Someday, the Buick Reattas — those funky two-seat pseudo sports cars Buick sprang on the public back in 1988 — might really gather steam as collector prizes and have a lot of people pining over them.
If it doesn’t happen, it won’t bother Bradley Czech too much. He loved them long before they started inching into the collector spectrum. Now he’s got three of them — including a wonderfully restored 1990 Select 60 model, the rarest of the breed — and his devotion to the Reattas seemingly grows with each passing year.
“I remember as a kid in Michigan going to the car dealership where my dad worked and they had a Reatta on their sales floor, and it was one of those small dealerships where they had only about four cars,” chuckles the Green Bay, Wis., resident. “I remember seeing a blue Reatta, and thinking, ‘Wow, this car is kind of sporty, and it’s kind of neat, and it’s got all this electronic stuff. Years later as an adult I was talking to my wife and I said, ‘You know, I’d like to find one of those some day.’”
“Some day” has happened a trio of times for Czech, most recently about eight years ago when he got the stroke of luck he was hoping for and came across one of the limited edition Select 60 cars. In 1988 and again in ’90 Buick rewarded its top dealers around the country by presenting them with specially equipped models that were not meant for sale to the public. The dealers had the choice to do whatever they wanted with them. Sixty of the cars were sent to dealers and another five were saved for company brass. For Reatta enthusiasts, the Select 60s were as close to Holy Grail cars as Reattas get, and after acquiring two of the standard Reattas — a 1989 and ’90 model — Czech jumped at the chance to land one.
“My wife had a piano for sale,” he says. “She upgraded to a baby grand piano, and she had an old piano she was using before she got that and once we got the baby grand piano we sold the other one. And the people who were buying the piano said, ‘What’s with the Reatta out on the street?’ And I told them we actually had two of those. And they said, ‘Well, my dad’s a big Reatta guy and he has lots of them.’ I laughed and said, ‘Well, can he find me one of those Select 60 models?’ And they were like, ‘I think he has one!’ So fast-forward, we wound up talking and corresponding and I went up to see the car up near Duluth, Minn., and, you know, the typical story — if you ever want to sell it, let me know!
“So every once in a while I’d check in with him and see if he wanted to sell it, and then one day he called and said, ‘I’ll let it go, this is what I want for it.’ I didn’t haggle, I just said OK, I’ll come up with a trailer and pick it up.”
Czech wasn’t exactly sure how much work it would take or how difficult the process would be, but he had one goal for the Select 60: Make it as nice as he possibly could and return the car to showroom condition. With the help of his dad, Gene, Czech restored and refreshed the car from bumper to bumper, paying extra attention to the car’s paint and interior.
“There were a lot of things where I just fumbled along. I’m not a restoration expert, but I was like, ‘This is the result I want, how do I get there?’ Czech adds. “I’ve done a lot of things with my dad over the years, and yeah, this was quite the project.”
BUICK’S BIG EXPERIMENT
Somewhere in Buick board rooms in the late 1980s an idea was hatched to take GM’s E-body platform and use it to create a spin-off of the long-running Riviera. The idea was to offer a stylish two-seater that was equal parts sports car and luxury touring car that would appeal to a segment of buyers who wanted “something different”. The plan was to make the Reatta a low-production, hand-built offering with front-wheel-drive, GM’s popular and versatile 3.8-liter V-6, and all the electronics and gadgetry they could cram into the cockpit.
“It was a car that wasn’t as much a practical car as it was a car to take out on the weekend and enjoy,” Czech noted “I don’t see it as a normal commuter car. Like the Pontiac Fiero, that was more of a commuter car. The Reattas weren’t really like that. It’s kind of sporty looking, but it’s got some luxury elements mixed into it, and it’s a two-seater. I don’t really know who General Motors was trying to market the car to. This car back in the fall of 1989 was $37,000! I mean … that’s a lot of money for a two-seater that isn’t a luxury car necessarily, and isn’t a sports car necessarily … Who were they marketing this car to?”
The cars were built at the Reatta Craft Center, a renovated foundry in Lansing, Mich. Production totaled just 21,751 cars during the model’s four-year run. And while the Reattas didn’t last long on the Buick menu, the company certainly succeeded in producing a stylish, fun and interesting car with an appealing blend of style and substance.
The Reattas were packed with power everything, ABS disc brakes, a sweet interior with bucket seats, optional sunroofs and a cutting-edge touch-screen control center for stuff like the radio, climate control, trip computer and engine monitoring systems. Along the way other goodies like airbags, keyless entry and CD players became part of the package. Buick did its best to make the cars friendly for daily driving by providing two locking storage bins behind the front seats with a hatch into to the trunk.
In 1988, Buick built 55 “Select 60s” painted black with tan interiors and special hood badges. A convertible was added to the lineup in 1990 and Buick used it for its second round of Select 60s, this time painting all the cars white and outfitting them with flashy red-and-white interiors and white folding tops. The cars had fancy stereos with CD players and graphic equalizers, remote door locks, security systems and special 16-inch wheels.
One of those white convertibles — No. 20 of 65 — wound up with a woman in Florida, who had it for several years before selling it to a second owner in Minnesota. “He had it for a long time, maybe 17, 18 years, and I was the one who finally got him to sell it,” Czech says.
“THE CAR IT SHOULD BE”
The previous owner drove the Buick regularly and had done some restoration work on the Reatta, apparently fixing up some front end cosmetic damage caused by the first owner. Overall, the Buick was in pretty good shape for a car with 75,000-plus miles on the odometer, but it was a long way from the vision that Czech had for it.
“The guy in Minnesota had repaired it and, putting it kindly, it was not a good repair job. He thought it was fantastic, but the standards my dad and I have, we thought no. There were some things cosmetically. It looked nice from a distance, but it was not the car that I knew it could be, and should be. This is No. 20 of only 65 made, and it’s a special car,” Czech says. “So we got it here in the shop, and we dismantled the entire car. All the interior came out. The engine was just fine. We didn’t have to do anything with the engine. It ran just fine. But then we just started doing a cosmetic restoration.”
A donor car supplied a replacement hood, deck lid, fender and bumper covers. The trunk lid had to be replaced thanks to a luggage rack the convertible had worn in its previous life. “He had installed a luggage rack on the trunk from a Riviera,” Czech lamented. “He said, ‘I thought it looked good.’ But on this car? On any other car, but not this one! He drilled holes into this rare Reatta’s deck lid!”
Bradley handled the painting chores himself, carefully re-spraying the Buick in its correct factory white. “All the painting was done seamlessly. So like to do the back quarters you had to do all the door jambs and trunk jamb as well,” he noted.
Father and son then tackled the interior, steam cleaning the carpets and eventually deciding they needed to be re-dyed to get the red color looking like new again. “They were faded because of the sun beating down on this bright red color, so … I went to a ton of interior shops and they all said there was nothing they could do for it. It’s faded. Well, I didn’t really want to go with some aftermarket carpet since it’s such a specific red color. So I ended up finding a way on Youtube using dyes to re-dye it and make it the original color. I think I wound up using about 17 bottles dye! It might seem like [a lot of work], but the Select 60 models were unique in that they were the only ones that had the red and white custom interiors. They were only cars that came that way in ’90. That’s what makes it, and I was thinking, the interior is kind of a focal point. You really want it to pop.”
Czech also found a way to re-chrome the plastic interior pieces using a liquid chrome spray “and I kind of airbrushed it on, or whatever [laughs].” He also recharged the air-conditioning and got it back in running order, then refurbished the radio and accompanying sound system parts, including replacing the speakers. He also wound up dying the white door panels and other white bits that had yellowed over time, including the tonneau cover. He stopped short of completely restoring or trying to replace the seats. “They’ve got a little bit of cracking from age, but I thought I’d just leave them original, because I don’t even know where I’d get them re-done,” Czech said. “But I did do the seatbelts. I soaked them in cleaner in my kitchen sink [laughs]. There were so many little things like that along the way. Oh, and I replaced the window motors. I figured since we had it all apart, why not? I didn’t want to have to tear into it again later if something happened.”
Czech is quick to credit his father for sticking with the project until it was finished and helping with all the tedious details, even if he didn’t always share his son’s enthusiasm. “I could have not done this without his hours and hours and hours of work. And there were many times when I was like, ‘I want to do this,’ and he would say, ‘Why do you want to open another can of worms?’ But when it was done, he could recognize that it was done well.”
After finishing such a lengthy and careful restoration, Czech isn’t sure there will be any more Reattas in his future, but he’s not ruling it out. When it comes to Reattas, though, it will be tough to top the Select 60 that he already has.
“I follow some Reatta forums online,” he says. “They are pretty active and the cars have a pretty good following … but I haven’t ever seen anybody on those forums actually post anything like what I’ve done with this in-depth of a restoration on a Reatta. It was definitely a passion for me. I just really wanted to make this car be what it was supposed to be.”
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