Somehow it feels like we had a bit of a Cadillac Week (or was it a Week And A Half?) and it’s time to go out with a bang. Or bust, whatever the case may be. I checked and it’s been just over a year since I last singled out the Cadillac Cimarron for attention, but then these two showed up hand in hand recently and, well, the die sort of cast itself. While the Cadillac that perhaps should have just been a top Chevy trim level lasted for seven model years, there were a surprising number of changes made to it throughout that time. Here we have an example from the second year, 1983, and one from the second to last year, 1987, almost perfect bookends to production, to dissect and discuss.
I’ll keep the orientation the same throughout, with the 1983 on top and the 1987 on the bottom. For those that haven’t been paying any attention whatsoever, the Cimarron was famously introduced for the 1982 model year and from day one it was obvious that it was a Chevrolet Cavalier with all the gingerbread that arguably America’s top luxury brand could fling at it. There’s nothing wrong with a Cavalier (well, in this context at least, let’s save the reality for another day), but just adding bling and then doubling the price seemed to offend a lot of Americans and thus this car is considered one of the main contributors to Cadillac’s long decline.
Look at the top picture. Lose the Cadillac script and that’s a Cavalier. At first glance one might even ask when did GM start rendering the Cavalier badge in script, and unless one bothered to keep reading after the second letter (Ca…) it may have been left at that…Even GM realized it was just too close for comfort so the nose actually was noticeably changed twice during the production run. First from the original to an intermediate that we can’t see here that amazingly also looked a lot like the Cavalier’s, to what was the final version with the flush composite headlights and a very differently shaped grille.
My “favorite” is actually the unseen one from the middle years, it’s a little more aggressive than the original but not as bland as the final one here. So basically the entire bumper, grille, surround and headlights, even the spacing of the bumperettes, all different. I don’t know what happened to the hoods here, it seems both hood releases were broken and someone had to get all medieval on these two. Oy, if only someone would have made the wise decision to abort while it was obviously not viable back in the fall of 1981 a lot of pain, suffering, and cost might have been averted…but the old guard never looked ahead, to their consequent peril, and just blindly voted against that option without really taking the overall market into account.
Zooming out a little brings the side of the car into view, and well, obviously the sheetmetal is the same since there was only one generation, the front side markers went away with the wraparound ones integrated with the headlights, the car got lower cladding, and somehow looked a little beefier due to that. Good moves, the Cavalier didn’t get cladding beyond the Z24’s body kit but that was a different mission, thankfully Cadillac hadn’t discovered the letter “V” yet. Just imagine a 1983 Cimarron V69 package, you wouldn’t know if you were coming or going, ground effects and wings galore. Faux carbon fiber luggage racks!
So in the beginning to make sure a supermarket shopper didn’t mistake their Cavalier for this Cimarron, they were badged as such on the doors. When the cladding appeared, the badge disappeared. Magic! Where’d it go? Nobody knows! A bigger mystery though is this (and I really don’t know, I realized this later) – Is the lower cladding not made of plastic but actually able to rust as it appears to here? I’ll grant that neither of these specimens were exactly showroom fresh or looked particularly cared for and it’s impressive enough that they lasted this long, but that’s an interesting amount of ferrous oxide on that lower trim there. I think the blue car had spent a not inconsiderable amount of time on graveled roads with the lower corners shotblasted as a result.
The door handles never changed, they remained the same crappy poor-feeling parts-bin pieces for the duration and appear to be the same as used on a Chevy S-10 and almost every other GM car of the day. The trim atop the cladding may in fact be the same as well, creatively reused in this way four years later, but probably adding more cost in the process rather than using a slightly larger cladding piece from the beginning.
I was surprised to realize that the alloys on this ’83 were 13-inchers; while the BMW 320i of 1982 (the year of the Cimarron’s intro) also had 13s as did some other cars, by 1983 and the new 318i that went up to 14, as did/were most cars with either any kind of sporting intent or considered powerful enough that five-lug wheels were considered appropriate.
Of course by 1987 that had increased to 14″ on the Cimarron as well, but by this time many others were up to 15″ or even 16″ already. Disregarding the size, I think I prefer the older style wheel with the larger (missing here) center cap, but that’s not really saying much, a few different styles were available over the years, but always 13 or 14 inches in diameter depending on the year. Sidewall, schmidewall, either aim at the Euros or don’t. Ride and handling don’t have to be completely mutually exclusive.
Arrears we have the, uh, rears of the cars along with some bigger changes than obvious at first glance. First though, somehow the luggage rack managed to hang on to the trunk lid for the duration of the run, at least as an often- or usually-fitted optional extra. Cadillac in its early marketing materials considered as competition the Audi 5000, BMW 320i, Volvo GLE, and the Saab 900 sedan. While I think the Audi was a class too large with the 4000 being more appropriate and the BMW was only a 2-door, is it weird that I have never seen a luggage rack fitted to the trunk lid of any of those at any time over the last forty years? I’ve also never seen a piece of luggage on any trunk mounted luggage rack such as these. Huh. I think the existence of that alone is what kept many people from seriously considering the car, it was not a better idea. Heck I don’t recall other Cadillacs sporting them as a matter of course. WTF, Cadillac, why you gotta announce you’re fighting the Bavarians and then go all K-car? Spend that money on something better, not JC Whitney.
While the extruded bumper, side pieces and even the overriders seem to be the same, the tail lights certainly changed, not just in configuration but also in shape. Kudos to Cadillac for always having an amber section on the Cimarron, but a big boo for screwing it up on the older models and not wrapping the amber around to be visible from the side as on the later cars. Sometimes one might think there was never such a thing as GM Europe.
Did you realize the winged Cadillac crest changed between taillight designs? Wild. Were there other winged Cadillac crests, ever? Or is that meant to denote the V thingy under many of the older ones? Mary, Mary, Maaaarrrrryyyy, where are you Mary? Do you know, Mary? Oh yeah, I forgot, you were only 20 when this was released, you aren’t to blame. Someone will know. Still, the taillight crest is also a very American affectation. No, you don’t have to necessarily mimic the Europeans to compete with them, but then again, that is exactly what Cadillac did do in yet later years when the chase began in earnest. The chase, that is, without a target that was really aware of it or remotely concerned about it.
Take a look at that bumper though and compare it to a modern car. My goodness, there are a LOT of little pieces that all have to fit together somehow – the metal bumper, the corner piece, the black rub strip, the overrider, the body color spacer, the rub strip on the corner piece…Nowadays there seem to be more little pieces underneath the surface than on top of it but wow, that stuff kept someone very busy on the line. And of course, being the Cadillac, it had to have every single little add-on piece available.
Here, here’s some meat to go with the potatoes so far, the engine denotation on the decklid. 1983 only saw a 2.0l inline-4 being offered, while that was sort of an improvement on the wheezy 1.8 it debuted with a year earlier, somehow it managed to gain 200cc as well as fuel injection but still lose two horsepower. I have to scratch my head at that one, even the new math I was learning at the time in Algebra II doesn’t explain it. It seems like a bad trade, or someone got paid off, either way their brochures touted the larger engine but avoided mentioning the smaller pot of beans. Eventually the 2.8l V6 became an option and by 1987 it was the only engine offered. That seems good on the surface but it somehow only produced 125hp, by the mid-80s that was well off the number of ponies being herded along by most of the Europeans. And yes, the Europeans cost more but it was Cadillac that said their car could play with the Ausländer and touted the cost “savings”.
I’ll applaud the Cimarron for offering as standard a manual transmission (with a 3-speed auto as an optional extra). However that applause is more of a slow clap as in its first year that manual was a FOUR-speed, with the five debuting for ’83. A four-speed seems pretty weak sauce for a Cadillac, someone made an error there. A Tercel maybe, but not a Caddy. Actually the Tercel SR5 did have the five, no? I’ve not had the pleasure of rowing my own in any Cimarron or Cavalier so I’ll have to take your (Dear Reader’s) word for it that it’s not Honda smooth, but I can imagine. I don’t know the take rate of the manual, if brochure photos are indicative of reality it would seem to be about 90 percent, but I imagine it is not and that it’s closer to 9% if not POINT nine, probably being offered so that the base price of about twice the Cavalier’s base price didn’t seem even further off by having the automatic as standard. Coulda had a Cimarron SR5 and saved some coin, homey!
This gives a better idea of the side view, there’s no doubt that the later car looks better and more substantial, the cladding and the wraparound lights help tremendously here. And are things that if they had from day one would have (maybe) helped tremendously. Check out the wear behind the rear wheel of the blue car, impressive for a FWD car. I know the world wasn’t ready for it in the 1980s but they might as well have blown more money on a wagon version, they for sure missed a trick by not producing the convertible, with more than a couple being done aftermarket and maybe in that form being worth a little more. I may be going a little Stockholm Syndrome now, this is taking me longer to write than usual…recognizing it is the first step to stopping it…must…resist…
The trunk interiors are effectively the same, there are differences such as the cut around the hinge of the liner and even the inner stamping of the trunk lid itself, but those are both likely shared with the Chevy and the other J-bodies and constitute running changes. Both of these cars were produced in Janesville, Wisconsin, some earlier cars were also produced in South Gate (Los Angeles).
Here are those aforementioned engines, in case there’s any doubt I’d take the 2.8 V6 any day of the week but that’s faint praise, admittedly. I do kind of like the sound it makes though, at least in the Cav Z24. Not much else to say here beyond how it’s interesting how they managed to make a four look just as crammed in there as the V6. Let’s check out the inside next!
You’d think a Cadillac owner would keep their ride a little cleaner, but…no, I’m just KIDDING, PUT DOWN YOUR COMMENT FINGERS, CADILLAC OWNERS, I DIDN’T MEAN TO POKE THE BEAR, can’t you take a joke? That was close, I guess I did poke the bear just a little. Anyway, something obviously happened to these cars, I’m not judging. Well, maybe I am, but not on that. The interiors have a number of changes as well beyond just options but a lot was the same. The dash is the same, but look at the side of the center console, it’s very different with a cover panel on the older one and separately finished modules on the newer one.
The dash itself is different from the Cavalier, it’s somewhat nicer with fake stitching around the edges of it and the console areas. That shifter though, that’s just terrible. It is leather covered but the size and shape of it, it just exudes zero elegance and seems such a simple thing to alter that could make a huge visible difference. It may have been designed by the S-10 team. The base model S-10 team. The stitching on the TOP of the handle on the ’87 seems kinda naff as well, although it may well be considered fancier by some. Like carrying something made by Louis Vuitton with the logo plastered all over the outside rather than just tucked inside. New money vs old money, honey, can’t buy my love.
I don’t really love either steering wheel, but I’d be less likely to give the brown one up for adoption if forced to keep one. The brown one (the ’83) seems more driver focused. Well, as driver focused as anything with 86hp and a 3-speed auto can ever be. The blue one looks like someone at Cadillac saw a mid ’80s Toyota steering wheel and said “Hold my Faygo”.
The radios got a little more sophisticated, the climate controls went from levers to buttons, and the digital dash option makes an appearance here on the ’87. Other than that pretty much the same. A rectangle for everything and everything in its rectangle. Boring in 1983, boring-er in 1987.
It’s interesting not that both have fake aluminum dash panels (it’s just plastic, you didn’t think that $12k in 1983 got you real metal did you?) but that the older one looks to have sort of a brushed look and the newer one has more of a grid pattern. I consider the TRON-grid stuff as being passé by ’87 but maybe it would have been too ahead of its time in ’83. Cadillac made a big deal of having a standard tachometer in the Cimarron, with most being 3-speed automatics it’s kind of academic though unless you just plan to always manually hold first until the engine is about to explode and then repeat that in second…but then you would have just gotten the manual and yeah, I know, if we are back to getting a manual then you’d be driving Rachel to the hotel after the prom in the 325e anyway, dontcha know.
With only a five digit odo on the ’83 and no power on the ’87 we can’t accurately opine on the actual mileage of either, unfortunately, although my money is on under 100k for each, the seats are in too good of a condition for much more than that.
The headrests seem to be the same between years, and yes those are leather-faced seats, but the 1987 version is more complex and intricate than the older one. Not sure that’s for the better, seems like more places to have to clean your Newport cigarette butts out of (as opposed to KOOL butts for the older one, not that I checked. Again, not judging, 30% less tar is probably better!). The older seat though is more likely to appeal to the target market. Embroidered script on seats? Nein danke, verdammt nochmal, wo ist mein BMW?
I think we can all be perfectly objective and act like grown-ups and say that there isn’t much to choose between the back seats of either (although I prefer the simpler, non-embroidered brown ’83 one because it’s simply better). The bigger story of course is that the Cimarron, Cadillac’s claims at the time notwithstanding, took a back seat to pretty much all of its supposed competition, such as it was.
In reality its real competition as a new-car offering was more likely the high-zoot versions of its Buick, Olds, and perhaps even Chevy J-car stablemates, definitely so if anything but self-perceived social status is concerned. Yes, Cadillac achieved a number of conquest (i.e. non-Cadillac-owning) sales (with a total of 132,499 over 7 model years), but few were seriously and objectively actually cross-shopping the Cimarron with the competition that Cadillac envisioned either on a value or performance basis. Cadillac, as did some others, ignored the nuance and intangible essences often available elsewhere in favor of superficial qualities. And those that did somehow consider the Cadillac superior overall would likely have been better served at a different GM division where essentially the same car was available as a better value, comparatively speaking. The 1980s were the heyday of Europe’s genuine initial volume ascendancy to the entry-level luxury game that the Cimarron aspired to; the Cimarron as an abstract concept in a boardroom presentation may not have been completely absurd on the face of it, but the way the idea was eventually executed (and approved) was simply wrong. So whether you prefer the ’83 Cimarron or the ’87 Cimarron, you probably would have preferred something else altogether if you were in the situation to do so at either time, and your choice would likely have been right.