Home » What’s Your Favorite Colour?: 1988 Nissan 300ZX vs 1988 Buick Reatta

What’s Your Favorite Colour?: 1988 Nissan 300ZX vs 1988 Buick Reatta

Sbsd 6 20 2024

Good morning! Today’s musical-and-automotive tour stops at 1988, with a pair of low-mileage two-doors and a New York City band known for heavy riffs, social commentary, and a little bit of yellow Spandex. Get ready to damage your speakers and open your mind with Living Colour’s 1988 debut album, Vivid.

But first, let’s finish up with yesterday’s matchup, also featuring two coupes. I’m not sure what I was expecting with these two, honestly; I like them both and would be happy to find either one of them in my garage, but I think I have to give a slight edge to the Storm, just because it’s the one that got away, and because of the color. I mean, how often do you get a chance at a magenta car?

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

You all went the other way, however, and picked the more expensive Probe, despite its cosmetic deficiencies. The siren song of that Mazda V6 is hard to deny, I admit. Quite a few of you thought it was “overpriced,” but that’s subjective. A car is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it at the moment of its sale, and not one penny more or less. If this car sells, it wasn’t overpriced.

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In the summer of 1988, a song called “Cult Of Personality” appeared on MTV, and I was mesmerized. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was four African-American musicians, playing metal, but not metal like I was used to. This was more complicated, more melodic, with a little jazz thrown in, along with some stuff I couldn’t categorize. But was it meant for me? I couldn’t tell. I listened to a little bit of rap and hip-hop, but I felt like an outsider when I did, like I was trespassing on music that wasn’t mine. It wasn’t until later that I realized that, yes, I was supposed to listen to it, but also to take the time to understand it.


I was hooked. I bought Vivid on cassette that summer and it pretty much lived in the Blaupunkt tape deck of my VW Scirocco during my junior year of high school. And to my delight, the rest of the songs on it were just as good, if not better, and dealt with some themes I wasn’t familiar with: race relations, poverty, drug addiction, and gentrification. “Glamour Boys” gave me a laugh, because it seemed to be written about half of the guys at my school, the ones I couldn’t stand. And I’ll admit that it was several years later that I found out that my favorite track, “Memories Can’t Wait,” is actually a Talking Heads cover. I still like the Living Colour version better. I got some funny looks – a skinny long-haired white kid blasting weird hard rock with Public Enemy on one track – but I also converted some of my friends. And maybe the only thing better than finding new music that instantly hooks you is sharing it with your friends and having them go “Yeah!”

So now, we turn our attention to a couple of cars that have nothing at all to do with any of that, except hailing from the same year. Let’s take a look.

1988 Nissan 300ZX 2+2 – $6,995

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0-liter overhead can V6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Norfolk, VA


Odometer reading: 88,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

It can’t be easy for an automaker to have an icon. It’s a big burden to carry, especially if it was the original version of something that attained the iconic status in the first place: think Beetle, Mustang, Viper, and so on. You have to update the design eventually; you can’t just keep building the same thing for decades any more (unless you’re Lada). But get it wrong, and you’ll hear about it; iconic status is as easy to lose as it is hard to gain. Nissan’s original Z car, introduced in 1969, is an icon. So, too, is its 1990s twin-turbocharged monster. But the models in between tend to get forgotten, especially the less-desirable versions like this automatic-equipped, long-wheelbase 2+2 300ZX.

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The 300ZX marked the switch from inline 6s to V6s for the Z car. The VG30E V6 is a solid engine, though not exactly a fire-breather in non-turbo form like this. If you want a “fast” Z car, look elsewhere; this one is a cruiser. It has very low miles, only 88,000, and the seller says it “starts right up.” We don’t get a lot more information about its mechanical condition, other than that the air conditioning works.


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It looks pretty clean, as you would expect for such a low-mileage car. I do wonder if those seats have been replaced, though – did Nissan really put gray and blue seats in a red car? I like it, even where the blue is fading to purple, but it seems like an odd choice. That leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel looks really familiar to me; I pulled one just like it out of a 300ZX in a junkyard to install on our old Pathfinder. This one needs the cheesy Pep Boys cover taken off it.

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Outside, it has a few clearcoat issues, and some faded paint and trim, but overall it still looks sharp. I personally prefer these later facelifted 300ZXs to the earlier models; I think the design looks better with a few softer lines. And it has T-tops! Hopefully they don’t leak.

1988 Buick Reatta – $5,700

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.8-liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Staten Island, NY

Odometer reading: 33,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

Throughout most of the 1970s and 80s, the cars of GM’s four mainstream divisions – Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac – were very similar, with only minor trim differences in some cases to tell them apart. In many cases, even Cadillacs were the same as the “lesser” brands, at least under the skin. But each division also had, at various times, a “halo” car, a vehicle all its own, something you couldn’t get at any other dealership. For Buick, starting in 1988, that car was the Reatta, a two-seat coupe and later convertible.


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The Reatta, like other GM specialty cars, is a parts-bin special: It rides on a shortened Riviera platform, which means it has four-wheel independent suspension, Buick’s legendary 3800 V6, and front-wheel-drive. You might think, to look at it, that a manual gearbox option would be a natural, but the Reatta was only ever available with a four-speed automatic. This one, with only 33,000 miles on it, isn’t even broken in – though it may need a few things replaced due to age.

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The seller says it does have new tires and brakes, however, so they have done some work to keep it roadworthy. Inside, it’s as clean as you’d hope, and appears to have a fully-functional touchscreen. Space-age stuff for 1988, and it’s impressive to see one intact and working all these years later.

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Outside, it’s clean, straight, shiny… and for some unknown reason, has a giant non-functional aftermarket hood scoop stuck on it, like a zit on the prom queen’s nose. And they went to all the trouble of paint-matching the damn thing, too, which somehow actually makes it worse. The Reatta is such a clean, sleek design; why gum it up with some tacky shit like this? With any luck, it’s just stuck on, but I fear someone drilled mounting holes.

Neither one of these cars is a speed demon or a canyon-carver. But sometimes it’s nice to just lay back and cruise, and these will do that just fine. And you can virtually guarantee you won’t see another car like yours at a typical car gathering in either case. So what’ll it be – the awkward version of the Japanese coupe, or the one-off American two-seater with one tacky modification?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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21 days ago

I can confirm that those seats were originally black. The seats and the door cards are nearly identical to the ones in my 200SX from the same year, and have faded to various shades of purple in exactly the same way, depending on their exposure to the sun.

Also that VG30E is barely broken in at 88k miles, although the 3800 is even fresher…

The obvious manual swap is much more doable in the Z, hell you could grab the transmission out of any V6 D21 Hardbody at a yard, along with many engine parts.

Parts sourcing for the Reatta is a little more complicated, but I do happen to know the biggest Reatta parts guy in the eastern US. And that 3800…

This is a tough one. I’m into old Nissans and not really a GM guy, but I appreciate the Reatta. As for rarity, the circles I run in are heavy with Radwood-era cars and a Reatta that clean is a bit rarer than a clean Z31. I don’t even mind the scoop, if it was somehow made functional.

Y’know, I already own a VG30E-powered hatchback coupe from 1988, and it’s lighter than a Z and already has a manual. The Reatta just squeaks by for me.

Last edited 21 days ago by TriangleRAD
21 days ago

“…even where the blue is fading to purple…”

My father’s 1984 BMW 318i with velour upholstery had faded from black to green in a few years under scorching hot Texas sun. That and a long list of quality issues with his second BMW. Afterwards, he vowed not to buy another BMW ever again.

Timothy Swanson
Timothy Swanson
22 days ago

I prefer red, and a manual Z would win. But given the automatic, give me that 3800. I learned to drive on that engine, in a Bonneville. It went 350,000+ miles, before a fender bender totalled it. It was on its 2nd transmission, 2nd paint job, probably 5th set of brake roters…but the engine had no more work in it than a failed idle motor at 250k. Also, pretty fast for its time.

Wc Jeep
Wc Jeep
22 days ago

GM parts bin going to be easier and cheaper to keep on the road.

22 days ago

I gotta have the lovely blue Reatta…you said favorite colour, right? Also, I like those better than that gen Z anyway (my brother had one and it was in bad shape which didn’t help but despite that still didn’t like it- the other gens are better) Too bad these are auto’s

22 days ago

I voted Z because it’s exactly the kind of car I’d want, that of course they don’t make anymore: fast (looking) and yet practical with the emergency back seats and liftback hatch. Seriously, we need less exotics and 700HP muscle cars and more proletarian GTs. Even though it’d take Nissan until the next generation to get the 2+2 to look right.

I was kind of hoping otherwise but I figured the Reatta would take the crown, because “manual or GTFO”; which of course the Buick got a pass on since IIRC it was never available with a stick…though I’m sure whomever buys that IRL will swap the drivetrain for one with a manual…

Last edited 22 days ago by CivoLee
22 days ago

I think I’d have to go for the Z – solely because of the T tops (well, that and the hood scoop).

And for the record, Corey Glover wore neoprene, not spandex (I always thought it a funny play on words that Mr. Glover sported Body Glove wetsuits).

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