By on January 23, 2012

By the mid-1990s, The General’s top thinkers had finally figured out that 90-year-olds don’t have many car-buying years left in them, which meant that Cadillac had to convince some sub-nonagenarians to buy their cars. Naturally, the focus of this effort would be more on marketing than on the vehicles themselves, but even Cadillac’s most PowerPoint-adept marketing wizards knew that they couldn’t slap Day-Glo orange “Brougham d’Elegance EXTRËËMË ËDITION” badges on the Eldorado ETC, hire Napalm Death as celebrity spokesmen, and expect hip/well-heeled 30-somethings to ditch their imports. No, a different kind of Cadillac would be needed. Hey, how about slapping some Cadillac emblems on the Opel Omega? Problem solved!
So, here comes Ziggy the Catera Duck. Inspired by the ducks on the Cadillac emblem (which originated in the crest of French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac), Ziggy would show that you didn’t need blue hair or an oxygen tank to drive a Cadillac. Ziggy was proof that the Cadillac-badged Omega— called the Catera— was for young folks!


Well, it didn’t work. As Chrysler learned in most vivid fashion with the Neon’s marketing campaign, cute doesn’t sell cars to Americans. It turns out that you need 500+ horsepower in an evil-looking wrapper to erase decades of geriatric brand-image damage (with the notable exception of the Escalade, which lucked into acceptance by young American rappers), because Americans hit ‘em hard!
I had just about forgotten about the Catera, except for the occasional jeremiad I’ve issued to 24 Hours of LeMons racers demanding a Catera (or Allanté) race car, but then I found this fairly solid example in my local self-serve junkyard. This is the first Catera I’ve ever seen in a junkyard, which says more about the Catera’s rarity than of its reliability.
GM’s history of selling Opels in the United States hasn’t been a happy story, though the case could be made that the big-selling Chevette was really an Opel. The Catera’s ad campaign flopped, the engines tossed timing belts in all directions, and veterans of Belleau Wood continued to buy “real” Cadillacs.
The Omega B really wasn’t a bad design (as owners of the Opel-via-Holden-based 2004-06 GTO will tell you), and it might have sold better through another GM division with a different marketing approach. As it sorted out, though, the Catera has become another interesting cul-de-sac of automotive history, the sort of thing best explored via Junkyard Finds.

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89 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1998 Cadillac Catera...”


  • avatar
    carbiz

    I’ve often wondered why perfectly solid, well designed vehicles seem to lose something as they cross the Atlantic. None of the Euro transplants, from the Merkur, the old Cortina, the Catera – this list is pretty endless, really. They all flopped, yet the Euros loved them.
    I’ve seen old Cortinas, Omegas and others in parking garages in Brazil. Still being driven, still loved. Fiat kicks GM’s a$$ in Brazil. They can’t give them away here.
    Are we that different? Nobody minds paying double for a BMW or Mercedes, so why the push-back against a German GM? Please don’t tell me American consumers are too smart. That is crap. They buy what they are told to buy, whether by CR or R&T. Or is it just that GM and Ford don’t have the nicest junkets?

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Europeans loved the Opel Omega?

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      Is this German GM really comparable to a BMW or Mercedes? I remember Mercury doing somewhat ok with the original Capri back in the 70’s, and Opel by Buick, but by and large I think efforts like the Catera were probably doomed from the start, taking what was rather a pedestrian car, adding on a Cadillac price then hoping to sell it with a way-too-cute-for-its-own-good marketing campaign.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I drove a 2001 Catera for 4 1/2 months. It was a vehicle provided by my employer, for an out of state assignment back then.

        I will testify it was a damn fine ride.

        I can’t testify to reliability, but the car was solid, tight, quiet, had an excellent blend of ride comfort and handling, did fine in the snow even though it was RWD (when outfitted with stock all season shoes), and felt like an premium product.

        It took speeds in excess of 125 mph over very broken pavement to start to ruffle its composure, but that’s based on hearsay. ;)

    • 0 avatar
      stephenjmcn

      I’m in the UK, and I do wonder about this as a I read TTAC comments. My dad had 3 different V6 (Vauxhall) Omegas between 1995 and 2001, each one was totally reliable, by which I mean required no more than regular dealer servicing. Omegas were thought to be notably reliable, and as such were the most popular traffic police/goverment car in the UK.

      And yet I read about these, VW’s, etc being horribly unreliable in the US. I don’t doubt your experiences, but they are exactly the opposite of what we experience over here.

      Back to the Omega, it was a solid (low end) 5-series competitor here in Europe, but I can appreciate why it would never make a convincing Caddy in terms of style and purpose.

      • 0 avatar
        NN

        I almost bought one of these a few years ago on a whim…low mileage and cheap. Glad I didn’t after reading up on the reliability issues.

        I think there’s a big difference in expectations and in maintenance habits between US and European customers. I’m certain if you kept the car dealer-maintained it might have been relatively reliable. But in the US, we’re spoiled by generations of popular Japanese cars that would go over 100k+ miles with nothing but oil changes. That is now the expectation. Couple that with the fact that this, like all Caddy’s of it’s era, suffered massive depreciation, meaning as 2nd hand cars they ended up in the hands of people who buy on the cheap, buying to obtain a status of a luxury car when they can’t really afford proper maintenance on them. So they buy this car and treat it like they would an Accord or Camry and it just doesn’t work out. I’m generalizing here but you see the same thing with other 2nd hand luxury brands that suffer heavy depreciation, like Jaguar, Saab, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        http://www.goodcarbadcar.net/2011/08/uk-auto-brand-market-share-july-2011.html

        Looking at the chart Toyota has 3.7% of the market. If you’re comparing any particular car to the top 5 in the UK (Ford, Vauxhall, VW, BMW, Peugot) your definition of reliable might be slightly skewed.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        If you had 3 different Omegas within a 6 year time period, how old was each car when your dad owned them? First impression is that each car was about 2 years old, which would tell you next to nothing about long term reliability. Many luxury car owners in America might swap out every 3 years on lease, but most of us keep our cars far longer than that.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if we put far more miles on our cars here, either, but that is just a guess.

      • 0 avatar
        stephenjmcn

        @30-Mile Fetch, I know my evidence is anecdotal. He ran each from new for 3 years totalling 105-115k miles. The first one, a 1995 model, was traded at 115k and was still being used as a Glasgow taxi 3 years later, what a surprise when THAT picked me up.In general though, we do less miles over here, though here in Scotland the roads are bad and the weather is tough in winter.

        @jmo all those you mentioned (except Peugeot, they’re bloody awful) are acceptably reliable here, Toyota/Honda I’m sure might be better, but they’re expensive to fix (partly because they are rare)

      • 0 avatar
        stroker49

        Stephenjmcn: Right on the spot! Here in Europe people are avoiding American cars like the plaque. European cars are working fine and most of them will go 200 000 miles without big troubles. The only difference really is that Americans change oil twice as often but can that really damage cars? The only reason Europeans now have started to buy Chevrolet is that we know that they are now produced in South Korea. The Opel Omega was not a bad car. But not to be compared with a BMW or Mercedes, and the pricing here in Europe was also much lower than the premium Germans. Opel is in Europe descent cars like Ford or Chevvy, nothing more. When we heard about the Catera I guess it was a bigger joke for us here in Europe than for Americans that normally don’t know what an Opel is.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        One thing to note – Saabs really only suffered horrible depreciation on paper. Saab’s MSRPs have been fantasy-land forever, with $$6-8K discounts being the norm even before the ‘trouble times’ started. Take that into consideration, and thier depreciation is actually pretty good, and always has been.

        The Catera, like the Merkur Scorpio, was a great car sold by dealerships that had no idea how to sell it, and dealer serviced by mechanics who had no idea how to fix it.

      • 0 avatar
        jeffzekas

        Several years ago, a VW executive admitted what most Americans already suspected: U.S. Volkswagen vehicles had inferior quality compared with Euro versions… Why? Very simply: the Mexican auto plants did not have the quality control or the skilled labor of other VW manufacturing facilities. I suspect there may be a similar problem with Opel: are the U.S. versions built in Germany? Or are they assembled in some East European former-bomb-shelter-Ural motors facility?

    • 0 avatar
      Car Spy Tweets

      So far the new Fiesta and Focus seem to be succeeding, but I get your point. Either they get toned down for our market or they just don’t take off, due to not being something the market wants at the time, not being advertised very well, or some sort. Fiat’s marketing and release strategy sucked for the 500, which is the very definition of niche product, and it STILL sold (ignoring the idiotic predictions by Mr Marchionne). The Catera should have been a Buick or Chevy, or a Pontiac. The Merkur should have been a Mercury or a Ford, straight up. Translating “Mercury” to German to use as a fake German name is AWFUL business.

      Ford seems to be (ironically) on a diehard mission to be America’s most European brand, so we’ll see how their C-max and other future Eurorides do in America. Ditto the Chevrolet Spark when GM brings that one over.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @carspy: Part of the raison d’etre with the Catera was to lower the average age of Cadillac buyers, but also, the exchange rate at the time would have not allowed GM to brand the car as a Chevy. In terms of pricing, it would have been above the contemporary Impala/Caprice.

        I agree on the Mercury/Merkur business. Absolutely moronic.

      • 0 avatar
        MT

        We rented a Ford Fiesta when we were in Germany many many years ago-early 80’s. That thing had a tiny little engine tucked under the air filter and was total hoot to drive. When I went and drove one here it was a sloppy springy slow as hell mess. Day and night.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      While I’ll agree it was a sales flop, it doesn’t change the fact that I still love driving my ’88 Scorpio. Yes it still runs…quite well, in fact.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I seem to remember TTAC doing an earlier post-mortem on the Catera, pointing out that it was similar in size and shape to several other contemporaries, and didn’t stand out visually. As Deadweight points out below, it was a very good package, but it’s anonymity on the street didn’t help, and once the serpentine belt problem surfaced, it was dead to the buying public.

    • 0 avatar
      wallstreet

      Does European blend their petrol with ethanol?

    • 0 avatar
      tatracitroensaab

      Often, currency conversions can doom a car, so that it’s bad value compared to other things. i think that happened to the merkur.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    These things were massively unreliable and should have been driven right off the truck to the junkyard. It’s a biblically terrible vehicle.

    Is “biblically” a word?

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Only in a biblical sense.

    • 0 avatar

      NO doubt. The Caddy dealers hated ‘em. Thats what makes this “surviving” one truly a “find”.

      That engine was turned and GMs brilliance put it in a lot of Saabs with a turbo on the front…CALAMITY ensued. A case could be made that thats the engine that led to Saabs demise. I cant think of a single V6 owner that ever bought another.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Hogwash. As long as the timing belt was changed on time, the Saab V6 was considerably more reliable than the LPT Saab 4 in the 9-5. Sludge much, oh yes those did. I had a 2000 V6t wagon and loved it. The engine was also far more suited to the wafty 9-5 than the vibratory 4s. Failure to maintain a car properly is the fault of the owner, not the car.

        The only real ‘problem’ with the V6t was that it was a more expensive engine than the turbo 4 in the Aero, but for marketing reasons had to sell for less money. So Saab had little interest in actually marketing the car.

  • avatar

    Seeing Ziggy brought back memories of the “Catera fantasy road trip” pre-launch advertising campaign I’d signed up to be bombarded by in 1996. I signed up due to the included chance to win a free car, not due to any particular interest in the Caddy that zigged.

    Every few weeks I’d receive some bit of communication from Dennis Miller, Annie Potts, Al Michaels and/or Florence Griffith Joyner, ostensibly sent from various stops along their multi-month road trip.

    The items varied from postcards and letters to a video tape, and on at least one occastion a pre-recorded phone call, I think from Al Michaels and Dennis Miller.

    In the end I didn’t win a car, but I think I still have the Ziggy logoed Cadillac hat that I received at the end of the road trip.

    Memorable ad campaign, forgettable car.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    “This is the first Catera I’ve ever seen in a junkyard, which says more about the Catera’s rarity than of its reliability.”

    This says more about where you live. All of my local yards have at least 3 of these things. Most of them are in far better condition than the one you found and with time of death around 85k miles.

    As a sports-luxury, they are heavy. The rear semi-trailing arm suspension was antiquated. Almost every electrical part in the car would fail quickly. The timing belt tensioner would crap out, destroying the whole engine. The fact that most Americans don’t regularly maintain their vehicles made matters worse.

    IMO, the Lincoln LS that would come later succeeded where the Catera had failed. It could have been a winner. The general just didn’t want to put in the effort.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      I have a hard time thinking of any recent GM offering that was lightest in its class.

      I am also curious as to what “regular maintenance” is to be done on electrical parts? “Regular maintenance” on that ill-fated timing tensioner? There isn’t any. It’s called sub-standard parts from Opel.

      I had a mid-80’s GM car which suffered numerous electric part failures. Turn signal lever. Spark plug wires. Power mirror controls. Headlight switches. Power window operators. Wiring harnesses. Taillight wiring. Windshield wiper control boards. None were due to lack of maintenance. Sub-standard parts. I called it my $250 car – for the numerous failures that cost about $250 each.

      • 0 avatar
        Crabspirits

        By “regular maintenance”, I am referring to being up to date on the schedule outlined in the manual and any recalls. Specifically, timing belt replacement, fluid changes, and tuneups. Common practice is to change the belt tensioner when you replace the timing belt.

        By no means am I making excuses for this car however.

  • avatar
    NotFast

    Anyone else remember “Lisa Catera” or was that a Midwest commercial?

    • 0 avatar

      I remember Dr. Lisa Catera, a character on Chicago Hope.

      The episode she was introduced as a character on the show they ran several ads for the Cadillac Catera. The episode may even have been “sponsored” by Cadillac.

      My wife and I still joke about that as one of the heaviest handed product placements we have ever seen.

      Unrelated : Catera driver runs down a mime in this ad. — http://youtu.be/ERZ4rasNJeY?t=8s

      Still further unrelated: Princess Cindy [Crawford]‘s Wilma-Flintstone-as-dominatrix get-up —
      http://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/19/business/catera-ad-pulled-by-cadillac.html

  • avatar
    86er

    Ziggy was always a little Daffy, and that sir is not a Cadillac.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    These weren’t bad looking, back in the day and even here, I will see the occasional Catera and even the Allante, in fact, I believe there still are a couple of Allante’s still around Seattle being driven.

    Then again, Seattle is full of older cars – as well as newer cars of all sizes as nothing really rusts here so 30 YO cars are still fairly common here.

  • avatar
    JSF22

    I never drove one, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t the worst heap GM was peddling in those days. My favorite reference to this car was the character in a contemporaneous TV series, “Chicago Hope,” named Lisa Catera. All at once they goofed on GM, the car, and the horrid advertising.

    • 0 avatar

      I really don’t think it was a goof on GM, I think it was an early form of really hardcore product placement.

      http://www.eonline.com/on/shows/chelsea/chelsea_lately/next_week_on_chicago_hope_nurse_volvo/35419

      _____________

      No, you were not hearing things during Wednesday night’s Chicago Hope. That was a Dr. Catera joining the fictional hospital staff. And that was a Cadillac Catera commercial airing just moments after the good doctor made her debut.

      Coincidence? Product placement of the highest order? You be the judge

      But as for Dr. Catera being linked to the actual Catera spot during the episode–well, that was just a big coinky-dink. Or at least that’s CBS’ story and it’s sticking to it.

      Last month, a Cadillac executive, in a magazine article about the impending arrival of the Dr. Catera, joked that there might be some cross-marketing potential. Ha. Ha. Ha.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Owning AMG cars I was longing for a manual and considered this car with my own V8 conversion when they came out with the CTS-V. So I got the later instead. While still own the V I own anothe Saab 9-5 which shares many parts with the Catera.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Going back several years, there were a few Cateras with LSx motors installed by privateers. However, the release of the original CTS-V made them footnotes in the larger scheme of things.

  • avatar
    JCraig

    Correct me if I’m wrong but is this not the same basic engine found in the Saturn L300’s and Saab 9-5 V6t? I suppose those were Opels too to some degree. So you could say that they had three failed products one after another using this strategy (I loved my 9-5 V6t but it was a love affair cut short by fear of impending disaster).

    One would think GM learned something from this, as Saturn never turned a profit, Saab was solidly in the red by the late 90’s, and the Catera was only around for one model.

    So what did GM do different with the Malibu, which has countered this trend?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      GM took an Opel Vectra, Americanized it as the second FWD Malibu, then revised that into the Pontiac G6, revised that into the Saturn Aura, revised that into the third FWD Malibu, then revised that into the second Lacrosse. Meanwhile, Saab turned out a 9-3 derived from that Vectra up at the top, Opel kicked out a new Vectra which got rebadged and sent over here as a Regal, Saab made a 9-5 from that new Vectra, the Regal got tweaked into the fourth FWD Malibu, and the Cadillax XTS fits in here somewhere.

      So, even GM can make a decent car if you give them 20 tries.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Zig!

  • avatar
    roverv8i

    Some have mentioned that the Europeans have a different view of the original cars these types are based on than do the Americans. Makes me wonder what the average mileage for the life span of the cars are in Europe. If you live some were that is about the size or Oregon such as the UK and don’t commute as far on average each day (thinking in terms of when these were new cars), do you you have a different view on reliability?

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Looking at the numbers – American’s (on average) drive 50% more than Germans. Looking at the reliability numbers, I’m willing to bet the average American Lexus or Honda owner encounters the same number of problems per year as the average German Mercedes or VW owner.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        The German inspection regimen is much stricter than the state-based systems in America. Potential problems are corrected faster – or nipped in the bud – in Germany if the person wants to keep the car on the road.

        Clunkers are a rare sight in Germany (or even Great Britain, which also has an inspection system designed to get old cars off the road).

        In general, Americans are much less meticulous about car care and maintenance than most Europeans.

        People also say that driving conditions in Europe are harsher, but that isn’t the case. American driving conditions tend to be much harsher, particularly given our extremes of climate in many areas. Here in Pennsylvania, for example, the summers are much hotter, and the winters much colder, than the same seasons in most of Germany.

        People think that the high speeds on the Autobahn are tougher on a car, but that isn’t necessarily so. One, the cars that are driven at triple-digit speeds are engineered for it. Two, people driving pedestrian VWs, Opels, Fords, Fiats and Renaults are generally driving at 80-85 mph, which isn’t all that much faster than people drive over here (particularly on the interstates located in the West and Midwest). Three, operating a car continuously at that speed isn’t too hard on the vehicle.

        The bottom line is that Toyotas and Hondas are more reliable than VWs and other European brands, and this shows up in both American AND European reliability surveys. If a car is reliable in the hands of the typical American driver, it is a very reliable vehicle.

        The typical American driver who treats his or her car as an appliance and does the least amount of maintenance possible is the acid test for reliabilty, not the fussy German who drives at high speeds on the Autobahn and is a fanatic about car care because the government inspection system requires him or her to be.

        Honda and Toyota are known for reliability Europe, too. If you read the British car magazines, for example, their knock on Honda and Toyota is that they are reliable, but boring. In Great Britain, Honda is viewed as an old person’s car, primarily for the same reasons it is successful as a mainstream car here – it is reliable, comfortable and easy to drive.

      • 0 avatar
        stroker49

        jmo: Yes on average. But also Europe is big and very different in different locations. Sweden is the size and shape of California but we are 9 miljon people here. Climate is like Minnesota or south of Alaska. Little traffic and mostly open roads. Despite living in the more populated south I have to commute over 120 mi every day. 18000 mi/yr is not unusual. Europeans cars works fine and Japanese. Most Omegas sold here were 4-bangers though.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        In general, Americans are much less meticulous about car care and maintenance than most Europeans.

        Is there some sort of electrical system/window regulator maintenance that I’m not aware of?

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      I was in Dublin in 2009 and I saw several of these zipping around, looking virtually identical to the Catera, spoiler and all, as Opels. Not sure when Opel discontinued them, but if it was around the same time as the Catera, you figure those examples would be about ten years old at the time… perhaps they were turbodiesels?

    • 0 avatar
      ckgs

      I don’t get some of these posts defending Euro cars. The annoying (and expensive) problems I’ve had in the 3 German cars I’ve owned were with things that shouldn’t fail, like ABS controllers, window regulators and coil packs. Mileage per year, average driving speed, number of inspections, and maintenance have no effect.

      Doesn’t this same stuff fail in Europe?

  • avatar

    I think the Catera could’ve been a decent car under another division and (possibly) with different engines. It would’ve been a decent Regal or Impala, for example. I drove one last year (review here: http://studentwheels.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/the-caddy-that-zigs/) and, retrospectively, it certainly had some good qualities. Were it not for the engines, I’d consider buying one today. But marketing as a luxury car a vehicle that for all intents and purposes felt like a decent Camcord competitor — well, that was misguided.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Other than the tepid performance of the Catera, my first inkling that Cadillac had a problem was when I saw that one of the buff-book mag’s longterm test Catera (I think it was Autoweek) had so many problems that if it had been a regular buyer’s car, it would have qualified for lemon law buyback.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    This car (and the facepalm-worthy advertising) is ostensibly the reason why the Cadillac badge no longer has any ducks.

  • avatar
    Pahaska

    I brought one home overnight and both my wife and I were totally unimpressed with the car given the price. The dealer wanted top dollar and would give me almost nothing for my well-kept Acura Legend. I told them to stuff it!

  • avatar
    jtk

    I went to a Catera demo day right when they were being introduced. They set up kind of a road course in the parking lot at Arlington Racetrack (horse racing track) and let us drive the Catera around it, along with whatever they thought was the competitor (BMW 328 and a Volvo of some kind are all I really remember).

    First off, they told me to cut it out when I tried to drive the course like an autocross in the Catera. Second, I liked all the other cars way better than the Catera. Even the GM attendants agreed when I shared my opinions.

    Catera was doomed from the start.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Belleau Wood? Good Lord, by the time Caddy was zagging about with this car, its silly duck and its changed logo, nearly all the veterans of that action were taking a permanent dirt nap.

    This was a car positioned for chicks, and to prove it, the General named (I think its first) a female VLE, or some such… and boy, was she ever stoked about the duck and logo thing…

  • avatar
    geeber

    I received an offer for a free gift of my choosing if I test drove a Catera. I took the test drive, and chose to receive the premium steaks that Cadillac was offering (I can’t recall the other choices). I never received the steaks.

    As for the car? It was okay, but nothing spectacular. I didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Apparently, this was the way the market felt in general. I remember reading that they were very unreliable, but Cadillac sold so few that the car really didn’t do long-term damage to the brand.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    The Elsmere 3.0 V6 under the hood made the worst of the worst of the worst of the Iron Dukes look as reliable as a Dodge Slant 6.

    God awful car in so many ways.

  • avatar
    ktm_525

    The old man had one of these. A 95 (first year?). He was one of the lucky ones because it had few problems for the 7 years he ran it. One thing it did have was a n appetite for tires and GM was forever changing the alignment specs. GM replaced 3 sets of tires on their dime IIRC. The earliest Catera were finished the nicest (pleated leather on the doors). Later editions featured hard plastic.

    What was it like to dive? A 200 ish HP V6 backed with the 4 speed auto struggled with the weight off the stoplight. Once up to speed the ride was very solid in an old German Autobahn kind of way. Good brakes. Car felt very heavy for it’s size. RWD made for some good hooning sessions.

  • avatar
    millmech

    Any idea why this example ended up here? It looks like the tensioner pulley/engine grenade is intact.

  • avatar
    Marko

    To me, the Catera looked a lot like a 1997-1998 Pontiac Grand Am from the front and sides. Not something you want a luxury car to look like…

  • avatar
    Rollo Grande

    Where is this beauty located? I am interested in those leather seats.

  • avatar
    nikita

    The marketing didnt work. My oxygen-bottle-toting boss drove one.

  • avatar
    sckid213

    Oh man, you had to include that cringeworthy commercial, didn’t you? I remember these commercials were EVERYWHERE in the late ’90s and I have been trying to forget them ever since.

    As the driver of a current CTS (and I’m pretty sure the “C” stands for “Catera” — or did, at some point), I’m actually kind of glad that nobody really remembers the Catera very well.

    My parents were shopping for a Cadillac in 1997 or so. My dad had his heart set on a Deville, and being a teenager at the time, I was trying my hardest to get him to buy a more “modern” Cadillac — at least an STS or something!

    I remember sitting in a new Catera in the showroom, and to be honest, it made a pretty good first impression at the time. Modern interior layout, good quality materials, and a nice solid German “thud” when you closed the doors. My dad wouldn’t even look at the Catera — to him it just wasn’t a “real” Cadillac, which was true. He still bought the Deville (a regular Deville, not a “sporty” Concours version like I was pushing for), which turned out to be a great car for his needs and for our family.

    Despite the reliability problems, these cars weren’t really Cimmaron-level bad, and despite the fact that they seem really cheesy now, the ads were more or less in line with advertising at the (more innocent) time. The “Sport” version they came out with toward the end of the Catera’s run actually looked pretty sharp, but of course by then it was too late.

    Cadillac has come far since the mid-1990s. Their vehicles are much better, and so are their ads: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6HXPowxZCs

  • avatar
    skor

    Back in the day, Cadillac and Lincoln went after the WWII gen. It made sense, this was a large and affluent demographic in its peak earning years.

    When the boomers hit their stride, they went for European and Japanese performance sedans. Cadillac, and to a lesser degree, Lincoln, tried the “me approach”. Unfortunately, Cadillac and Lincoln had such a strong brand identities, the boomers ignored them, even when they offered fairly decent cars, like the LS. In the mind of the boomers, Cadillac and Lincoln meant big, heavy, soft and garish.

    What’s happened since then? The WWII gen is mostly dead….the few survivors hooked up to oxygen bottles….and the boomers are applying for social security benefits. Sports sedans for the boomer demographic will be out soon. The above demographic will soon be demanding big and soft….just like the portions at Olive Garden. Will the Germans and Japanese be able to deliver. This is a fantastic opportunity for Cadillac and Lincoln to play to their strengths. The future for high price autos: Catering to the dessicated boomers. The X and Yer’s will be hard pressed to kept their mountain bike operating.

    Forget the sports sedans, Cadillac and Lincoln, the boomers will be looking for motorized La-Z-Boys but tricked out a bit differently then their parents’ cars.

  • avatar
    albert

    I want to set a few things straight:
    a. average mileage in the USA is not much higher than in the UK or Germany or the rest of Europe. Yes, it is a little higher but not much.
    b. The Opel Omega, on which the Catera was based on, was one of the worst cars in terms of reliability one could find. Always last in the lists, except the last two years they were built (the long nose variants).
    The Omega A succeeded a very successful Opel Rekord E. But Opel designed not only a new body, they also started with a new engine, gearbox, rear axle, etc. And on top of that they built it in a completely new factory. That is asking too much in automotive land. To many things to go wrong.
    And then there were the troubles with mr. Lopez! Trying to squeeze out the suppliers. Well, they got GM by the b*lls, by delivering sh*tty quality.
    When customers came complaining: nobody home in the after sales department. Sorry, sir no guarantee in this case. Almost no follow up on problems because all the engineers were doing work on other problems for other parts of the world (like development on a car called Catera)
    This was the car that started to chase the customers away in hurdles. And they never came back.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      average mileage in the USA is not much higher than in the UK or Germany or the rest of Europe.

      According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, the average distance traveled by car per year in the EU is about 14,000 km. http://www.acea.be/news/news_detail/vehicles_in_use/

      According to the US Department of Transportation, the average US driver drives about 13,500 miles per year. http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/onh00/bar8.htm Convert that to metric, and that amounts to more than 21,600 km.

      By that measure, American drivers are driving about 50% more than European drivers. That difference is not statistically insignificant.

      According to Eurostat, the average person in the EU 27 traveled 9300 km by car, versus 24,300 km for the average American. http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-DA-09-001/EN/KS-DA-09-001-EN.PDF

      I would suggest that you revisit your assumptions.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      average mileage in the USA is not much higher than in the UK or Germany or the rest of Europe.

      According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, the average distance traveled by car per year in the EU is about 14,000 km.

      According to the US Department of Transportation, the average US driver drives about 13,500 miles per year. Convert that to metric, and that amounts to more than 21,600 km.

      By that measure, American drivers are driving about 50% more than European drivers. That difference is not statistically insignificant.

      According to Eurostat, the average person in the EU 27 traveled 9,300 km by car per year, versus 24,300 km for the average American. That’s a difference of over two-and-one-half times. http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-DA-09-001/EN/KS-DA-09-001-EN.PDF

      I would suggest that you revisit your assumptions.

  • avatar
    Idemmu

    The Catera should be given more credit than it currently enjoys. For one, The Catera was the the next step in a re-imagined Cadillac (Escalade being the first I think). I Have no proof, but I am sure that the Cadillac was a test bed for what Youngsters would want to see in a Cadillac. The fact the the Catera was pretty generic as luxury cars go, left ample room for criticism on what would make an ok car much better. The Catera’s v6 was the intro engine in the CTS, and the Catera was the first RWD Cadillac car in forever. The engine was one of those mills that demanded rigorous maintenance habits. The Catera was a ballsy move by Cadillac, and I would have taken one of these things over a lexus ES any day just because it felt more sporty.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    What NN said. Incredibly reliable (gas n’ go until 100k) Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans have allowed to reset our expectation.

    Every time one of our european cars acts up/out (we’ve had a Audi, Merc, BMC, Volvo, and now Saab….but never at the same time), I always curse the decision to buy it during their frequent acting out periods. The sweet, sweet drive once its fixed allows me to go back to the abusive relationship. I can only imagine what Jag and LR owners feel….

    So….what can’t the euros build a car as reliable as Asia?

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      So….what can’t the euros build a car as reliable as Asia?

      As an example – IMHO the C-class Mercedes has a much more premium feel on the road than the Lexus IS. It just feels much smoother and more sophisticated. I presume, given similar development budgets, Mercedes tends to put engineering resources into certain areas (like ride quality) while Lexus tends to err on being more reliable.

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    It’s unusual that you’ve never seen a Catera in a scrapyard; last time I visted the LKQ near my house there were three of them.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    We had a dealer kept one at the auction this morning. No check engine lights. Everything seemed to be in good shape. Leather not cracked. 108k miles overall.

    It went for $2500.

    A Saab 9-5 that I bought with the same miles (but different engine) went for around $2100 a few weeks ago.

    Why so little? Because these vehicles can be brutal when it comes diagnosing and resolving check engine lights and electrical issues. They also doesn’t have the look that most finance customers want. No exterior presence. Weird dashboard. Not luxurious like a typical Cadillac.

    The Catera doesn’t depreciate. It doesn’t appreciate… and they will be passed up as finance fodder ten times out of ten compared with the 3.8L V6 used in GM’s lesser brands.

    Not even the Cadillac emblem can save this vehicle from the weaknesses within.

  • avatar

    1) These vehicles still register in the “New Car” part of my brain…it hurts me to think how long ago the late 90s was.

    2) While my completely Motor Trended brain was happy to see a decent enough rear-drive Caddy coming out, I remember the how distinctly lame “The Caddy that Zigs” seemed compared to “The Ultimate Driving Machine”…both as slogans and actual vehicles. Matching the Catera against the E39 is just sad.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Classic eurotrash. Anytime the Domestics try to grab a new platform from their euro divisions they screw it up. First they americanize it “to make it more appealing” which means that they remove any sort of goodness from the platform. Then they plaster weird names on them and shove them out into the market. Generally they have unusual requirements, tire/wheel sizes, strange appetites for premium fluids and extra special fittings that have to be adjusted on a regular basis. By who? The dealer mechanics of course, which may or may not have shop manuals, metric/odd sized tools, and your car may the first one he’s ever seen. Guinea pig?

    And people wonder why these things don’t last.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      I’ll grant the weird name thing, but my (Merkur) Scorpio had very little in the way of modifications made to federalize it. Naturally it had to have the US spec bumpers and headlamps, but they did their best to make them a similar looking to the Euro bumpers/lamps of the period. By 1988, Ford was using EEC-IV in Europe as well as here, so the engine had very little in the way of changes, save for the catalyst, which were becoming available/optional in Europe at the time.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    Obviously this engine is missing a few parts but it doesn’t look like the timing belt would be too incredibly difficult to replace. Take the fan, serpentine belt, and timing cover off and it looks you’d have direct access to the timing belt without having to remove the water pump, harmonic balancer, oil pan, or anything else.

  • avatar

    The Catera was such a boring and stale looking design. This, along with the GTO, really needed major styling work before they sold them here, but of course GM didn’t invest the money.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Like the GTO that followed the public wasn’t fooled taking a bland generic design and sticking a storied name or car company on the trunklid and a steep pricetag in the window. This was still the time era when many people wanted eye catching, larger sized V8 powered comfort cruisers and those that wanted the hard riding handling on rails feel, austere cold Germanic type of vehicle went right to BMW/Mercedes. Add in a quirky engine that no Caddilac dealer wanted to work on, hard to obtain parts and sub par reliability and it’s really no surprise at the cars lack of popularity.

  • avatar
    and003

    This article reminds me of a story I found in a GM performance magazine about someone who installed a Corvette motor in his Cadillac Catera. He would have had an easier time of it if GM had designed it to accept a Vette motor during its inception. :-)

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I agree with the previous poster, about commonality due to location. I know there are TWO of these on my street, still being run today, and both look like they’re in good shape. One is black, the other silver. Both of them are the later version, with the separate tail lamps with LED turn indicators. (The revised rear looks much better to me than this one, which is too close to that Malibu/Cutlass they peddled about this time). Aside from the ones that live on my street, I bet I see one a week out and about on the roads.


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