My First Car, At Age Sixteen: 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera – These Hold Up Over Time, Right?

I honestly doubt anyone would see this car as “vintage”, but as someone who has been into cars as a hobby for as long as I can remember, I wouldn’t want to forget my history and experience with this car, as the one in these pictures are of my own. While my story and time with this car isn’t amazing or fantastic, it hits home and helps me remember a time when things were more simple, less expensive, and…should I say, more enjoyable in a strange way? At least that’s what it does for me, and while the time has come for me to part ways with it to keep my other cars, I will forever have a soft spot for the early 90s cutlass Cieras, Buick Centurys and GM A-bodies in general. Anyway, on with the story.

It was only three short (or long) years ago that I was a freshman in high school and couldn’t wait to get my license or learners permit. In late 2017, while I was struggling slowly though the utterly boring Drivers Ed class, my mom and I started looking for a used car for both of us. At this point in time my mother hadn’t owned a car in about 5 years as she couldn’t afford one, so either we took the city bus or my dad had to take me somewhere instead, neither of which were fun or nice. But we had been saving up for a few years, so we both agreed that it would be a good idea to buy a cheap car for me to learn to drive with. While I’d spent a large portion of my life learning about vehicles, a lot of my knowledge was about classic cars and muscle cars, so I had never really considered wanting to buy a FWD non-V8 car.

What I originally had been looking for was a classic RWD V8 car of an older style; while I would buy these types of cars in the future, there weren’t any available for $1,000 at the time. The only two options was this 1993 Olds Cutlass and a 1998 Dodge Neon (I clearly made the right choice). The Cutlass had 186k miles and the guy was asking $1000 OBO. It was only 8 miles away from us, so we figured why not?

I have to admit, 15 year-old me was pretty excited once we got to the guy’s house. The car had been garage kept and had a CD radio player swapped in favor of the old cassette player. That wasn’t what made me buy it though; it was the harmonic chugging of the reliable 3300 V6 and comfortable red velvet seats. I doubt I would’ve gotten the car if it had the 2200 inline 4.

While it wasn’t what I had originally wanted, something about it felt right, and 2nd best of everything wasn’t so bad right? And so I went with my gut feeling, and ended up getting the car right on my 16th birthday. Lots of people looked at these cars as “grandpa” cars, but I can’t see why they can’t be a “teen” car as well, considering how you can still pick up cars like this for under $2,000 in decent condition these days. The one that I bought however, was not in the best condition, which is why it was only $1,000.

While neither my mother or I drive that much (still), we both drove that car everywhere. It had heat for the winter and AC for the summer; well…that is until the blower fan broke. At the time I got the car I knew almost nothing about it, so the first time I went to change the oil, it proved to be a surprisingly difficult task. Not because I didn’t know how, but because for some reason the oil filter had been placed FAR back in the engine bay where I could barely even get to it. For a while I couldn’t even find the stupid thing, so I ended up having to buy a special tool to reach it and get it out. And from the looks of it the oil hadn’t been changed in years (probably due to the fact the oil filter was nearly impossible to find).

Oh yea, two of the windows don’t move at all and the other two windows only sometimes work. But the only other problem I had with it was the clutch solenoid going bad, and causing the transmission to go into fail-safe mode after driving at highway speeds. But after a bit of research I solved the problem by merely unplugging the solenoid. My fuel mileage got cut, but the car no longer stalled on the freeway exit ramps, which is what I was aiming for.

After 29 years, the driver’s side door handle has in fact broken, so while it didn’t have the finest of materials, I couldn’t say that I didn’t expect a few things to break over time. But with it weighing just under 3000 pounds, the 160 HP V6 gets up just fine. It’s not bad in the snow either, so I would say this car is perfect for those who are starting to learn how to drive. It’s not too big or too small, it’s not too slow or too fast, it’s just right.

Now is it safe? Eh…it’s about as safe as a medium sized car from the 90s could be. Steering feels planted and is actually not too heavy. The gearing is fine, though the motor isn’t too pleased with going over 75 MPH unless the gas pedal is at least pressed halfway down.

Over three years and 7,000 miles later, the Ciera has endured a hit and run with a Toyota Tacoma (never caught the guy), sliding into a snow drift, having bald tires that nearly fall off the wheels, and having the brake pads nearly down to nothing (replaced recently). The only time the car hasn’t started was when the battery died, so I must say I’m very pleased with it and can say I got my money’s worth.

I said something earlier about this car hitting home for me; the two cars I remember my mom having when I was really young were a 1991 Pontiac Trans Sport minivan and a 1996 Olds Cutlass Supreme, so my mom’s side of the family seems to have had a thing for 90s GM cars.

When I first bought this car, my hometown was more quiet, and had lots of trees and grass. The roads were wide and there were more places to park. Now everything is different, the neighborhood is loud, all the trees and grass have been paved over to make way for apartments and parking lots, and the roads have been narrowed each way to make space for new sidewalks (kinda a problem considering all the cars I drive are big sedans). So, I guess in a way this car helps me remember a more relaxed, less congested and simple time. I don’t know if anyone else has experience with the early 90s GM A-body cars, but since I still see so many of them still on the road I would assume that people have had good experience with them for the most part and they hold up over time; right?