It probably seemed a good idea after a few ales…
Beer matters. Not the lagers (or pilsners for that matter) that conquered the world once refrigeration was commercially available but that quintessentially British phenomenon, real ale. Now gaining popularity in other parts of the thirst market, the myriad flavours a British pint of beer can offer remains a highly subjective experience. One’s tastebuds can be tingled by initial fruity overtones leading to complex biscuit hints leaving (perhaps) a sharp but far from unpleasant aftertaste. Its composition comprises of but four vital ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast.
One influential variant of barley is the Marris Otter, found in many a pint; English grown for many years, imparting a sweet and flavoursome basis for the beer. Combining with (normally) Kent grown Golding Hops, which imbue earthy, spicy and honey influences may, with a decent brewer at the stills, create a thirst quenching, tasty, moreish drink. So what on Earth has an English pint got to do with a forgotten American two seater? Leave the driving for another day, open a bag of salted nuts and pour yourself a frothy headed ale.
The Buick Reatta was heralded as a new beginning for the tri-shield – a two seater sports job from perhaps America’s least expected sporting marque – their first in fifty years. In similar fashion to brewing beer, the Reatta was handmade at the Lancing Craft Center (Reatta Craft Center, beforehand) where around four hundred workers created 21,751 cars in forty months. Initially a coupé (or Koop in American parlance), followed by a much delayed, hyped-up soft top in 1990, riding out the production run the following year.
Chief Brewer, Dave Macintosh penned the original sketch in 1983. Forecasts were to sell upwards of 20,000 per year, a target that may have been contemplated whilst inebriated. Intended as Buick’s halo model, the car arrived replete with a Craftman’s Log of names who completed which build section. First impressions exuded class alongside a step away from the Buick norm. Big spending advertising budgets combined with aggressive sales targets guaranteed Reatta a successful brew. Even the emblem, practically eschewing the Buick name, had an almost amber-like background, redolent of best bitter.
Chief ingredient of any beer is a quality supply of water. In vehicular terms, this is the chassis and mechanicals. The Reatta utilised GM’s E platform, as did the Riviera, Cadillac’s Eldorado and Oldsmobile’s Toronado. At 4.6 metres length, a wheelbase of 2,502mm, the set up was for front wheel drive, transverse engine. The ubiquitous 3.8 litre V6 providing the shove through a four speed automatic gearbox. Top speed was limited to 125mph with encouraging if not outright back-shoving acceleration.
The next part of the brew revolves around the malted barley. With the water warmed to specific temperatures, the Marris Otter is crushed then added into the water as a grist which imparts the flavour better. This then is to the Reatta’s shape. Stone cold sober, these eyes see a handsome enough outline. The elongated front leading to pop-up headlamps is a nice flourish. Side body mouldings were standard offering up two-tone paint effects.
The rear is more contentious though again, pleasant enough. That rounded rear back light (a nod to Porsche), contained fourteen bulbs. Owners often neglected their replacement, offering following drivers a somewhat red, gap-toothed bandit affair. The bulbous rear glass area could be seen as if looking through the bottom of a pint glass. Which, depending on view could mean another drink coming your way or possibly very sad times ahead. Beer affected eyes making silk purses from sows ears.
The timing and quantity of hops section of the brewer’s art comes next. Placed too early in the brew caused the Reatta to end up with an all digital display unit inside. Today considered the holy grail of Reattas, if still operational, the Electronic Control Centre was a genuine touch screen for the late 1980’s. With its green tinged light display (from vacuum diodes) the box controlled volume, air-con, date timer, configurable speed limiter along with diagnostic duties.
Tiny touch screens augured ill for fat fingers. Incarnations that had their Goldings added later had digital speedometers and sundry gauges with more conventional black plastic buttons for everything else – dozens of them. Diminutive sizes ensuring a glance away from events happening beyond the windscreen. Hardly ideal but considered classy at the time. Audiophiles were catered with AM/FM stereo, cassette and CD player of high status.
Another requisite ingredient in any brewing process is that of what was once known as godisgoode now, yeast. This magical powder causes the beer to ferment, rise even without adding unwanted flavour. This late entry to the blend led to the Reatta finally, after two years on sale getting the (often contrasting coloured) soft roof the car required from the outset.
Cleaving clean sculptural lines, when lowered, the Reatta sits right at home on a Floridian avenue. The roof’s operation however was anything but even. Latches, buttons, strict procedures and, gulp, physical work – hardly conducive to maintaining your detached manner (or fingernails) when the heavens opened. The roof was stored under a weatherproof tonneau, but by the time you got your act together you were soaked.
Staring at the competition meanwhile, the Allante was an altogether different tipple. The sparkling Spumante of the Chrysler TC by Maserati may have appealed to a frothier clientele, whereas the headstrong (and far less costly) Japanese slid down as easily as sake.
Tastes differ, but despite the advertising hyperbole, the Reatta left consumers wondering just what flavour was being offered. Reatta was neither a best bitter nor IPA. The poorly executed convertible arrived too late to address customer’s needs, by which time there were better made and purposed rivals. Reatta’s looks polarised opinions – Buick’s own four seat Riviera selling for $20,000 – $5,000 less than the Reatta. In the first year, a paltry 4,700 sold, the 1990 high of 8,500 leaving salespeople resembling a haggard carouser rather than boulevard cruiser. Survivors, unsurprisingly are few.
The chances of observing a Reatta other than online remain as doubtful as a bottled ale exceeding its sell by date. Reatta did not get a second round in, shuffling off quietly in 1992 without replacement. Officially, the Center was needed for other purposes. In brewing terms, the hops were off.
Another GM product leaving little but a strong feeling of requiring the place where all drinks end up, good or bad – what Americans like to call the John.
 There remains some conjecture as to the spelling of the Craft Center – some suggest it was spelt in the European idiom, others the American style. We’ve gone with the latter.
 It is believed that structural issues delayed the introduction of the drop-top Reatta – a theory which really doesn’t (ahem) hold water.
 Indian Pale Ale, an English made beer designed to withstand sea travel to the Eastern Empire