COAL: 1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera SL – It’s “A” Car!

After so much bad luck with the ’87 Sentra, Dad had located a low-mile Ciera for a good price, and we bought it.  It was to be typical of my GM experiences overall – a good car let down by some really annoying issues.It was a Ciera SL, white with reddish burgundy interior.  It was the fanciest car I had had up to this point, with working A/C, full power windows/locks/trunk/seats, cruise control, wire-wheel hubcaps, a powerful 3300 V6 and a 4-speed overdrive.  It proved to have loads of power while turning in very good fuel economy for highway driving.  The seats were comfortable, and the inside of the car was a nice place to be.


It had one of the nicest gauge layouts I’ve seen in a car – with white backlighting on the gauges, but all of the warning zones in the appropriate colours.  The needles would light up too.  Something odd was the fact that as seen above, the kilometers started at 10 and went up by 20 per indication.  I haven’t seen any other car do that.

A scan from the GM parts book cover.

Being one of General Motors’ A-bodies, one would think it would be reliable – and mostly, it was.  It was all of the bits that bolt on that gave trouble.  The car started making a noise one day – a loud whine and low voltage at idle.  It turned out to be a failed diode in the alternator.  When it was wet out, the car would misfire – upon looking at the coil pack, you could see the spark jumping from under the plug wire to the coil mounting screw.  Lots of dielectric grease took care of that.  A short time after that, the car started missing under a moderate load – a bad plug wire was the culprit.  On New Years Eve at the end of my back shift, the car refused to crank.  Checking it over in the parking lot, I found the starter had failed.  Replaced that with lots of cursing as the frame member ran directly below the starter bolts.

My half-hearted attempt at an exhaust tip.  It didn’t work.

It didn’t end there.  I couldn’t keep ball joints or inner tie rods in it, and it would seem to break belts in the front tires every so often.  The car never let me down, but I grew tired of the car nickel-and-diming me regularly, and after a year, decided to get a small loan and buy something new.  I was glad to see it go, and consequently drifted towards other car brands for a while. I found something that caught my eye, and bought it – but got some gentle teasing by lots of people over it.