By on July 12, 2021

Today’s Rare Ride hails from the the much overused Cutlass nameplate at Oldsmobile. Just in this series we’ve had the Cutlass Calais and a Cutlass Salon, and today we head to the end of the Cutlass era, with a Ciera.

We featured two very different takes on A-body previously in this series: The exceedingly rare all-wheel drive Pontiac 6000 STE, and an aftermarket Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport cabriolet. While that sporty Pontiac was an A-body exception when new, the Ciera was always a bread and butter model.

Cutlass Ciera debuted in 1982, as part of the fleet of new A-body offerings across General Motors’ brands (except Cadillac). Most similar to its Buick Century brother, the Ciera was available as a sedan and coupe from debut, and a wagon called Cutlass Cruiser bowed in 1984. The coupe made it only to 1991.

There were a wide variety of engines available on the Ciera, which ranged from a 2.2-liter inline-four through the common and crap 2.5-liter Iron Duke, and on to a range-topping Buick 3.8-liter. There was also a seldom-selected 4.3-liter diesel V6. Transmissions were automatic for the vast majority of Cutlass Calais examples, and of three- or four-speed persuasion. A four-speed manual transmission was offered only in 1984.

As the Ciera models were replacements for the rear-drive G-body Cutlass, Oldsmobile tried to please quite a few different customer types. This was the time when the brand simultaneously attempted to cater to the rear-drive traditionalist, the Euro-buying yuppie American, and elderly customers as well. To that end there were too many trims trying to transform the Ciera’s personality: Holiday Coupe, Brougham, ES, LS, GT, XC, S, SL, and International Series.

Some of these trims were deceased by the time the refreshed Cutlass Ciera arrived for 1989. More rounded shapes appeared, there was new trim at the sides, and no more hood ornament. At that point the aged 3.8 V6 was replaced by the 3300 V6. Of the remaining trims, International Series and XC went away after 1990. More trim consolidation happened in 1992 as the coupe was discontinued, and left only S or SL Cieras in showrooms. This was consolidated further in 1994, when only the S remained. Getting with the times, the Iron Duke was dropped after 1992, and 1994 saw a driver’s airbag, ABS, power locks, and rear window defogger as standard equipment.

Though still a solid seller, things were winding down for Ciera by the mid-Nineties: The very old design from 1982 was bested by competitors. In its final year for 1996, Cutlass badging was removed, and all examples became Ciera SL. Oldsmobile was still attempting to rebrand itself, this time stepping away from the elderly customer it had courted for so long. In the Nineties, the Rocket brand was even more desperate to transform than in the Eighties. In 1997 the Ciera SL was replaced by the N-body Malibu, lightly badge swapped into the Oldsmobile Cutlass. That version was a stopgap until the Alero was ready, and the final Cutlass was only offered through 1999.

Today’s Rare Ride is a basic 3.3-liter example from 1993. In white over red it goes without power windows or tachometer, but does have headlamps and air conditioning. Yours for $6,885 in Iowa. As personal anecdote moment, I’ve driven one just like this (in light blue). It was one of the most boring drives of my entire life.

[Images: GM]

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67 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Pristine 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, Much Driving Excitement...”


  • avatar
    spookiness

    I’m looking for the link but not seeing it.

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    “A natural setting for down-to-earth families”? Way to sell boring as an asset!

    I vaguely remember a Car and Driver review of this car, that promised that “valets will misplace it.”

  • avatar
    pale ghost

    I can attest to the durability of these things. My boss bought one in the mid 80s. I drove him to pick it up at the dealer where there were hundreds on the lot. He got an incredible deal on a stripped 4 cylinder model. He never (literally) washed it and left the Mahooney sticker on it the whole time he owned it. Βack seat was full of fast food wrappers and beer cans. I doubt he ever changed the oil. Five digit odo rolled over and was well into its second trip when he scrapped it in the late 90s- still a dependable driver. Rust finally did it in. There was a gap around the whole bottom of the car where rust had eaten through. We joked if he braked too hard the chassis with the wheels would stop the rest of the body would keep going.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “I’ve driven one just like this (in light blue). It was one of the most boring drives of my entire life.”

    Why I can’t believe… how incredibly accurate this statement happens to be. 3300 is reliable though, and a bit more punch than the 60V6.

  • avatar
    Funky D

    The most remarkable part of this car (or it’s Buick counterpart) is the sheer amount of unremarkability that it possessed.

    I had one as a rental during a trip to LA in 94. It was about a generic experience as one could possibly have. There was really nothing to complain about, but there was absolutely nothing noteworthy, either. It … was … just … there.

  • avatar
    KOKing

    The sheer ubiquity of the Ciera was pretty remarkable, even among its A body platform mates. So many people I knew had one at one point (though never from new) that to this date it’s probably the one GM model I’ve spent the most time in. I still see quite a few today when most of its domestic contemporaries are quickly dwindling.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Before the pandemic and work from home started last year, I was seeing a nice clean white Cutlass Ciera wagon pretty regularly during my daily commute. I think I even posted pictures of it on the FB V.I.S.I.T. group.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Is it wrong that I want (and have always wanted) a Olds Holiday Coupe?

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Harboring the desire is not wrong. Having the means to satisfy the ‘want’ and not doing so would be very wrong. So yes, your current situation is wrong.

      https://mjblehart.medium.com/desire-vs-want-28c362978103

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Not at all, An elderly neighbor of mine had the 83-84 Ciera Holiday coupe in maroon and she loved and pampered it for at least a couple of decades. The redesigned post 1986 coupe with the aero rear glass dropped the Holiday moniker but the International series were quite nice with the upgraded gauge package, buckets and console.
      Oldsmobile which was supposed to be the innovation division should have offered the AWD from the Pontiac STE on the Ciera. By the time the Ciera was dropped in 1996 they were down to base S and SL trims lacking any kind of sporting or Euro pretense for the retirement community set. If you wanted those sporty trims and handling packages you moved up to the W-body Cutlass Supreme.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    Almost $7000 for a nearly 30 year old pile of crap? Are they smoking crack? The buyer certainly needs to smoke crack before this looks like a good deal. Do the world a favor and have this thing crushed, shredded and melted down.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Seller really, really should have found a pair of NOS backup lights. The yellowed backup lights wreck the otherwise nice presentation.

    These were the car of choice for so many conservative old people in the ’90s. It seemed like I saw new ones everywhere whenever I got out of the city back then. There was a market and GM filled it, possibly at the long-term cost of the Oldsmobile brand.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Not a real Oldsmobile, not a real GM. (Go bigger.)

  • avatar
    conundrum

    My disdain for this thing is high. Instead of using their car for a journey to a US music festival with us in 1996, a couple with whom we were friends decided to rent one of these things instead. It sure was no ’87 Audi 4000 like ours that we’d used twice before on the same trip. Its strong suit was powerful acceleration up to about 35 mph, bow high, after which it went to sleep. And that’s about it. The controls had slack in them everywhere, even the power window switches; it boinged over bumps with the front doing a corkscrew motion as it heaved mightily on Maine’s secondary roads. Damping? What’s that? It gave a strong impression of being a loose bag of parts generally moving in the same direction. A car out of and well behind the times. A joke, really. Switchgear from over 20 years earlier. Last of the wizened prune cars of an earlier era, perfect for people for whom a car is a thing with four wheels and an engine that moves off from rest when commanded and can be operated mind out of gear. At moderate speeds only. Anything more drove it into a state of utter confusion on anything but the interstate.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Ugh, this and the Taurus were the standard “salesman’s car” of a generation. I can’t count the number of these I’ve had/driven as company cars over the years. I can tell you every car I’ve owned in chronological order in my sleep, but can’t tell you how many of these I’ve had. They were mostly blue or white… I think

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    For anyone that misses Oldsmobile…now you don’t. These were such miserable little crap boxes. From the company that brought you the golden era 442, here is, well, a car for people who hate cars.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “a car for people who hate cars.”

      Poor people need cars too. As a used vehicle the 90s A-bodies were a reasonably reliable way to get to your job at Arby’s or Kohl’s in the 2000s & 2010s without having to pay JapanCo prices.

      It’s also not like every Oldsmobile in the 60s was a 442.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        America is a unique place. Our basic transportation is large, 3.3-liter-V6-powered sedans made to an inferior standard. Everywhere else in the world the equivalent of an Arby’s clerk would be driving a 1.0-liter subcompact, but one built like a modern car.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I don’t run the country I just live in it.

          In 2008 I bought a ’96 Buick Century wagon for $950 ($1,200 for 2021) to get to a low-paying job on an 11 mile one-way commute in a rural community of 11K people. The A/C worked, the radio worked, and it wasn’t screeching or smoking so I was pretty happy. I didn’t “enjoy” it but driving enjoyment was low on my priority list at the time. A Honda or Toyota in the same condition would have been at least triple the price. I’m not sure what the European equivalent would be.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            “I’m not sure what the European equivalent would be.”

            -A bicycle

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            “I’m not sure what the European equivalent would be.”

            A used Peugeot 208 or VW Polo.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “$1,200 for 2021”

            Likely $2K for 2021, at least on an automotive purchase. I think they admit to 30% inflation in the period, but they lie so its at least double overall probably close to triple now for any staples or other essentials (such as basic transportation).

            “I’m not sure what the European equivalent would be.”

            Insolvency outside of perhaps a few models. Today, insolvency for all Euro models (in USDM) if the buyer’s budget is $2K and the recon budget is zero.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          “Everywhere else in the world the equivalent of an Arby’s clerk would be driving a 1.0-liter subcompact, but one built like a modern car.”

          In the same period the A-body was long in the tooth (say 90s)? Perhaps in Japan, Western Europe and some of the UK Commonwealth, but Mexican and South American models were not up to Western standards. Nor were Chinese or Indian models in their respective domestic markets. Ditto for the A-body’s heyday in the 1980s.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      That’s a bit harsh. Far as this car is concerned, it was going to be OK to putter around town in reliably.

      Olds was making some desirable cars at this point – by this point, GM had figured out that it couldn’t just foist off 13-year-old designs like this on people who were buying vastly superior Accords and Camrys (or W-body Cutlass Supremes, for that matter) and had some far better stuff in showrooms, and more in the pipeline.

      But I think the thrust of what you’re saying about Olds is right, and this car was part of the problem. GM just rolled out badge-engineered stuff for way too long, and all of its brands paid the price.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I had a clean black 1989 Ciera base sedan back in the 90’s as my first FWD car bought for 2200 bucks with 90K miles. It was a reasonably equipped car with full gauge cluster, optional larger 195 70 series tires on alloy wheels and HD suspension, split seats with recliners, AC, cruise/tilt and cassette player and several other features. It also had the Chevy 2.8 MFI V6 rated for 130 HP tied to the 125C 3 speed transaxle.

    It was also by far the best and most reliable car I ever had up to that point never stranding me, always starting in any weather conditions. The 2.8 was quite snappy and mileage was in the mid to high 20’s pretty consistently. It was also amazing in the Winter weather never sliding around or getting stuck. Was it fun to drive? Nope but it would easily outhandle any basic Camry or Corolla my friends owned at the time from the 90’s. With the optional 30.00 suspension upgrade it got around corners well enough and the front end felt light and responsive. When the clock turned 100K I upgraded the rear shocks and got a fresh set of Pep Boys tires for around 200 bucks at the time and it was noticeably better in both ride and cornering.

    I kept this car until it had 150K, sold it to my friend’s wife who drove it several more years. She sold it to her sister at which point it was standing at 180K and proceeded to drive it another 3 years before smacking the front end on a bridge. Still ran and drove. She sold it cheap to one of the mechanics at our used car dealer garage and replaced the front end cap and grille and drove it several more years before smashing into a deer one evening in the early 2000’s. The odometer read 225k and it still started up and ran!

    These may have been boring and generic like many other midsize sedans of the time but they had many things going for them including easy and cheap to buy parts, they were everywhere at the time, the engines for the most part were sturdy and reliable and gas mileage was good. They were a way for many lower income folks to get into a decent mid sized car or wagon for little money and offered good utility. Just don’t expect Honda Accord levels of handling or engine refinement.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I don’t think a 93 A-body throwaway with 112 on the clock can even be financed, who on Earth with $6K USD is buying this?

  • avatar
    codylikesit

    I have a 96 Century Custom that is equally as clean, with more options that I bought off of the original little old lady who is 94 years old. It came with an unbelievable stack of service records. I felt like I overpaid @ $2000.00. But it was so clean, I could not resist. I’ve put 2000 miles on it since I bought it. These are great cars!

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Back on Earth I may say that was a little steep given the age and model, but very clean running transportation with receipts typically is a premium.

      Now on this planet? Yes, you did very well just don’t wreck in it (so speeding to a minimum, seriously). Also unless you feel like changing out the entire suspension, you’re driving on 25yo shocks/struts, CV boots etc and they won’t do well with sudden abuse.

      • 0 avatar
        codylikesit

        28 Cars, I worked for Alamo Rent a Car back in 95. I was broadsided while driving a Cutlass Ciera. I hit my head on that wretched seat belt anchor on the top of the door. I’ll never forget that! The shocks have been replaced on my Century. The CV boots I think are original. I understand where you are coming from. It’s a play toy for me and something that I might show in some local car shows. A 25 year old drivers side airbag only and anti lock brakes are a far cry from todays safety items built into a car.

  • avatar
    NJRide

    Is the market that crazy that someone will pay $6800 for an old-tech 28 year old sedan with over 100k? I do notice very old cars are going up in price though.

    I am torn about these. On one hand, I prefer the old-school styling to things like the Taurus which I never much liked. These also seem to have outlasted even the Japanese cars from the time save for the 92-era Camries. I would say only around 2016 did I stop seeing these all over (even in NJ) and there are still more than you would expect. However, GM not updating these more frequently probably cost them especially with younger buyers. They do seem like they were more durable than the N/W bodies that bookended them. (And what was the rationale for having the Achieva and the Ciera at the same time, though to me the latter was a far better car.)

  • avatar
    paxman356

    I owned one of these as a stopgap measure. My brother had just had his returned to him by his daughter, who had finally bought her first car. My car had been in an accident. One low family discount/not wanting the hassle of selling it on Craigslist, I was a pro… I was an owner of a ’93 Calais.

    It was a bit floaty, but it got the job done. Six months later I had saved up and was able to get a more reliable and newer vehicle (a ’99 Chevy Prizm, I believe, still heavily meh, but a lot better than the Olds). I put the Olds on Craigslist, and wound up making a slight profit, which I offered to my brother, who refused because he’s as stubborn as my dad. Could have been more, but the day the guy came to look at it, it sprung a gas leak. He fixed it in my garage and I offered $100 off, bringing it to $700 total. Boy, was I glad to be rid of that.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    In partial defense of this vehicle, let us note that the air conditioning system when new would have out-cooled most new vehicles available in Europe or the rest of the world outside the U.S.

    USA historically has the most capable automotive A/C systems. (And GM had some of the best.)

    • 0 avatar

      Agree. Worst domestic AC is in Chrysler vehicles, this does not apply to Ram trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Every GM car that I have owned (73 Impala, 80 Toronado, 81 Monte Carlo) a family member car 76 Eldorado or had as a company car 83 X-car Citation had A/C systems and heaters that were rock solid and maintenance free.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      My Fords have all had very capable A/C and heat, but the Tauruses both had the dread heater core failure. (I fixed it on the ’87 only for it to come back eventually. On the SHO, it was a tiny crack and only leaked at screaming weed-whacker RPM, so I just ignored it.)

      My G8 had surprisingly weak A/C for a car built in a place that has some of the hottest temperatures on earth.

      My Bolt is as you’d expect from a GM product, EV or not.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        The Fords that I have owned: 70 Mustang, 74 Cougar, 87 Thunderbird and 95 Thunderbird have had solid A/C systems. However the 87 Thunderbird eventually needed a heater core which I had done at a radiator shop. The snap lock fittings on the A/C lines would leak so I had to redo each one with new o-rings and springs. I also added the aftermarket clamp on each one. The 95 had better designed ones with a metal clamp on each spring lock fitting.

  • avatar

    It has to have TruCoat.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    My aunt and uncle, true dyed-in-the-wool Buick fans (new or used, that’s all they had ever owned up to a point), bought the Buick version in 1993. I knew GM had lost “The Greatest Generation” when it was followed up with a Camry.

    I don’t think it was the drivetrain that pushed them away, although there had been some sorted minor issues. But the interior had aged/worn horribly. By this time GM was cranking them out in their sleep.

  • avatar
    bg

    Crap. Thanks to your Cutlass Ciera post these aboninable tv ads bubbled up to the surface of my consciousness.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzy-dKfUpO4
    https://youtu.be/0LJ-gMWlmpQ

    I remember the first one vividly as I wondered why the duck is the singer so overly passionate about GM badge engineering?

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I remember a friend of mine who was 2 years older than me drove a mint white /maroon velour Holiday coupe in HS. This was in ’89. It was only a 4cyl though. She’s now a math teacher at the school we went to. When you know, you know.I wonder what see drives now.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    When I sold GM parts, the Cutlass name was used on four different platforms, forget about asking which one the customer had, you had to have the VIN or see the car; of course this made people lose their damn minds and start calling you an idiot. Happiest day of my life was quitting that job to go back to college at age 40.

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