I was a little surprised at the vigorous defense that was afforded the 1976 Cadillac Seville last month by a few readers, apparently the post hit a bit more of a nerve with some than I thought it might. It’s good to see that every car has its fans. Today we have another Cadillac that has gone down in history with even more controversy, unfortunately most of it not to the good side of the ledger. With only around 132,000 produced and presumably sold over seven long model years, these do still occasionally pop up in junkyards. The final year was the rarest with only 6,454 produced, of which we have an example here that I came across very early this year. GM has a long reputation of sometimes continually improving a model to an acceptable state, only to then immediately kill it, so this one might just be as good as they ever got, letting it be presented in the best light possible.
Of course we are all aware of the general history of the Cimarron; Cadillac decided to “engineer” their own version of the Chevy Cavalier to debut for 1982, not long after every other division also had debuted theirs, thus it was a crowded field. Basically the “engineering” pretty much consisted of printing a brochure, sticking a few crests on the car, and coming up with a price for the sticker. Of course being a Cadillac, it had to cost more. And it did, although it really wasn’t any different than the Chevy or the other versions, at launch even being saddled with the same wheezy 88hp four-banger.
Not so premium, indeed, and not really the way to take the fight to the Europeans, i.e. soon encompassing vehicles such as the Mercedes 190, BMW 3-series, Saab 900/turbo, Audi 4000/90 etc, all of which while perhaps not brimming with horsepower at their introductions, were generally tuned for excellent handling, good high speed road manners, solidity and build quality allowing extremely long service lives if properly maintained along with gaining relatively significant power increases and engine options during their lifespans.
That first year I don’t believe the Cimarron even had a Cadillac name badge directly on it, however a few years later it finally got affixed to the grille. There were other updates during the run, cosmetically mainly fore and aft, at the front going to composite headlamps for 1987 with a more sculpted grille. I actually don’t generally mind the styling of the Cimarron (nor that of the Cavalier, Skyhawk, Firenza and J2000/2000/Sunbird J-Body compatriots). I’m also perhaps one of the rare people that prefers the original front end with the four quad sealed beams, to me it looks stronger than this more aero front end which looks sort of frowny.
Nothing says quality like a hood badge, it works for BMW so it shall work for Cadillac too, except it doesn’t really since one has been doing it for decades and the other did this as pretty much a one-off. I’d probably though mock a hood ornament even more, and will admit that this one has actually held up quite well without the colors of the crest itself fading to any appreciable degree.
As I mentioned, that first year 1.8l four banger produced all of 88hp, then for 1983 it was enlarged to 2.0 liters and gained fuel injection, somehow however output actually managed to drop to 86hp. For 1985 there was finally a 2.8l V6 option shared with the Buick and Cavalier which then as of 1987 became the Cimarron’s only engine option and for 1988 produced 125hp. Surprisingly a 5-speed manual was standard but a 3-speed automatic was optional and I have to believe overwhelmingly the chosen transmission. Had a V6 been available from day one as the only option I believe the car would have gotten far less vitriol hurled at it.
For comparison though in 1988 the BMW 325i produced 170hp, the Mercedes 190E 2.6 produced 164hp, the Audi 90 (1988) produced 130hp from its inline 5, and the Saab 900 turbo produced 173hp. The Audi and Saab were FWD as well with AWD as an Audi option, but considered very well-handling cars, while the RWD dynamics of the BMW especially were considered impeccable.
The Cimarron for 1988 started at $16,071 with various options available at even more cost. However, the four door Cavalier started at $8,195 that same year, so about half. To be fair that did not include a V6 or many of the Cadillac’s standard features, but that wasn’t the talking point, the huge price differential was, for a car that largely looked the same. I’ll be the first to admit the Europeans named previously, especially with their premium engine option, were all base priced significantly higher than the Cadillac by 1988.
This though doesn’t necessarily make the Cimarron a good value comparatively, merely cheaper. Which is how it was generally viewed but not as good cheaper in terms of less costly to purchase but bad cheaper as in a lesser vehicle. While it is perhaps possible that people who were interested in a Cimarron may well have taken a look at the European showrooms, it was extremely rare for anyone genuinely interested in one of the others to conversely set foot in a Cadillac showroom to experience the Cimarron. Cadillac had wounded itself with the Seville, but really started prepping for amputations (of sales volumes) with the Cimarron.
I wax and wane on the design, of the 1988 Cadillac lineup I find more than a few of them a bit difficult to appreciate when viewed together and there are some wildly different themes going on across the range that year. The Cimarron here got decent wraparound taillights later in life and included euro-like amber turn signals but kept the crestwork within the lens along with the luggage rack, sending mixed messages; either you’re a Euro-fighter or you’re Broughamtastic. It’s hard to pull off both. The chrome bumper with plastic endcaps isn’t great either but am I cavalier (sorry) in saying the same seems to work on the BMW but not as well here? Those doorhandles though, so partsbin GM. Most Cimarrons were at least spared the vinyl top treatment.
The trunk is decently trimmed out, and even the extremely high liftover height, being a vestigial remnant of early 1980s engineering, wasn’t as criticized back then as it would be today.
Too many crests. One per car is my preferred limit, preferably on the hood. Always keep them wanting more, don’t just throw it at them. Yes, this likely appeals to the traditional Cadillac buyer but that isn’t who this car was aimed at. Know thy audience and all that.
And zero of these is my limit. Who has ever used this on a sedan? I get it on an MG or similar and on the roof of a wagon too, but not a trunklid. It’s just tacky.
Moving inside, the overwhelming blueness has me feeling a little, well, blue. Those seats though do look comfortable. They are leather on the sides and the seating surface is some sort of space age fabric blend sort of material. Bummer about the embroidery though. And that horrendously cheap Cavalier shift lever, well, it explains why this is cheaper than the Euros but not why it’s so much more than the Chevy.
I know I bagged on the Body by Fisher thingy on the Seville, but this is even worse. Really, molded into the plastic sill strip? Really? Horrible along with the exposed Phillips screw head right below it. I’m surprised it doesn’t say “Body by Fisher, Interior by Fisher Price”. And if absolutely nothing else, that is impossible to clean located where it is, it’ll always be dirty.
As charitable as I am towards the Cimarron, the interior really is where it all falls apart for me. This dashboard and center console says anything but premium. Apparently the instrument panel surround is supposed to look like aluminum instead of wood like in other Cadillacs. But while the wood in other Cadillacs generally looks extremely fake, this just looks like gray plastic, not fake aluminum. And the whole dashboard is just a vertical cliff that you sit low behind, just like in the Seville. It actually shares some parts with that Seville too but only because the Seville shared them with a Chevy as well.
Ah, script, so classy. Barf. And I know we’ve seen that glovebox knob before. On every Seville, Nova, El Camino, etc from the decade or more prior to this car.
I appreciate the full complement of gauges (as opposed to that Seville again for example) but the execution sucks, why are two of the ancillary gauges in the middle and the other two within the tach? Is this really the best option? And then there’s the techno anti-Broughamity with the exposed allen heads again, a la 1980 Pontiac Phoenix. What was the last car in America to still have an 85mph speedometer? I was surprised to see it on this one, being an ’88.
With only about 88,000 miles displayed I’ll venture the guess that this is only its first time around the dial, the condition doesn’t seem to warrant having covered another 100k.
The sound system was likely fairly decent, GM had a good thing going in this era with those, and the climate control, well, everyone has likely used one of these setups, I’m sure it did a good job of keeping the interior cold on a hot day. Note the “aluminum” dash trim cracking to the right of the radio and the tach.
There’s a lot of mish-mash going on here and again, nothing really positively sets it apart from a Cavalier.
The back seats look fairly well stuffed if the bottom cushion looks a little short while still not leaving much legroom. Being stuck with the 101 inch wheelbase will do that I guess. I’d pity the family whose kids need to sit back here, wouldn’t the money for this have been better spent on a larger pretty much anything else from GM instead for any of the occupants, even those in front?
There doesn’t seem to be much marketing material for the 1988 so this 1986 will have to do, no matter since I prefer this post-original but pre-final version anyway.
But don’t just take my word for all of this, check these out: