No Reserve: 1989 Buick Reatta

The pages of the automotive history books are littered with examples of cars that manufacturers have produced to serve as a “halo” model. Some of these vehicles capture the public’s imagination and sell in significant numbers. A perfect example of this philosophy is the original Mustang because it sold in numbers far beyond the imagination of Ford management. Others, like the Buick Reatta, sell in far lower numbers. This 1989 Reatta is a tidy survivor that could serve as the perfect entry for anyone considering dipping their toe into the water of the classic car world. It presents well and is an unmolested survivor that the owner is offering for sale with No Reserve. If you find the prospect tempting, you will find the Reatta located in Winlock, Washington, and listed for sale here at Hemmings. Bidding has reached a mere $2,216 in this No Reserve auction. I have to say a big thank you to Barn Finder Eric B for referring this rare classic to us.

This Reatta presents nicely, with its original Medium Sapphire Blue Firemist paint holding an impressive shine. It isn’t perfect because it has accumulated the usual collection of small chips and marks that you might expect on a car of this age with a six-digit odometer reading. The panels are straight, with no evidence of any dings or blemishes and no signs of any previous accident damage. The fit of the panels and their gaps are as tight and consistent as you might expect from a range-topping Grand Tourer designed to showcase the company’s abilities. The glass and trim are in good order, as are the original 16″ alloy wheels. The owner doesn’t mention any rust problems, and the underside photos show little more than the occasional dusting of light surface corrosion. When Buick introduced the Reatta, their stated aim was to sell the cars at a rate of approximately 20,000 units per annum. Sadly, the company fell short of that figure, and by a very long way. A couple of issues hurt it in the market, and chief among these was the styling. While it bore some vague similarities to Pontiac’s Fiero, it was just too unusual for the tastes of most of its target market. As a result, Buick only managed to sell 21,751 examples during its four-year production run.

While the buying public didn’t widely accept the styling of the Reatta, its drivetrain further hurt its cause. While the overall styling suggested sporting pretensions, the front-wheel-drive configuration ruled it out in the minds of many. That wasn’t to say that it was a bad vehicle because with 160hp being generated from its 3.8-liter V6 engine, it offered reasonable performance for a GT car. All of that power found its way to the road via the front wheels and 4-speed automatic transmission, while power steering and 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS offered an effortless and safe driving experience. Pointed at a ¼ mile, the Reatta could complete the journey in 17.5 seconds. That number doesn’t look flash by today’s standards, and that lack of outright performance further harmed the car’s cause within the motoring community. However, as an open-road cruiser, the Reatta could devour the miles with ease. This example is in sound mechanical health. The owner has recently fitted new front brake discs and has also performed a complete service. He notes that the ABS light is illuminated on the dash but that the brakes still function perfectly. The drivetrain exhibits some minor fluid weeping but no signs of any significant leaks. That probably isn’t surprising considering that it is original and untouched and that the car has 184,000 miles on the clock. Those V6 engines are about as bulletproof as they come, so it should have years of life left in it if the next owner continues to treat the car with respect.

For many people, the Reatta caused them confusion. The exterior styling suggested that the car was more of a sports car, but the interior exposed the vehicle as a luxurious GT. The list of standard features was a mile long, and some of these were groundbreaking. Buyers received leather trim, climate-control air conditioning, power windows, 16-way power seats, power locks with keyless entry, cruise control, and a premium stereo with an auto-reversing cassette player for their considerable outlay. It was also groundbreaking because Buick introduced a feature referred to as the ECC, or Electronic Control Center. It might seem to be pretty commonplace now, but it marked the Reatta as something special. It is a touch-screen system that controlled all of the climate control system’s functions, the audio, and various other functions. This car features those niceties, and the only thing that doesn’t work correctly is the A/C. It doesn’t blow cold, but it would be worth investigating whether a service and recharge would return it to its best. There is some visible wear on the driver’s seat, but there’s no evidence of cracks or splitting. A leather specialist might be able to restore the upholstery to its former glory relatively cheaply, and that is an option that would be worth investigating further. The headliner is also beginning to sag, which is a common problem. Most upholsterers can set this issue right for around $200. However, an adventurous owner might be tempted to tackle that task themselves.

When Buick introduced the Reatta, its intentions were two-fold. They wanted it to reflect the company’s technical capabilities, and they wanted it to draw potential buyers into their showrooms. Sadly, several factors combined to make this a sales flop. The styling tended to polarize buyers in 1989, and it still manages to do that today. Its FWD drivetrain undermined its sporting pretensions, but the timing of its introduction probably drove the final nail into its coffin. In 1987, the world suffered the “Black Monday” Stock Market crash. That wiped hundreds of billions of dollars from world economies and wiped out the wealth of many individuals that Buick would’ve seen as their target market. Recovery from this crash was slow, and many people no longer had $26,000 to throw at a luxury like a Reatta in 1989. The company’s sales target had been 20,000 cars per annum, but they never came close to that total. In 1989, a mere 7,009 people handed over their cash, and even the introduction of a convertible during the next model year failed to excite the buying public. This car would’ve cost $26,000 when it was new, but there’s a good chance that you could secure it for barely 10% of that original sticker price. That has to make it a classic that is worthy of a closer look.

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Comments

  1. Jim

    Much like the Chrysler TC, the Reatta’s lines never screamed “sports car” but rather “shortened sedan”. Both cars looked very much like every other car in their make’s lineup. Performance aside, they may have sold better if they had just been more unique.

    Like 2
    • Sam61

      I remember lusting for these when new and believe these are underated as a future collectible. They do drive nice, check the quirky box and are reliable with the 3800 v6. The 88/89 touch screen is nothing to be afraid of as refirbished units are $400 ish. I prefer the early steering wheel sans airbag.

      Imagine, if you will, a Reatta with a supercharged 3800 and overstuffed bucket seats from a Chrysler TC.

      That’s big pimp’n middle aged style!

      Like 6
  2. Gerard Frederick

    If I were in a position to buy it, I would snap it up in a heart beat. One of my favorite Buicks. Sadly I live 10.000 miles away —-.

    Like 1
  3. Car Nut Tacoma

    Beautiful looking car. I remember when the Buick Reatta was introduced to the market. I thought it was going to replace the old Riviera as the personal luxury car. How disappointed was I to find out that it was discontinued.

  4. John Bartlett

    All that power? 160 horsepower

  5. chris Dalambakis

    My wife and my mother in law both had matching Reatta’s. I really liked the car. Comfortable. Great looking. Nice two-seater. Reasonably quiet. It was more like a luxury ride in a sporty body. Nice car… and ours were both highly reliable.

    Like 3
  6. Gizmo30

    I’m a big fan of the Allante and at the time felt the Reatta was a far more economical version of that type of car. The 3.8 Buick V6 also makes it at least somewhat open to modification. The only one I ever drove for more than a short test drive was a pleasure. Left me memories of an exceptional weekend.

  7. Issa Bendeck

    Very cool looking car i like it specially for the super reliable 3.8 liter v6 it is a grear hiway curuser i beat

    Like 2
  8. JoeNYWF64

    Try finding these things in a new “car” today …
    true blue interior, comfy seats, hidden wipers & hidden headlites(impervious to the sun).
    Too bad they ruined the styling with ugly cheap door mirrors & phony fixed “vent” windows to make it easier for the designers to adjust the mirrors – i would prefer NO mirror on the pass door & a manual one on the drivers – & full door glass styling – like starting with the ’66 Toronado.
    Many of today’s spoiled drivers won’t like the high liftover trunk opening or heavy big doors, however.
    Are modern “cars” able to display that the a/c needs to be recharged – like this one indicates??!!

  9. CaCarDude

    Looking over the photos on this it appears the engine is missing its 3800 top plastic cover. Probably be able to source one from your local pick -n- pull. That Buick v6 is bullet proof and a proven one of the best ten engines ever built.
    Just a tip for the buyer If your in the market for a Reatta be sure to inspect the glass very good. The windshield on these can set you back $1200 + with install, not an easy cheap glass to find. Must be due to the limited production and supply in demand.? Happy motoring!

  10. The Tower The Tower

    I was the winner on this auction. Got it for $2600 + $500 buyers fee. Car is local to me and spent a bit of time talking to the seller. I probably paid about $500 too much, but it’s only a two-owner car (minus the guy who flipped it to me) with decades of documentation and a lot of recent work. This will be my son’s first car when he begins to drive next year. Bought another one of these (a 1990) a month ago with the intent to give to my son and paid $1500 for a car that doesn’t look nearly as good and needs a bit more work, including new seat upholstery. That car will go up for sale this weekend!

    Like 9
    • Michael L Eveland Member

      Tower, I think you got a winner! Good luck with the Reatta. I hope your son enjoys the car, and treats it the way the previous owners have.

      Like 1
    • JoeNYWF64

      Could this car be very dangerous to drive for a young son(or anybody for that matter) if it’s got that touch screen crt control center??!!
      I prefer the old cars where you don’t have to take your eyes off the road at all to adjust the climate or radio!!!

  11. Mike

    Blue? Haven’t seen one before. Aren’t these either white or red?

    Like 1
  12. BRAKTRCR

    I remember when these were ne NHRA racer Kenny Bernstein had a Reatta Funny Car. He did well with it.
    Congrats on your purchase “The Tower” You can find some pictures of the funny car on ebay, might be fun to just keep with the car.

    Like 1
  13. 4spdBernie 4spdBernie Member

    Adam Clarke: thank you so very much for your wonderful write-up featuring our Reatta! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwCN6koTtzw

    Like 1

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