By on August 10, 2010

What exactly is it that magnetically stops us in our tracks to look at a junky old car sitting at the curb and ponder it? Yes, it might unleash a treasured or long-forgotten memory of our youth. Or it might dredge up experiences we’d just as soon forget. But for most of us, there are only so many cars that afforded us memories of happily spilling our bodily fluids within or that spewed its hot fluids in our faces. In the bigger picture, since old cars aren’t exactly fossils or butterflies, they tell the highly variable story of the humans that created them: that rare spark of true brilliance, or the flights of imagination, for better or for worse. But all too often, it’s really schadenfreude. Yes, there are few things guaranteed to make one feel better about one’s own foolish mistakes and shortcomings than to chortle at someone else’s.  And today, I’m going to need a really big helping of schadenfreude if it’s going to keep me from slipping into empathy for this car. Because the truth be told, we’ve all built our own personal Cimarrons. Or at least come mighty close to it.

When I last left you all, it was with the brilliant idea to rescue a half-fallen down, rotting wreck of a gutted old house with my younger son, for him (and his friends) to live in. I saw the project through the eyes of a strong young man; more correctly my own youthful eyes. I imagined myself forty years ago, as eager to learn about old houses as I was about old cars. Just one minor problem: my son isn’t me, forty years ago, or ever.

Yes, he initially got excited about the idea of the project; or should I say, he liked the idea of the end result of it. But he has none of the enthusiasm and aptitude about actually doing what it takes to make something like this happen. And I really can’t blame him for that. He’s as strong-willed as I was then; if my father had tried to get me involved in Greek history or electroencephalography (or anything he might suggested, for that matter) when I was eighteen, the outcome would have been inevitably the same. But that’s only part of the story.

We did spend one day tearing off a hundred years’ worth of accumulated roofing on one side of the house (someone/something else tore off most of the fake cabrio roof on this Cimarron), along with a couple of his friends. To set an example (and the pace), I worked hard and fast, and royally tweaked my back. It took a solid month to (sort of) for it get back to its increasingly semi-permanent state of precariousness. Did that stop me? Did Cadillac pull the plug on the Cimarron after the howls of protest when it foisted a slightly tarted-up Cavalier on an unsuspecting public at over twice the price of a similarly equipped Chevy donor-mobile?

No; I spent weeks nursing my back at the work table, putting my imagination into endless drawings for how the house would be raised and moved forty feet onto a whole new lower level, creating a three-thousand square-foot three-story monster, and engrossed myself in fleshing out all the details while losing sight of the bigger picture. The epiphany came just after I dropped off the plans at the engineer’s: this house was going to cost way too much, and I was starting out with a sagging old box of two by fours, and my son’s fleeting interest had long evaporated by then. It was one thing to build it in my mind, but when it came time to actually tally up the cost, buy the permits, hire the workers and start writing all the checks, I relearned the painful lesson that GM eventually tumbled to: trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear can be deadly.

I should have known too, since I actually test drove one of the first Cimarrons in LA. This was at the TV station I was managing at the time, and we were blessed/cursed with an engineer who was the ultimate GM fan-boy. He had been buying GM cars for the organization that owned the station for years, and we were an official fleet buyer. He always custom ordered the cars, and was an expert at putting together the best components and options GM’s very long RPO book offered. He proudly told me about the ’74 Malibu wagons he bought for one of our affiliate organizations, tricked out with 454s and all the best handling, braking and every other conceivable HD or police-duty goody. The fact that the super-Malibus spent their time running errands for a printing press in a little town in upstate New York was irrelevant. He knew that GM could build the finest cars in the world, if you just knew how to order them properly.

My company car at the time was one of a fleet of four 1980 X-Body Buick Skylarks he had specially ordered, with the V6, HD suspension, and extra wide wheels and tires. We’ll cover the Xs in another CC. But let’s just say it actually wasn’t too bad a ride for the times, especially since I had my pick of them; naturally I chose the best running one (there was lots more production variation then than now).  The gutsy little 2.8 V6 pulled pretty hard considering that it had only some 2,400 lbs to pull. It would outrun a BMW 320i, at least on straight or smooth roads. I’m digressing way too much, but it’s all part of the story, somehow.

The two of us spent way too much work time talking cars, and we had been reading the usual build-up in the buff books about the Cimarron. I was pretty dubious from the description, but he was a sucker for every new GM car, and would be for quite a few more yet. I wonder when or what finally burned him. Anyway, he came back all excited one day from lunch, having driven the first Cimarron at the local West LA dealer. He raved about the interior, the BMW-beating handling, and how that little 1.8 liter mill “just revved and revved”. Hard to believe;  but the station was doing pretty well, and I was starting to think about a new company car for myself. Since it was a slow afternoon, I slipped out for a test drive.

Well, that was my final GM epiphany, and my personal GM Death Watch started right there and then. I had been a confirmed GM man as a boy, but the cracks first appeared in 1970, with the “upsized” ’71 barges that came out that fall. The fact that they appeared a few months after the first Earth Day may have had something to do with it. I just couldn’t see where this trend line was going…and then of course, there was the Vega and its horrible offshoots.

But I still had some residual respect for the engineering and styling prowess that GM could muster in the seventies, especially in those moments when it all came together just right. I could even still fake some of the old-time GM religion with the X-Bodies, especially since they were still new, and because the Skylarks we had with the HD brakes and big tires didn’t lock up their rear wheels quite as bad as most of them. I already had some nagging doubts when the Cavalier’s new four came with pushrods instead of an OHC. Hello GM! It is 1980, and Hondas purr like sewing machines! But I actually hadn’t driven a Cavalier

And now I was sliding into a $13,000 ($30k adjusted) Cavalier. Yes, the seats were trimmed in leather, but the dash and everything about the car screamed Cavalier! Nothing more so than the engine: the little 1.8 liter four was utterly unchanged for its appearance in Cadillac’s first attempt to take on the successful BMW 3 Series. It had all of 88 hp, and it moaned and groaned like a dying dog, as it pushed futilely against the three-speed slush box. It made my $6k Skylark V6 with 110 hp feel like a Jaguar XJ V12 in comparison.

Yes, as if there was ever any doubt, GM truly jumped the shark with the Cimarron, and it led the way for what was GM’s most disastrous decade ever, the eighties. Only GM could have such utterly outsized hubris to think it could get away with dressing up a Cavalier and pawning it off as a BMW-fighter, without even touching the engine, among other sins. Never mind that the 318i had all of 98 hp itself. But at least it didn’t sound like a kitchen mixer trying to make muesli out of nuts and bolts.

Needless to say, my next company car was not the Cimarron. Or any GM product. And I stopped taking this engineer seriously right then and there, and our afternoon GM chats came to an end. He did go on to “sell” anyone he could on the Pontiac 6000 STE a couple of years later, which redeemed him somewhat.

Now this particularly colorful Cimarron is one of the later versions, maybe an ’87 or the final year ’88. By then, it had been upgraded with the 2.8 V6 itself, and a new electronic dash to distinguish itself from the lowly Cavalier. But it was all to no avail: the Cimarron was a dud, from the get-go. GM managed to fool some 25k buyers the first year, but sales steadily drooped thereafter. The damage it did to the Cadillac brand was incalculable. But the Cimarron was just one of many wounds of the  ritual suicide Cadillac was putting itself through during those dark days.

Wasting a month drawing dead-end plans for my overpriced Cimarron house and having to re-learn that kids have to find their own passions isn’t the only thing I’ve spent my summer on so far. I’ve had rentals to re-rent, maintenance projects on houses and cars (my ’66 Ford pickup has self-canceling turn signals after 23 years!), numerous hiking trips, trips in the old Dodge camper, kayaking, harvesting a bounteous crop of berries, etc… Then I tweaked my back again (slightly) yesterday, and was very frustrated last night given all the physical work projects I had planned for today. But I woke today realizing two important facts: Despite my innate resistance to it (a combination of cheapness and denial), I can/must/will hire others to do what my inevitably aging body can’t; and I can still sit down and write, especially on a foggy morning.

The sun will be back tomorrow, and there’s still a lot of fun and (hired) outdoor work to squeeze into the now dying days of summer. Meanwhile, today’s cool fog is a reminder that fall is not far off, and that writing doesn’t need a strong back. Yes, GM made a colossal blunder with the Cimarron, and a somewhat lesser one with the Catera.  And some part of me knew going into my Cimarron house project that I hadn’t really fleshed out all the angles. Hey, but at least I pulled the plug and didn’t go bankrupt! A big bowl of GM Schadenfreude is so delicious, especially with home-grown blueberries and strawberries. Yumm! I’ll have to come back for another helping.

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124 Comments on “Curbside Classic: GM’s Deadly Sin #10 – Cadillac Cimarron...”


  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Coould you please take it out the back and shoot it? It just begs to be put out of its misery. That’s one sorry ass looking Cadillac, if I ever saw one…

  • avatar

    Bravo!
    Welcome back.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      Didn’t realize how much I missed CC’s. Hope your back gets better, Paul, but please take your time with the rehab so we can enjoy it!!
      Good to read your words again.

  • avatar

    What’s interesting to me about this particular example is its geography. Apparently purchased at a dealership in Maryland (which was sold and renamed about 20 years ago), it was discovered in Oregon wearing a Nebraska license plate and a bumper sticker from Maine.

    Oh, and the reason the dealership was sold? Accusations of fraud. As if selling Cimarrons wasn’t enough.

  • avatar
    tced2

    I never drove or owned a Cimarron but I did own a Cavalier. I ordered it and waited for 4 months for delivery – hatchback, red exterior, maroon mouse fur interior, 4-speed manual, 2.0L(?) OHV engine. The engine leaked a lot of oil which the dealer could never solve. After a year, I traded it for a Pontiac J-2000 with the 1.8L OHC (Brazilian) engine. Decent except for the timing belt which was installed too loose and left me stranded (eventually recalled). The late 70′s and nearly all the 80′s were a disaster for GM.

  • avatar
    340-4

    Pika-choose you, Cimmaron!

    No wonder poor Psyduck has a headache.

    Gah.

  • avatar
    the duke

    Ahh the Cimarron. I was close with eighties Cadillac.

    My only memory of them is the service guy at our Buick dealership (we had an 86 Skylark with the 2.5L “Iron Duke” at the time – my dad’s last GM purchase when the ALUMINUM steering rack wore out at 30k miles) telling my day that the Cimarron was the same as our Buick underneath.
    I argued the service guy was wrong – even as an 8 year old I knew the Cimarron was a Cavalier, not a Skylark!

  • avatar
    carguy

    A fitting write up for one of the worst product decisions GM ever made. Great to see you back Paul.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    It might be hard to believe now, but in ’82 there was a lot of pent-up enthusiasm for the J-cars. Turned out GM was way better at hyping cars than designing and building them.

    I was involved with a downtown shopping mall. The local GM dealer prevailed upon me to allow him to display a new Cimarron on a turntable in the common area. I thought it would be a good traffic builder. I was right, but when shoppers got a good look at it they were not impressed. I recall he sold two the week it was on display, way less than his expectations.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Gardiner – nothing has changed. GM still over-hypes their products years in advance. I wish they’d just be quiet and surprise us with good stuff. I was very sick of hearing about the Camaro and am sick about hear about the coming Volt – enough that I won’t even consider owning one.

      I think the Cimmaron was a test that defined what we have driven for 30 years. Had Americans lined up to buy a well built, well optioned small car there would have been more to choose from like that. Unfortunately the Cimarron did not deliver, we proved we were not interested and we were presented with dozens of (rebadged) SUVs to choose from – the next easiest way for Detroit to sell expensive vehicles that did not cost nearly as much to build as we’d like to think.

      The Cimarron confirmed fort Detroit that we Americans equate size with value, actual quality be damned.

  • avatar
    dastanley

    Welcome back Paul! Sorry your summer didn’t live up to expectations, but good to have you back for a while anyway.

    My earliest memories of the Cavalier – I was spared the “pleasure” of having ever riden in or driven a Cimarron – was when I was a freshman in high school. My older cousin Susan, a die hard GM girl, picked me up at the house one day in her new Cavalier to go to our grandparent’s house. That was her first new car and she was so proud of it. As she accelerated onto the highway from a rather short and steep ramp, I remember turning towards her to tell her that she had better step on it so we don’t get hit from behind. As I started to say that, I looked down and noticed that her foot was BURIED into the carpet, and the little 4 mill and auto was straining and moaning embarrasingly loud. She had a pained, constipated look on her face, and I just didn’t have the heart to say anything funny or make any snide remarks. We both had sheepish looks on our faces afterwards, as if we both knew how embarrassing that must be for her, yet neither one of us said a word.

    She got rid of that little POS after her horn would just start honking continuously in the middle of the night by itself, for no apparent reason. After the neighbors left threatening notes on that poor little car, after the cops made several night time visits, she finally had had enough and got rid of it. Good fucking riddance. Even with an early 1980s frame of reference, I knew that the J-cars were turkeys.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Well, the four banger Caddy will be making a return soon – the Cadillac ATS in 2012.

  • avatar
    BobJava

    An absolutely great writeup on an absolutely terrible automobile. The horrors of car shopping in the 70s and 80s never cease to amaze me. I’m glad I didn’t have to experience it.

    Of course there are dozens upon dozens of great quality cars today, but who has any money to buy them?

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    Has any business school ever been able to get the the decision makers responsible for the Cimarron on camera for a Nuremberg trial type of analysis?

    I want to see their faces and hear how they justified engaging in an effort that was so against the general principles of automotive excellence, product betterment and honesty.

    • 0 avatar
      Amendment X

      +1

      The worst car GM ever built. Not just from an engineering standpoint, but because of the immense arrogance that went into it and the damage it did to a once admired brand.

    • 0 avatar
      340-4

      I would actually pay money to watch such a spectacle.

      Conscious, sentient beings were behind the Cimarron. Decisions were made. Sleep was lost. And what about the reports from the testing engineers concerning QC, reliability, and durability?

      Maybe they had to sign non-disclosure agreements before production began.

      They had to know what a steaming stool they were about to drop on the public, right?

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      The sad fact is that during the era of the Cimm’s development, GM was the only US carmaker with a blank checkbook. The people at Ford and Chrysler were scared stiff in those years because they didn’t see how they had a chance to compete with the tidal wave of new product coming from GM in the 80s. Who knew?

    • 0 avatar
      tech98

      against the general principles of automotive excellence, product betterment and honesty.

      That pretty much describes all of GM, except the Corvette engineers and a few pockets that somehow escaped the corporate culture of shallow marketing, clenched bean-counting and fast-buck, corner-cutting product mediocrity.

      The Cimarron didn’t surprise me, it was just GM culture on steroids; dozens of other examples of cynical badge-engineering abounded.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Picking on the Cimarron is shooting-fish-in-a-barrel territory, but I can’t resist. That ad is awesome. For twice the price of a Cavalier, Cadillac basically gave you some cowhide, fugly wheels, AC, and stabilizer bars. And front legroom. I’ve made my share of boneheaded moves, but at least they sort of made sense at the time. When did the Cimarron ever make the least bit of sense?

    • 0 avatar
      SomeDude

      True, but isn’t this Cimarron vs. the Cavalier contrast the same as:

      - Camry vs. the ES
      - Accord vs. the Acura TL
      - Civic vs. the CSX (in Canada)?

      Hell, I drove an ES once and it felt nothing different from a Camry with a better interior.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      True, but isn’t this Cimarron vs. the Cavalier contrast the same as:

      - Camry vs. the ES
      - Accord vs. the Acura TL
      - Civic vs. the CSX (in Canada)?

      Yes, but a Lexus ES350 is $34,500 and a V-6 XLE is $28,500. The Cimarron wasn’t 20% more than a Cavalier it was 100% more!

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      The one thing Toyota and Honda did was to use a pretty reliable and quality car in the first place and actually engineer it to be worth 20% more. GM took a piece of crap and half assed slapped on luxury bits and called it a day. I bet they spent more time and money actually buying magazine ads then engineering it.

    • 0 avatar
      1996MEdition

      C’mon…..after all, it did come with a change holder as standard equipment.

    • 0 avatar
      PartsUnknown

      And my personal favorite: computer-matched tires! Woo-hoo!

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Looking at the pics Paul posted, it looks like the standard leather-wrapped steering wheel got decontented in later models. The hits just keep coming.

  • avatar
    doub

    “He knew that GM could build the finest cars in the world, if you just knew how to order them properly” Flashbacks to a cousin of mine… “I KNOW it’s an ’85 Bonneville, but LOOK! Check the right boxes and you get a 305 and the police package!” sigh.
    On another note, I don’t ever recall seeing a Cimarron with that later front end, and I grew up in a caddy-heavy ‘burb. Nice find…

  • avatar
    galaxygreymx5

    Is it wrong to be happy that the house restoration didn’t work out? TTAC hasn’t been the same since you left.

  • avatar
    fozone

    I am almost embarrassed to admit this here, but I drove one of these for several years in the late 80s.. It was a 1982 (yes, one of the first), a hand-me-down from my parents. It had a ‘classic’ (read: faux roller) grille, the hilarious luggage rack on the trunk, and was a diarrhea tan color that was all the rage back then. A true hit with the ladies at my high school.

    It was $14k when new, and even as a teen I knew that GM was doomed.

    My main recollection of the car was that it felt a hell of a lot heavier than it actually was. The handling was like a sled — tons of understeer. Admirably, not much body roll for a caddy. I never drove the 3-series of that era, but I can’t imagine it was similar.

    Gutless didn’t begin to describe the engine — it was gutless _and_ breathless, so when you got it into the higher revs, it sounded like it was having an asthma attack. And the car still went nowhere.

    Important pieces started to break within the first year of ownership. The power steering rack went at 20k, the useful gauges (oil pressure, fuel) croaked out around then too. The car had a tendency not to start when cold. Or too hot. It would also overheat from time-to-time. On the bright side, the A/C was frigid, the leather was comfortable (if ugly), and it was well soundproofed — possibly better than the other J-cars of the time.

    But seriously… 2x the cost of a Cavalier? What were they smoking at GM?

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    In one decade, the 80′s, Cadillac (with suicidal assistance from their GM corporate overlords) threw away a sterling reputation and brand equity that had taken from the very dawn of the auto era to build up…

    Horrible 5.7 diesels made standard in the Seville, the unbelievably craptastic, underdeveloped and overpriced Cimmaron, the underdeveloped V8/6/4, the severly underpowered (and unreliable) 4.1 V8, the way-too-shrunken full-size 85′s with cloned stying from other GM divisions, the even more dinky 86 Eldorado and Seville, the bland, underpowered Allante, (etc etc etc)…it was just disaster after disaster after disaster. It was like some kind of ‘groundhog day’ to watch…as if they were incapable of learning from their mistakes. Sad and pathetic.

    GM was imploding during the 80′s, and no division imploded faster than the pinnacle of the fleet…oh, how the mighty have fallen..and are still struggling to compete in the luxury marketplace, almost 30 years later. Is the statute of limitations over on this? Heads should STILL roll to pay for these crimes against autmotive goodness and competence.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      But at least Cadillac came back stong in the 90s with cars like the Catera!

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      @jp

      Was that supposed to be sarcastic? I always thought the Catera was a tarted up Malibu. Maybe I’m wrong though. I didn’t like and don’t like Cadillac for completely irrational reasons (I think they’re all plug ugly), but I admit that that is the main reason I don’t like them. And because I don’t like them I’ve never really put much thought into them. I don’t want to start a flame war or anything. I’m just curious.

      I grew up in a slightly more Ford oriented family, but I must confess the two General Motors products that I’ve had I’ve liked. Also, my mom has had an 05 Sunfire for 4 years (50k miles) and hasn’t had any major issues. She seems to like it.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I actually liked the Allante. But judging from how it sold, I was solidly in the minority.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Tankinbeans – the Catera was a ruined Opel Omega. The Omega was a pretty sharp car in the rest of the world but GM brought it here and installed all the styling cues that are supposed to appeal to the elderly and ruined it.

  • avatar
    ChesterChi

    This is awesome — thanks Paul ! I’m enjoying some of the details about this particular car (not GM’s fault): the partially torn-off fake top, and the classic hippie sticker “forget your troubles and dance !”.
    Also noteworthy: the instrument panel consists of a single piece of flat, hard, industrial-grade plastic with rectangular cut-outs and exposed mounting screws. It’s this degree of refinement that proves it’s a Cadillac.

    Maybe that sticker should be included with every GM car sold. Broken gauges ? Stripped steering rack ? Who cares – Forget your troubles and dance !

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I didn’t realize there was actually a body colored panel underneath the fake ragtop (or whatever it’s called). I always just thought that it disintegrated and you got screwed. My Buick had that same thing, which was torn in several places, and I always thought the ones without the fake rag looked better. I’m not an all-out auto-enthusiast, though so take my opinion at face value.

    • 0 avatar
      chrisgreencar

      Funny thing about that dash — they easily could have taken the alternate dash design from the Skyhawk/Firenza, instead of the Cavalier/J2000 version with the cheap screws. The Olds/Buick IP had more of a typical Japanese-style design with driver-oriented instrument pod and “shelf” area on the passenger side, and a higher quality appearance. I don’t know what they were thinking with that decision. Maybe they thought the square Cavalier panel had more of a traditional Cadillac look. Fail! The Buick Skyhawk Limited interior was actually pretty nice IMO. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that my first new car was a 1985 Sunbird…not bad for a college kid, but I should’ve convinced my dad (who was cosigning on the loan) to let me get a Civic or Accord!

  • avatar

    Jack Baruth would have been all over that roof, and improved the insulation with only a compass and a tire-tool. He would have worked for free if you had only recognized him as your other real son, the brother of Booth Bebe and the rightful heir of deh… um… pick-up.

  • avatar
    Hank

    Now that brings back memories. The first Cimarron I ever saw was at the gate of our ranch (appropriately named The Little Ponderosa). As my dad and I were closing the gate, a small dot on the horizon at the other end of the dirt road was spewing caliche dust into the West Texas breeze. As the car neared, I thought it was a Cavalier, but my dad corrected me. “No, that’s a Cadillac Cimarron.” That did not compute in my 10 yr. old mind. Why was it so boring? While I was still chewing on that, the little tan car the same color as the calechi in which it was now covered. The driver? Skipper. The wealthy and successful rancher on the next place over. His ranch was 20x’s the size of ours, and so was his hat. But his new Cadillac looked like a spare tire for the crew cab Scottsdale 1-ton we drove off in. Something just wasn’t right.

  • avatar
    twotone

    If you squint your eyes while staring at the front end it almost looks like a…oh, never mind.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    ajla

    The Cimarron is a terrible car, but that Cimarron is awesome.

  • avatar
    newcarscostalot

    Great to see you back Paul!

  • avatar
    tiredoldmechanic

    Worst. Episode. Ever.
    The car, not the article. Good to see this correspondent back.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    It may be a horse that has been beaten to a pulp decades ago, but along with the other great, colossal GM blunders of the time, the Cimarron stands out like the Shakespearian tragedy that it is. The Cimarron was simply one of GM’s most brazen and callus attempts to dupe the few remaining Cadillac devotees into buying the new ‘European’ Cadillac by doing nothing but raiding the J.C. Whitney catalog, slapping a few pimped-out shiney bits on the outside (and a grungy leather interior on the inside) of a 4-door Cavalier, then having the audacity to double the price. You know the GM finance guys running the show back then figured they were going to be corporate heroes by making millions at the expense of American consumers.

    What they ended up doing was accelerating the demise of what was once a mighty pillar of American business. It’s unknown if the Cimarron was the tipping point for GM’s eventual fall when they hit rock-bottom a few years ago, but a good argument could be made for it. The legacy of the Cimarron is such that, to this day, people look at otherwise acceptable, upmarket GM cars (like, say, the new Buick Regal) and say to themselves, “I wonder if that’s the same as that old Cadillac Cimarron…”. You can thank Roger Smith for that one.

    I’m glad the author and CC is back, as well. The Psyduck teaser photo is priceless.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I’m with Amendment X, the Cimarron is the worst stain on GM ever.

    If Cadillac had proceeded with the tarted-up Volt to make the Converj, they could have called it “Cimarron II”.

    Actually, it is possible that the Volt will become Chevy’s Cimarron – overpriced, misfit, and unloved. I’m not sure GM has completely learned their lesson from 1982.

  • avatar
    starbird80

    FWIW, I still see a few of these on the road hereabouts, in slightly better shape than the featured car. They seem to have survived better than any of the other J-cars.

    I assume that has something to do with the (original) owner demographic, as I can’t bring myself to believe these were assembled any better.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Low-hanging fruit to be sure. But still. If the Cadalier is #10, I can’t wait for number 1! It certainly underscores that GM was, by then, entirely controlled by numbers guys. Not sure what happened to all the car guys. Some CPA apparently remembered the first Seville, which was based on a X-car, (Nova) but at least with a scintilla of added value. The Cimmy just reaked of cynicism. I’m by no means convinced that the current regime at gummint motors is really any different.

    • 0 avatar
      fozone

      I can say with some certainty that the new regime at GM is doing a much better job than the old.

      As I mentioned up-thread, I was saddled with an ’82 Cim during my formative driving years. I used to think of the experience as a curse, but i’ve come to realize it was a privilege — I’ve gotten to intimately experience something that most people never will, living with one of the absolute WORST heaps ever foisted on the American public by GM.

      It provides me with an invaluable mental yardstick every time I take a test drive. None of the new GM product even comes close to being as uncompetitive and out of step with the market as the Cimarron was.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      As bad as the Cimarron was, the GM diesel cars of the 80s may actually have been worse.

      While the Cimarron was a marketing disaster, those diesels were an engineering disaster. So maybe they’ll earn the #1 spot?

  • avatar
    msquare

    Funny thing about the J-cars was that they really did mark an improvement in fit and finish compared to other GM cars. GM did a pretty good job designing the cars to go together properly. They also came in overweight, which is why the original 1.8 OHV engine proved so inadequate.

    The Cimarron was probably an attempt to do another Seville, which as you remember, borrowed its underpinnings from the preceding X-car, the Nova, and its engine from Oldsmobile. Fortunately, it was also the same platform as the Camaro/Firebird, and C/D was able to fit Trans Am suspension parts to make a very interesting project car. Unlike the Cavalier/Cimarron, though, GM did rework the platform extensively for duty as a Cadillac. Priced at a premium above even the Eldorado, it was praised as a good move for Caddy as the whole proved better than the sum of its parts.

    GM had considered using the Opel Diplomat as a base for the Seville, and the Diplomat’s successor, the Senator, was a highly regarded sports sedan competitive with the BMW 5-series. The idea was shelved for cost reasons. So when they went back to Opel for yet another small Caddy, they used the Senator’s successor, the Omega. Not a bad car, but needed more than an interior upgrade to make it a Caddy. Holden also used the platform for its VT Commodore, and when GM wanted to market the next version of that car in the USA, they went with the Pontiac nameplate. Cadillac’s version got a much more extensive rework and became the first-generation CTS.

    Monday-morning quarterbacking now, but had GM gone with the similar-looking V8-powered Commodore instead of the Omega as the base for the Catera, I think people would have gone for it.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      The Commodore has a much much longer and rich story than that.

      When I read it in wikipedia (sorry), I found myself respecting a lot the Aussie people behind it.

      The fact that to this day it’s still a good selling car and it’s world class says a lot about them.

    • 0 avatar
      msquare

      I remember talking to a GM exec at a press event in 1999 or so and telling him they should have put a V8 in the Catera. He said that would be a pretty wild car. I then reminded him they were already building that car in Australia. I will not, however, take any credit for the GTO or the G8 finally making it over here.

      Holden’s history with the Commodore does indeed go back much further, to 1978, but all except this latest one were based on the big Opel of the day, with either Holden’s own or North American engines. And the performance versions have always been downright awesome.

      As far as the Cimarron goes (not very?), consider too that the BMW E21 3-series was a pretty small car that grew in size much like the Camcords. And the Cimarron was not double the price of the Cavalier. A base Cavalier went for just under $7000 list and could be loaded up over $9K easily. The Cimarron started at around $12,500 and had just about everything standard. This at a time when the BMW 320i went for about $14,500.

      The biggest complaint, as has been registered here, was that the Cimarron’s extra equipment didn’t sufficiently justify the price gap between it and the Cavalier, and it simply didn’t belong in the Cadillac line. The correct baby Cadillac was the original Seville, but that was screwed up when they made it a baroque four-door Eldorado.

  • avatar
    skor

    Lincoln Versailles owners would laugh at Cimarron owners. Ouch.

  • avatar
    partsisparts

    A Cadillac with a Cavalier attitude!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Note the car is called the “Cimarron by Cadillac”…nowhere was it called the Cadillac Cimarron. It’s as if GM knew it was going to fail….

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      It’s more of a luxury car thing when they bring out a completely new model. You’ll never see “Cruze by Chevrolet” or “Fiesta by Ford”. It will always be an upmarket, domestic car where they’ll use the “[model] by [manufacturer]” marketing gimmick.

      Sometimes, if the new car is any good, it helps. Mostly, though, it doesn’t make a difference. Regardless, unless they set up a completely different dealership network, the model is known for what it really is.

      One of the more interesting variations on this was the old Ferrari Dino. You didn’t see Ferrari anywhere on those cars, but that’s who built them and what they’re known as.

    • 0 avatar
      SomeDude

      Genesis by Hyundai?

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Actually g2h is right, I recall the press mentioning that Caddy was hedging it’s bet on the Cimarron by using the “by Cadillac” nomenclature. Not that it helped, just one more feature in Cimarron’s cornucopia of Fail.

    • 0 avatar
      Bimmer

      rudiger,

      first generation of Aurora did not mention Oldsmobile and even had different badges then the rest of Oldsmobile.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Paul. Good to have you back.

    I am sorry about the house, but I am glad you pulled the plug before you got too deep.

    Kids. They never take you seriously when you tell them to join the Corps.

    Backs. I am sorry. I feel for you. at some point in your late 50s or early 60s, you learn to start thinking about how you could hurt yourself before you start something.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Was this the car that inspired the ‘Crapillac’ moniker?

  • avatar
    caljn

    Paul: I re-read the linked CC on the 1971 Cadillac and your statement (paraphrased) that your new cars are getting cheaper as you get older had stayed with me. I have since written a check (plus a trade) on a new car purchase and it is an eye opener re: the true cost. I hope to never finance a car again.
    In any case, good to have you and CC back.
    Way too many stories on China of late…

    • 0 avatar
      mikedt

      Huh. I’m in the same boat. I still like cars a lot but as I get older I’m finding what I’m willing to spend on one keeps going down (even if my salary is much higher than it was 20 years ago). I just can’t stand spending that much money on something that’s going to be nearly worthless when I get rid of it.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      MikeT – EXACTLY!

  • avatar
    italianstallion

    My parents shopped this car in late ’81 but wound up with ’82 A-body Buick Century V6 instead. No doubt because the Caddy was such a lousy value.

    What puzzled me then (and now) is why Cadillac chose the tiny J-body for the Cimarron in lieu of the contemporary X- or A-bodies. Its likely that they would have still been craptastic, but roomier.

    A friend had a Cimarron like the one in the photo when we were in college. First and last Caddy I’ve ever seen with a manual transmission!

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      As the owner of a 1982 Chevy Celebrity (FWD A-Body) I’ll say yes they had their problems but the overall packaging would have made a far superior Caddy. Good interior room, big trunk, and rode like a big car (in the best sense of the word.) I’ll even wager that there’s enough room under the hood for Cadillacs later 4.5 and 4.9V8s, which are actually highly regaurded. Even with a 3800V6 under the hood they would have been screamers and more true Cadillac than a J-car could ever be.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      This was discussed on Jalopnik a few years back:

      http://jalopnik.com/cars/retro/short+lived-gm-car-of-the-day-chevrolet-celebrity-249322.php

      Evidently, you can shoehorn the 4.5 or 4.9 Cadillac engine into an A or X body, but not easily, and not without some compromises.

  • avatar
    homeworld1031tx

    I mean this in the nicest way possible: Hooray for you having a bad back! Now you can get back to writing and I can get back to reading great writing. Thanks and glad to have you back!

  • avatar
    windswords

    What I want to know is, how did that car get a rating of 42 mpg highway? I know that’s with the 4 banger, I know the EPA test is different today, I know the car must weigh a lot less, but still. And did you notice the spread between city (26) and highway (42)?

    TTAC, you should do a technical article (appropriately “dumbed down” for us non-techies) on how the EPA tests for fuel economy. Please provide some tables/formulas to adjust old EPA ratings to the new method. That would go along way to seeing how much better or worse today’s cars are compared to those of previous eras.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      The revised EPA numbers for a 1984 (that’s as far back as they go) is 21/31 (2.0L with five speed). The unrevised numbers were 24/34.  I’m guessing that the ’82 numbers (26/42) must have have been the result of lower gearing on the first year 1.8L model, which would also explain why they felt so remarkably gutless.
      http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/findacar.htm

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The EPA lists fuel economy by the current methods going back to 1984 models, which yields 21/31(manual) and 18/26(auto) for the ’84 Cimarron.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Good catch windy, even downhill with a tailwind there’s no way that car could get 42 mpg! GM did put a lot of effort into gaming the EPA rating system, unfortunately for them it didn’t take long for customers to catch on.

  • avatar
    GarbageMotorsCo.

    What a sorry, sorry and pathetic attempt to dupe the American public. Cadillac deserved to fail.

    Sadly, the first generation CTS interior was almost as cheap and tacky as this one.

  • avatar

    Welcome back, Paul!

    Marketing and value questions aside (and there are many with this car, to be sure), I always had at least a little bit of appreciation for the Cimarron, only because it WAS the nicest of the J-cars. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a piece of crap that should never have been made.

    Just as it bugs me to drive a car with cloth seats when leather is an option, and blank plugs on the dash where buttons for accessories should be, I always liked that the Cimarron was a bit nicer than the Cavalier.

    And in a relative sense, I sort of liked the refresh (as in the photo car) that took it a bit further from the Cavalier’s styling. IIRC, they even had sound deadening foam in the A-pillars, which the lesser Js did not have. They even smelled better inside than the other J cars because of the leather.

    That being said, my dad sold a few of them used to friends, and I seem to remember one in particular having persistent alternator problems.

    The better move would have been to skip the Cimarron and install its features on the Oldsmobile Omega or Buick Skyhawk.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    That Cimarron is a long way from home. I remember Thacker Cadillac on West Street in Annapolis, it was always mistakenly/on-purpose referred to as “Wacker” Cadillac…..The owner got himself in trouble for selling former rental cars as “demonstrators” without disclosing their prior lives to his potential customers. But I digress….

    Anyway, I used to work with this professional young woman back in the mid-’80′s that had one of these poser-on-wheels-mobiles. She really took herself too seriously and she was easy to gig. Everytime I’d see her, I’d say, “How’s the Cavalier?” It would really roil her.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Welcome back, Paul.

    For the record, I’ve always liked the baby Cadillac, though I’ve never driven it. Scratch that, I’ve always liked the idea of the baby Cadillac. The Cimarron was a half-assed execution to say the least. To make it worth double the price of a Cavalier, it needed original bodywork, a re-tuned suspension, upscale interior fittings, and an engine, steering, and brakes that could dominate its BMW counterpart. Of course, had they done all these things the Cimarron would have cost more than $13K, but likely would have sold better because it would have been a great car, worthy of a second generation.

    I believe Cadillac has learned from its mistakes, and I’m really looking forward to the ATS.

  • avatar
    brettc

    Awesome article, and welcome back. I couldn’t believe it when I loaded TTAC and saw a new Curbside Classic. And a CC on the Cimarron! Wednesday morning got a lot better. I’m also sorry your son didn’t share your enthusiasm for the house. I’m an IT guy by day but I enjoy doing construction on my old house in my off hours.

    To go along with this, there’s actually an early 80s Cavalier that’s popped up in my subdivision over the last couple of months. And it looks almost brand new. Shiny red paint and looks to be in very good condition overall. It’s surprising that these old POSs are still on the road and running. Apparently the engines in these things are somewhat strong even if the rest of them is junk.

    As for the Peaks Island sticker – Peaks Island is a short ferry ride away from here (I’m in download Portland.)

    Again, welcome back!

  • avatar

    Just yesterday I was reading TTAC…mulling over the running gun battle between Jack and Cammy over Top Gear….and thinking:

    Damn, I miss Paul.

    And not only are you back, but you hit it out of the park on your first at-bat. Stellar piece. Welcome home.

  • avatar
    dave-the-rave

    In addition to the considerable corporate arrogance and hubris already mentioned, this car is the poster child for the ‘parts-bin’ mentality that put Chevy engines in Oldsmobiles.

    BTW, is it just me, or with signs of life that included the Aurora (imperfect, but its heart was in the right place), Intrigue and Alero, didn’t GM actually kill the division that was making the best cars at the time?

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Yes, they did, it’s not just you. The bastards killed the division with the most potential, just like when they killed Pontiac and kept Buick alive just to make the Chinese happy. Oldsmobile was showing real signs of life when killed. Car and Driver openly said that the Intrigue was their favorite out of the Grand Prix, Lumina, and Regal siblings.

      Even back in the 80s the last real Oldsmobile engine the 307V8 was superior (better low end torque) to the 305V8 in stock form. I’ve been looking at late 80s Fleetwoods and would much rather have the 307 from Oldsmobile than the 305 from Chevy. (OK so I really want the 5.7V8 but their pretty damn rare.) The fact that GM calously used these two engines interchangeably on this car resulted in two cars sitting on a dealers lot with different driving characteristics when test driven. Oh the hubris!

    • 0 avatar

      @dave-the-rave: I couldn’t agree more, re. Oldsmobile. I was never a fan of the Alero particularly, but the first-gen Aurora was one heck of a car. Flawed, yes, but the closest thing to the finned monsters of the fifties that GM’s turned out in recent years. Wild styling that worked, in essence. Also, the Intrigue was so much better than the Grand Prix. Even the old 88/LSS hasn’t aged badly. A later one with the right rims still looks pretty good (there’s one that lives in my parking lot at work.)

      Great piece, Paul! Nice to have you back.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      I liked the final Oldsmobiles, but they were caught in a sort of no-man’s land.

      Their build quality and reliability weren’t good enough to appeal to loyal Honda/Toyota owners, but their improvements were usually lost on long-time GM loyalists.

      Plus, they were pretty expensive for the day. I remember looking at a 1999 Intrigue that went for $29,000, which was a hefty chunk of change for family sedan at that time. No way were Honda, Toyota, VW or Nissan buyers going to pay that much for an Oldsmobile.

    • 0 avatar
      salhany

      I had a ’99 Intrigue for 5 years as a daily driver. A fine car, made even better because I bought it in ’01 for all of $9K. Hooray dead brand depreciation!

    • 0 avatar
      joeveto3

      Those last years of Oldsmobile were good. The Aurora was a great car. When it came out, I was smitten. It had the style of the Toronados. A first generation Aurora, bought new by my dad, is still running in our family, with God only knows how many miles.

      My mom had a second generation Aurora. It was a special last of the last commemorative edition, in ruby red. A few people actually chased her down with offers to buy it. I didn’t believe her when she told me…even though she’s an honest woman.

      As far as reliability goes, I would argue the last generation Oldsmobiles were every bit as reliable as the Camcords. Only perception made the difference (perception based, of course, on sins such as the Cimarron). Consider the 3800 powered Deltas. Those, and the LeSabre counterparts, were the definition of reliable.

      I know I’m in the minority, and maybe it’s a sign of my age (I’m 38?) but I’d love to see Olds and Pontiac back in the mix. I have nothing but fond memories of those two brands.

  • avatar

    TTAC is listing GM’s deadly sins by model, but this could also be done by decade. The 1980′s would have to be the worst. How bad were GM cars in the 1980′s? I think the survival rate tells the real story. During the 1980′s passenger cars still sold in huge numbers by todays standards and GM’s market share was still around 45%.

    Where are all those 1980′s GM cars today? The rwd B-Bodies and G-Bodies have survived in decent numbers, but that’s about it. A-Bodies and first generation J-Bodies are getting pretty scarce. X-Bodies and T-Bodies are all but non-existent. The F-Bodies are also disappearing rapidly, though they tended to suffer a lot of abuse on top of their shoddy engineering and build quality.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Joe,
      I’m going to have to disagree that the entire decade was a wasteland for GM. Their first crack at the FWD full-sized cars (GM H-body) turned out to be (IMO) one of the best-designed GM cars ever. My 1988 Electra T-type was one of the best cars I have ever owned, and I sold it a year ago with 221K miles on the original engine AND transmission (changed the fluid regularly) still running like new. I still see these cars on the road today.

      I now have a 2001 Buick Lesabre, and if I could take only the 3800 Series II-goodness (sans plastic intake manifold and fuel rail elbow) and upgraded 4T65E transmission and put it into a new 1988 Lesabre, I’d much prefer that over the 2001 overall!

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      When you count survivors you also have to consider how popular a vehicle is. If people don’t like, not many will make an effort to keep their old car running. At the same time unpopular models have lower resale value and less aftermarket support so when something breaks the car as a whole might be okay but nobody wants to fix it so to the boneyard it goes.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Nice to have you back, Paul!

    The Cimarron was certainly a stinker, but I will offer a (tepid) defense of the J-car itself. It did have redeeming qualities – its build quality really was a big improvement over previous domestic fare, and the basic platform was sturdy. The interiors were fairly nice for a small car of that time, particularly a domestic small car.

    If GM had given it the Toyota treatment – introducing a thoroughly revamped 1985 model that addressed the weak points while developing the strong ones, and continued doing this on a regular basis – the name “Cavalier” would be as respected as Corolla or Accord is today.

    Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that in no way, shape or form should this platform have EVER been sold under the Cadillac badge.

  • avatar
    nevets248

    “He did go on to “sell” anyone he could on the Pontiac STI a couple of years later, which redeemed him somewhat”

    you mean Pontiac 6000 STE, correct?

    great article, and welcome back!

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Great to have you back, Paul, for multiple reasons. I have to confess that when I was hobbling around with a sore back and knees this summer after pulling out a houseful of carpet and doing a bunch of painting and landscaping, I spent some time muttering to myself “what a weenie – Paul Niedermeyer is rebuilding a whole damned house, and he’s older, too!” I feel better now. I too am reluctantly using the checkbook as my main home improvement tool more and more.

    But I have also missed your CCs and Deadly Sins. This one is a Twofer!. There are two factors that were not discussed that played a huge role in this car. First, this car was planned during a gasoline price panic of 1981-82, when everyone just KNEW that gas would continue to go up. (Deja Vu in reverse?) Second, the CAFE standards had hit and GM needed to sell as many small cars as it possibly could. GM relied more on big cars than anyone else (and made more money at them) so any Cadillac buyer that they could move into a profitable small car would be a win-win. Unfortunately, they they could not competently execute on a small Cadillac and you tell the tale very well.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Thanks. Yes, its time to figure out how to age gracefully.
      And you’re right about the gas prices/CAFE being the main driver of the Cimarron. I went way too long as on personal stuff, and shortchanged the facts.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      jpcavanaugh, I agree that CAFE was a major motivator behind the Cimarron, along with the fuel crunch of 1979, which had everybody talking about $3-a-gallon gas by 1985 (and that was in 1979 dollars).

      The only problem was GM shouldn’t have waited until CAFE was enacted and the second fuel crunch hit to bring out a smaller, better handling, more efficient upscale car. It should have had this type of car on the market long before 1981 (or even 1979).

      Mercedes and BMW had been making serious inroads into the upper segments of the American market before even the first fuel crunch in late 1973. Mercedes was directly targeting the Cadillac crowd, while BMW opened up a new market of affluent people who wanted efficient, well-built, refined, fun-to-drive cars. Cadillac ignored this trend for as long as possible, then brought out the original Seville to combat this trend. That first Seville wasn’t a bad car, but it wasn’t going to get anyone out of a Mercedes, and it certainly had no appeal to the BMW crowd.

      GM was reacting, instead of leading, once again, and with a subpar product to boot.

      That GM thought it could get people out of a BMW 3-Series with the Cimarron (I remember that this was the goal) shows just how out-of-touch GM management really was.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    The Cimarron may have been a lemon , but the European ‘J’car , engineered by Opel with OHC 1300 and 1600 engines was pretty good. Much better than anything Ford could offer.They didn’t have one of the new-fangled small diesels to offer though , so a private company in Ireland started importing Japanese ‘J’cars , the Isuzu Aska .Only normal and turbo-charged 2 litre diesels were offerred – GM would not allow themn to import petrol models , as this would have killed Opel sales. Pretty soon all sales reps were driving Askas as they were much nicer and cheaper to run than anything else .Lasted forever if you looked after them. Eventually Opel started using Isuzu engines to spplement their own dreadful 1.6 diesel , and the Aska was killed. After that GM stopped Isuzu from making cars , as they were too good at it.
    Even today , if you read the classifieds , you can still see old Opels advertised with an “Isuzu engine” as a selling point.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Isn’t “Escalade” French for “Cimmaron” ??

    Brock Yates did a chapter on GM’s billion dollar J bungle in his book “The Fall Of The American Auto Industry”. Still as eye opening today as it was then.

    At least with the Seville, GM spent time and effort and money to make it unique to Cadillac instead of whoring it out the way they did with the Cimarron.

    And BTW: though it doesn’t look like it now, GM was ahead of the gas mileage curve with it’s multi billion downsizing program begun just after the 1st gas crisis. The full size 77s, the downsized intermediates if 78, the X car Nova clones in Apr. 79 as well as the FWD intermediate As is pretty much evidence GM didn’t just “wait” till CAFE came around to revamp their lines to get better mileage and be more efficent in weight, size, room and fuel usage.

    To suggest anything else is sort of piling on and not really knowing the sequence of events just to bash GM when there’s really no need. As Jerry Flint ‘s speech suggested and covered here by TTAC: you don’t have to make stuff up to trash GM. They provided all the info you need to make a case against their stupid management.

    GM will never sell me another car, but they were at the forefront of downsizing and product efficiency at the time. The execution sucked and that’s where they lost a generation of buyers and market share.

    The owner of the company I worked for back then had purchased one of these when it first came out.

    Her kids were horrified and embarrassed even in the early 80s that she had purchased a Cadillac. Of course she said the Audi 100 she’d had was one of the worst lemons she’d ever encountered… Maybe she was trying to give Dee-troit another chance. Perhaps it was too late even then.

    So glad to have you back, Mr N-1. When I went thru Eugene earlier this summer on my way to Newport I saw an old yellow Ford truck out early in the morning and thought of you and Mr. N-2 and wondered how you were doing.

    Had to a double take that this wasn’t a CC and Deadly Sin I had missed from earlier. What a treat. Thanks

  • avatar
    NoChryslers

    My uncle had an 82 Cimmaron that he bought used. I think it was like 3 years old. It had the V6, according to him, but can I tell you that my Sundance, with its crude 2.2 four, felt smoother and faster? The Cimarron sucked. Other than the nameplates, there was nothing, absolutely nothing to let you know that you were sitting in a Caddy. At least when they did the first-gen Nova-based Seville, they heavily disguised the body and interior. And gave it enough sound deadening and suspension refinements to hide the fact that it was based on a car for the proleteriat. With the Cimmaron, hell, they didn’t even try. The later models had nicer grills, but were basically tarted up Cavaliers as already mentioned.

    The Cim was a total POS and he sold it for a….get this….New Yorker Turbo. But hey, I liked it better than the Cimmaron.

  • avatar
    ceipower

    Here’s a thought. Less fluff and more meat. What was this supposed to be about anyway…family bonding, home repair? I think I saw a Cadillac in some pictures?

  • avatar
    salhany

    I have a morbid curiosity as to how well one of these ’87 models drove with the V6 (as opposed to the pitiful 4).

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I had a nieghbor that must have had one of the last ones to ever rool off the the assembly line. Brown, brown interior, aluminum wheels, proud V6 badges, chrome lugage rack (of course), tinted windows, paint minorly sunfaded, tires starting to dry rot, but not a drop of fluid under it on the concrete. It moved about once a month but the older couple’s primary cars where a 2005 Park Avenue, a V6 Escape, and a late 80s Ford truck that is only used for hauling. Walked past and “lusted” (in a weird way) after that car daily for two years while walking a dog that I had a love hate relationship with. I actually went on KBB and figured out what the “Blue Book Value” was on a 1987 Cimarron ($800 at the time) just in case a “For Sale” sign appeared in the window one fine day. I knew it would be work, but I could see that the “bones” of the car were still good.

      FFW nearly a year, the dog has found new owners, and I’m driving by there place one day and the old folks have decided to replace the concrete drive, so all their vehicles are out in the street, including the Caddy. Next day, old concrete is being hauled away, and the Caddy is gone. That was 4 months ago, I haven’t seen it since that day. I hope some concrete guy is happy with his old Cadillac.

  • avatar
    carnick

    Welcome back Paul, it’s good to see you back! (Though you might have preferred a different path to enlightenment than the one you followed with your house).

    I know all too well the road to aging. All the wonderful things about getting older…. having your bladder shrink to the size of a raisin and getting up several times a night to pee (nothing impresses the ladies like a shrinking bladder)…. loosing one’s formerly buff form and the perceived (though often delusional, in my case) ability to do anything physical…. and the whole middle-age fading last chance at youth. Yes, it sucks, and there’s nothing good about it (except cheaper car insurance through AARP, but I would rather pay more and be younger if I had the choice). But we don’t, so we have to face the reality that we just can’t do what we used to when we were in our 20′s or 30′s.

    Outstanding and as always perceptive piece on the Cimarron. That piece of dreck may be the best example of GM’s hubris, and clulessness, in the 1980′s that was emblematic of the company’s downfall from making cars that were once the envy of the world, to becoming a laughing stock.

    We can’t go home again to the days of our ‘youth’, but here’s hoping that GM can get back at least a little of its past glory…

  • avatar
    JeremyR

    Paul, from the time you first mentioned that you were planning to move that house, I feared it wouldn’t end well. Hopefully you and your son can find a different project that you’ll both enjoy doing!

  • avatar
    Motorhead10

    My pops was a Caddy guy in the early 80s. I remember being a freshman in college in New Hampshire – and it was COLD. I was playing hoops so my pops would come up for games a lot. His Coupe DeVille (or what ever the heck it was) just couldn’t take it. Every electrical gremlin surfaced by mid-January and the thing was useless and an embarassment. He quit Caddy for good that winter, owned two late-80s Lincoln LSCs and went German by the 90s and hasn’t looked back.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    First off, great write up there Paul and a good look at a major blunder by GM. Heck I’ve known what a colossal fail this was at the time and I thought the little J cars were pretty decent, heck, way better then X-body front drivers ever could hope to have been.

    My parents bought a brand new Skylark in 1983, maroon with the matching vinyl top and velor interior and had the 2800 V6 in it as well. It was a decent car but even when still fairly new, I noted crazing in the metallic paint on the engine’s hood, noticeable even more so once waxed but it never flaked off or anything like that. Anyway, other than a short in the wiring to the dome light that burned a small hole in the headliner, it was a decent example thankfully. They sold it in 1987 and coincidentally, my Dad ended up buying a US Gov’t fleet 83 Citation w/ the same engine and auto, not quite as good but reliable, had funky rack when cold, craptastic brakes but ran and ran – and the AC worked but fit and finished etc left a lot to be desired though.

    That said, friends had bought new a 1985 Cavalier 4 door sedan, I think with the 2.0L 4 pot motor and auto and I recall it being a rather decent little car, it’s audio system was worlds better sounding that the POS factory tape deck we had in the Buick, and the audio in the Cav was factory as well. Their son, my best friend ended up with it a few years later but sold it after about a year as it didn’t fit his needs but during that time, it was reliable and decently powered even if nothing to write home about speed wise. They’ve been through sever GM cars, including an 87 Century (A body FWD), a 1993 Buick Regal 2 door (GTS?) that his father bought second hand and I believe their second oldest son Dan still drives it the hour or so commute each way to work, a late 90′s Regal 4 door and now they drive a Crysler Town and Country (2000 I think). They also bought 2 VW’s, an ’89 Passatt and a ’93 Jetta Wolfsburg edition as they ordered it to be picked up in Germany where they went on vacation at the time and had it shipped home, all federalized and such. I can’t recall but think both cars had automatics and both of the autos had issues but the cars themselves were decent.

    The biggest thing between the X-body and J-body front drivers was the J car was much more modern, relative to the X-bodies as the Citation et-al still made do with a pseudo front bench seat and a column mounted automatic, whilst the J’s had buckets, console and a floor mounted shifter – and a handbrake for a parking brake, rather than the older foot brake and in the end, the X-bodies just felt clumsy and clunky and antiquated while the J car was the opposite.

    Anyway, another great write up and was saddened to see you head off out of here to try and rebuild a home, just as I had discovered Curbside Classics and began reading the previous entries and then discovered it was not being updated and then stumbled onto the farewell post. :-(

    BTW, did lust after a bright red ’82 Pontiac J car in the rare fastback body as a 2 page spread in I think Mechanix Illustrated at the time and loved it implicitly and still think the Pontiac soft nose fronts used at the time were the best front clips of all of the J car series.

  • avatar
    BlueHighways

    Great article as always! Welcome back.

  • avatar
    big_gms

    Great to see you back, Paul. I didn’t visit TTAC much after you left (I missed the Curbside Classics) and was very pleasantly surprised to see you back. And I can certainly identify with the old house situation; I’m there myself and have been for the last 13 years with my house. Way too easy to envision grand improvements, only to realize later that it’s just throwing good money after bad.

    Anyway…I’ve commented here before that I’d actually like to have one of the last (1987-88) Cimarrons for the sheer hell of it as an oddity and that still hasn’t changed. The car was indeed inherently flawed in several ways, marketing being one of them. And early examples were truly horrible. But those last ones, if I remember correctly, came with many of the same bits that made the Cavalier Z24 a cut above most other J cars in performance (someone correct me if I’m wrong). If that’s the case, it might not be such a bad driving car (relatively speaking, of course). And the later one has the V6 engine, so it can definitely get out of its own way, unlike early 4 cylinder models. And I like the 1987-88 front styling…yeah, I’ll admit I’m a little weird for actually wanting one of these little turkeys. It should never have been sold as a Cadillac; it would have made far more sense to have made this car the Buick Skyhawk and forget about a Cadillac version and the real Skyhawk’s ugly front end altogether.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I all fairness 1980-82 was IMO one of the worst eras for the automobile with ever interfering government and CAFE regs for mileage and pollution standards causing such knee jerk reactions as the cadillac 8-6-4, HT-4100 V8, the Cimmaron, AMC dropping there only V8 option the 304, Chrysler with there 120 HP 318 V8 and 130 HP 360 V8 option, 85 HP Slant sixes, VW powered Omni/Horizons, the X-cars, 301 turbos replacing 400/403 V8′s, 200 straight 6 T-birds, Fords 4 speed AOD tranny that litterally stalled going 30 MPH, seriuosly underpowered Escorts that rotted out after 3 years of use and on and on.

  • avatar
    AnthonyG

    Welcome back Paul – good to see the CC’s are back as well!

    I didn’t realise the early Cimmarons didn’t even have a ‘proper’ fake Cadillac grille.

  • avatar
    CRConrad

    Heh — how appropriate, for a post by Herr Niedermayer Sr, that one end of that “Freedom isn’t free!” sticker depicts the flag of his native land. (Though I wonder why it does?)

  • avatar
    8E45E

    I am old enough to remember when Cadillac was known as the ‘Standard of the World’ according to their advertising. In 1966, Cadillac truly was the ‘Standard of the World’ and an honest Rolls Royce contender with its Fleetwood model. All the wood inside was off-a-tree genuine, as was the leather seats. The quality of materials was also very high and the build quality was excellent for the time. As well, Cadillac had a provision in place at the time to accomodate special orders, such as special paint colors, not unlike Rolls Royce’s current ‘Bespoke’ program. After 1966, the real wood trim got less and less, and by 1971, it was replaced with cheap plastic with a fake wood finish. Even though the downsized 1977′s were a success for sales volume, by then they were far outclassed by Mercedes Benz, BMW, Jaguar and Rolls Royce. The Diesel and the Cimarron were the kiss of death to Cadillac’s sterling ‘Stanadard of the World’ reputation. As another commenter pointed out, Cadillac went the wrong direction in 1985 with the Devilles and in 1986 with the Eldorado, and shrunk them too much. Owning a Cadillac by then was, and still is no longer a statement to tell others that you have ‘made it’. Hard to belive, even Volkswagen has outclassed Cadillac with its Pheaton model, which is available in a 12 cylinder. Forty years ago, one would have been kicked out of the bar for even suggesting a VW could come close to a Cadillac in class. Sure, Cadillac has teased us with a 16 cylinder engine in 2003, but it remains a concept with no plans for production. No matter how good Cadillac’s latest offerings are now, its still a long, uphill road for them. The Cimmaron, and other product blunders, not to mention GM’s financial crisis may have caused irrepairable damage to its reputation. Now with the ultra-luxury market heavily covered by the Europeans and the Japanese, it is highly unlikely Cadillac will ever regain its title as Standard of the World.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    How much dancing is it going to take for the owner forget they’re driving a clapped out Caddy.  Things haven’t changed all that much, a few weeks ago I drove my adoptive mothers’s SRX, a day later I bummed a ride with my secretary in her new Traverse.  Except for the bling and gadgets pretty much the same car.  

  • avatar
    Neil in Illinois

    In 1986, I became the proud second owner of an ’83 Olds Firenza station wagon. I’m embarrassed to admit it in this crowd, but I have only fond memories of it, (despite the leaky oil pan gasket at 50000 miles) and I’d love to find another one.

  • avatar
    bugo

    I saw one of these driving down the road about a month ago.  It was rough but in a bit better condition than this one.  I saw it from the back so I couldn’t tell if it had the quad rectangular headlights or the aero lights.  First one I’ve seen in a long time.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    This is true automotive journalism. One of the best pieces I have read on TTAC. It touches you, on levels that top gear and similar media never will be able to do. I was born in 1982 in Soviet Union, but I completely understand what Paul is saying in this article.

  • avatar
    1981X-11

    Need to do a Cadillac Catera post.  I had a 99 model.   FUN!


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