By on September 5, 2012

The very first car in my Down On The Street series was a Cadillac Cimarron d’Oro. That was 2007, and I didn’t see another Cimarron d’Oro until last weekend, when I spotted this car in an Oakland self-service wrecking yard.
A lot of folks will tell you that the Cimarron destroyed Cadillac’s prestige image, damage that took until this century to repair. Ate Up With Motor‘s Aaron Severson thinks the ’76 Seville was what torpedoed Cadillac, and I’m on board with those who believe that Cadillac’s pursuit of big sales numbers in the late 1960s and early 1970s— plus simple demographics as the Baby Boomers started buying smaller cars around that time— was the root of the problem. Anyway, the Cimarron was emblematic of a long downward spiral by GM’s luxury division, and the d’Oro package (with its gold emblems and grille) really does an excellent job of highlighting the fact that this car is a very, very thinly disguised Chevy Cavalier.


“The smaller dream.” Cadillac buyers didn’t want to dream small!
This isn’t the Iron Duke engine, which would have been too rough even for the Cadillac of Diminished Expectations, but it is the nearly-as-miserable Opel-designed 122 pushrod engine. Later Cimarrons could be had with the 2.8 liter (pushrod) V6.
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64 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1983 Cadillac Cimarron d’Oro...”


  • avatar
    Morea

    Glory be, it has a manual transmission!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    You can blame the gas crunch of the 1970′s and again in 1981. Yes, many of us, me included, moved to small(er) cars. Us? I bought a used Gremlin after I sold my two-year-old Chevy ¾-ton truck after I got married in 1977, then bought a 1981 Reliant and assorted K-derivatives throughout the decade, up to the mid-1990′s.

    The Cimarron was a disaster for GM and Cadillac, but that just added fuel to the X-car and rear-door-sealed-windows fire. That was OK, though, as I was mad at GM and Chevy since the 1973 MY…

    What’s amazing about the Cimarron, though, is that some people actually bought them with their own money!

  • avatar
    craiger

    I remember a Cadillac print ad from the time referring to the Cimarron as “America’s BMW.”

    I also recall a spirited conversation with a proud Cimarron owner who insisted that the Cavalier was based on the Cimarron, not the other way around.

    Just sad.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Many years ago, I worked with a young woman who was a bit of a poseur and had one of these. Another co-worker used to dig at her with lines like, “Hey, I didn’t know you could get leather seats in a Cavalier!”

    You are right about the multitude of things that knocked Cadillac for a loop. This one was definitely significant; Caddy lost a lot of credibility with this turkey and 30 years later it still resonates as one of their biggest faux pas.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    Is the duct tape on the leather seats part of an accent package on the d’Oro?

  • avatar

    I actually agree with the Seville as the first step toward mediocrity. I had a 73 Nova at the time, and a GF’s parents had a Seville. It was easy to see and feel the Nova’s frame….and handling. A velour seat and bustle trunk didn’t hide the plebian mechanicals.

    • 0 avatar

      “I actually agree with the Seville as the first step toward mediocrity”.

      I’d actually place the first step toward mediocrity a few years earlier, with the ’71-’76 models…when Cadillac’s chase for market share went full-tilt.

      The Seville was the next step.

      Cimarron was the all-time low.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      In GM’s defense they did a better job of hiding the Seville’s Nova parentage than Ford did with their Granada/Versailles. The only good thing I can say about the Versailles is that they provided a lot of guys with cheap disc brake and 9 inch rear upgrades for early Falcon and Mustang projects.

    • 0 avatar
      chicagoland

      There was no ‘bustle trunk’ on the RWD Seville. That was the FWD one.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I like the factory installed wooden clothespin on the spark plug wires……

    I still have a 1980 Cadilliac S & S Victoria Hearse , it’s built on the Fleetwood Limo Chassis and is in fact , a pretty good Touring Rig .

    Back when X-Cars were in , I worked for The LAX Airport and we had a whole fleet of them ~ wretched cars indeed .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    bkrell

    In retrospect, I drove an ’82 3 series and I’d be hard pressed to say the interior was any better…

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The ’83 had the goofy vertical radio, IIRC. It was spartan and plain, but it had much better fit and finish, much more legible and higher quality instruments, infinitely better front seats, far more durable materials, and far higher quality controls. Every use of a Cimarron turn signal was a reminder that you bought a car from a company that thought you were garbage.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Brings back memories of the turn signal lever in my folk’s ’85 Olds ’98 – always felt like it would break off in your hand. Just a cheap and nasty bit of plastic.

        On of my cousins had a late V6 Cimmaron. By then they were not THAT bad, but the damage had certainly been done.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    In a lot of cars, an odometer with 99K and the cars age would make you wonder how many times around it has been.

    In this thing, probably never went around.

    I remember when these and the Cavalier first came out, some magazine praised these over the Chevy because the rubber bushings in this thing were so much better, making a better ride and handling car.

    • 0 avatar
      vwgolf420

      Have no doubt that it never turned over. when I was a kid, my mother had a 1986 Cavalier and it made the garage floor look like Valdez, Alaska. Threw a rod at 40,000 miles.

  • avatar
    raph

    I had a shop teacher that loved these things and things (thing is giving a cimmarron to much credit) like them – “Deproliferation boys, just think you can go right down to your local Chevy dealer and pick up a water pump or or a fender, its the future”

    My retort; “if you can go to a Chevy dealer and get parts for your Cadillac, GM is laughing all the way to the bank”

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      We did it the other way around … By 1978 or so, the passenger side Wiper Transmission failed in our Chevy Kingswood – by then the hack car assigned to those of us old enough to drive but without our own vehicles). And to get the wipers working on both sides, I called the auto parts store, not stocked. Called the Chevy dealer, out of stock, no longer carried. Couldn’t find a similar vehicle in the couple of junk yards in our town. Thought about it and realized that most of those GM cars had same shaped windshields and a pillars at same angle, so called Jack Cauley Caddilac and asked if the had one and if it was same as Chevy’s: Bingo!

      Moral of story? GM was on the path of progressive deproliferation since Day One, but in the X-cars it reached ridiculous and unsustainable proportions!

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    I just picture the designers back in the day putting this thing together and laughing about it.

    No way they could have taken this seriously.

  • avatar

    The fog machine/smoke machine effect on the YouTube video is not so good. It almost looks like the thing burst a head gasket during the video shoot and had antifreeze pouring on the hot exhaust manifold.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Ganso d’Oro.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    Behold the GM Albatross, a gold-plated turd that single-handedly destroyed the image that was Cadillac. Took the brand and GM 30 years to get the stink of that tar-baby off their hands.

    Thanks for attaching the commercial. I haven’t laughed so hard in months. ‘Sporty handling’ and ‘responsive 2.0L engine’ had me in stitches.

    • 0 avatar
      Volts On Fire

      The stink hasn’t left, at least with discriminating buyers with some sense.

      • 0 avatar
        Ron B.

        well said, Todays Cadillacs count as the ugliest cars to hit the road since the Bangled BMW’s.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        Cadillac’s styling leaves me cold as well, but the brand is actually trying to become the standard of the world again, instead of just nostalging over it.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I can’t say that I like the Cadillac “Arts and Science” styling theme, BUT I give them major kudos for not looking like anything else. You see one, and you know it is a Cadillac, and I think that is a good thing. Distinction is important in that market, and a Cadillac should be somewhat “in your face” in my opinion.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Amen brothers. While the Cimmaron is the bigger turd by far, the current faux Teutonic line are just as much of a joke IMO. Cadillac’s should be very exclusive, stylish, powerful, and showy and definitely not polarizing… i.e. “look at me I’m special”… not “the 5 series was too expensive” or “I’m different for the sake of being different”.

  • avatar
    raph

    “This isn’t the Iron Duke engine, which would have been too rough even for the Cadillac of Diminished Expectations, but it is the nearly-as-miserable Opel-designed 122 pushrod engine.”

    Thats funny, even the same era Pontiac Sunbird featured an OHC engine with a turbocharged option to boot. Granted it was only a 2v engine but OHC none the less.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      While I don’t bother in the pointless OHC vs OHV debate, I do make distinctions between good and bad engines, and while the Iron Duke was an excellent small truck engine, it was absolutely miserable when pressed into passenger car use. The “Brazil” OHC engine was an outstanding power plant for small passenger car use, and in turbocharged trim I can understand why the Corvette team fought to keep it out of Pontiac’s Fiero, which had already been hobbled with the 2.5/Tech IV/Iron Duck. I don’t recall if the 1.8/2.0 was ever offered in the Cimarron, but it should have been.

      Sadly the last hurrah of the Brazil engine never reached production: a variant of the turbomotor fitted with an air-to-water intercooler which was producing between 185 and 200 horsepower according to various reports.

      • 0 avatar
        texan01

        Uh, the OHC 1.8 was a miserable engine. My sister’s 84 Sunbird had the 1.8 and automatic. The car was purchased in 1989 with 49,000 miles on it, it was a noisy and rough running thing. NVH was not its forte. It sounded awful at full chat, and thanks to the crap single barrel TBI had a very lazy throttle response unless you got it up over 3 grand.

        Nor was it particularly good at motivating the car, as my malaise/disco era fat pig of a Chevelle with the smog strangled 305 was adept at out running it, and getting better mileage with me driving it vs me driving the ‘turd. (14mpg vs 10 for the ‘turd)

        It had a bad habit of blowing head gaskets if you held it over 4,000 rpm (above 85mph) for sustained periods of time, by the time it hit 150,000 miles – 10 years later – it had 3 head gaskets, 3 water pumps, 3 timing belts, was in need of a rebuild as it was starting to wear the cam bearings out, and the rods were starting to get a little loose. And despite all new motor mounts, it still rattled the car like a paint shaker. It did get good mileage though. It was kept in good tune by dad and I.

        The MPFI turbo motor on the other hand, was a decent motor, but still suffered from many of the same faults as the NA OHC unit.

        I’ve no love lost on either unit. I personally thought the pushrod 2.0 offered in the Cavalier was the smoother engine, even if it was a leaker and the OHC wasn’t.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        I had a 1984 Sunbird purchased from an aunt with 49K miles or so, and commuted 15 miles one-way to school for three years, after which my brother drove it for several years–don’t know how many miles he put on it before he finished school at OSU and traded it for his first new car.

        The 1.8 OHC was decent enough for a commuter. However, the $500 head-gasket repair on a college-student’s budget, combined with a problem on my Dad’s 1986 Century V6 which could not be found (until a TSB was discovered by a mechanic friend a couple years after he dumped it) made me and my family a Honda family. Traded the Century and Mom’s 1983 Regal Custom Sedan for Mom’s 1990 Civic EX, my Dad leased a 1991 Accord EX, and never looked back!

        (Well, except after my brother impressed my Mom with his ’99 Passat, my Mom bought a 2000 MkIV Jetta. She learned the error of her ways, and bought a 2007 Civic a couple years ago–22K on the clock, and like-new! My Dad’s had an Accord every five years, and won’t buy anything else–his 2011 is his fifth! I’ll buy my third Accord, a 2013, in a month or two after the noise dies down from the launch of the new model.)

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    What a disaster this car was! It wasn’t even a good Chevrolet let alone an Olds or Cadillac (Buick, Pontiac either).I remember reading a label on a new Cimarron at one of my Olds-Cadillac duals that warned “This car is equipped with special tires that are required to maintain its original ride quality.” I wondered where an owner could get new force ground tires when the original set wore out!
    We suffered with these cars in the premium divisions due to CAFE, and a huge embarassment for me was seeing a mural painted on the wall of the once proud Oldsmobile Engineering Center in Lansing after it became the Small Car Group engineering center. Olds had been a classy place back in the day and the image of a Cimarron among the other J and N products now engineered in the center was just sophomorish and cheesy, to my eyes.

    Those were very dark days. CAFE was the driver for these small cars, but the massive reorganization that was just beginning and would take decades to work out also contributed to this low point in GM product design.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      “We suffered with these cars in the premium divisions due to CAFE”. Doc, I know you laboured hard at GM back in the day, but that was the talking point of the failure of Cadillac, not the true reason. The Cimarron was supposed to be the American BMW, the small, sporty luxury car for the Yuppie set, but GM didn’t want to spend the money in such things as engineering and went with extremely poor design and ham-fisted marketing. The fact that this car helped GM meet some CAFE regulations was just a bonus. CAFE became the conservative argument to defend the deplorable actions of the executive office and batter gummint regulations instead of dealing with GM’s own failure.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        CAFE was not the “conservative” argument for cars like the Cimarron, it was the excuse used by GM from the top down as well as their still loyal customers. GM had been building garbage for years and the Cimarron was just the latest and possibly worst example.

        Growing up in Michigan in the 1970′ and 1980′s there were plenty of people of all political stripes who rationalized GM’s behavior and product quality. GM loyalty was not a left/right political issue at the time.

        Not every issue need to be seen through a liberal vs. conservative prism. The interjection of politics into every issue is getting old.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        Toad, wasn’t running this through a prism. The ’80s were a hallowed time of Union breaking pushed by certain political parties, period. It was, and remains, a talking political point regardless of stripe. I do agree with you that GM, Ford, and Chrysler had been building crap for years and would continue to do so; however, the American auto malaise blame rose was pinned to the Unions and the Gummint regulators, not the corporate honchoes and board members, for building and selling crap cars.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        These cars were an afterthought to the B-O-C divisions in particular.
        We were doing very very well building cars to please customers rather than meeting regulator’s demands. CAFE forced a severe stress on American makers uniquely. The others just brought in what they sold in markets interested in fuel efficiency.

        Americans aren’t. Witness trucks command 1/2 the market with today’s prices.

        These stresses combined with unsustainable labor contractual obligations dried up product development funds. You write as if that was a choice, not a harsh reality imposed on all of us in the US auto sector.
        It is unknowable how GM would have done without the intrusion of CAFE. The company certainly would have lost share just by the entry of so many very good competitors. The days when one of four midsize cars was a Cutlass and two more were other GM brands could not last, but it sure would have been nice if our government in conjunction with their friends in the UAW had allowed US makers to engineer their product and adjust their costs in line with competitive demands.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      A lot of people don’t realize just how bad things really were. I was once picked up from a Wailuku appointment by my father, who had been given a loaner Pontiac J-2000 while his pickup truck was being serviced. Dad had already noticed one especially repugnant feature in the car, and asked me if I could figure it out before we returned the loaner and took his truck back up the mountain. It took me 2 stop lights before I got it: the automatic transmission was freewheeling! In order to obtain a decent fuel consumption figure, the transmission would freewheel during lift-throttle until you put the selector into its lowest setting, whereupon it would engage the tallest gear for engine braking. I can imagine my father’s shock the first time he lifted and the expected slowing effect was not there. The next time I rode in another example of that platform was 10 years later, when as passenger in a well-kept Cimarron I still noticed the brake-eating freewheeling transmission feature.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      You could pretty much label me I-hate-CAFE.com so I am in the camp who blames dot gov for things like the Cimmaron… but there was another genuine factor at play here: fear over the 1979 Iranian crisis.

      I watched a documentary on youtube about Lee Iacocca and the 1979 Chrysler bailout. They interviewed a gentleman who was a Chrysler executive at the time IIRC, and apparently after the Iranian crisis there was a very real fear of a prolonged oil embargo in Washington and in Detroit’s boardrooms. Chrysler and presumably GM’s analysts took this to heart and their next generation planning all went for fuel efficient (GM diesel, Cadillac 4100 etc) and/or small cars (K-car everything) because they were projecting $3.00 gas by 1985.

      Can you speak to any of that Doc Olds?

  • avatar
    p161911

    But BMW copied the looks when the 4-door E30 came out.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in the late 80′s a firm I worked for had a leased 86 Cimmaron, loaded with the optional 2.8. Basically a Z-24 It actually was not a bad ride far better than the loathsome x-car. It also handled quite well with the optional F-41 suspension pkg. But worthy of the Cadillac wreath and crest?, no way.If Cadillac wanted a 3-series fighter they should have just badge engineered an Opel. Oh wait they finally did that in the 90′s and look where that led.

    • 0 avatar
      mr_muttonchops

      Didn’t it eventually lead to the CTS, which is a decent car? The Catera could have been good, but it was heavily bogged down by luxury features.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        True the CTS is world class but GM should have created a decent sport sedan which eventually led to the CTS back in the 80′s instead of a rebadged Cavalier.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Claw

      I actually had the same idea. For some reason, even though it is seen as a somewhat ordinary car in Europe, the Opel Ascona (badge-engineered) felt and looked a lot more European.

      Remembering the Catera, one of the things I disliked about its “translation” was the Bowdlerizing of the dashboard… an Opel Omega looks Teutonic on the inside. On the Catera, it looked right cheap with the “Chevy”-like parts and gauges.

  • avatar
    mr_muttonchops

    In my tiny community college, I see all sorts of unusual/unique cars. In one day I saw a Merc 300D, a Duster (with period-accurate political stickers) a MGB… And a Cimarron. The Cimarron is the one that made me just stop and be like “… the fuck?” before bursting into laughter.

    This car will always be one of the weirdest things GM did, simply because it’s such a terrible idea.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    A Cimarron in its natural habitat. GM seem to made it for the junkyard from day one, it looks it really belongs there. And I’m sure that’s where Cadillac executives of today wishes they all end up, or even better, already scrapped and on the way to China.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Bustle trunk Seville was FWD – not Nova. Nova Seville was better value than a Silver Shadow and more reliable than an XJ12. The 450 SEL was top.

    The Cim was Junk-car snob progression from Cavaliar>Pontiac>Buick>Olds. British Leyland sinned similar with something called Vanden Plas 1500/1750.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Personally I don’t think , given the times and the gas crisis , etc . of the time , the Seville , at least the first gen Seville , can be blamed for Cadillac’s failures . When the Seville came out , several of my aunts / uncles bought them , none who had bought Cads before , thinking them too glitzy and tacky . And given the price premium on a Seville back then it must have made a profit . I do think Cadillac began cheapening its interiors in the early seventies to where they looked cheesier than contemporary Buicks or even Pontiacs , with some of the nastiest , phoniest woodgrain I had ever seen . The Cimmaron and the awful V4-6-8 and diesel engines much more showed Cadillac’s decline . The 5-speed manual was extremely rare back in the day for a Cimmaron and showed up a couple of years after it was intoduced , to replace a 4- speed , which based on my experience with a V-6 , 4-speed Omega I drove once which was absolutely dreadful .

  • avatar
    rudiger

    The ironic thing about the Cimmaron is that it really wasn’t too bad for a Cavalier – it was just a really bad Cadillac!

    The only problem would be there was probably even less of a market for a tarted-up, expensive Cavalier than the Cimmaron. Maybe if the Cimmaron had been marketed as, say, a Buick or Oldsmobile, things would have been different.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    Usually in the comments section someone will make the “by the end of their run” post, pointing out that eventually GM/Chrysler/Ford got the bugs worked out. And eventually they usually did. Unfortunately for US manufacturers and GM especially, people got tired of paying tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of being a beta tester.
    Once Japan realized American buyers with Cadillac money were willing to buy Japanese cars, Lexus was born, and they haven’t looked back.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    One thing I never understood was why the Cimarron was based on the Cavalier and not on the Skyhawk/Firenza. Sure, the differences were minor, but people had accepted for a long time Cadillacs being closely related to a Buick or Olds (Electra/DeVille, Toronado/Eldorado). The Olds/Buick instrument panel, in the fully kitted out version with a full set of gauges in four round dials, was a lot more BMW-esque than the Cavalier dash. That, and the V6 option should have been available from the get-go. Would this have made the Cimarron a great car? No, of course not, but it would at least have created some impression that GM was trying.

  • avatar
    84Cressida

    I’ve seen just two of these in my life. The first was well over 5 years ago, and the 2nd was a few months ago. I laughed hysterically each time, just because it is one the worst cars to have ever disgraced these roads. The Cavaliers were junk enough, this thing took it to a new level. The execs behind this car hopefully live in shame.


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