Like the Fiero Buick had use the parts bin to make a two seat car. They cut down  the Riviera and used as much as they could to curb cost. This was a formula of failure. 

While they got the styling right it first should have been a Convertible. Second it needed to be RWD. FWD sports cars have never worked. 

Imagine if they got RWD and a manual with a SC3800 option what this car could have e other issue at that point would be Chevy and the Corvette team.   The Corvette people and Chevy are who really killed the Fiero. They saw the 1990 Gt and knew Pontiac had built a V8 mile. They already were struggling with C4 sales and were having trouble with a business case for the C5. 

They in fact canceled the C5 but the manager ignored it and moved forward anyways. He did save the car. 

But with that going on Chevy would never have let Buick have a true sports car. 

When John Schinella the GM designer explained the Fiero death to me he said Chevy sells more cars so Chevy gets more say in GM. 

Buick did well with what they had but GM again never did manage their divisions well. The infighting between them did more damage than Toyota or Ford ever did. 

GM could easily have competed with a sports car if they wanted too but they just never wanted to pay for it till the later Vettes and the C8. 

The C8 is a great example of what GM can do if they fund a project properly. The C8 got delayed and that was a blessing as if they had tried this post Bsil out they again would have cut corners and the Mid engine C7 would never have been the car we have today. Extending front engine in the C7 shows GM has changed their thinking. 

New Driver

You were fortunate to have David North’s contribution to this story as he was key to the design of the Reatta. As noted, he selected the name having been involved with the movie Giant where Reata was the name of the ranch. A special Reatta was also made for David’s wife by Buick, which she still owns. They were kind enough to show it to us when we visited their home several years ago. The Reatta, like the Fiero and Allanté never really came close to its potential until the end and by then it was too late. Considering the fully depreciated prices at present, the convertible from the final year could provide a great deal of driving fun.