When Reatta was finally ready for a January 1988 launch, Reuss was heading up CPC, Ed Mertz (his former chief engineer) was Buick general manager, and Qualman was advertising director under general marketing manager Darwin Clark. Meanwhile, I had jumped on board to team with Gustin and establish a Los Angeles-based western media relations office.
Our challenge was to help members of the media understand this very different new Buick and convince them to comment kindly about it. "We had to work through a few dilemmas," Gustin recalls.
"One was that we could not call this a sports car, even though it was a two-seater and a convertible was coming, because we sold it to management not as a sports car but a luxury two-seater. The idea was that it would look sporty yet provide a more elegant driving impression, you could drive it all day and be comfortable, and there was enough trunk space for a weekend or so."
We held a magazine preview in Santa Barbara, California, in November 1987 to educate key editors on the car and its mission -- a Mercedes SL-like luxo-coupe, not a Corvette-like sports car -- and send them out for a day of driving on some beautiful mountain roads.
Reatta took its public bows the first week of January at the Los Angeles auto show and was well-received. Except for the expected complaints on the instrument panel and its CRT electronic control center, which most writers already disliked in the Riviera, the magazine reviews were mostly positive.
"The rigidity of its body is noteworthy," wrote Car and Driver's Rich Ceppos. "Push the Reatta to its limit in a corner and you'll find that its grip is good, too ... [It] actually moves along pretty well, posting a 0-60 time of 9.1 seconds and a top speed of 122 mph. Meanwhile, it keeps wind and mechanical noise commendably low."
"We savored every minute in the Reatta's saddle," wrote Automobile's John Phillips III. "Just as important, we admire Buick for the audacity to build this car." Added AutoWeek's James D. Sawyer: "We are encouraged by what this car says about Buick and, by extension, General Motors ... The Reatta is a car that delivers what it promises. It is an honest car. It has more than sufficient room to carry two people and their luggage long distances in comfort. It rides, handles and drives competently. Confidently. It is solid. It feels of a piece."
Newspaper reviews also tended toward the positive. "The Reatta has a pleasing, contemporary shape that causes heads to swivel," Paul Lienert wrote in the Detroit Free Press. "The more time I spend behind the wheel, the more attached I become to this jaunty two-seater." Lienert praised the car's steering, its roomy cabin, and its "superb" leather bucket seats.
"The absence of a high-performance engine, five-speed gearbox and other exotic hardware makes the Reatta non-threatening to folks who like the car's sporty looks but don't necessarily want to deal with the idiosyncrasies of a real 'sports car,'" he concluded.
Recalls Gustin, "The main questions in my mind were: Will the press buy this as a luxury two-seater? Is it luxurious enough? Will we get beat up because it looks like a sports car but doesn't have super power? The answers were: They did buy it as a luxury two-seater, and because we didn't sell it as a sports car, we weren't beat up because it wasn't."
Though its volume target was low, Reatta's importance as an image and showroom traffic-enhancer was high. "We had a concerted team effort working to have a new way of bringing the Reatta story to the public," marketing manager Clark says. "We tied it in with the people working at the Craft Centre, and did a special commercial and a promotion with the dealers. The entire Buick organization worked extremely hard to ensure the success we needed."
At $ 25,000, the Reatta was higher-priced than originally intended -- partly because E-car componentry had risen in cost -- but boasted nearly every conceivable feature as standard equipment. The only options were a power sunroof and a 16-way power driver seat. Just 4707 of the 1988s were built, followed by 7,009 '89s as sales slowed when initial demand was satisfied and the base price inflated to $ 26,700.