1988-1991 Buick Reatta

Engineering and Birth of the Buick Reatta

Buick Reatta chief engineer Randy Wightman had a good powertrain and platform to start with, but the turmoil of GM's massive 1984 reorganization, combined with an unusually high level of industry-wide engineering activity at the time, made resources tight inside and outside GM.

Thus, program manager Frank Colvin assembled a multinational consortium to get the Reatta done. From England, he chose Hawtal-Whiting for product engineering and Lamb Sceptre for manufacturing engineering. Japan's Ogihara Iron Works was chosen for die design and engineering.

1989 Buick Reatta
1989 Buick Reatta is the result of a multinational
development team.

Prototypes built by Aston Martin Tickford using body parts from Abbey Panels (both in England) were tested at GM's UK Proving Ground. Dynamic development was done in the U.S. by Cadillac engineers because, as Buick Engineering was folded into BOC in 1986-1987, the program transferred to Cadillac (the only GM divisional engineering group that kept its brand identity, for a while); it retained responsibility for its own as well as Buick's and Olds' E-cars.

Among other good things, this development work resulted in some added engine-compartment structure that made Reatta a crisper-cornering car than its Riviera parent.

Wightman's biggest challenge was coordinating all these activities in various parts of the world. "We ended up doing so many things in so many different places," he says, "that it required a lot of travel, phone conferencing, and fax communications. We had language and geographic barriers, and cultural barriers even where we spoke the same language."

Another major challenge -- because the E-car plant didn't need the added complexity of Buick's small-volume specialty coupe -- was finding a facility and developing a process for building the car. The eventual answer was a novel concept: a dedicated "Craft Centre" in a 50-year-old former axle foundry and forging plant in Lansing, Michigan.

Here, the Reatta would be virtually handmade by groups of "craftspeople" working in "stations" instead of along a moving assembly line. This low-investment process was developed and managed by J. Robert "Bob" Thompson, who succeeded Colvin as program manager.

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