About a mile up Route 27 from my street, there’s a cleared area of land that hosts a number of businesses including a gas station, auto body shop, carwash, sand and gravel business, and some other big industrial warehouse. Further behind the gas station is a fenced-off area that appears to house salvaged vehicles. But located in the brush between these areas is a pair of ’88 Buicks that often catches my attention when I drive by nearly every day.
The more interesting of the two is this first-year Reatta roadster. One of only 4,708 examples produced in 1988, the Reatta was one of the more unusual vehicles sold under the Buick tri-shield. Despite its sports car looks, the Reatta was mostly certainly for show rather than go.
Originally meant to be a performance halo model for Buick, by the time it finally hit the market, the Reatta was an apple among oranges. Sharing both the E-body and most mechanical components, the Reatta was little more than a shortened Riviera without rear seats, wrapped in sportier sheet metal. Sales never took off as Buick and its customers alike didn’t know what to make of the car. It would appear that whoever currently owns this car doesn’t know either.
As an early model, this red hardtop is equipped with the rather infamous Visual Information Center touchscreen and full digital instrumentation. Although the interior looks better than I expected from the exterior, I’m still willing to bet its plethora of electronics have gone haywire over the past 25 years.
The second 1988 Buick is an Electra Park Avenue. Its condition appeared slightly better, with four inflated tires, and cleaner body panels. While these two Buicks may appear very disimilar from each other, they are both powered by the ubiquitous Buick 3800 V6, coupled to the same 4-speed automatic.
Unlike the Reatta though, Electra Park Avenues were scooped up by the droves of buyers who were looking for a soft, plush, and unpresuming sedan–in other words, what Buick was best known for. Compared to the base Electra Limiteds, like the ’89 Electra Limited I spotted a few miles up the road last fall, Park Avenues added even cushier velour seats, bright lower body moldings, tiny electroluminescent coach lamps, and a few additional convenience features.
Despite the cigarette burns and damaged driver’s door trim, the rest of the interior wasn’t bad. I can only imagine how much worse it would have fared if it were a leather-equipped Ultra model.
While neither of these Buicks appear to be complete goners, they have not moved in the three years I’ve lived nearby (their inspection stickers indicate they’ve been off the roads for even longer). The fate of each Buick is uncertain. Will I drive by one day to find them gone, sold for scrap? Or will they be left here to wither away? It certainly appears that they both have some life left in them. Hopefully someone will find it in their hearts to give them a little TLC. Only time will tell.
They don’t look too bad for being almost 30 years old and from New England…and obviously never taken care of. I’d guess they both have north of 200K miles on them.
Buick offered a free test drive on the Reatta when it was new, but the snooty Buick dealer refused me, saying the car was too new, and wanted a deposit! No wonder this car flopped…
The Reatta was very similar to the Allante, but much cheaper. It was a Buick version of the Mercedes SL from the 70’s. I owned a 91, which was the last year and did get some enhancements. Certainly not a sports car, but still handled far better than the Riviera’s or a Park Avenue.
Like on the first pic only one Reatta and a same age Le Sabre had cruised on the streets of my neighbourhood. The Le Sabre earlier, the Reatta few years later about a decade ago just disappeared from the streets… What happened with them? I don’t know. Hopefully if nothing more, they are parked somewhere in a garage collecting dust and waiting for a resurrection…
Cigarette burns got me thinking: I see a lot of drivers in my area using the highway as an ashtray, probably because carmakers have eliminated this from the dashboard. Not good, esp. during fire season in chaparral climate zones. Perhaps cars are the last bastion for smokers not allowed to smoke in many other venues.
Japanese cars in particular used to have prominent lighters & ashtrays, which I imagine were intended for chain-smoking salarymen in Tokyo, or Stuttgart for that matter.
Though there might have been some performance intentions initially, they considered putting it on the Fiero and Corvette platforms at one point, but by the time they car came out, it intentions were clear, it was aimed at upper income empty nesters, the kind of people that probably already bought an Riviera, Electra or a LeSabre when the kids were still in the house, but were now kid free and with good incomes.
Buick did make some scorching performance concepts with the Reatta, there were a couple of FWD turbo and supercharged 3.8 V6 concepts and a RWD GNX motored Reatta concept that was faster than a Corvette .
Buick seemed to have no problem selling the downsized C and H bodies. Maybe the salesfolk said ‘easier to park’? The LeSabre was a hit once the loyal buyers “got used to the size”.
While Cadillac is still horse-whipped to this day for the smaller Eldo, DeVille and Fleetwoods of the 80’s.
Olds was fading in the late 80’s, when the RWD Cutlass was out of style and passe’. Sure, it was a huge hit in 1976, but by 1986, was as fashionable as John Travolta’s white leisure suit. Then to suddenly go to the pill shaped W body was too late.
Don’t like the Reatta..the wheels looked too big and the boot deck is too long..Maybe it might have worked better as a hatchback.
The Park Avenue on the otherhand I like.No mistaking this is a US car..Not like some of the Eur bland offerings of today.It’s a good looking sedan IMHO.
Happy to see the word “plethora” used in the body of this article. It’s one of my favorite words – just sounds good rolling off the tongue…
Like ‘kerfluffle’ or ‘pinion’
Indubitably! (there’s another one)
Princess Bride fan?
It’s inconceivable that you thought it was indubitably.
(I do not think that word means what you think it means…)
Have no idea about Princess Bride…
Indubitably = without doubt, certainly…
Doesn’t that fit here?? Educate me if I am mistaken.
@ M.Bill the Princess Bride is a 1987 cult film- its famous for its dialogue as it uses words like ‘indubitably and inconceivable’
I am not doing the film justice- its a classic
One of the running gags is that a character keeps saying “inconceivable!” in situations where it doesn’t always make sense. Another character replies at one point “I do not think that word means what you think it means”.
Definitely an amazing film. It was a classic to kids of my generation but watching it as an adult there’s a whole new level of humor. Still a favorite.
Got it now. I’ve never seen the movie Princess Bride – I would have been 26 when it came out. I will try to find a copy and watch it.
I like it! I respect Buick for trying to provide us with something different. I don’t think this model was considered a “Roadster”. Maybe I am old school but I miss 2Dr models.
+1 on the two doors. The last four door vehicle I have had as my daily driver was a 1965 Pontiac I had for a couple of years in college (early seventies). As time goes on it is becoming harder and harder to find two door vehicles I find acceptable, and can afford. I understand why most two door vehicles have been eliminated (hardly anyone wants them), but, to me, driving around in a four door car makes me feel old. My body might be 62 but my spirit is about 25.
I used to see quite a bit of these on the roads here in Indiana. A friend mentioned that Indy was one of the main markets for these cars.
Ah, relics of the 80’s. What is it about Detroit iron that’s so charming?
I want take a moment to say thanks to Brendan for bringing us these and other gems of whimsy. For a young fellow, your interest in CC’s is heart warming. I takes me back to when I was a teen, eyeing a ’67 Fury III or a ’70 bonneville, abandoned some place where no one notices or cares. My relics where the late 60’s. I didn’t see rusty jalopies, I imagined the 100’s of hours the design teams put into these creations, with the best intentions. Thanks again.
“first-year Reatta roadster” … “this red hardtop”
anyone know how to take off the opera lights on the Park Ave? – one of mine is burnt out of my 1990
From inside the B-pillar, though there is no bulb there, its an electroluminescent material that illuminates.
Reattas were probably bought by the same people who bought Toyota Solara convertibles. Kind of a pity given the unique shape, but considering it had no performance intentions whatsoever…
That Electra does make me think of a question I’ve had for a while about the FWD full-size GM cars of the era though. It seems like years ago you’d see 2 or three LeSabres for every Electra, whereas now the proportion seems more even. And over on the Olds side, I’m firmly convinced that there are two or three Ninety Eights left for every 88 of the era that is still on the road. Did the 98 outsell the 88, or is it a more extreme example of why I theorize there are a higher proportion of Electras remaining, i.e. older orignal owner who drove less and/or took better care of the car?
“…older orignal owner who drove less and/or took better care of the car?”
I agree about your theory of older Park Ave/98 buyers keeping up their cars, and then are sold as at estate sales.
The H [cheaper] bodies sold more than the C’s, but mainly because some LeSabres were fleeted out. Then pushed into used car market, and worn out. Same with 88’s, but Olds was fading in sales, compared to Buick.
I see more 98s around here for sure. That goes for the RWD and FWDs. I’d say that if you want to bother to keep one going, it makes more sense to want to keep the Broughamed out Electra or the 98 than the cheaper versions.
For the sedans, I agree with you. However, I think the RWD 88 coupe was more attractive than the 98, and even more so for the FWD cars–the 88 had that graceful “fast” c-pillar whereas the 98 coupe had that blocky, squared off C-pillar shared with the sedan that just didn’t work on the 2-door version.
Considering how few of the FWD coupes were sold in the first place, though, that’s merely a statistical “blip”.
There is currently a red Reatta coupe sitting on a small used car lot just down the street from me. I have been tempted to go check it out, but haven’t done it yet. If it was a roadster, I probably would have pulled the trigger on it by now.
I briefly dated a girl with a Reatta in the early 90s, so it was a pretty new car at the time. She let me drive it, and man was it underwhelming. The bodystyle says ‘sportscar with class’ but the driving impression says ‘personal luxury’. I thought it was Fiero-based when I first came across one of these, but obviously I was wrong. Just who was this car meant for in the first place? Someone who wanted performance no better than the FWD W body coupes, the same level of near luxury but with a bodystyle that was way too flashy for whats under the hood? No wonder they didn’t sell well. Its a shame too, because had this been fleshed out a little better, it very well COULD have been a halo car for Buick. Buick has flirted with coolness off and on, but never really seems to be able to commit to the type of cars that will reel in buyers who aren’t AARP members for every long. Sad.
Looking closely at the Reatta, the hole behind the front wheel makes it look as though that panel is some sort of reinforced plastic or fiberglass rather than metal – it looks broken rather than rusted out or dented from being banged on by a broken tire chain.
Yes, these had plastic front fenders.
Love the tape stripes on the Park Avenue’s hood!
My daily driver is a 1990 Reatta, it just turned 150,000 miles with original engine and transmission. About once a week I am asked if it is a new Buick model or prototype, some folks know what it is and give me a thumbs up or NICE CAR yell. It is not a sports car by any means however it does handle better than other cars of the era. It is still a dependable, comfortable car to drive and because of its roots and a large following most parts are not a problem. It’s good on fuel and insurance with a declared value of $5,000 is around $400.00 a year. (In Miami Fl.)
I sat in Reattas and Rivieras in the dealerships as a kid, and those digital interfaces were cool back then! I wonder, however, how many of those cars have been junked because the screens went on the fritz. I wonder how many new cars with touch screens will suffer the same fate when the electronics eventually give out and those old touch screens aren’t available.
Believe it or not it isn’t very expensive to get the touch screen restored on these. Last I looked it was something like $100.00.
There’s a black Reatta not far from my apartment that makes that red one look brand new… and it’s driven daily. The hood’s bungee’d shut, the front bumper’s all mangled, just a sad sight.
A strike against the Reatta is that apparently windshields are quite expensive, like four figures…yikes! Hopefully, that changes eventually, because they make for inexpensive collector cars.