Two Seats And A Halo: 1990 Buick Reatta

In the late eighties and early nineties, General Motors decided to spice up Buick showrooms by adding a “halo” car.  A halo car is one designed to bring customers into the showroom.  These types of cars often display some combination of innovative styling, unparalleled luxury, a high horsepower motor, and, almost always, seating for two.  Sometimes it works out and the magic from the halo car rubs off on the lesser models in the showroom and a sale of some sort is made.  These cars make money for the company by getting customers in the door.  While this lasts for a while, it is often not sustainable,  Then, the bean counters start crying about losing money, and the car is subsequently discontinued for lack of sales.  General Motors is the ninja master of this practice.  They come out with a well styled car with some flaws, then they fix the flaws right before they cancel production.  This 1990 Buick Reatta convertible, for sale on Craigslist for just $4000, is a perfect example of the halo car.  This black angel is currently waiting for a new home in heavenly Fayetteville, Tennessee.

The Reatta was an unusual car.  Originally, Buick wanted the car to be a performance model.  They were thinking the reputation they gained with the Buick Regal Grand National could be continued with the Reatta.  Unfortunately, tire melting horsepower and front wheel drive luxury car engineering (it was to be built on the Riviera platform) mix like your favorite vinaigrette dressing.  Buick also had to accept that their customer base was mostly aging baby boomers who liked sporty cars, but didn’t want a sports car.  This left the car as a mix of compromises.  It was unusually styled for the day, but they carried it off well.  The engine was GMs tried and true 3.8 liter V-6, which was a reliable but boring engine.   Add to all of that that it rode like a Buick, not a sports car, and it had just two seats.  When you look at the whole picture, especially when you factor in the competing demands of the marketing, styling, and engineering departments, the car turned out pretty well.

Buick was optimistically predicting a consistent sales rate of 20,000 Reattas per year.  Reality was something altogether different.  They sold only 21,751 of these, and 2,400 of those were the convertible models Buick added in the last two model years.  The cars improved steadily, and, just like countless other cars GM perfected and dropped, the last ones were the best.  By 1990, the Reatta had lost the touchscreen display that handled functions such as climate control and the radio.  While it performed OK, it looked like it was built by the guys that brought you the first Space Invaders game when you fired it up, and customers in the Buick demographic preferred conventional controls.  Furthermore, the addition of a convertible top really went well with the styling and made the car much more attractive.  Unfortunately, the Reatta was doomed, coupe and convertible.  Buick wouldn’t make another convertible until 2016.

The 1990 Reatta for sale in this ad is a really nice example of one of the rare convertible versions.  The color combination of a black exterior with brown leather seats is perfect.  The seller states that this car has just 131,000 miles, and that the paint is still in good shape minus a few stone chips and door dings.  Mechanically, the only problems are that the electric windows are slowing down and that the car may need rear shocks.  The air conditioning is working well, and it sports new tires mounted on Cadillac CTS wheels.  To keep the car original, the buyer will be provided the factory wheels.  This Reatta looks like it has been garaged most, if not all, of its life, and is likely a safe investment at this condition and price.

If you look at the badges that the current owner has attached to the front license plate bracket, you will see that one is a badge awarded for showing the car at an Antique Automobile Club of America national meet.  Most likely this is a historical preservation award, which recognizes that the owner is showing the car in its original condition.  The other is an AACA touring badge.   These are awarded for bringing the car on a tour sponsored by the organization.  Showing a car and driving it on tours is a great way to enjoy the hobby.  Shows are held in all areas of the country, and the tours are usually week long affairs where you spend your days driving from destination to destination through some of the prettiest scenery our country has to offer.  The destinations are often car museums, private collections, restoration shops, and local tourist attractions.  These events are not very expensive to participate in, but they offer a lot to car enthusiasts who want to do more than attend cruise ins and local shows.

This car is perfect for activities such as this.  The price of entry is low.  Reattas are known for riding and driving well, and Buick reliability during this period is legendary.  Add to that the magic that cruising around with the convertible top down brings, and this car may be just what you need to make some lasting memories in this great hobby.  GM may have made a mistake by ending production on the Reatta, but this Reatta still has a lot of adventures left in it.

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Comments

  1. Rob

    I always thought these were a sharp car. Yes they never delivered performance the package was wrapped in. But neither did the Fiero until they killed it either.

  2. Jeffro

    Love these

  3. dirtyharry

    I think a little interior cleaning would brighten things up. I noticed a ‘mystery’ switch on the console. I like these as much as I like the Allante. Things can get out of hand at GM. With so much going on, there has to be a few mistakes. Not a sports car but rather a luxury car for two. Sounds good to me.

  4. Metoo

    I saw one of these parked at the local Dollar Store the other day. A few dings and scratches but still nice. The owner told me she bought a few months ago with 102k miles on it.

  5. Ikey Heyman

    I was interested in these as well as the Allante but always thought certain things like trim and body parts and interior bits would be expensive to source. Don’t know anyone who owns one so maybe somebody can enlighten me.

  6. Pa Tina

    I think the only “Halo” car GM came close on was the Cadillac XLR. Of course, they killed that one also.

  7. Greg Howes

    I believe that the Buick Riviera in the late 90’s was the same engine with a supercharger. My mom still has a 1999 Riviera with 60K miles. That might be a simple add here for a power boost. The superchargers are only $600 refurbished (had to get her’s rebuilt due to sitting too long).

  8. John

    A guy the next town over from me has three of these. A red, a white, and a blue one. Parked on his yard. I don’t think they’ve ever moved.

  9. DRV

    These can run forever with little care.
    One problem for me is the constant cowl shake in the convertible.

  10. David Miraglia

    always thought they were odd. The looks I mean and the rarity. A sleeper.

    • Your mom

      So you don’t know what sleeper means, got it

    • Rodney

      Buick Reatta not a “sleeper” in the true car sense of the word but most likely a “snoozer”. Just sayin’……

  11. ccrvtt

    These cars were in their final year of production before I even knew what they were. Monumentally stupid marketing coupled with a basically bland design – they looked like Buicks for pete’s sake.

    l know a guy who has a few along with a pile of Allante parts. Fortunately he owns an Opel GT and a Mercedes that sold new for six figures. Nice car for someone, just not for me.

  12. scotto

    i have always liked these. i prefer the coupe. i know some people think the top is odd, but its my favorite part. i think its what makes the cars styling stand out so much among other designs at the time.

    saw one on craigslist recently for only $1250. didnt look too bad for the price. could have clenaed up nicely.

  13. charlie Member

    I have a ’93 Allante, same GM thought process, the last year, ’93, they got it right, 0-60 in 6.1 seconds, magnetic rear suspension, flat on the corners, soft on the highway, and you can source parts from 3 different guys who do this for a living, one in NJ, one near San Diego, one in FL. A few parts are unobtanium, for the ’93 Northstar engine since it had to fit under a lower hood than the rest of the line, but my favorite mechanic and I made a part out of enema hose and glue and some random plastic There are plenty of body and trim parts (used) available. And like this Buick, they are at the bottom of their market. Even cheaper but worth looking for is the bean shaped Chrysler LeBaron convertible of the time, with the V6. Very cheap right now. OR, the Pontiac hard top convertible (folding hardtop) which seems to have sold well in Canada but not the US, great car, rare, fast, and comfortable

  14. Nova Scotian

    Top down touring is something most motorists have no idea what fun it is. Have no understanding of how convertibles act on the road, and yet speak condemingly about performance. Driving a convertible is a whole different driving experience, as I learned after my wife and I bought a convert. It’s one of life’s easily obtainable joys that’s right there waiting to awe struck you in pitch black night time cruising, or sunny afternoons floating down the highway by a coastal valley in cool sea mist air. Most converts are meant for cruising, not power blasts down the interstate. Go ahead, you deserve a convert. I dare ya’…

  15. Ben T. Spanner

    My neighbor has 2; a coupe and a convertible. There are two coupes on Craigslist in Ft Myers now. One at $2000, and one at $4000. The coupes really have little value.

    $4000 for a nice convertible with new tires; looks like a deal.

  16. Chuck

    I own 3 convertibles and they are the best cars I have owned. Yes there is come cowl shake but it’s reasonable. Parts have never been a problem and well maintained cars don’t have many issues. Fun cars. Drive one

  17. Virgal Gannon

    Select Sixty Reatta. Draws attention wherever I go.

  18. Virgal Gannon

    One more . Only the top 60 Buick dealers in the country got one of these.

  19. Rodney

    “Who can build a stylish two seater drop top with no power or handling?”
    “Ameri-can”

  20. James

    Voila!

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