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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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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.