By on October 22, 2012

After not seeing a single Catera on the street for several years, I ran into this ’98 Catera in a Denver wrecking yard over the winter. That’s the last time I’ll see one of those, I thought, but then a 24 Hours of LeMons team raced a Catera in South Carolina (as the ill-advised result of all my demands for a LeMons Catera). That Cadillac failed spectacularly, of course… and now here’s another Catera in a Denver junkyard!
The only remnant of the “Caddy That Zigs” campaign that survives today is the simplified Cadillac emblem. You know, because kids these days don’t have the attention span to take in a really complex emblem— they just like the ducks!
I prefer the version of Ziggy the Duck that was painted on the hood of the Team Douchebags That Zig race car.
This Catera made it to 139,347 miles, which comes to nearly 10,000 miles per year of life.
Because Broncos fans hate the Raiders, the Raider Nation decals on this no-doubt-imported-from-California Cadillac have been scratched out.
Where did GM find this leather that looks and feels so much like thick vinyl?
Car writers back in the late 1990s really wanted to like this car, but it just wasn’t happening. Opel products (other than the Chevette) have just never done well in North America.

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72 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1997 Cadillac Catera...”


  • avatar

    Against my advice, my brother purchased a Catera in 2007. He traded it in on a truck only 1.5 years later, but he was paying the repair bills on his credit cards for a few years. It’s anecdotal evidence, but I would dare to claim that the Catera is worse than the Cimarron.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    I almost bought one to do a V8 or Buick turbo conversion but then the 2004 CTS-V came out and I got that instead. It’s replacement was much better car and about the best GM had at the time.

    I still see a few Catera’s running around Ohio. Maybe it was an older person’s car that didn’t drive but they faired much better in rust belt Cleveland than some Camry’s of similar years.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    In the know customers could also have that “Cadillac” engine in a V6 Saturn L-series at half the price of a Catera. Oh what a feeling ….

  • avatar

    These were one of the first cars to have Homelink built into the auto-dimming rearview mirror. As a first generation product, it made the mirror kinda big, but I grabbed one at the junkyard any way. Maybe some day I’ll actually find a use for it.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    @SV650- I recall seeing a GM company car, an Opel with a SC3800 on the road in SE Michigan. I had high hopes we would see some higher powered powertrains here. Opel’s version of this car was available with a small block V8, Too bad we didn’t offer them here. Too thirsty for Europe, though. OEM parts to do it are available and it seems that the chassis is OK, but the CTS-V has the chassis tuning and brakes. It is a much better car as well.

    The german design, english assembled V6 engine was a high cost, high maintenance, QRD nightmare. We extended engine warranty to 100,00 miles, but it was too little, too late. Engine replacements were around $16,000 IIRC.

    • 0 avatar
      Battles

      The V8 Omega was never offically produced for Europe.
      The Holden versions had the LS1 in the same state of tune as was proposed for Europe but there was an issue, or possibly a fear of an issue, with cooling at Autobahn speeds so it was dropped.

      There was a test, probably informal or possibly a German TUV mandated, that had cars running at top speed for one full tank of fuel to simulate Autobahn conditions. The V8 Omega needed a redesigned front clip to pass this test and there was no budget for the work.

      Ford and Vauxhall/Opel struggled with their exec models from the early 90s against the premium German brands so dropping an LS1 into a car that was already losing sales to the entry level BMWs and Benzes might not have helped much.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I wanted to like these cars as underneath they were Opel Senators, IIRC. But, they were way out of my price range back then. Time has proven these weren’t great cars.

    Oddly, I still see a few around my area, mostly the later ones. With a finer grid on the grille and wide spoked 5 spoke style wheels, they don’t look half bad actually.

    I’d heard somewhere that there was a Catera with an LS1 in it that was supposed to be a mule for the first version of the CTS-V. Additionally, I think Lingenfelter (or was it Mallett?) was offering SBC conversions for these cars. THOSE would have been fun.

    The V8 should have been an option from the factory for the US market at that time. At least if it’s not going to be a great car, it should be quick!

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      I drove a 2001 for about 1/2 a year, as it was provided by my employer.

      It had a better ride, a more solid chassis, and even the motor made nicer sounds than a Mercedes C class of equivalent age.

      It actually felt as solid as anything one would expect to come out of the heart of Teutoniclandia, as these were built in Rüsselsheim, Germany.

      Reliability-wise, I heard they were long term headaches, though…

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        Oddly, I still see Cateras up here in Canada every week. They may have had early problems with timing belts and oil coolers, but they seem to stand up very well to Canadian winters. Other Cadillacs, Buicks and Olds of the era are mostly rusted out hoopties by now, but Cateras typically still look as good as a 5 series or C class of the era – also known for being very rust resistant and finished with very high quality paint.

        I’ve been seriously tempted pick up a Catera as a winter beater, now that they are dirt cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      Viquitor

      The Senator was already dead by then. The Catera was actually a rebadged Opel Omega. They came out of the very same assembly line. But if you must get a V8 Catera there’s always the Pontiac GTO to go after.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Senator vs. Omega, I couldn’t remember for sure. Thanks!

        At least in North America, the only other thing I would have liked to add to the GTO/Monaro was a four door variant. For marketing reasons that would never happen, but this could have been it.

        We got it later anyway, with the Pontiac G8. And with the advent of the Chevy SS (in North America), we’ll get it again.

      • 0 avatar
        iainthornton

        The Omega wasn’t quite the Senator. The Senator was longer, as I remember. They were sold alongside each other in the prior generation.

  • avatar
    NotFast

    Anyone else remember “Lisa Catera” or was that a regional ad?

    • 0 avatar
      mjz

      I thought Lisa Catera was a character on “E.R.” when Cadillac was one of the sponsors.

    • 0 avatar

      That was a national TV/Radio campaign.

      First the TV ads came out inviting you to “Lease A Catera for $*** a month, see your Cadillac dealer” with the inquisitively-read tag line” “Who IS Lisa Catera?”

      Then GM bought a schedule on the CBS-TV show “Chicago Hope” and indeed a “Dr. Lisa Catera” appeared. I thought it was Carla Gugino, but looked it up to be sure. She was actually played by Stacy Edwards and lasted two seasons…or about as long as any new Cadillac Catera lasted.

  • avatar
    mjz

    I had the misfortune of leasing a Catera or Craptera as I later referred to it. I was on a first name basis with the service manager, nothing really MAJOR, but lots of annoying things. The entire intrument panel lighting went out. It made an annoying high pitched little “squeak” sort of sound which they could never figure out (I always thought it was the interior temperature sensor, nonetheless it drove me crazy, especially because most people couldn’t hear it). The final insult was when I was turning the car in at the end of the lease. I had let it sit in the driveway for about two months as I was over miles, when I got in the car, the rear foot well area was covered in several inches of water (the car was parked on an incline). The service manager asked me if I had ever parked it under a tree (huh?) and told me that the windshield well drain would plug up with leaves and the water overflow would leak into the interior. He told me it was an $800 repair and I would have to claim it on my insurance! Fortunately, my salesman was a friend and he took the car back as it was. When I left the dealership my last memory of it was the car sitting on the lot with all the doors open and the floor mats on the roof of the car, trying to dry out. Best things about it were the heated front and rear (rare at the time) heated seats, and the color, a metallic called Sage.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Nice customer service! They told you about a design flaw and then attempted to bill you for it.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Not really a design flaw as any vehicle’s sunroof drain can plug up with leaves and cause the same situation. Maybe you’re being sarcastic, I dunno.

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        It’s a design flaw if the drain clogs up too easily or repeatedly. Like the 80’s J-car air conditioning system that clogged up and drained all the condensation onto the passenger floor. When I had a Skyhawk I had to have that cleaned out every couple of months.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Sad to say, this is more common than you think. Older 3 Series convertibles are know for plugging the drains in the rear well for the top, allowing water into the trunk. My friend has had this problem and they are a bear to access. Interesting to note the aftermarket came to the rescue with a liquid Drano type of product that he used to clean his 3’s drains. It worked like a charm. I used some to clear the drain line on my ancient Sable’s sunroof drains and it was flowing clear in 5 minutes….

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      My 40,000 1993 dollars Land Cruiser does this as well. I will say this though…I owned a first gen Saturn Vue with this same motor and was unimpressed that servicing the failure proned thermostat required removal of the intake manifold.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Too bad about the Catera. My biggest issue with these – not knowing anything about the innards – was styling. They just looked too much like either an enlarged Cavalier or a slightly shrunken Lumina.

    They just didn’t stand out as a Cadillac.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      I disagree. Compared to the overstyled cartoonish cars of today, and the frankly weird looking CTS coupes, I think the Catera has an understated elegance to it. Maybe a little bland in grey, but I think a well-kept black or green one has a classy look that has aged quite well.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    I have a few friends that attended SCAD. They’ve mentioned a process called Deconstructive Critique. It’s basically several instructors and people in your field looking over your work and then giving their opinion. It usually starts with something like “I can see what you’re trying to do here but/however ….” then 30 minutes of ripping your soul out as they find every little problem, real or imagined.
    GM definitely could have used this with the Catera. (And most of the 80s and 90s also.) I understand what they were trying to do, and the market they were competing for, BUT this was just a faceplant right from the start.

  • avatar
    mikeg216

    Haven’t seen any of these in a few years, last time was when I was a loan officer. He listed it in the asset section of his application, I felt differently….

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Mark this and the last 2 non-retro generation T-Birds as cars I just assumed were FWD until ridiculously recently.

  • avatar

    …because this is where they were sending the re-badged Opels before Saturn (and subsequently Buick) got them…

  • avatar
    red60r

    That oil spot under the engine speaks volumes.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    I remember seeing these in the Cadillac dealership and being impressed. The fit, finish, and paint quality were all to the level of Mercedes, that’s the first time I can ever remember thinking that about a car with a GM badge. They were a huge step up when you compared them to an Eldorado or an STS (even though I would have preferred both models for the 300hp V8)

    They were also vastly overpriced, even in the 90’s the out the door price was around $35,000 (a base Audi A4 at that time could be had for around $25k) The performance of the Catera wasn’t much better than a Cavalier with around an 8-9 second 0-60.

    I’ve heard these are just about the most unreliable car a person can possibly buy, which is why I NEVER see them on the road anymore.

  • avatar
    tbp0701

    Last year, I drove behind one in a parking garage and mainly thought, “A Catera! Didn’t think any of those were still on the road.” I’ve also spotted a Cimarron in that garage. So, both are still out there, even around the salt-laden-for-half-the-year roads of Northeast Ohio.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Someone down the street at a small insurance agency has a teal green Catera, but I’m sure its one of the later year models. In 2001 when I wrecked my Cavalier and had to replace it with a new/used car, I lusted after these but they were always out of my price range new or used. Dodged a bullet that’s for sure.

    Since at that time the Fleetwood had just departed the lineup, and Cadillac had no other RWD offerings, standard V8 (LS1? Northstar/LT5?) should have been a no brainer for the stateside models. CAFE strikes again.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    I still see these all the time up here in Chicago, on the road in highly distressed condition, and at least 2 in the junkyard every time.

    I don’t know why.

  • avatar
    PaulE

    One of the very few good things these cars brought to the table is cheaper/better generic parts availability for the GM-ified Saabs of the era (9-5 in this case). Quite a few bits are compatible with the 9-5, including the stupid water valve, timing belts/components and engine oil coolers for the the shared V-6, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      markholli

      Ah yes, I forgot these Catera’s share a platform and a great deal of components with the 9-5. That would explain the numerous comments about reliability issues with Cateras.

      I wonder if they share the same ignition cassette issue with the 9-5?

  • avatar
    SC5door

    Back in the day my Uncle worked for Cadillac Roadside Service: (They used GMC Suburbans painted in dark blue with gold lettering and the center caps on the wheels had the Cadillac Logo).

    Anyways I remember him commenting several times about how awful that car was (the Catera). Never really heard much about the Cimmaron, but the Catera….forget about it, bar none that car was awful. He said he had dispatched a ton of tow trucks to bring cars in with snapped timing belts, with pretty low miles on them.

    I remember the stories about the XLR as well….but that’s for another time.

  • avatar

    Check out just how clean the ground is at this junkyard.
    I was at the local junkyard last weekend and under every car is a cesspool of mud,oil, grease and discarded parts.
    This place seems pristine by comparison,no worries in lying underneath to pull a starter as opposed to my dilemma.
    Is it due to stricter standards in Colorado?

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      I’ve noticed in all photos that the oil filler is usually open, as is the cooling systems and master cylinders. It makes a ton of sense to me that all the fluids are removed before being brought to the field. All yards should follow this standard. Being that somebody has to be paid to do this, I’ll bet it is mandated.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    ‘After not seeing a Catera on the streets for years’…

    A trip to western Brooklyn Park, MN would yield many-a Catera sighting. Certain neighborhoods in BP are seemingly time capsules of 90s-ish eurotrash (also many 90s-ish Accords, ES300s and Camrys) lol

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    The Lumina like styling of the first Catera did absolutely nothing for me as a Cadillac back when this was introduced. The new CTS thankfully fixed that mess with art and science look. It also brought one of GM’s better engines to the line in the form of the Global 2.8/3.6 DOHC V6 motors that lives on today as the LFX.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    I rented Cateras on several occasions on business trips in San Diego. They would occasionally pop up on the emerald isle and I would bee line for them, as the alternatives were Alero’s, Intrigue’s and assorted Chevy crapware.

    The Catera was the first German car I drove and understood why people liked Euro cars – thicker carpeting, more solid feel/steering, doors were heavy, but it was slow and gas mileage was pretty bad.

    I remember an Indian guy kept saying, “It Caddy dat Zeegs”. Great rental, but I’ve heard ownership of the car was another story.

  • avatar
    albert

    Anybody wondering why Opel is doing badly nowadays?
    Well, here is your answer.
    The Catera is based on the Opel Omega B. When Opel stopped building the Rekord and started the Omega A (MY1987), it was the beginning of all the troubles that led to the position Opel is in today.
    The Rekord: a simple but reliable car.
    The Omega: a car with ambitions. But, a new body, new axles, new engines, new gearbox and built in a new factory. A complete nightmare that lasted until they stopped building the A type. And then, with the Omega B in 1993 it would all get better…….it didn’t.
    Building crap is one thing, if you learn from your mistakes, help your customers and correct the bugs. But Opel sent their customers away in the desert. Justified warranty claims were not honored etc. etc.
    You honestly believe those people still driving Opel now???
    Of course not!

    • 0 avatar
      Viquitor

      I beg to differ. I learned to drive in a brazilian-built Chevrolet Omega CD 4.1, which my father bought brand-new in 1997. That was the Omega A, only with a rehashed 250 inline 6. And what a car that was.

      The brazilian Omegas lasted until 1998, and were made to last. The last true great GM we had down here, alongside the Vectra B.

      I sure miss Opel.

  • avatar
    markholli

    I drove a 2003 Opel Omega wagon version of this car once in Germany. It was a turbo diesel, which alone was enough to make me love it. I should confess that I’m a sucker for diesels, and wagons. At the time, I remember thinking it was a very sharp looking car, and I lamented that we wouldn’t get the diesel or the wagon in the US.

    In Berlin I saw the same car (Omega wagon) where the German owner had shipped over the grille, badges and wheels to turn his Opel (by all outward appearances) into a Cadillac. I held my hand over my heart and recited the pledge of allegiance when I saw it.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Exactly – All the Opels brought here are uglified. Sure wish we could get the Opel as sold in Europe without the stale styling packages.

    I like the current Buick/Opels.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    The Aussies took that car platform and made themselves a hell of a car.

    Much better looking. Almost certainly cheaper and I could put some money in that it was more reliable too.

    Not happy with having pulled that one off, they made the VE, and in the blue footpath, the FG.

    For those of you with engine swaps in mind, this is an Euro one.

    http://www.rats.no/omega_tg.html

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I normally wouldn’t care about something like this other than to appreciate the ingenuity it takes to complete such a swap, but…

      Why would one bother to swap in a Toyota 4L when you can swap in (much more easily I might add) any of a HUGE number of small block Chevy motors?

      ????!

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        It’s like wiping you ass with silk instead of a corn cob. Toyota spent a few hundred million ’80s dollars on that engine, and it shows. Also, displacement taxes.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I have an elderly neighbor with one in gold; excuse me desert sand mica. It always seems like it is in the shop but he keeps tooling around in it. I guess fixing it is cheaper than new wheels.

    I always had hope for these being to be competitive with euro sport sedans especially after the Cimmaron debacle, a car that should have been based on the RWD Opel Omega of it’s day and been less of an embarrassment. Or if we only got a version of the wonderful Bitter SC.

    I see plenty of these cheap on CL or Auto Trader, I take it a few would get LS1 swaps from enterprising tuners becoming a inexpensive an G8 or 4dr GTO/Monaro.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    IIRC some of the failure of the Catera was blamed on the ridiculous ad campaign, the duck and ” the Caddy that zigs ” and all that . Almost immediately after introduction I remember the Cimmaron comparisons starting to be discussed . Generally the platform wasn’t considered all that bad but the bland exterior was also blamed for lack of sales.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      The duck was seriously ridiculous for what was supposed to be a prestige brand. And the too oft repeated catchphrase “Lease a Catera” that ended up getting mocked by showing up as names in daytime TV as Dr. Lisa Catera was a sign of a marketing campaign going seriously awry.

      If they had issued recalls for the early timing belt and oil cooler failures and had a more sensible marketing campaign I don’t think this car would have acquired the reputation it has. It was a reasonably dependable police fleet car in the UK – sort a European Crown Vic. A decent, well-sorted chassis that could be produced in police fleet generic or dressed up like a Town Car when sold as an Omega Elite or Catera. I think a later model year Catera was not at all a terrible car.

  • avatar
    NewsLynne

    Before I knew it was an Opel I thought it was a tarty Cutlass. The Cimmarron legend lives large.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Holden Commodores [GTO, G8] are based on Opel Senators, which are stretched Omagas that were cancelled for EUR. Somewhere on the interent I saw that posted, but not sure where. Anyone from Oz know more?

    • 0 avatar
      AnsonYu

      The Holden Commodore were based on the GM V Platform till 2006/07. The Pontiac GTO is on a stretched version of the opel Omega which was sold as the Catera. The G8 is however on the Zeta platform which was Oz developed I think and si used on the Camaro. The Omega was cut in 2003 but Holden used it till 06/07.

  • avatar
    packard

    My brother had one of these. It had a nice ride and was assembled well. One major problem was the head gasket. This problem took many of these cars off the road.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      What in the world was going on with head gaskets in the 1990’s? It seems like 8 out of every 10 stories I read about “how my 199_ car died” involve the head gasket…

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      Actually, head gasket problems were quite rare on these cars. But when the oil cooler leaked, it ended up mixing oil and coolant together, which was typically misdiagnosed as a head gasket failure.

      If that condition was caught early enough it was a messy but doable repair.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I really enjoy mine – now. I bought a beautiful red one with chrome 5 spokes from an estate w 50k miles. At first, I was a little baffled but have discovered the Omega owners in Europe to be an invaluable resource. Now I have done my own alterations and it returns 27 hwy mpg and fulfills my commute comfortably. I’ve found that many cars get a bad rap without being completely deserving due to internet story repetition. I would’ve never enjoyed my MarkVIII if I assumed the airbag horror stories were completely credible. Now, late model BMW? Or VW? Why do you think I cap my transportation cost so low now?

  • avatar
    and003

    Years ago, I came across an article in a GM Performance magazine about someone who owned a Catera powered by a Corvette V8. The installation wasn’t easy, but it worked. I wonder … why didn’t GM think of that?

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      @and003- GM did think of it, we released the V8 for Opel/Vauxhall versions of the same car. I am Not sure if any were actually sold, based on other posters here, but the engines and parts were released to production.
      The last Pontiac GTO was essentially a Catera coupe with a V8. Perhaps an Aussie can let us know if the same Holden car was available with V8 in Oz. I bet it was.


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