Home » Wild Buicks Of The Great Plains: 1989 Reatta vs 1992 Roadmaster

Wild Buicks Of The Great Plains: 1989 Reatta vs 1992 Roadmaster

Sbsd 6 20 2023
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Welcome to Shitbox Showdown! We’re back after our three-day weekend with another roster of rust, check-engine lights, and AC systems that “just need a recharge.” This week, I think I’m going to do all one-marque days, just for the hell of it, and today we’re starting with Buick. But first, let’s see which car won our Father’s Day extravaganza:

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Somewhat surprising win for the Studebaker. Based on the comments, I had a feeling it was going the other way. Myself, I’d have trouble choosing, but I think I’d ultimately end up with the MGA.

Today, we’re heading to the “flyover states” to look at two Bush-era Buicks. It’s kind of shocking how different these two cars are in form and purpose, and downright depressing how much more interesting they are than anything the brand sells today. If someone had told me in the early ’90s that in 2023 I would consider Buick’s offerings “interesting,” I’d have said they were crazy, but here we are. We’ve got a small two-seat sporty coupe, and Buick’s last traditional body-on-frame full-size sedan. Let’s see what you make of them.

1989 Buick Reatta – $2,500

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

Location: Lincoln, NE

Odometer reading: 151,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

How is it that sales flops so often end up being cool? Is it just the rarity? Or is it that the things that made them flops, usually eccentricities or odd designs, make them stand out against later, less exciting models? In the case of the Buick Reatta, I think it’s a little of both. This is a rare car – only about 21,000 Reattas were sold in total – but it also has some qualities and features that make it worth knowing about. It’s a two-seater, from a time when every GM division wanted its own Corvette-like unique halo car. Pontiac had the Fiero, Cadillac had the Allante, and Oldsmobile had… wait, I’ll think of one… the um, Cutlass convertible! I guess that counts, sort of.

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The Reatta also boasted Buick’s Electronic Control Center, the first touchscreen interface ever in a car, introduced two years earlier in the Riviera:

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The seller includes several photos of this green glowing gizmo; apparently they want to make it abundantly clear that it works. It looks quaint by today’s standards (and also looks like it’s going to ask you to play a game with it), but this was high-tech stuff in the late ’80s. And the fact that it still works 34 years and 150,000 miles later is impressive as well.

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This Reatta runs and drives just fine. It’s powered by the legendary Buick 3800 V6, driving the front wheels through a four-speed Turbo-Hydramatic; the only drivetrain available. I’ve often wondered what a five-speed manual Reatta would have been like. Would it have helped sales, or just become an impossible-to-find mythological option? We’ll never know. Early Reatta interiors are cool places to be, with the touchscreen and a really nice three-spoke steering wheel, and this one looks like it’s in reasonable condition, especially for the price.

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Outside it’s a bit scruffier, with missing or mismatched hubcaps and some truly impressive rock chips on the front fascia. There might be a little rust around the edges as well, but it doesn’t look serious. This is a bona-fide classic these days, and even in this condition, it’s a guaranteed conversation-starter in the right crowds.

1992 Buick Roadmaster – $1,800

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.7 liter overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Des Moines, IA

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Odometer reading: 176,000 miles

Runs/drives? More or less, it sounds like

I get the feeling that Buick knew this was going to be its last big rear-wheel-drive sedan, and wanted to go out with a bang by bringing back an old nameplate. And they chose well; there has never been a better name for a big comfortable highway cruiser than “Roadmaster.” Even if you had no idea what a Buick Roadmaster was, you’d instinctively know it was all about eating up the miles in quiet and comfort.

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And the part of the car in which you do that looks like the best part of this Roadmaster. I’ll be honest: When I saw the exterior photos of this car, I expected the interior to be trashed, but this looks okay. It could use a cleanup, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the glovebox door is open because it won’t stay closed, but for a thirty-year-old Buick that has obviously seen some careless use, it’s actually quite nice inside.

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This car is, of course, the sister model to the Chevrolet Caprice of the same years, built on the same full-size B-body architecture. Buick had long since stopped producing its own V8 engine by this time, so the Roadmaster shares the Chevy’s small-block V8 as well. Later Roadmasters got a substantial increase in power from Chevy’s LT1 V8, but this one was a couple years too early for that. The seller says this car runs and drives, but has a few issues. The rear brake lines and drums were just replaced by Midas, but the brakes supposedly need to be bled, which sounds hinky to me. Wouldn’t Midas have done that? A little more investigation is warranted, I think.

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The turn signals are also inoperative, which is probably a bad flasher relay and not bulbs as the seller states. They also note a wobble at higher speeds, which might be related to the woefully inappropriate all-terrain tires it wears. New shoes might improve its highway manners a great deal.

So there they are, two wildly different vehicles from GM’s old-people division. Both need a little work, but either one should be more or less reliable still, and a lot more intriguing than whatever the hell those things are they’re selling now. Cheaper, too. Which one will you hit The Great American Road in?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Alison Chan
Alison Chan
11 months ago

This is a hard decision, but I’ve already got a significantly cleaner 1991 Roadmaster Estate Wagon in my driveway so I’ll have to go Reatta.

Alison Chan
Alison Chan
11 months ago
Reply to  Alison Chan

Also, Lincoln is a surprisingly cool city.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

Whatever. Yeah needs blinker fluid. Now to count how many tines that has already been said.

10001010
10001010
11 months ago

That’s so you!!!

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
11 months ago

I have fond memories of a long-ago blonde girlfriend who drove a Reatta of the same color. She was unshy and full of energy. Whenever she pulled up all I imagined was Xena Warrior Princess in a cocktail dress.

The image makes me smile, and this was almost thirty years ago.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
11 months ago

GM managed to both try too hard and not try hard enough when it came to their 80’s and 90’s two-seaters. They didn’t want to steal customers from the Corvette, but as a result their other two-seaters were too wimpy to appeal to the luxury sport crowd. When a Corvette was too sporty and rough for their customers, the alternative was a variety of wet noodles. The Saturn Redline series and the last Fieros are the exceptions.

With the look that the Reatta had, they could have grabbed fans of other marques.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
11 months ago

I’d be happy buying both – the Reatta would make a nice replacement for the wife’s ’95 Escort, and the Boatmaster would make a good winter beater for myself. However, this particular boulevard yacht does look sketchy AF, so Reatta it is. Can’t wait to mess with the touch screen and install a wink-light mod on those headlights!

Cyko9
Cyko9
11 months ago

Normally, the Roadmaster would be the safer bet, but this one is a little sketchy. I was just reminded of the Reatta seeing a nice black one recently. I don’t know about longevity, but I’d drive it unashamed.

Ricki
Ricki
11 months ago

Almost got fooled by the Roadmaster choice til I saw it was a) standard Midwest trash heap faire, and b) not a wagon.

That’s not to say I like the Reatta. It has similar-ish lines to the Fiero and a nice enough interior, and pop-up up-and-down headlights, but the rounding off of the lines just makes it a little too blobular for me for something that’s supposed to be sporty-looking. The 3800 is, of course, bonkers, but it’s not a huge selling point for me.

So yeah, just a slight lean toward the Buick.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
11 months ago
Reply to  Ricki

You have your choice between “Buick” and “Buick”.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
11 months ago

The Reatta touch screens were one of the biggest problems with these cars. I had a friend in the repair field and he made a fortune on these, even though it was a low production car. He could remove, repair, and reinstall it in less than an hour. $400 bucks a pop.
Both rides are road too far for my choice. As shit boxes they do not disappoint.

Last edited 11 months ago by Col Lingus
Dumb Shadetree
Dumb Shadetree
11 months ago

That Roadmaster is shady AF. No lock on the trunk – I assume it’s been drilled out. New-ish license plates from 3 counties away. Open fuse panel. Huge piles of tires and random car parts in the person’s yard, inappropriate tires on the Roadmaster. Car parts strewn everywhere like it’s David Tracy’s house, but claims Midas replaced the rear lines and drums?

Bullshit. This is 100% a car from the local sheriff’s auction. The car is shittier than the seller thought when they bought it, they’re unable to fix all the problems, and they are just trying to unload the car.

The reatta might be a scam. As soon as you reply the person will claim the seller already left for basic and can’t respond but if you Western Union the money, they’ll definitely ship you the car. But it still seems less shady than the Roadmaster and I’d message the seller just to see how they respond.

Last edited 11 months ago by Dumb Shadetree
IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
11 months ago

I’ll take the Reatta. The Roadmaster would make a great Gambler 500 entry however, especially since it already has AT tires for whatever reason.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
11 months ago

As a former Midwesterner who lived or spent large amounts of time where these vehicles are being sold, I’m going to pass on both of these neglected rust buckets. If I had to choose one, it would be the Roadmaster, simply because of parts availability. I liked the Reatta when it was new, but that design hasn’t agreed well in my eyes. The Roadmaster was never really a classic design (except perhaps in wagon form), but it is easy to fix.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
11 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

Agree, for exactly the same reasons.

When the Reatta came out, I was initially intrigued, because I expected it to be given a manual like the Fiero. When I subsequently learned that it was FWD, and worse, auto only, I knew the Reatta was destined to be a car for 60 year old doctor’s wives, who liked the idea of a small car, and wanted to feel sporty.

My interest thus diminished. Mathematically, it would best be described as an asymptote approaching, but never quite reaching, zero appeal. It IS a car. So there’s that.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
11 months ago
Reply to  Doctor Nine

The doctor’s wife drove the Reatta, while his mistress drove a real SL.

JDE
JDE
11 months ago

I prefer the TBI 350 to the LT1, but mostly just because the LT1 has let me down a few too many times, yet the 91 Caprice with similar spec was a reliable if somewhat slow ride. BUT, this car has a couple red flags, the biggest being the need to bleed brakes that were in the next sentence, just replaced.

The Reatta should have had the 3800, the 3400 is definitely a step down, and this is not the latter year convertible, so it is kind of a bummer of an oddity, but it certainly looks to be better cared for. I would go Reatta begrudgingly here.

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