By on July 4, 2013

10 - 1998 Cadillac Catera Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Cadillac Catera, a rebadged Opel Omega that was supposed to entice car shoppers about 50 years younger than the typical (non-Escalade) Cadillac buyer of the time, disappeared from the streets of North America without leaving much of a trace. Sufficient Cateras remain, however, to ensure that examples will show up in wrecking yards from time to time; in this series, we’ve seen this ’97, this ’98, and now today’s find.
02 - 1998 Cadillac Catera Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinJust 77,582 miles on the clock— that’s just about new!
06 - 1998 Cadillac Catera Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWith a 200-horse twin-cam V6 under the hood and rear-wheel drive (but no manual transmission option), The General hoped to claw back some formerly Detroit-centric car shoppers who’d switched to BMWs in the 1980s.


“I’d been doing the BMW thing for a while. I just thought I’d see what else was out there.”
01 - 1998 Cadillac Catera Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSadly for GM, their German-built Cadillac didn’t break any sales records. The interior does seem nice, though.

“Ziggy,” the Catera’s cartoon-duck mascot, didn’t help the car’s image as much as GM had hoped.
LeMons_South_Fall_2012_Winners-OrgChoiceThere’s a Catera racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons, and we always have high hopes for it. On paper, it should be able to compete with the BMW E30s and Alfa Milanos.
IMG_3553However, the Catera’s weak points (engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, electrical system, ECU, fuel system) have conspired to limit the car’s on-track time. Maybe its next race will be different!
14 - 1998 Cadillac Catera Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe good news for Catera racers is that parts are cheap and plentiful— you can find them in the junkyard or just buy a whole parts car on Craigslist for 300 bucks.

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


  • avatar
    jmo

    I took a test drive in a friend’s Catera back in 1998. I was really surprised at how premium it felt – very solid and stately.

    • 0 avatar

      The Catera and Lincoln LS were both very premium feeling cars. My problem is, I’ve never been attracted to GM cars for one reason or another. I did a short two year lease on an EXT when trucks were in. It was OK, but when I looked at what the German cars were doing I fell out of love with Cadillac. The XTS is my favorite Cadddy, but despite having an interior which is the best on the American market including the Tesla Model S, there are signs of cost cutting that shouldn’t be there. There should be motorized thigh cushions and motorized headrests. No V8 option = no deal.

      • 0 avatar
        Compaq Deskpro

        I sat in the XTS, and I immediately said NO. The seat was as hard as a rock, the center console was enormous and intruded on my knees, it had a big looming dashboard, and it felt very claustrophobic. This was compared with the DTS the previous year, which was easily the most comfortable car, if not seat, I had ever sat down in. Give me a 300 any day.

        • 0 avatar
          Easton

          Centre consoles are getting out of control anymore. Many of them are now roughly the size of Coleman coolers. Not every car needs a console. Bring back the bench seat/column shifter!

        • 0 avatar
          WaftableTorque

          Compaq, you should be commended for at least trying the XTS out. I know too many people who only buy one brand and never enter another showroom. To me, test drives are fun. I no longer care about automotive reviews because so many of them have driving impressions which are the opposite of mine.

          BTW, I tried the Catera. I couldn’t afford it at the time, but it’s just as well, because I preferred the comparatively nimble and quieter Camry LE which I wound up buying.

          • 0 avatar

            I don’t have a problem with center consoles that become a placement for the car’s technology package buttons. I do however have a problem with center cockpits that rise too high i.e. The MKS/Taurus and even my XJ-L.

            Because I’m a large guy, I sit further back than most and I need these to lean on during long drives.

            Best center consoles I’ve used: S550′s, Porsche Panamera and Bugatti Veyron’s.

        • 0 avatar

          I liked the XTS’ seats. My mother likes the XTS’ seats more than the STS 10′ I bought her and I can see why. The XTS has more interior space so you don’t lay more than sit and her STS seats are as HARD AS A ROCK. The XTS’ seats get a 5/5 from me – and bonus points for upholstery, but they lose big on the powered features and the confusing “lumbar knob” which should have been a 4-way square instead.

          • 0 avatar
            Idemmu

            Mr. Bigtruckseriesreview, Are you funk master Flex??

          • 0 avatar
            WaftableTorque

            I had to check out the XTS to see what bigtruck and compaq were talking about. Sure enough, the lumbar control IS confusing, and I found the seats hard and had too much thigh extension in it’s shortest position. I was really disappointed with the rear seats, at least compared to the LS, 7-series and S-Class. At least it had thigh support, which new the Impala in the same showroom didn’t have.

            Thus the importance of trying cars in a dealership to see what works for you and what doesn’t.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    A car with so much potiential held back by a weird european engine that blew head gaskets and other rare parts that likely conspired to end this particular car’s life early.

    Had they been available in the US with the LS1 engine as their corporate counterparts the world over had, I suspect we’d be singing a different song about the Catera and would see a lot more hanging on.

    • 0 avatar

      True. I always found the V6 to be too mechanically weak to withstand the relatively ham-fisted and neglectful buyers that bought it in the U.S. I believe the timing belt/chain service interval was much shorter in the UK than it was in the U.S.

    • 0 avatar
      Battles

      There were no factory Omegas with LS1s, as much as I wish that there were.
      I’ll never understand why these have a reputation in Europe for being bombproof but in the US they’re known for being head-gasket-tastic.

      Saab Turbo engine swaps are the order of the day for these in Europe for the last few years.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Probably the same reason that VWs are considered good, reliable cars in Europe, and brittle crap on wheels over here.

        Given the corporate kinship with the ’90s Commodore, I wonder if a RWD 3800 would fit in these?

        • 0 avatar
          Athos Nobile

          3800 would easily fit down there. A LS1 as well.

          There’s plenty of space in that engine bay.

          I have the Aussie cousin with the 3800. It’s the easiest car I’ve serviced so far. And then I learned the meaning of the word “torque”.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        It wasn’t just the head gaskets. The engine valve timing system took 4 hours labor and about $900 in parts to repair – and the after-market parts were no better than the factory originals. My brother-in-law did the valve timing job twice in less than 30k miles and swore he’d never buy a Cadillac again. There were other similar sized and shaped “sport” sedans available for a lot less money and were more reliable. Though the interior comfort and appointments of the Catera were excellent, it wasn’t enough to negate the SAME engine problems on all years it was built – IOW, GM did nothing to correct the problems.

        • 0 avatar
          jrm1493

          My wife had an 03 Saturn Vue with this motor. I did the timing belt myself at 100k because the dealer wanted $1000+ for it. Had to buy the tools from the UK. Not an easy job I got it done in about 6 hours after a few times losing hold of the cam sprockets, but the car gave us another 30k of trouble free service before a major accident took it out.

          Never actually had any issues with the L81 motor, other than the fact it was a pain in the butt to do maintenance on (spark plugs required removal of the intake manifold, and aforementioned painful timing belt). It did leak a decent amount of oil out the valve covers, and the thermostat was failed open causing cold weather OBD2 codes, but I just fed it oil and got my emission inspections done in the summer, as it looked like a major pain to get too.

          If you look on the boards, these L81s have a bad reputation, but that was not my experience. I’m more of a “better is the enemy of good enough” type as far as maintenance, and do all my own work, so maybe its in the eye of the beholder. If I had paid dealer prices for “fixing” all these minor things I’m sure I would be pissed.

          My 92k mile, un-abused 2002 LS1 choked up a ring land on me, and those motors are supposed to be king of all…. I don’t really believe everything I read online anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      Searcher

      Actually, what took out a lot of these early on were timing belt idler pullies. The bearings would go bad prematurely and allow the timing belt to skip, frequently before 60,000 miles. This is an interference engine so that would result in bent valves, which is bad enough, but the valves would contact the pistons right out on the edge causing the top ring land to get pinched, trapping the ring in place and leading to rapid bore wear and oil consumption. You can imagine owners feelings when they had sunk a couple thousand dollars into a cylinder head rebuild after a timing belt pulley failure and then a few thousand miles later they find that they need a new engine. GM eventually issued updated idler pullies, but it was too late the cars reputation was sealed.

      As for what happens now, and likely the reason this car was given up on so early, is that there is virtually zero parts and repair support for these in the US. Other than few and far between enthusiasts, you have to get evrrything from Germany since GM has long abandoned the Catera, and most owners of them are not of the type to put up with the difficulties involved in that.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Also, I like that quote,

    “I’d been doing the BMW thing for a while. I just thought I’d see what else was out there.”

    Sounds like a dude who cheated on his girlfriend.

  • avatar
    JoelW

    My wife worked at Cadillac consumer relations in the late 1990′s (I was at Olds).

    The reps there dreaded calls from Catera owners and referred to the car as the “Caterrible.”

    I remember her telling me that one owner asked if they could take their Catera into the dealership and have it converted from RWD to FWD :)

  • avatar
    mccall52

    A shame really, I feel safe saying this car spent more time sitting inop than it ever did functional.

  • avatar
    DaveDFW

    My lasting memory of GM: the Catera heater control valve interchanged with the Saab 9-5 OG, but the Saab part was twice the Catera’s price.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Also true of the timing belt parts, and pretty much everything else that interchanges between the Saab 9-5 and other GM cars. And that valve from a Chevy dealer was even a good bit cheaper than the Cadillac version. Those fancy boxes are expensive.

      My bet is that this car in the junkyard never had its timing belt changed. Made it to 77K and BANG!

      This engine asymmetrically turbo-charged in a Saab 9-5 was pretty terrific. Smooth, quiet, fast. But you have to change that belt AND the pulleys on-time!

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    I so wanted to like these when they arrived. I saw my first one on Easter saturday 1997 at Shearer in Burlington Vermont. It was the first RWD glimmer of hope from GM since the cancellation of the B bodies.

    A friend’s father, a man who’d always driven Buick but had now earned the right to drive Cadillac, bought one. It was an unmitigated disaster. I felt so bad for him because the dealer just couldn’t seem to fix the car’s electrical problems. In the end he dumped the car and went back to Buick.

    Furthermore, my father refused to own what he deemed a slightly enlarged Malibu.

    Today I’d rather have a Cimarron. At least you can keep them running.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Since the cancellation of the B bodies -one year earlier-? lol

      Same console shifter as the Malibu. Gross.

      • 0 avatar
        Austin Greene

        It’s history now but GM announced the cancellation of the B bodies in April 1995. At that time it was understood that RWD would be limited to trucks, F body and Y body.

        So we never expected to see a RWD sedan from GM ever again.

        This explains the run on the last B bodies and their extended production to December 1996.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        Not the same hideous shifter as the Malibu, it looks to be the same one as in the Saab 9-5. I can’t say the Catera’s shifter is great, but it’s certainly not that horrendous one out of the contemporary Malibu, where the edges surrounding the shift button press on your thumb.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      1) Totally agree with your Dad. I just couldn’t understand why would anyone regard this car as “stately”. It has an almost identical front end of a gen 1 (of recent history) Malibu. That car itself is a proof of poor design and engineering by GM.

      2) Your friend’s dad is really dumb, for (a) not recognizing the enlarged Malibu for what it is, and (b) going back to Buick from this experience. A more intelligent person would go to Toyota, which is far better at making bland cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Austin Greene

        He most certainly wasn’t dumb. He was an engineer, an aide to Queen Elizabeth II, a stately gentleman and above all a Canadian veteran of a war that began in this country in September 1939.

        Although he had far too much class to mention it to me I suspect that he choose not to own Japanese out of respect to those who fought in the Battle of Hong Kong. The treatment Canadian soldiers received from the Japanese Imperial Army is well documented and something for which the Government of Japan only delivered an apology in December 2011.

        He’s since passed on. He was a great man from another time and I am honoured to have known him.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        WSN you’re just a ray of sunshine, aren’t you?

        • 0 avatar
          rnc

          No WSN, like a few other cheerleaders from the old days (RF and the celebration of the death of american auto), is having serious issues now that the site has transitioned to taking a realistic look at the auto world for what it is (Toyota and Honda, cough, cough) and the sufference of having to have there weaknesses and shortcomings pointed out as well as the occasionally nice thing said about something made by an american company. Now in terms of calling someone’s father an idiot or loser or whatever, yes that makes him a dick, but also remember this is someone that thinks that honda using some F1 tech., from the early 90′s, in thier current engines makes them something special, above and beyond.

      • 0 avatar
        lukemo2

        “Your friend’s dad is really dumb”.

        Holy hell! You’re a dick.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    It’s telling how nothing seems to have been taken from the Catera (except the wheels); I assume almost nothing interchanges wiht any other car.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    My 98 Toyota has almost 5 times as many miles and it’s still running well. Cadillac Crap!!

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      My thoughts also. My dad now drives my 98 Camry, and it’s purring along just fine. A little bit of rust, and the headlights have yellowed, but otherwise it runs as well as the day we bought it. But it seems it doesn’t have the status or aspirational appeal of that junk yard Catera.

      • 0 avatar
        FirebombDetroit

        There will always be people who believe Cadillac to be an aspirational brand, regardless of the ultimate product.

        Those people are called “morons.”

      • 0 avatar
        rnc

        I bought a 2001 camry, before 100k miles and in less than four years, speed sensor failed three times (lovely sensation of having your car shift from 5th ro 2nd at 70mph) and finally one of the main drive bearings desentigrating (something about oil sludging), was my fault for not changing oil (had all receipts from my 2500 to 3000 interval changes) and refused to warranty, traded to my brother who needed an engine and transmission (apparantly replacing the bearing (as well as alot of other stuff (valves, etc.), man you should have seen that thing taken apart), in my engine and swapping was much easier to do then whatever the sludging had done to someone else’s), for a couple sets of tires, rotations, alignments, oil changes and some repairs as needed, etc. Replaced with a 98′ Cherokee (OMG a chryco product, got it with 80k or so, made it to 216k, one repair (head gasket, was my fault, just had to get as close to home as possible before car died) and that was it, for me and anything ever made by toyota again, oh yeah and within days/weeks/months the lovely interior bits and pieces began failing apart (GM’s image kept them going to 20 years, toyota’s been living off of thiers for awhile now)

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Aww rnc, I have missed, reading your posts, because they are so nice and flowing, and you never feel, a need to make, an ending to a sentence, you can just put more, and more, commas and, continue a sentence, and it’s not a problem,.

          • 0 avatar
            ApK253wa

            I bet that was a Cherokee classic & had the inline six, am I right? That there engine and the old-school chassis were the exception to the rule that all Chrysler products from that era were crap. Shame they quit selling them.

  • avatar
    ktm_525

    My father had a 97? He put about 140 km’s on his with relatively few problems outside of constant tire replacement. Gm kept changing the alignment specs. I think they swapped three complete sets of tires for him until they figured it out. The car was heavy but felt very solid at speed. It felt much more substantial and luxurious than the STS which replaced it.

    The earliest models had the leather door panels which were not offered in later models. GM cheapened the interior in subsequent years. Plastic replaced the leather. The vertical bumperettes were removed after a few years too

  • avatar

    Am I the only one who has ever entertained passing thoughts of acquiring a nice Catera and a totaled 2005-06 GTO and doing a driveline and suspension swap? Easier just to buy a CTS-V, of course, but still, it’d be fun if it could be made to work.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      Yes, you may be the only one thinking about swapping GTO parts into a Catera, but not thinking about getting an Aussie GTO. I used to work and drive by a high end used car dealer that specialized in stocking current style Mustangs, Camaros, and 2004-2006 GTO’s. Many a lunch hour I thought of stopping by to see how close to affording I was to one of the GTO’s. I know the body design is controversial, but it has a lot of nice ingredients.

      I know nothing about the Catera, but at first read I wondered what a Catera with less than 80K on the clock was doing in a junk yard. It’s an Opel, and that used to be a good sign. Did Opel Omega share a similar reputation in Europe for blown head gaskets, other drivetrain troubles, and electric woes, and were Europeans just more forgiving about reliability issues, as they seem to be with certain VW models. And if this Catera had multiple driveability issues, what was the warranty period length that forced it into a wrecking yard? What a shame.

      • 0 avatar
        Battles

        @Snakebit – You might be onto something about us Yurpeans being more forgiving of faults. I’m willing to accept any explanation as I seek the reasons for why the Catera was a total flop in the US and the Omega in Europe remains a sought after car (ten years after they stopped selling them) in the same way a W124 Benz or 200 series Volvo is.
        An Omega over here with a genuine 80k on the clock would be a $4500 car (about three thousand quid).

        My mother in law had an Omega (before she was my mother in law) and they remember it fondly. A guy I know has two Omegas at the moment, an early V6 petrol and a very late V6 petrol. To say he loves them would be an understatement.

        • 0 avatar
          snakebit

          Not to generalize about Europeans, but I was thinking last night that they also may be a lot more prone to follow suggested maintainance schedules, and act more timely when they’re made aware of a trouble spot. I think Americans have been spoiled by brands like Toyota and Honda which seem to need next to no maintainance. How else to explain the difference between buyers from each region and their attitude toward the Opel/Catera?

      • 0 avatar

        Oh, there’s a lot to like about the Aussie GTOs, especially with manual transmission. I thought seriously about buying one new back in 2005. You could do a lot worse for an interesting daily driver if you don’t mind the gas bills.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I believe someone attempted the Catera LS1 conversion on LS1Tech, but I’m not sure it was ever completed.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      The catera like the reatta (and allante), I mean beautiful coupes, at a time when the aerobird was flying off the shelfs, but hey lets ruin them by making them FWD, crappy engines, transmissions, etc. Just like the STS released with the HT4900 (or whatever) rather than waiting a few months for the NS to be ready just killed caddy all over again. Just a few simple things here and there (in my opinion the reatta and the original STS (along with the Aurora, which I am negotiating on one right now), are some of the most beautiful designs of thier time (all time), just GM’s half baked, push it out the factory, take the crap we give you destroyed them all (would love to have reatta, just why the hell did they make a performance coupe a non-performance coupe???)

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        “..rather than waiting a few months for the NS to be ready..”

        Right, because a leaky oil burning Northstar would have made the car SO much more desirable.

  • avatar
    cwp

    “However, the Catera’s weak points (engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, electrical system, ECU, fuel system)”

    Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln …

  • avatar

    I think the cars on either side of it are more interesting – the Eldo coupe and the Calais Coupe (is that an international series?)

    I have a soft spot for biggish coupes.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Yeah we’re gonna make this fancy German-Euro Cadillac, look what we can do! And we’re gonna put the DeVille standard radio fascia in. And then get the shifter from the Malibu. Every other part will be only for this car. It’ll be way awesome.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Claw

      Totally sgreed. Cadillac “Americanized” this car in the worst ways. Should have dropped an LS1 in there, gave it a proper gearbox and called it a day.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Sheila was a concerned parent.

    “Sorry Sheila, I can’t accept the car back. I’ve already used the money to pay off some credit card debt anyway.” Sheila hung up on Steve. Sheila cried.

    “Come on kids, let’s go.” Little Tommy and Jennifer scrabbled into their booster seats in the back. Sheila observed the dials on the battery charger hooked to the Catera. It was initially a device that was once foreign to her. She was now well-versed in it’s operation. “Good charge”, she noted. She removed the cable clamps from the Caddy’s heavily-scarred battery terminals. Sheila slid into the operator’s position. The cheap, crap feel of the Misery Grey leather interior reminded her of a gyno chair. Why had this not been an issue when they initially looked the car over? Had she looked at the dreadful interior for more than a minute, this whole ordeal could have been avoided.

    “Mommy. I’m cold.”, said little Jen. Sheila glanced at the HVAC panel. The unlit panel still did nothing. Steve had told her it was just a fuse somewhere. “Maybe it shows how in the book.”, she thought. Her ass was freezing, but at least the back heater still had life in it. She turned on the rear seat heaters for the kids. She thought that maybe that would give them a little warmth back there even with the booster seats…maybe. Maybe if they even worked at all. It was yet another thing on the car that her and dad just assumed worked when they perused it during the ill-fated Craigslist purchase. The way her luck was going with this godforsaken car, the heater elements were more likely to just burst into flames. “This car sucks.”, said Tommy. “I want our old car back.”

    The volt meter was beginning to dip into the red zone. The Catera had been functioning more like an electric car than a gas one. Charge the battery when you get home. Watch that gauge. Don’t let it hit 11. That’s bad news. Fortunately, she was about to make it to the service center. She began to dwell on thoughts of the old Taurus wagon. The transmission was shot, and it wasn’t worth sinking $1100 into. The Catera was about to alter that perspective. She had regrettably passed on a nice Caravan at a cheap price. She was now kicking herself for her stodgy disposition towards minivans. “Idiot!!”, she thought while choking back tears. Many small problems plagued the Catera. This car had turned herself and her normally car savvy pop into a couple of dupes.

    The kids played in the waiting area very briefly. The problem was found quickly. “Just the battery m’am. It’ll just be $80.” Sheila happily paid the unexpectedly small bill. The family left, and Sheila admired the healthy voltmeter. She was surprisingly slightly delighted by her new purchase, now that it wouldn’t leave them stranded. “Now we need that fuse.” Jen responded, “What’s a fuseeeee.” “It’s the part that makes the heater work.”, she informed her child.

    They arrived at grandpa’s house, where the necessary repairs would commence. “You haven’t changed the fuse yet? It’s easy.”, said her dear old dad. He opened the glove box, and grabbed the thumbworn owner’s manual. The offending fuse was located, and he went to inspect it. He noted the wide variety of non-spec amperage fuses inserted in the tampered panel. “Oh crap. Looks like it’s still good.”, he thought while the pilot light of an ulcer lit in his stomach. He put a new fuse in anyway, which had no success in lighting the dead heater control. Pops threw the owner’s guide to the passenger floorboard in frustration. A pamphlet fell out of the binder. On it, was Ziggy the duck, appearing to laugh and mock his feeble attempt at repair. Had he been armed with his 1911, he might be inclined to shoot that duck right in the face.

    As the story would go, the local repair shop would come to glean large sums of cash out of poor Shiela’s wallet. A new climate control head was necessary, followed by a blower motor. After some frustration, the mechanics located some of Mr. Steve’s handiwork, a broken heater control valve that had been bypassed. Paula needed to rid herself of the Catera before anything else went wrong. The squealing sound from the front of the engine sounded ominous. She listed the car at a break even price, and then lowered it to $4500, with no interest from prospective buyers.

    Sheila and the kids merged onto the highway one last time in the Catera. There was a muffled bang, and then the motor was no more. Sheila clutched her kids along the center divider and sobbed as the Cadillac was winched up the flatbed.

    “It was probably the fuse mommy.”

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      An all too true story about the wrong car for many owners, which Cadillac has been able to provide for many years. I’ve seen more than a few late 90′s Eldorados and STSs puffing white smoke while idling at the gas station while the downtrodden owner in a jersey and mesh shorts buys a pack of smokes.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        Ah yes, the notorious 4.6 “Sh1tstar”. You see 90′s Cadillacs all over the junkyards that still have shiny paint, low miles, and nice interiors, but lurking under the hood is the infamous Sh1tstar. Mind you, these cars cost $50K-$60K when adjusted for inflation.

        Back in the day, after the second oil crisis of ’79-80, Cadillac got caught with its pants down. They were stuck with a bunch of cast iron monster engines that were as bullet-proof as the Fuehrer Bunker, but sucked gas like they were designed by Arab oil sheiks.

        From there on Caddy engine development was disaster after disaster. There was the horrendous diesel followed, by the even worse V8-6-4. Then came the aluminum block HT-4100, another crap pile that grenaded before the warranty was up. Given no other choice, they continued to work on the HT-4100 and came up with a bigger, better version, the 4.5. The 4.5 was an improvement, but it was still not what anyone would call good, so they went back to the drawing board and came up with the 4.9. The 4.9, was actually not a bad engine…..reliable, reasonably powerful, not too bad on gas. Unfortunately, by this time every other serious car maker was fielding modern overhead cam V-8s. Hell, you get a more modern V-8 in a Ford pick-up. The 4.9 could be easily understood by anyone who had worked on a Chevy small-black back in 1957. Engineers at real car companies were pointing and laughing.

        At this time GM was in “me-too” mode and they rammed through the development of the new modern V-8, the 4.6 Northstar. On paper it looked great: 300hp/300lb-ft, overhead cams with variable valve timing, coil on plug ignition, etc. Great, except in the field it was crap. The Sh1tstar never met a fluid it didn’t like to leak or burn. Worse, these engines could be counted on to puke up their head gaskets the same way Lindsay Lohan can be counted on to puke up Grey Goose. Despite the fact that it was only a question of when the gaskets would go ka-blooey, and not if, the repair was impossible. The only way to change the head gaskets was to drop the engine and trans from the bottom of the car as a unit…..a repair that cost $4K-$5K. As you can guess, lots of people chose not to repair these cars.

        There is an upside to the Sh1tstar debacle: 90s Cadillacs, even with low miles, clean in and out, sell for nothing…..even the cars with the 4.9 engines…..guilt by association you see. So if you come across grandma’s 95 Seville with the 4.9 at an estate sale, grab it…the asking price will probably be $1K-$1.5K. On the other had, if it has the 4.6, KILL IT….KILL IT WITH FIRE.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Love the 4.9, it is really the only engine worth having from Cadillac post 1979 (honorable mention to the Cadillac 368ci, the “V4-6-8″, I heard if you put a carb on it in place of the solenoid FI system it runs fine).

          I essentially agree with everything said, although I’d point out the 4.9 was only available on Seville from MY91-MY93 (as an SLS), and only MY91-MY92 on STS. Eldorado had it standard on MY92 and it was still available on base Eldo in MY93. The engine was also available on MY91-95 Deville and Fleewood FWDs. The engine is generally a good one, had some odd coolant procedure due to the alum block but otherwise reliable. Except Fleetwood to MY96, I pretty much avoid every Cadillac after MY95, they were all pretty much junk.

        • 0 avatar
          chicagoland

          “Caddy engine development was disaster after disaster. There was the horrendous diesel …”

          FWIW, there never was a “Cadillac” diesel those were from Olds motors.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      Take the kids to the magazine stand of a super market to read Consumer Reports.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Poor Shelia, she should have gone to the new car dealer with her 5K and got a ZIRP’d loan on a completely new POS.

  • avatar

    “However, the Catera’s weak points (engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, electrical system, ECU, fuel system) have conspired to limit the car’s on-track time.”

    So you mean literally everything?

    Always saddens me that the LS1-powered Omega/Catera never came to fruition in Germany or the states. Could’ve fixed a lot of the car’s problems.

  • avatar
    millmech

    Are we zigging yet?

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’m really noticing that sweet Cutlass Calais Coupe next to the feature car.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    I just took one in trade on an ’07 Jetta (go figure). Its a 2001 Catera Sport and aside from the broken ashtray, inop sunroof, and a bad window regulator, its in surprisingly great shape. I’m really impressed with the car feels – a nice, balanced ride missing from other Cadillacs of the era with the plushness that I would desires from them. Definitely a lot of car for the money.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Neither the interiors, nor the external paint, nor the engine bay look worn out.
    And only 77k miles?

    There must be some hideous flaw that proved too costly and impossible to fix, for a desperate owner to have junked the vehicle.

    Speaks volumes about GM’s reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Most of the ones I’ve seen that end up junked have grenaded engines. Poor availability and high cost make them a throwaway when the engine lets go.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      That car is in shockingly good condition for sitting in a junk yard. No doubt this was another failed timing belt – or oil cooler … Or head gasket. Sadly there were quite a few ways these engines could die.

      There were a couple of Saturns that could be engine donors for these cars but unfortunately most of them suffered a similar fate.

      I was tempted by these cars for a long time – they do look and ride quite nicely, although they’re about 500 pounds overweight.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A senior citizen neighbor of mine up until recently had one. Constantly in the shop for repairs. It’s a shame GM never Americanized these with either a far more reliable LS1 or the 3800SC. I guess the DOHC was a selling point. In Europe these competed against the E-Class and 5-Series. I always wondered how the reliability of these was in Europe. Could it have been as bad as the European or Aussie versions or do they just have a greater tolerance for unreliable vehicles?

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    The Elsmere 3.0L V6 that was in the Catera and the Saturn VUE is without argument one of the worst engines every built. The tools to replace the timing chain are around $5000 and most shops refuse to buy them because of the high cost and the low opportunity to use. Those shops that make the investment charge an arm, leg, and first born child for the service.

    A lot of these engines are just having the vital 100K mile service completely ignored until the engine grenades and, sadly, what is still a very fit body and interior ends up in the bone yard.

    I looked at a slightly used Catera back in 2001 when the wife was in a horrific car accident and we were considering replacements while the insurance company dithered on a total loss or not. We were very impressed with the interior and the styling was – nice. But we had reservations (I really can’t remember what they were).

    Her ’97 T-bird was paid for, and we weren’t keen on a car payment. The insurance company didn’t total ($9.5K estimate for repairs that turned into a near full value $14.5K job when it was all done) and we were thankful. But as you’re probably guessing, with $14.5K of damage, yup, the T-bird, which was in museum grade condition prior to accident, was never the same. Had the plastic manifold issue had reared its ugly head a bit sooner, I probably would have had it swapped out while the front clip was completely removed and it would have been easier. While going through divorce the heater stopped working and she ignored – the block heater core prevented circulation and well, you know the rest of the story.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      $5000 for tools to change the timing belt??? I don’t think so. Note it has a timing BELT, not a timing chain.I had this same engine in a Saab 9-5 – I changed the belt myself, and on that car it is a much bigger job being transversely mounted. Even from SAAB the “special tools” (a couple of counter holds for the cams) were under $100. There is also a tensioning tool but you don’t really need it. There is some judgement needed in getting the belt adjusted ‘just so’, but nothing any reasonably talented wrench shouldn’t be able to handle.

      The timing belt service interval on the Saab version was 60K. If GM was stupid enough to have it be longer on the Cadillac version then they got what they deserved.

      These cars ultimately suffer the fate of all fairly expensive but not loved cars. The first owner can afford the maintenance. The second owner probably can, but sells the car before it needs much. The third and subsequent owners buy them because they are a cheap luxo-ride and run them into the ground. And in the case of cars with timing belts that can be a short run. See Porsche 944 for the ultimate example of this.

    • 0 avatar
      jrm1493

      Not true. I bought the complete new tool set for $300 for my wife’s L81 Vue and did the job myself in about 6 hours. Dealer wanted around $1200 for the job.

      The GM/Snap-On tool might have been that much (but I doubt it). I got my tool set on ebay from the UK (Kent Moore).

      I always wanted the engine to grenade, because I didn’t like the car, but it never did. An accident took the car at 130000 miles. The engine was actually smooth and refined with a broad torque curve. And it lasted a lot longer than my LS1 did (I know, impossible!!!!).

  • avatar
    MoDo

    I was always intrigued by the Catera – until I actually drove one. If you’ve driven an early 1990′s to early 2000′s Lumina, Regal, Cutlass etc then its the exact same. Same ride, akin to sitting in a lazy boy on shocks filled with marshmellows and that unmistakable 3.1 / 3.4L GM V6 rasp in the back ground. I assure you, this don’t zig. It was just a rebodied GM we were all used too.

  • avatar
    skor

    The Lincoln LS was a much better car, and you could even get one with a manual. Unfortunately, the enlarged prostate crowd that made up the main Lincoln buying demographic at the time wouldn’t consider it….not a “real” Lincoln. The people who were buying BMW and Mercedes would never have considered a Lincoln or a Cadillac for that matter.

    It’s been said by me, and others here, on numerous occasions: If Lincoln and Cadillac want back in the game, they need to go back to their roots. They need to stop chasing the Germans and start producing American style luxury.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Very much agreed.

    • 0 avatar

      I would say that they need to provide an American perspective on the German luxury paradigm, which like it or not has become the global standard, and GM at least needs (really, really needs) Cadillac to become a legit global contender over the next decade or so. I think GM is thinking along those lines; the upcoming big RWD sedan will be a very clear indicator of where they’re taking the brand.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The LS wasn’t the car it could have been, because Ford management chose to keep it a level below its Jaguar twin in engine spec and materials. They didn’t want it to compete with the S-type, but that meant it also couldn’t compete with the real players in the mid-sized luxury class, which were better than the S-type in many ways. Blaming customers for not buying a Mitsubishi Diamante lookalike with a flexible body structure and intentionally mediocre engine options is just plain wrong. Pretty much everyone that says how happy they were with their LSs bought them used, which isn’t a business model for a manufacturer. I don’t doubt that a fast depreciating LS was a good bargain ride for people that got good ones, but it was always meant to be a compromise for new car buyers. That ain’t luxury.

  • avatar
    slingshot

    I saw one at the auto show when they first came out. I set up a test drive and received a Catera jacket with a broken zipper. Anyway there was no room between my left shoulder and the car door so I didn’t buy it. (Same problem with the 370 coupe.) From reading these comments, probably just as well. Captive imports traditionally have not done very well here.

    • 0 avatar
      The Soul of Wit

      I was recently in Barrington and attended their impressive weekend art fair with my wife. There, the local Caddy dealer had a booth with an ATS on display. The sales guy did a pretty fair job of extolling the car’s fine points, they offered me a free T-Shirt, black with a white Caddy logo on the shirt. The shirt was made of cotton one step above rag quality, and instead of a nice air-brush logo, it was cheap embossed screen paint.

      I said, “Dude. You are trying to entice Benz and Bimmer owners to test-drive your car. Ya don’t do that with a $3 P.O.S. tee-shirt. Give us a higher-end, linen with an understated embroidered logo. Impress us with something that shows that Caddie is committed to complete excellence in ownership experience…advertising, selling, servicing…and we’ll come. This cheap P.O.S. tee-shirt shows just the opposite. You almost had me planning to come in for a test drive…but if GM thinks so little of the car and the customer that they think we’d wear something like this, well…I think I’ll take my 50 large and go back to my M-B dealer.”

      Cadillac still doesn’t get it.

  • avatar
    davew833

    As an aside, I’m impressed with how clean that self-serve yard is. The ones near my house are always littered with junk that makes hiking through them an experience in itself.

  • avatar
    Joss

    out of respect to those who fought in the Battle of Hong Kong.

    The invading Tojo were almost out of ammo @ Hong Kong. The dithering British commander surrendered when they should have fought on. Forget his name – not worth remembering.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    30K base/35K loaded for this thing in 1997 no less when the dollar wasn’t being intentionally debased… was insane. The BLS inflation calculator says 35K then is $50,797 today assuming you believe gov’t inflation figures. Cadillac then and now simply chases BMW with these sport sedan treats, they’re not on a level playing field through at least last year (moving forward I’m not sure due to BMW debasing itself). In my view one is foolish to pay BMW money for fake BMWs both in 1997 and today.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The only difference is that you might not have been foolish to pay BMW money for a BMW in 1997, although you wouldn’t have been alone if that bit you in the kiester too.

  • avatar
    Maverick74

    I almost bought a ’99 Catera about a month ago. Similar to this one, is had fairly low miles (81k I think), and I thought the interior was fantastic, handled nice, and had good get up and go. But with all the possible reliability issues and the fact it doesn’t have a clutch pedal, I passed. Kinda a shame it didn’t have a better engine.

  • avatar
    kjb911

    my Greek friend keeps laughing and saying that catera in greek means curse…can anyone confirm this or is it just him trying to pass one on me

  • avatar
    GTAm

    I owned a 4 cylinder manual 2.0 Omega at the same time that my close friend owned a manual E34 518i. We used to compare the two regularly and we both agreed that the Omega was the better car in terms of ride/handling and cabin silence. The only problem was badge snobbery. Saying you drive a BMW sounded a lot better than saying you drive an Opel.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    dunno what you guys are doing differently but anyone who’s been to Australia will know these are all over the road with over a million made over close onto a decade of production with engines from the Buick GM3800 to the Alloyec high feature to LS1/LS2s…

    they are no more or less reliable than your avg. age Japanese whatever car

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      If you take care of them, they will easily go to 500K kms. Squeezing 300K kms out of them is not uncommon.

      Mine has been reliable since I bought it.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I just remembered that the CTS used this engine for the first couple years. I wonder how many of those have blown up?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    By the 1990′s, the future for luxury car makers at this price point was sport sedans. The Catera was, to put it kindly, unremarkable, but it was still a decent effort, and more importantly, it was a 200% improvement over the last “sport sedan” Caddy tried. We just won’t mention the name of that car.

    The CTS, which came out in 2003, was the real comeback kid for Caddy. Everything they’re doing right today started with that car. But I don’t think it would have succeeded without the Catera before it to at least introduce people to the idea of a Caddy sport sedan that wasn’t a joke.

    Another question: isn’t this the same platform as the Australian Pontiac GTO, and if so, wouldn’t the ‘Vette engine from the GTO fit in the Catera? Now THERE’S a sleeper.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Couldn’t zig and zag its way out of an early death I see…

  • avatar
    stereorobb

    Caddys second attempt in recent times to build a cheap compact fast luxury sedan, much like the cimmeron it was a epic fail. I don’t see too many of these anymore and there fading away pretty fast. Kinda interesting cars though. Also they offered v8s in limited numbers of these but I’ve never seen one in the wild. They fall apart easy so there are not many of them left, and will probably be extinct in a few more years


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