Junkyard Find: 1998 Cadillac Catera
By the mid-1990s, The General’s top thinkers had finally figured out that 90-year-olds don’t have many car-buying years left in them, which meant that Cadillac had to convince some sub-nonagenarians to buy their cars. Naturally, the focus of this effort would be more on marketing than on the vehicles themselves, but even Cadillac’s most PowerPoint-adept marketing wizards knew that they couldn’t slap Day-Glo orange “Brougham d’Elegance EXTRËËMË ËDITION” badges on the Eldorado ETC, hire Napalm Death as celebrity spokesmen, and expect hip/well-heeled 30-somethings to ditch their imports. No, a different kind of Cadillac would be needed. Hey, how about slapping some Cadillac emblems on the Opel Omega? Problem solved!
So, here comes Ziggy the Catera Duck. Inspired by the ducks on the Cadillac emblem (which originated in the crest of French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac), Ziggy would show that you didn’t need blue hair or an oxygen tank to drive a Cadillac. Ziggy was proof that the Cadillac-badged Omega— called the Catera— was for young folks!
Well, it didn’t work. As Chrysler learned in most vivid fashion with the Neon’s marketing campaign, cute doesn’t sell cars to Americans. It turns out that you need 500+ horsepower in an evil-looking wrapper to erase decades of geriatric brand-image damage (with the notable exception of the Escalade, which lucked into acceptance by young American rappers), because Americans hit ’em hard!
I had just about forgotten about the Catera, except for the occasional jeremiad I’ve issued to 24 Hours of LeMons racers demanding a Catera (or Allanté) race car, but then I found this fairly solid example in my local self-serve junkyard. This is the first Catera I’ve ever seen in a junkyard, which says more about the Catera’s rarity than of its reliability.
GM’s history of selling Opels in the United States hasn’t been a happy story, though the case could be made that the big-selling Chevette was really an Opel. The Catera’s ad campaign flopped, the engines tossed timing belts in all directions, and veterans of Belleau Wood continued to buy “real” Cadillacs.
The Omega B really wasn’t a bad design (as owners of the Opel-via-Holden-based 2004-06 GTO will tell you), and it might have sold better through another GM division with a different marketing approach. As it sorted out, though, the Catera has become another interesting cul-de-sac of automotive history, the sort of thing best explored via Junkyard Finds.
Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.
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