Junkyard Find: 1998 Cadillac Catera

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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
Murilee Martin

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.

More by Murilee Martin

Join the conversation
2 of 89 comments
  • And003 And003 on Jul 03, 2012

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

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Oct 22, 2012

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

  • Slavuta Why America needs school buses altogether? When I was in school, I rode on a regular city bus
  • Jeff Buy whatever works for you if you own an EV and are happy with it good, if you buy a hybrid or plug in hybrid and it works for you good, if neither and you like your ICE the way it is that is also good. I believe over time EVs will get better and have a larger segment of the market.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Is New Jersey better than Old Jersey?
  • Tassos Jong-iL Looking forward to buying 2 of these with all of those Rubles we have been earning lately.
  • Dartdude I have a 17 Ram 1500, love the dial and took to it right a way. don't have a lever blocking the dash panel or taking up space on the console.