(first posted 10/5/2015) The Cadillac Cimarron is one of the more reviled cars in recent history. Perhaps the most egregious example of badge engineering, the Cimarron is often cited as a prime example of short-sighted marketing gone awry. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, it’s plain to see that the Cimarron – largely a clone of the much cheaper Chevrolet Cavalier – never stood a chance. Given that clear prognosis of failure, it’s reasonable to wonder just how this car came to be produced in the first place.
This particular car is a 1984 model – from the third of Cimarron’s seven model years, and the year it most resembled a Cavalier. Except for the missing bumper fillers, this car appears to be in very solid condition, and is one of the very few Cimarrons to make it to the 30-year mark.
At the dawn of the 1980s, Cadillac was taking a beating – for its lack of fuel efficient cars during the energy crisis, and for the sense that the brand was appealing increasingly to older, stodgy customers. Division sales plunged 39% between just 1978 and 1980 (to 213,000 units) – and panic set in.
People (and companies) tend not to think clearly when panicked, and Cadillac dealers and some executives began clamoring for an “import fighter” small car that could attract a younger and more efficiency-minded crowd. Enter the J-car.
General Motors’ J-car was its high-profile subcompact set to debut for 1982, led by the entry-level Chevy Cavalier, with models planned for Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick as well – each with 4 body styles. Could a sedan version possibly be reworked into a Cadillac? A tempting question, since it could theoretically be a silver bullet – but there was quite a debate among GM managers about this point.
Those advocating for a J-car Cadillac pointed to the burgeoning success of small premium European cars such as BMW’s 320i and Audi’s 4000. Furthermore, Japanese carmakers were inching upscale, stretching the concept of what was possible with a smaller car. Datsun and Toyota were foraying into the near-luxury field with their Maxima and Cressida sedans, both effective adaptations of American preferences in a small car. Buyers lapped it all up, particularly younger, affluent buyers – the very people Cadillac hoped to attract with its own small car.
Clearly, there was a market for upscale small cars, but should Cadillac sell one? Some at GM thought NO… that Cadillac should focus on traditional luxury offerings, and leave small cars to other divisions. A small Cadillac, it was thought, would dilute the aura of Cadillac that was carefully crafted over generations.
Ultimately, it was thought that Cadillac’s then-plunging sales and the continuing energy crisis warranted a drastic move. The viewpoint that Cadillac should develop its own J-car prevailed, but only 11 months before the J-car’s planned introduction. That left Cadillac engineers and product planners a very short time to build their own unique offering, and no time or budget to craft any meaningful unique parts or equipment. The end result was predictable.
The Cimarron was officially introduced in May, 1981 as an ’82 model. Unfortunately, GM botched the J-car introduction. Production was delayed, but ads weren’t, meaning that GM was advertising cars that were largely unavailable at dealers. Cadillac then took the odd step of restricting sales of early ’82 Cimarrons to dealers that sold no other small cars (i.e., Cadillac-only dealers). Ostensibly a way to deal with restricted production, the move only heightened sensitivities to comparing Cimarron to cheaper subcompacts.
When production finally did gear up, the early-80s recession was in full swing, dampening car sales everywhere. And then there was the engine. All 1982 J-cars were powered by an 88-hp 1.8-liter carbureted, 4-cylinder engine. The engine became known for running rough and loud, except when it stalled, which was often. Performance was lethargic – barely acceptable for an economy car, but completely embarrassing for a Cadillac. 1982 automatic J-cars could “accelerate” to 60 mph in 17 seconds – and that’s with the air conditioner turned off.
Cimarron did feature unique front and rear design treatments, as well as leather upholstery, alloy wheels, more sound insulation, a fuzzy headliner and a full instrumentation. But its engine and transmission were identical to other J-cars – the 1.8-liter engine mated to a 4-speed manual (Cadillac’s first since 1953) or a 3-speed automatic.
One area on which Cadillac engineers were able to focus was the suspension. Each of the other four J-cars had slightly unique suspension components (part of GM’s effort to design a separate ‘feel’ for each division), so Cadillac raided GM’s parts bin to come up with its own setup. Cimarrons featured anti-roll bars from the performance-oriented J’s, and firm struts, but softer springs to provide a well-controlled yet comfortable ride. Given their constrained parameters, Cadillac engineers succeeded: Cimarrons handled relatively well.
Considering the headwinds Cimarron faced from the start, it’s surprising that the car logged over 25,000 sales in its first year – even if that number was below GM’s expectations. But these buyers did not fit the “young professional” profile that Cadillac had hoped for. Cimarron buyers’ average age was in the early 50s – just a notch lower than the average age of Cadillac buyers overall. Dealers noted that many early Cimarrons were sold as 2nd cars or “wives cars” to existing or former Cadillac owners.
Cimarron sales remained in the 20,000-unit range throughout most of its production life. That wasn’t enough to make anyone proud, but it wasn’t poor enough to force Cadillac to quickly discontinue its J-car, and admit defeat.
It is often cited that a Cimarron cost twice as much as a Cavalier, which is true when looking at base prices alone. However, the J-cars had very wide price ranges, and all were available with luxury options such as power windows, power driver seats and sunroofs. In fact, the only major unique major feature in the Cimarron was its leather upholstery. While selling a luxury car with overt similarities to cheaper models was a huge mistake, the Cimarron’s price differential is not quite as exaggerated as first meets the eye. In 1984, a Cimarron cost $2,300 (or 17%) more than a similarly equipped Buick Skyhawk.
Of course, having Cadillac offer a clone of any J-car was a fatal flaw. This was especially true in the crucial first year: 1982 Cimarrons were awful, with that impossible-to-ignore weakling engine. GM improved the J-car for 1983 by upgrading to a 2.0-liter fuel injected engine. Although horsepower remained at 88, torque was up 10%, and overall drivability soared.
Now the J-car was at least adequately powered, for an economy car. For a luxury car, the Cimarron still had subpar power and refinement, just a little less so. Cadillac also reworked the suspension for ’83, and gave the Cimarron a redesigned grille, finned alloy wheels and fog lights – in a desperate attempt to make it look slightly more Cadillac-like.
1984, our featured year, was largely a carryover, however the grille was again redesigned, as were the tail lights. But it was not a kind year for the Cimarron because our car’s progenitor and nemesis, the Cavalier, sported a redone front end of its own – featuring quad headlamps and a rectangular grille – just like the Cimarron. As shown above, the similarity between the two cars is undeniable.
Our featured car sports an aftermarket (likely dealer-installed) grille and stand-up hood ornament. Neither blends well with the car’s design, but they were common add-ons, and speak to buyers’ and dealers’ desire for a more traditional-looking Cadillac.
This car has one very unusual feature – cloth upholstery, which was a credit option (for $100) over the standard leather. Considering that leather seating was one of Cadillac’s bragging points about the Cimarron, it was probably rarely ordered.
Otherwise, this Cimarron is at the lower end of the equipment range. It features some of the more common options such as an automatic transmission, power windows and locks, and a rear defogger. However, it does not include cruise control, the “Symphony Sound” cassette stereo, power antenna, or the available pop-up sunroof.
By 1984, however, instead of buying fuel-sipping smaller cars, Cadillac customers had returned to traditional luxury. 1984 was Cadillac’s best sales year of the decade, with 327,000 cars sold – up 60% from the 1980 low point. Americans were again enjoying 99-cent gasoline, and again valued both size and comfort in their luxury cars. Whatever rationale existed to bring the Cimarron into this world in 1981 had already vanished by 1984.
Still though, the Cimarron lived on. For 1985, the car got much-needed improvements – a 2.8-liter V-6 (optional at first, then standard in 1987) and a redesigned front end that added 5 inches of length and that finally distinguished it a bit from other J-cars.
Further improvements came in the following 3 years. By its final year of 1988, the Cimarron was a decent car, and stylistically was distinguished from other GM products. Had the Cimarron debuted with these improvements in 1981, it may have stood a chance both at sales success and at attracting younger, performance-oriented buyers.
But the upgrades came too sporadically and much too late to save the Cimarron from being ranked as one of the 1980s biggest automotive mistakes.
Cimarron’s legacy was that it brought unrelenting shame on its parent company. Poorly conceived and executed, the relatively low-volume Cimarron was exactly what Cadillac didn’t need in the 1980s. Cadillac’s immediate reaction was to disavow any attempt to pursue younger buyers for the rest of the decade.
Mid-decade Cadillacs (like those above) instead focused on continuing the division’s traditional luxury strengths. However, by the 1990s Cadillac was facing the an even more aging customer base than a decade earlier, and the attempt to woo younger, sportier buyers began anew with the Catera.
Even 15 years later, GM executives were still apologizing for the Cimarron fiasco. Ultimately, the Cimarron wasn’t a terrible car; it was just a terrible Cadillac. Creating a small, nimble, fuel-efficient luxury car was a good strategy in the early 1980s, but GM’s execution and timing of the Cimarron could hardly have been worse. In a panicked pursuit of younger customers, Cadillac forsook distinctiveness, performance and value, and the resulting car wound up being a textbook example of what not to do in a crisis. It’s up to history to determine if that lesson has been fully learned.
Photographed in Fairfax, Virginia in August 2015.
Curbside Classic: Cimarron by Cadillac, GM’s Deadly Sin #10 by PN
At least Lincoln didn’t build a tempo based competitor. Unbelievable that gm executives would think that a cavalier with a different grill would sell and that young people would be like ! gee I really want a baby Cadillac that looks like the second crappiest Chevy made. These same idiots brought us the diesel and the 4.1 engine. I think if Cadillac had fired their executives in 1980 and not hired any replacements or made any changes until 1990 Cadillac would have been better off.
They didn’t have to, Lincoln was ridiculed a lil before the Cimarron’s debut with the crappy Granada based Versailles in the 70’s.
And they could only must around 50K in sales from 1977-1980. It was a big flop for Lincoln.
Never really understood the hate for the Versailles on this site. It was a decent car for the times. It had some worthwhile mechanical and structural changes over the Granada/Monarch, and in it’s last 2 years with the new roofline looked considerably different. IMO Ford’s big mistake here was in pricing it like the Seville, instead of making it an entry-level Lincoln. The Cimmaron, too, was not a bad car in itself, but failed at it’s mission of being a small Cadillac competitor to BMW etc. Was just a Cavalier with leather.
There doesn’t seem to be as much hate for the Chrysler Lebaron, which was always nothing more than a slightly upscale version of the Aspen/Volare or later the Aries/Reliant.
they did build a Continental that looked like a tempo though
Honestly, I had never noticed that until it was pointed out in another post a week or two ago. It was quite similar, but on the other hand you’d never mistake one for the other either.
That’s a Topaz, the Tempo sedan had an entirely different roofline. Besides, they weren’t based on each other, they just shared styling traits. No worse than this…
Both look like the continental, the topaz more so…..not saying it was a bad thing just IMO not something I would want my continental to look like….as for the Mercedes it seems like the entire car line is designed to look alike I.e like a bimmer
Not to mention that many of the early 1980’s Lincoln products were based on the economy car Fairmont chassis. They were better isolated cars, but still Fairmonts…
If the Continental and Mark VII were Fairmonts, then the Seville was a Nova. There’s platform sharing with distinctive sheetmetal, meaningful engine differences, and different suspension tuning. Then there is blatant badge-engineering, which the Versailles was guilty of to some extent, and which the Cimarron is one of the most egregious examples of ever.
+1 The Versailles = the Cimmaron. The Fox Continentals and Mark VIIs are examples of platform sharing, which Cadillac did even in their peak. Even Audi shares platforms with VW, hell the Rolls Royce Ghost is based on a BMW 7 series.
Yes, it’s been discussed furiously on this site and others that the Seville was a dressed up Nova. But, there was a huge difference between the Nova and the Seville. The Versailles was a clearly gussied up Granada/Monarch (Falcon) as much as the Cimarron was a gussied up Cavalier.
Like the Cimarron, it was priced too high for what it was, or if you like, aimed at entirely the wrong market.
You mentioned the Fairmont chassis, the Lincolns based on it were the Mark VII and Continental. The Versailles was based on the Granada which was a based on the Falcon platform
Would you pay $14,500 for a dressed up Ford Granola, I mean Lincoln Versailles?
They should have fired them in 1979, if not earlier. When you read about the development of the 472 V8, you learn Cadillac field tested that engine for roughly a million miles before it went into a production vehicle. They got most all the engineering bugs out of the engine before it entered passenger car production for 1968. The 425 engine introduced in 1977 was a minor change from the 472, but they introduced the Cycling Clutch method of A/C evap. control which threw them back to the old FoMoCo A/C world vs. the POA/STV was another deadly sin. The 1980 model year 368 V8 was still a debored 472. The Eaton computer used in V8-6-4 (1981) version of the 368 showed that Cadillac had lost its commitment to engineering excellence; it was not thoroughly tested before being forced on the public.
Joan Claybrook of the Carter Admin. instituted the CAFE standards, and thus Cadillac brought us the little HT4100 and the death of their long-held reputation for excellence in powertrain engineering. GM brought the Olds diesel. Heads should have rolled over those decisions. I’ll go so far as to say some serious head-rolling should have occurred no later than 1968, as the bean-counters had intervened and were planning the much poorer quality, highly-bloated 1971 models. GM management was “stuck on stupid” for much of the later 70s and throughout the 1980s. Paying the CAFE penalty would have been better than the path they chose.
Ah yes, the Cadillac Cimarron…
No matter how some people hate this car, it always seems like it HAS TO make a bi-monthly or reoccuring appearance on CC.
Kinda like Newman, on Seinfeld.
There has been one Cimarron article this entire year.
Didn’t say it made # of articles this year… I said it makes an appearance in discussions, whether it be about the car or not. In hindsight or in MANY references…
Well it’s a pivotal car in history that likely best exemplifies badge engineering done wrong. It’s hard for it not to be referenced.
Much as I get tired of the GM bashing around here, yes, the Cimarron is probably the best example of bad badge engineering ever.
The reason for the fascination with the Cimmaron is that it was the dramatic disaster that signaled a paradigm shift on the level of the Hindenburg disaster, or the sinking of the Titanic and I am serious when I say this.
Everyone knew what a Cadillac was. Yeah, it was an old man’s car, and people were complaining that their quality wasn’t what it had been, and that the cars were out of step with the times, but they sent a specific message of success, and of quality. When wanting to describe something as the best possible example of its kind, the phrase “It’s the Cadillac of X (watches, yachts, anything)” was used without irony.
The Cimmaron destroyed those decades of image overnight. Suddenly it was obvious that Cadillacs weren’t anything special, that the idea that they were of higher quality than other cars was and had been wrong- a whole nation discovering that there was no Wizard Of Oz and that the man behind the curtain was the Janitor.
This would have never been a good revelation but coming just at the time when the X car fiasco was suggesting that GM wasn’t sweating the details just made things worse. Previously you justified your first Caddy to your friends by saying “Yeah I spent too much, and it’s too big, but I always wanted one and now I can afford one, so….” Now that justification became defensive – “The quality really is better than a Chevy”.
I realize that today all this seems silly, but Cadillac really was the symbol of the American dream, and GM very cynically crushed that dream. America will never be rich enough again for real Cadillacs so we made you a toy one out of tin
i think this explanation of what the cimarron did to hurt cadillac is right on the money. this also came soon after people realized you often got an engine that originated from a different, often lessor division.
The Cimarron was the final step to Cadillac’s forfeiting its ‘Standard of the World’ crown. It started in the early 1970’s when all the interior wood became fake, and only a few square inches of genuine leather to say it had ‘leather interior’. The pinnacle of Cadillac being a true Rolls Royce contender for cabin ambience would have be the 1966 Fleetwood Brougham. ALL the wood inside was genuine, and real leather covered 90% of the seating area. Ann Miller’s is long sold, but the photos are still up on the website: https://www.leftcoastclassics.com/1966-cadillac-fleetwood/extras/closeupgallery/
When these first came out, I thought that GM would have done better with a rebodied “A” (not knowing the ’85 “C”s were coming) If it had the post ’86 improvements and truly different styling (like first gen Seville) it might have worked. Looking exacty like a Chevy was, in the end the biggest “sin”. The last ones were decent little cars, Just not “Cadillacs”.
Had the Cimarron been an A-body, not only would it have better powertrain options, it would have (possibly) lasted a lot longer–maybe even well into the ’90s like the Cutlass Ciera and Century.
I was actually just thinking this. Maybe the J was just too small to be a “smaller” fuel efficient Caddy. But the A would have been a smaller, FWD, fuel efficient Caddy. Badge engineering was the name of the game at GM at the time, but it might have worked better on a slightly larger package.
Here’s the thing though. Even if they had used the A platform instead of the J, if they had rushed it into production like this, it still would have been way too visually similar. The A-body quadruplets took some flak on release for being the same basic car with different nose and tail jobs, and given a too-short development window, a Cadillac version would have been scarcely different than a larger Cimarron. And while larger might have been more in keeping with Cadillac’s image (and would have avoided the awful 1.8), it would hardly have been less cynical.
Oh no, i agree… it would have still been a really bad badge job. I saw an article when the A’s came out, just showing their rooflines all in maroon. I was always able to tell which was which by their front/rear ends… it wasn’t until I saw that image of how similar they were.
Just wondering if it wouldn’t have been given as much of a deadly-sin status had it been larger and on the A.
That last photo, with the off-centre emblem going rusty, kinda says it all.
I liked the GM biodegradable plastic bumper fascias. It was always amazing to me how GM got that plastic to just vaporize in sunlight. Mark of Excellence, baby.
The car that brought down my High School’s bully. I grew up in car conscious L.A. in the 1980s. When kids in my upper middle class school were getting Supra’s and RX7s his parents bought him a brand new Cimarron in gold. The should have gotten him golf shoes and a country club membership too. He was the laughing stock in the parking lot of High School but a hit at the Senior Center.
what a great memory 😉
Hahaha! That’s poetic justice! Sounds like something that would happen in a bad 80’s movie, actually.
Like Ferris Buellers Day Off perhaps. Simon Cowls favourite movie!
Did he choose the car, or did they choose it for him?
Looking at the graph of pricing ranges for 1984, it is worth mentioning that the expensive Cavaliers and Sunbirds were convertibles. You could probably buy a Cavalier or Sunbird sedan with all the convenience features for $9,000. That means that the Cadillac premium was still huge over the least expensive models if shared its body with.
How much slower than an HT4100 powered Cadillac was the 2.0 liter Cimarron? I don’t think it could have been much.
Believe it or not, the price graph here reflects only 4-door sedans for all of the J-cars — I’ve updated the footnote to avoid confusion.
Cavalier convertible prices started at over $11,000 in ’84, and I think went to about $13,000.
Sorry for doubting your thoroughness. I saw the Sunbird price exceeding the Firenza and the Cavalier matching it and surmised why. The convertibles were in production, but the V6s and cars like the Z24 weren’t, so I figured that was the reason for the expensive economy models.
No problem at all — I’m glad you pointed it out, since I really should have been more specific about the graph to begin with!
The concept of a $12,000 Cavalier in 1984 is still hard to fathom.
The concept of a $9000 Cavalier was hard to fathom when it first came out. One of the big problems the J-bodies had was sticker shock.
1984 is when the Turbo 1-4 debuted in the Skyhawk and Sunbird, explaining the price premium over the Firenza.
I would still love to own one.
I would love to have a 1987 Z24 convertible, but add on the styling bits from the last years of the Cimmaron to have a baby-Caddy convertible. I did like the styling of the last couple years of the Cimmaron.
Ehh, it’s been done.
Damn.. well how about that. Interesting.
What about a V6 Cimarron wagon?
I once gave thought of going in the opposite direction and “Sundance-izing” a Shadow convertible so I’d have the only one! Yeah, that and my thoughts of putting a Regal front clip on an ElCamino. If the big boys can badge-engineer, we can too!
There was an El Camino with a Cutlass Supreme front clip posted on here a while back, and it ended up looking rather odd. Regal might work better, and if you could source a turbo 3.8, you could make an GN Camino.
Google is great. I had seen the Olds-fronted El Camino… never thought of a Buick. Damn this looks bad ass.
Strangely enough, I spotted a third generation Pontiac Sunbird SE Convertible driven by old geezer in Sendlinger Tor area of Munich a couple of weeks ago. It was red with white interior.
The German numberplates denoted the M letter as Munich, eliminating any possibility it was driven by American military personnel.
If I see one again, I’ll try to take photos and post it here.
No matter if the Cimarron was an oddball (experimental small Cadillac) car…I would like to have one. Just imagine a Cavalier/Ascona with all these fine features built inside… The Cimarron could be a dream “J” Opel… 🙂
In a world of current automotive blobs let’s salute the heroic characters that make up the cast of past failures.
I call it Celebrating Stupidity, which Americans & Britons have much raw material for.
No, cars like the Cimarron and the corporate mindsets that birthed it are more than a little bit responsible for the current automotive blobs.
To do the Cimarron right would have required a unique J based body, say the Corsicas, that was unique to Cadillac and then teamed with FI versions of the Brazil OHC and the 2.8 V6 from day one. With the handling package standard and the relative simplicity compared to finicky 320i or 4000, on paper the car works.
Having said how it would have been done right, it still would not have worked. DINK baby boomers did not want to spend there extra income on something from Detroit. Whether politics or just generational the shift was palpable.
The Cimarron still would have been left to people who just wanted the cheapest Cadillac or old people who were having a hard time with big cars. Those people would have thought the car too loud and stiff. It probably had to be tried and is again with the ATS, but there is no success with this type of car.
Nice article. I read at Wikipedia that a former Cadillac Product Director kept a picture of a Cimarrron on the wall with the caption “Lest We Forget”…….
I am quite amazed though at how far Cadillac has come since the 80s – the current ATS-V, essentially the same entry level model as the Cimarron (though a high performance model) has a 445 hp twin turbo V6 and does 0-60 in less than 4 seconds. Astounding.
And sells in the same numbers….
The “Vanden Plas” Cavalier! There was a wealthy, older woman who had a yellow one of these at the golf community I worked at in the 90’s. It was in impeccable condition, in butter-yellow. I can still see it parked at the club house.
Just wondering, had they used the J wagon’s more upright rear door, put a more formal and upright rear C pillar while making accommodations in extending that pillar a little to make it proportional, and perhaps adding a vinyl cap like a Chrysler E-Class, how it would work then. Eliminate the sporting pretensions, while maintaining the classy looking euro headlight treatment of the later models, I think it would actually make the car something more Cadillac style and pleasing in general.
Something, Anything that would remove it from the pack stylewise would have been better, I rather like your idea of using the more upright wagon door with a more “Cadillac y” roof line. The vinyl cap probably would have been favored by the dealers, but maybe to far from the “youth” image they were going for.
While admitting the Cimarron was a complete failure, until the last two or three model years (V-6 standard), I think the article misses a point that isn’t the Cimarron’s fault.
Cadillac was SO entrenched as the dream car of The Greatest Generation, it had no hope of transferring over to The Boomers. You’re talking the Woodstock generation, the “don’t trust anyone over 30” crowd, the first generation that made a point of being as different as possible from their parents.
There was no way they were willing to be caught dead in a Cadillac. Take a BMW E30 3-series, change all the badging to Cadillac, build it in Detroit, and watch the sales and desirability drop to Cimarron levels . . . . all because its dad’s brand.
Although I’m not following the sales figures closely, I’m under the impression that Harley Davidson is having the same problem nowadays. The big twins are Boomer bikes, something no 20-something would be caught dead riding. Some of the more streetfighter oriented Sportster models seem to be selling to the 30-something crowd, but not breaking thru to the 20-somethings. And while I haven’t seen the sales figures for the new water cooled 500’s and 750’s, I don’t exactly notice many of them of the streets around Richmond. While Yamaha triples and twins are selling very well. And the big twins? They’re more V-twin, belt-drive BMW’s than bikes a Hell’s Angel would ride.
At least Harley-Davidson bothered to come up with a completely new motorcycle that has no connection to dad’s Superglide.
In retrospect, Cadillac would have probably been better off to accept the idea that sales were going to continue to fall as their customer base got older, made a better quality car that could compete on quality and performance with the German brands (most likely Mercedes), and continued to improve the car to the point where they could pick up enough older middle-agers to keep the brand viable – while still making it an American luxury car. Forget the Wall Street big money youngsters. They had no hope in hell of getting their business. That crowd was willing to buy anything expensive that wasn’t a Cadillac or Lincoln (Maserati BiTurbo?)
Agree. You can turn a brand around with good product. Chrysler was something that nobody under 50 would touch for years until the modern 300C. Had Cadillac built real Cadillacs (instead of the high-trim version of corporate platforms designed to sell at much lower prices) they might have had a chance.
This is a great point that I think is too often missed. Cadillac was “provincial” as far as the Boomer crowd was concerned, which meant they started the 1980s with one strike on them before they even reached the plate. A cohort that came of age during economic malaise, gas lines, and BIG Cadillacs that used big gas weren’t about to buy one. They were yesterday’s news, a product of a different era, Dad’s cars, and not befitting of the new urban style-minded Boomers enjoying the coked-up economic ride of the 1980s.
Provincial: 2a : limited in outlook : narrow. b : lacking the polish of urban society : unsophisticated. A definition Boomers absolutely ascribed to Cadillac in the 1980s.
Had GM executed Cadillac perfectly in the 1980s (so a well-designed differentiated Cimerron, engines that all worked flawlessly, perhaps even keeping Cadillac-specific engines while the rest of the GM line shared), I think, on balance, we’d see Cadillac in a state like we see them today-with great cars, but still lagging in brand perception behind the Germans.
Since the Boomers are still mostly the only ones able to afford luxury cars, their preferences for Benzes and Bimmers still stand. Until the Millenial cohort figures out how to squeeze lemonade from the economic s**t in which they started as adults, and they or the 9/11 generation comes out with new preferences, Cadillac will continue to struggle.
Lots of Boomers drive Escalades and SRX’s, so Caddy did gain some of them!
“Cadillac was SO entrenched as the dream car of The Greatest Generation, it had no hope of transferring over to The Boomers. You’re talking the Woodstock generation, the “don’t trust anyone over 30” crowd, the first generation that made a point of being as different as possible from their parents.” Syke.
And yet became 10x more gluttonous and materialistic as their parents.
Great comment and so true.
Yep, an American brand would not gain these buyers. a craptastic bomb would have been seen as “cool” if it had a European brand (esp. German) and it’s flaws seen as “quirky” But a US brand would be considered “hick” even if it was literally the best car on the planet. Therefore, the US car companies built more of the product that they still had a good rep in…Trucks!
Agree that a certain demographic was going to look for something different no matter what, and something different was available in 1982 that was marginally available in 1972.
One of the Cimarron ads above claims it competes with Audi, Saab, Volvo and BMW. A decade earlier the average person simply had to work too hard to drive these brands, not to mention that you’d probably have to do without decent air-conditioning. It was simply a lot easier for a young aspirational buyer to visit a Pontiac dealer for a Firebird or Grand Prix.
I don’t agree that Cadillac needed to concede to the extent you may be suggesting. With successful product launches in ’76, 77, and ’79, Cadillac was remaining relevant.
Various botched product and engineering decisions began to plague the brand with arguably everything revised or launched from 1980 through 1988. The reworking of the 1989 DeVille was the best launch since the ’79 Eldorado. That’s a long time to go between successes, and the engineering and reliability of the ’89-’93 Deville still didn’t impress many buyers.
Cadillac needed to stay in the game to remain relevant, and hope for the day when a BMW in every driveway would become too establishment, and suddenly domestics might be cool again – but it helps to have product that people actually like and hear good things about if you want that to happen. It took the Escalade to be introduced to really get back to that spot, and arguably they’ve done okay with the CTS – vehicles that don’t seem to require an AARP membership before purchase.
This has always been one of those cars that it’s hard not to stare at out of pure amazement it made it into production. Considering it was initially marketed as “Cimarron, by Cadillac”, I’m somewhat surprised the car wasn’t just marketed as “LaSalle” and sold through Cadillac dealers. That way it could’ve been a new trial venture that wouldn’t hurt the Cadillac name. Of course that would defeat the whole plan of conquering younger buyers for Cadillac – which failed anyway. Still, something to think about.
Younger people in the eighties would have had to be explained what a LaSalle was and when they heard from what period it was one can imagine the eye role. When Lincoln tried to reuse the Zephyr name on 2006 on the MKZ they found there was no equity left in that name either. It is better to aim cars at people you actually have a shot with then to spend money to kid yourself.
“Cimarron, by Cadillac” is an odd semantic. GM had used similar constructions to elevate certain models ABOVE the brand in the fairly recent past. “Caprice, by Chevrolet adorned the rumps of Caprice models from 1965 through at least 1967.
Above or below, almost no one ever paid attention. They were Chevy Caprices and Cadillac Cimarrons.
LaSalle would likely have made things worse – companion brands never seem to work out and just confuse the market.
At least we didn’t get a “Chrysler by Chrysler” like Australia did!
“blank by blank” really doesn’t seem to work, on the opposite end of the automotive spectrum, the Dino 246 was essentially that, yet everybody refers to them the “Ferrari Dino”.
cc effect? i just posted this to the cohort yesterday.
What J is that? Can’t see the front or rear end caps….. (ducks for cover!) 🙂
As much as we all laugh at these, they were at least durable. A well worn one was still doing daily driver duty for a classmate of my daughter in high school as of 2 or 3 years ago. If there were younger siblings, it may still be on the job. I started liking these better after seeing that one.
I would imagine maintenance and upkeep is much cheaper than their “competition”.
Indeed, it seems like “Ultimately, the Cimarron wasn’t a terrible car; it was just a terrible Cadillac” really sums it all up perfectly.
It’s been said be a few others that if the Cimarron had, instead, been a Buick J-car, it could have had a chance. IOW, the four-door model of the Skyhawk. They could have kept the lower trim 2-door and wagon Skyhawks as ersatz performance-oriented cars, with a Buick Cimarron as GM’s luxury J-car.
Of course, while that might have helped Buick and GM, overall, it would have done nothing to solve Cadillac’s woes of the time, which was the whole point of the exercise.
At a minimum, they should have used the Buick/Olds dash in the Cimarron rather than the Cavalier’s. The Skyhawk dash, when all four round pods were filled with gauges, actually looked a bit BMW-ish, which was after all the Cimarron’s target. Perhaps a Cadillac-specific upper dash cover in more upscale material, and that rounded off the corners on the shroud over the cluster a bit, would have done the trick.
A lot of them had elderly owners, so pampered, well maintained, garaged and low mileage examples are probably still available. The regular J cars were much more likely to be driven into the ground as beaters as they aged. A well taken care of later model V6 Cimarron would be a nice car that could be maintained at reasonable cost.
Could have been worse. They could have introduced the Cimarron with Aeroback styling like the ’78 Buick Century and Olds Cutlass.
Or like the second-gen Seville.
Beside the first Cadillac in many years to have manual gearbox, it was first ever Cadillac for the US market to have taillamps with amber turn signal indicators.
If I recall correctly, one odd design feature was insertion of hard plastic console in the middle of rear bench seat during the first year. I suspected it might be used as to disguise the fact that J-platform was perhaps too narrow for three passengers to be seated abreast comfortably. For 1983, this odd feature was eliminated.
I have yet to find the interior shot showing the rear seat for 1982 model year. Lot of interior shots seem cleverly disguise the rear seat bench.
That console was a very strange feature. I don’t know what the rationale was for the rear console — maybe to discourage anyone from trying to squeeze 3 people into the back row?
In any event, there is a picture of it in the 1982 Cimarron brochure:
Spared them the cost of extra seatbelts.
Thanks so much for posting the photo! That confirms what I recalled and shows everyone how utterly useless feature is!
I had an early 1982 Pontiac J2000 with the rear center console. It actually had some use in sedans and notchback coupes – it had a cupholder or two (rare in 1982) and some open storage. It was briefly legally required in the US at because there was no center position seatbelt. No storage or cupholders in hatchbacks or wagons though, because their fold-down seatback would crush and maybe spill the drinks. These just had a plastic divider. Many owners, including the previous owner of my J2000, simply removed the plastic tray so someone could sit there – there was no padding but at least some carpeting. I even cut a piece of foam to fill the space, making it more comfortable to sit there. The Cavalier, J2000, and Cimarron were first sold in spring 1981; when the 1982 model year proper began in the autumn of 1981, a center seatbelt was fitted and full-width rear seats returned.
Some Ford Fox cars from 81-82 like the T-bird also had seat controls or ashtrays in lieu of the center front position for the same reason. The rear seats in some 81-82 Thunderbirds were raised, like a built-in armrest, to make sure nobody sat there.
That wasn’t a GM feature, that was a government feature.
The J-bodies were sold as four passenger cars, with four seat belts. By government regulation, the middle seat in the rear had to be made un-sittable because it didn’t have a seatbelt. Thus the useless hard plastic tray.
I believe early bench seat A-bodies also had that in the front, because there were only two seatbelts in those cars.
So why didnt they just fit another useless lap belt?.
IF, if Cadillac/GM were so insistent on fielding a small car, they should have looked at the 70s Seville for “inspiration”. That is, styling that was VERY different looking from the “donor” Nova and a more powerful standard engine than a Nova
The 70s Seville had a longer wheelbase, different roofline, different instrument panel, and used an engine found only in the most powerful models of the Nova. The Seville would have been a dud if it had been a lightly “customized” Nova.
The most telling lines appear at the beginning of this article when we are told Cadillac decided it wanted a J-car 11 months before they were due to hit showrooms. Then, rather than talk a further 2 to 3 years to PROPERLY develop a decent car, Cadillac/GM rushed the Cimarron into production…and it looked rushed.
I thought the same.
The closest example would be Chrysler Y-Platform that spawned the countless derivatives. The spartan Dodge Aries and luxurious Chrysler New Yorker looked so different even though they based on same platform albeit different wheelbase length.
Exactly. If, at the very beginning of development of the J-cars, it had been decided there was to be a Cadillac version, it’d be a whole different ballgame. Fully unique sheetmetal could have been drawn up that still used all the J’s hard points. A longer wheelbase would have been possible. And they could have given it a unique engine, or at the bare minimum fitted fuel injection to the 1.8. It still wouldn’t have sold to people under 40, but it might have sold quite a few more in the 40-50 bracket, and it would have been much less damaging to the brand overall.
The Cimmaon-the automotive version of making a silk purse out of a sow`s ear.
The Cimarron-the automotive of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
There, fixed it for you.
How about an X-based Cadillac with bustle back. That would have been something.
It would be something alright, something to laugh at or point to and stare at.
Cadillac actually really wanted in on the X-car project; they saw this formal-roof coupe Chevrolet was developing as a bottom rung model, and wanted exclusive use of it. As we know, Cadillac lost out in the long run, and oddly enough, Chevrolet ended up scrapping plans of this body style as well.
That gargantuan door seems to overwhelm the entire car…
So basically the same roofline as the 2-door Apollo and Skylark used, but with wraparound 3-unit lamps? I like that a lot better than the oddly shaped coupe that actually appeared…
1981 General Motors is really a great case study in crisis management and response.
If we look at 1971-’78, air quality and environmental regulations of the early 1970s that eventually gave birth to CAFE threatened GM’s profit centers (large cars). The oil crisis of 1973 shocked the economy and further threatened GM’s profitable large cars.
1970s GM responded to that crisis with, in historical retrospect considering context, aplomb. The 1977 GM downsizing was very well executed, with products well-timed, well-designed, well-packaged, and well-built. They gave thoughtful and proper consideration to their next generation of large cars. They knew they had to downsize. They sweated over the big stuff (how much to downsize) as well as the details. They immediately set about trying to match their current fleet to new regulations as best as they were able while keeping their eyes on the prize. Sure, the Vega might have been s**t, but GM didn’t need the Vega but for a CAFE placeholder. GM *needed* Cadillac.
1981 GM failed at crisis management. The second oil crisis scared the s**t out of them, and it shows in pretty much everything they did through the early 1980s. Cimmeron’s a great example of that. A thoughtful company concerned about a huge profit center for itself would have either penned a design for a Cadillac J-Car that they could pull out if another existential shock hit the economy. Or, once it did, they would have drawn from the lessons of less than a decade before: They would have taken another year or two and thoughtfully engineered a Cadillac J-Car that was more than a Cavalier with leather seats. They would have done better design and testing on motors like the HT-4100. They would have taken the hit for CAFE violations for a year while they figured out cylinder deactivation a bit more or engineered downsized Cadillac motors a bit more.
Instead, they panicked. They panicked, and the damage they did themselves meant the entire company ran in crisis mode through the entirety of the 1980s and into the 1990s. One idea after the next on how to fix the crisis, searching for a silver bullet that didn’t exist led them to rampant automation, a disastrous reorg that took 25 years to fix, one product line after the next delayed or off-target or so poorly engineered it could only be fixed after it had been destroyed in the public eye. Had they stopped a minute and tried to get their footing under them, they might not have been barking at death’s door in 1991 when they barely averted bankruptcy.
But when you figure they were a company that thought they were too big and, more importantly, too GOOD to fail, well, I’d like to think they’ve learned something about that by now.
Great comment, but I doubt they’ve learned anything. The ignition switch fiasco proves that.
I find myself in the odd position as having to defend GM here. I think that the only thing that differentiated GM from the others in the 1978-82 period was that they could afford to do what they thought needed to be done, which meant a top to bottom new lineup of the great fuel efficient cars that America would be demanding. Everybody *knew* that cars like this were the future.
I would agree with most of what you wrote here, but I think you’re letting the dealers off too easily. The Corporation cannot sell directly, with that, the dealers are incredibly powerful.
Many of them (being single brand stores, unlike today where there’s lots of sharing going on), needed, no demanded, something (anything!) be done about the loss of sales to the imports and ever increasing fuel economy demands from both government and the consumer.
In the intervening 35 years, we’ve seen how the industry and the product has changed, yet many of us are not recognizing all of the influences that were (are still) in play.
I can imagine a scenario 10 to 15 years ago where someone in the Towers was complaining about the rapid sales increases of the German luxury marques. I can imagine dealers demanding that GM give them something comparable to sell.
So, now we have ATS, CTS, XTS, SRX and Escalade. But, no one seems happy.
Except me. I’d so love an ATS-V. But it looks like I’m one of the few.
I had an ATS with the turbo 4. It was a nice car, but small. Now I have the new CTS with V6. It is more comfortable and rides much like my 2002 Seville.
Good point about the dealers.
Another complicating factor is that the successful big cars of 1977 had no direct foreign competition, short of a massive shakeup in buyer preferences – which was to come. GM’s smaller cars however were much more open to foreign competition; hence there was a need – no, an imperative – for them to be better products than the competition. As we know, that wasn’t the case.
The Cimarron . . . was it that much of a failure? GM spent almost no money developing it, unlike the TC by Maserati or the Allante. It sold over 100,000 copies over its run. Considering some of its ’80’s luxury car rivals, like Sterling, the TC, the Allante, the Fox based Continental, it sold well and was probably highly profitable.
I still can conceive of someone (someone who is not me) wanting a really plush, nicely trimmed economy size car with a premium dealer experience. The Cimarron probably didn’t damage Cadillac as much as the Diesel, 8-6-4, 4100 and 86 E bodies did.
Cadillac has abandoned traditional American style luxury for the most part in favour of a narrow focus on chasing the Germans, which to me is idiotic. If I wanted a BMW, I can buy a BMW, but I do not, I want a richly upholstered land barge with lots of chrome and shiny doodads and button tufted velour with lots of space inside, but not a TRUCK.
The Cimarron may have been pathetic but nobody’s buying the current crop of cars, all of which sound like diseases.
Unfortunately, in the auto business, like many others, a successful product is always copied, copied, copied, copied. Witness the minivan, the original SUVs, BMW-like sedans from every manufacturer, and now CUVs.
As someone who has traveled overseas a few times and who now travels the East Coast every few months, I’m okd enough to remember when the only chain restaurants were Stuckey’s and Howard Johnson’s. The race to cover this planet with products that mimic the products produced by just 1 or 2 companies in one or two locations (countries) is truly sad. Too many people (and I am sometimes one of them), do not want something different….until it’s gone, replaced by sameness.
Hate to burst your bubble but in it’s WORST sales year the Fox-based, bustle-back Continental sold as well as the Cimarron in it’s best year. The Continental in 2 of it’s 5-6 sales years came close to selling TWICE as many units as the Caddy.
While I can’t say I care for *this* particular Cimarron in the article, I’ve always liked the Cadillac Cimarron while it was in production. It may not have been popular as a Cadillac, but it looks like it would’ve made a good beginner car for someone who wanted a Cadillac but either couldn’t afford a DeVille, Eldorado, or a Seville, or wanted something smaller than what Cadillac was currently offering at the time.
10 years in, these would have been great runabout used cars. Probably low miles given their aging owners, and parts easy to source given their common J heritage.
GM HQ in 1980:
“They [dealers, buyers] want a small Caddy, will give them a small car, just make it cheap!” “Dealers can upsell to a real Caddy then!”
Best buddy in high school had an 82 back in 83. All the fellas preferred to ride in his car wherever we went. It was not fast but it was very comfy, in summer the air cond blew snow balls & it had a nice sound system also & girls liked riding in a Cadillac. it was white with navy blue interior.
Has anyone ever sketched up ideas for what Cimarron could have/should have been, or are there concept sketches from the development period? I know everyone says it looked too much like a Cavalier, but the basic J-car sedan shape was actually right on target, since it’s so similar to the BMW 3 series of the era. A bustleback or formal roofline would have been even worse. I’m not a big fan of the overhang of the longer-hood later model, and I actually think the Cimarron looks better with its original proportions. If only the Cavalier hadn’t been for sale alongside it, it might have fared better just as it was. Maybe if they’d kept the same basic design, but started out the gate with much better mechanicals and a higher-quality interior (especially the dash) it would have been a bigger success.
I think to be real competition for the BMW 320 ($12000) it would have needed RWD. What Cadillac wanted was a small car that would appeal to younger customers. As others have pointed out above, Cadillac (possible anything General Motors) was simply not acceptable. I think people found that the imports were better quality cars than domestics, so this was difficult to overcome. A 1980 BMW 320 was about $12,000, so for Cadillac to try selling in the same price range was not going to work.
Some here are pointing out that the ATS is not selling. But I just discovered that of the ATS’s that are selling, 60% are going to non GM customers and 20% are under 35 years of age. This is a good thing.
Good point about the RWD. What I was trying to say was just that the looks of the Cimarron weren’t the problem as much as the fact that it looked so much like a cheaper Chevrolet (a nice-looking compact Chevrolet, in my opinion). Of course, the quality couldn’t compare with imports. Beyond BMW or Mercedes, the (FWD) Honda Accord at the time was head and shoulders above the Cimarron, and cheaper even with the Honda dealer markups. In fact, a relative of mine literally went from a late-70s Sedan DeVille to an Accord in the early ’80s and loved it. (She was admittedly a very young DeVille driver, but I’m sure they didn’t even consider the Cimarron).
Re: the ATS — I see a lot of them here in Southern California. So anecdotally, I would say they are definitely selling pretty well. I would guess they are doing even better in the Midwest and other more domestic-leaning areas.
I had an ATS. Also had a 1983 Skyhawk (Buick Cavalier). The ATS was a nice car, but is small with a firm ride. I now have 2014 CTS sedan which is bigger and rides more like my 2002 Seville did.
I think the J cars styling was not bad. Quality not really good.
The ATS is nearly nonexistent here in the Portland area. Unless theyre the sedans, which are invisible to me anyway. That ATS coupe though…probably the only Caddy to catch my eye since the big ’60s era land barges. The ATS coupes stealthier styling suits it better as a Caddy. The CTS coupe is gorgeous too, but the rakish looks would suit it better as a Pontiac.
Agreed on the RWD. Ideally, probably on a highly modified F Body chassis.
In the context of the times, it may have been a bit confusing for GM to make decisions on FWD vs. RWD for luxury. In the Cadillac ad for the Cimarron they note most competitors as having FWD, and sort of chide BMW for being RWD. FWD passed for trendy for several years, and some folks in snow country began to swear by it and did not want to return to RWD.
Whether it was inertia or shrewd planning, BMW and Mercedes sticking with RWD for luxury paid off handsomely.
The F body is an interesting hypothetical, the downsized 82 Fs were effectively orphaned, sharing nothing with any other GM car but themselves(Firebird/Camaro). Also as bad of a stigma those cars attained – quality, trailer park image, ect. the basic chassis was pretty competent, way the hell better than Ford’s Fox, not necessarily BMW good, but pretty tossable. Had the platform been utilized for a smaller Cadillac, like the original Seville did with the X(second gen F-body) it could have been something much more special.
The context of the times shows what GM benchmarked as competition – themselves. Audi and Saab were such bit players it’s almost comical for them to boast. FWD was a high end novelty for GM since the Toro/Eldos debuted with it, they marketed FWD with the later mass production cars by touting it as a passed down luxury, the Cimmaron ad itself brags about it having FWD “like the Eldorado and Seville”. It’s hard to tell in this period whether GM had their collective heads up their ass or buried in the sand.
Sad that they were relying on the power of marketing rather than engineering.
WRT to FWD vs. RWD: At the time (the later 70’s through the mid 1980’s), it was the big engineering fad. Starting with the original Mini, then Honda Civic, on to the original VW Rabbit (Golf) and then to the Chrysler L bodies(Omnirizon). Yes I know I’m ignoring others, these were the first ones/big sellers at the time, capturing the most mindshare. One cannot ignore the packaging advantages of FWD in terms of fuel efficiency, traction and space utilization.
In 1979 the future was front wheel drive. For GM, the fact that only some of it’s luxury cars were FWD prior to the release of the smaller cars was supposed to confer some prestige upon them.
The German luxury car makers (we’ll leave VW/Audi out of this right at this moment) were making cars to run the Autobahn and were truly world class. They could charge the prices to afford the gas guzzler taxes. Here in the States, domestic car makers had to fight it out with the Japanese and each other for market share and to keep the CAFE wolf from the door.
Engineering doesn’t change; the RWD cars are better overall high performance driving cars, generally speaking. But FWD really was the future, as FWD cars perform way better than we ever imagined they ever would back then.
Yes, Mini, Honda Civic, VW Rabbit, Dodge Omni…. Cadillac. Future or not that’s a big ass disconnect, and maybe hindsight gives an unfair bias, but when your only premium peer to see the light, with what is essentially resulting in a lineup of finned Minis, is Chrysler with their K derivatives, that future’s writing was clearly on the wall. Domestics indeed had to fight it out with the Japanese, but Cadillac? GM knew exactly what brands were competing with(taking away sales from) Cadillac, and it wasn’t the Japanese. This Cimmaron debacle, and the whole 1985 suicide, predated Lexus, and Infinity and even Acura, and when the two formers did hit the market their top models(LS and Q45) were the cars Cadillac should have been building all along, gas guzzler tax be damned.
As I said heads buried in sand/up ass. They thought they could convince the public FWD Caddies were the future by riding whatever wave of prestige the UPP Eldos and bustleback Sevilles gave them(which I’m not really sure actually amounted to that much), while in reality consolidating their entire engineering force to focus on what is essentially one single design of new car, from Chevy to Cadillac, and assume every single other automaker across the globe will have to follow, play catchup, and most definitely be less appealing, because GM, “everyone always follows us!”.
I’m not quite sure where you’re going with this Matt. I only mentioned the Japanese with regard to the overall market not just the luxury marques and nothing to do with their “prestige” marques. If you want to hate on GM for deadly sins, real or imagined, fine, no worries. What I’m relaying was the prevailing thought at the time, you were either on the FWD train or not; CAFE and fuel economy ruled.
I remember it vividly, I was fueling a 10 MPG Olds 442 in the era of $1.00/gallon gasoline (which is about $4.00/gallon now?). As much as I hated to give up my 442, the fuel sipping 1979 Pinto I bought made my 40 mile round trip commute a lot easier.
I understand the prevailing thought, what I’m questioning/hating is where Cadillac was supposed to fit in with that thought. It’s one thing to have your bread and butter divisions on the transverse FWD bandwagon, but Cadillac? Their competition gave no indication that what they had in the pipeline would be desirable to the aspirational prestige buyers Cadillac’s are targeted at, the ones who care much more about image than value, and what failures resulted shouldn’t be any surprise or considered some unfortunate turn of events(like fuel prices plummeting as their lineup of ugly little boxes hit the floors). Cadillac stubbornly ignored the competition’s actual appeal and had no contingency plan for the event that the prevailing thought, as it quite often is, is grossly over-exaggerated.
Around 1983-84, 2 years after the Cimarron abomination hit Cadillac dealers, BMW introduced the E30 generation 3-series cars. They were really popular with the Yuppie crowd and is more of a car than the Cimarron, which is a Cavalier in a tuxedo. I still see some E30s on the road even today. The Cimarron, not so much. Also, many luxury car buyers at that time were also turning to Mercedes-Benz cars instead of Cadillacs.
There’s a lot of hardcore out there (myself included) who consider the E30’s the last “real” BMW’s. Aka, the last ultimate driving machine that didn’t try to be a Lexus.
It would have made no sense to buy one of these new, but on the used/collector market, it’s a different story. (That often seems to be the case with cars profiled here.). If you can get one for a Chevy Cavalier price, that is.
Dont complain about the price a Holden Camira 1600 5 speed was $14000 NZ pesos in 84, yeah its a POS like the other J cars but at least it wasnt expensive.
Badge engineering seems works with trucks, the first Escalade was a thinly disguised Tahoe, and buyers came in droves. So much so that the name is sticking and not changed to “ETX whatever”.
“Wow a Caddy truck, gimme one!”
Eh, yes and no. The Navigator actually beat the Escalade to market, and the Escalade came a year later in response. And both sold like gangbusters, at first. But the formula only carried so far–the Avalanche-based Escalade (SUT? SXT? What the heck was it called?) didn’t sell well and the Lincoln Mark LT truck was a total flop.
Maybe it only works with SUVs.
Point taken, SUV’s have a magic formula that buyers want, and women, who decide vehicle purchases 60% of the time, love them.
SUX? No, wait…..
It was also called an Escalade (EXT).
Thought that was the LWB (Suburban-length) version of the Escalade? The pickup was called something else, wasn’t it?
Check this link out:.. Cadillac EXT link
And the ESV was the LWB version. Damn memory loss.
I think the difference is trucks have a lot of presence and in more recent times are nicely equipped to begin with, and definitely aren’t cheap. Turn them into full sized SUVs, add a bit more tinsel and they are as close to traditional classic luxury as you can get….
That formula doesn’t work so well when starting with a frumpy milquetoast Cavalier sedan.
From this very website, a few years back.. the (fictional)
“Cadillac Cadette”: The Chevette-based Cadillac.
Be thankful no GM product planners saw that back in the eighties!
Hey! It’s nice 🙂
It’s RWD so it must be a real luxury car!
Just like a Catera!, But remember they did trot out some sporty GM “T” cars….. Isuzu Impulse…. So this exercise is only HALF crazy!
All this speculation about whether a “better” J-car based Cadillac would’ve been more sucessful…I’ve wondered if moving the Cimarron name-plate to an N-car based model – with a standard V-6 and optional 5 speed Quad4 version – would’ve done any better. At least the formal roofline body shell could’ve looked more “Cadillac-like”.
Well yes, at least starting in ’85-’86, if this were part of an overall strategy that moved everything one size back up the ladder. The N-size cars should have been a Cimarron sedan and a something else coupe (LaSalle?) instead of Sevilles and Eldorados. The FWD DeVilles should have been given sportier body lines and a more sophisticated suspension, especially in the rear, and sold as Eldorados and Sevilles. The RWD cars should have been kept, refined with a more sophisticated dash and interior (look at the 1991-93 Roadmaster dash and the 1993-96 Brougham interior) and those would remain the Devilles and Fleetwoods. Maybe even reintroduce a 3 inch wheelbase stretch for the Fleetwood.
GM was too committed to FWD to consider this. Also, the V8-6-4 failed to deliver much better mileage even when it worked, so to meet CAFE GM drafted the HT4100 into service in the RWD cars which was not initially intended, and of course that killed the reputation of Cadillac’s flagship cars.
There were two other ways Cadillac could have gone. One would have been to engineer a better port fuel injection system for the 368 CI V8 (a V8-6-4 with the solenoids deactivated is basically a crude TBI system) The other would have been simply to do what they did in the 90’s which was give up on a Cadillac specific V8 and drop injected SBC’s in there. Anyone who has owned a 5.7 liter 90’s Brougham or Roadmaster knows that they are good performers with surprising economy for such huge boats. As an owner of an ’80 Cadillac (carbureted 368), I have to acknowledge that any LT1 90’s Brougham can run rungs around it. Trouble was, in the 80’s GM was still too close to the engine interchange litigation fiasco to consider that.
What was really needed for the full sized cars was an overdrive automatic transmission which GM had not yet developed. This was really needed with the 1977 downsizing.
So if one was to play “mix&match” with maligned Caddy parts, will the 4100 engine fit in one of these?
My Dad bought a Cavalier in ’82. It looked OK, but ran terribly. And we found out that the county we lived in, you couldn’t modify your car and still be able to register it… The engine blew a gasket and my Dad wanted to replace the 1.8 with a 2.0, but was told (by several different places) that they’d risk their licences (the garage doing the swap, that is) and at smog check time, the car would be failed for “non-original equipment”, even if we kept all the smog stuff from the new engine. Then, while the car was parked with no engine, it got rear-ended, so the whole thing ended up in the junkyard at 6 yrs old…
And of course my Dad bought another Cavalier, with another set of problems. I can say, the interiors of the early J’s were much nicer to be in, than the later ones-all the plastics (which was pretty much everything other than the windows) felt like lunch trays, and looked like “as cheap as we can possibly make them”. THere’s GM for ya, rush it into prodction, everyone has problems with them, fix most of the problems but then cheapen everything to within an inch of it’s life, and then make it for 11 more years…
Doubtful on the 4100 fitting in a J. I know it can be done with a FWD A body (usually done with the better 4.5 or 4.9), but even that requires some serious work.
A reverse CC Effect – I bought gas in Janesville, Wisconsin on the way back from the Northwoods yesterday and sure enough there’s a Cimarron on CC this morning. Janesville Assembly built nearly all of the Cimarrons, the exceptions being some ’82s built at South Gate for west coast consumption.
The Cimarron was a monumentally bad idea, but at least the General was smart enough not to further sully the Cadillac name by building them at the J-car mothership in Lordstown.
I recall reading an article about the Cimarron when it came out. The article said it was basically “a $13,000.00 Honda Accord that didn’t run very well”, and that pretty much nailed it. It did have nice seats, that is about the only nice thing that I can think of to say. I wish those seats had been in the Honda Accord that I was driving back then.
That comparison between the various European cars made me laugh. It would have been a tough decision between a V6 powered Volvo GLE and a Cimarron. One was a piece of garbage with a Cadillac badge on it, the other was a decent car with an engine that self destructed.
That’s a tough choice.
They didn’t even use the Olds/Buick interior, they used the Cavalier dash!!!
The Olds/Buick J-car came out a year or so after the Chevy/Pontiac versions. It would have been good if Cadillac had delayed too, but the powers that were wanted it sooner, not later.
I’ve always thought that was strange, too! I actually shopped these as a kid right out of high school (1985), wanting to buy a new car for college (stupid, stupid idea in hindsight, but I bought and paid for the car myself by going to community college and working full time the first year). I really wanted a Skyhawk, and one of my favorite things about it was the nicer, more Euro/Japanese style dash, but the Sunbird and Cavalier were significantly cheaper. I ended up with a base Sunbird coupe. Not a bad car at all for the five years I kept it.
what I liked about the Skyhawk was that automatic climate control was an option.
I hope automatic climate control was available on the Cimarron! I’m assuming it was.
I find it ironic that a car that is so hated and ridiculed can elicit so many responses – this post is up to 146 comments as of today!
True, the Cimarron is an example of probably the worst badge engineering ever. But there is something to be said about these cars and even the Versailles that often gets overlooked. How did they ride and drive? Was there a significant enough difference over their lowly brethren to justify the higher price tag that was paid? Personally I can say that I have driven a 1987 Cimarron with the 2.8 6-cylinder and it was a great driving car. It felt quite substantial and the interior was comfortable and very well put together. Typical GM in that it was perfected towards the end of its life, similar to the Fiero, and then axed.
I have only ridden in a Versailles and can honestly say it too felt substantial. It had a very distinct, luxurious smell of leather and it actually felt expensive. Like everyone has said, not enough attention to differentiating the Versailles from the Granada and the Cimarron from the Cavalier caused them to be failures. If you compare them to the Seville which had its own distinctive styling and a true Cadillac dashboard with the chrome air vents and such, a customer wouldn’t have thought twice about it being a redesigned Nova.
Totally agree with your assessments. I have always liked the Lincoln Versailles, and while it did look too close to its plebian brothers, it did have significant structural and mechanical changes.
A very handsome car if you ask me. The thing I hate the most about the J-car wasn’t the styling or quality it was the sound of that 1.8L OHV engine. Never drove a J but was painfully familiar with that noisy valve train from having to hear it anytime one drove by. Why was it so loud?
The 2.8L V6 was too little too late as has been written a million times. I wouldn’t mind having a really clean one of those.
Thanks for this rather kind article for a car which seems is the butt of so many jokes and is highly underappreciated. A terrible car is wasn’t. A terrible Cadillac it was. Been saying that for years. Yeah I own an 84. Original owner, title 12-83. Paid cash. Every single available option except the dOro package. Sunroof, dual power seats, cassette symphony sound, luggage rack. Power antenna. Twilight sentinel. Everything. 94k miles.
In addition to 8 other cars I currently own, its one of my favorites! Nimble, well assembled, good seats. Not fast, or that quiet. I’m going to email Jay Leno and ask him if he’d enjoy making a small segment on it and drive it on his new show.
Did you ever get in touch with Leno? I’ve often thought he’d like to spotlight the Cimarron.
*Your ‘84 looks (and sounds like) a beautiful specimen of this unique chapter in Cadillac’s history. Thanks for sharing the photo.
I recall a funny incident… I’d bought a new 1982 Accord sedan for my wife. One day I had it at work for some reason. An older co-worker noticed it and commented that he’d heard they weren’t cheap, and that I could have gotten the “small Cadillac” for the same money. My response was that the Honda was much nicer than the Cimarron; better in so may ways that they weren’t even in the same league. I don’t think he quite understood.
Fun story in an era where the general opinions of the 2 mentioned car brands were still divided but changing. There were certainly Cadillac die-hards that thought highly of the brand based on reputation from the past. I used to wonder why brand loyalist would so blindly stick to the same brand and so quickly dismiss everything else. Today, I fall into this fallacy with Honda.
I was intrigued by the Cimmaron when it debuted. I was a Cadillac fan and hoped that it was going to lead to new line of more relevant products. It was a disappointment, not so much because of platform sharing, but because it wasn’t as differentiated from it’s GM relatives. The earlier Seville was a success because it looked solid and distinctive from it’s siblings.
It’s hard to establish the original character of a marque and preserve it as the model line up is expanded. BMWs started out as small driver focused cars, and more expensive variants became bigger, plusher and more luxurious. BMW fans asked, “What has happened to our driving machines?”
Cadillac started out as big, powerful, and flashy. Trying to insert a little car in the line up was going to be difficult. “Where’s the beef?” was the lament, or perhaps “where’s the brougham?”
Cadillac customers dolled up the Cimmaron with chrome grilles, carriage tops, white wall tires and other add ons that reminded them of their beloved big Caddies. They had done the same with the original Seville until GM threw in the towel and gave what they wanted from the factory. At first Cadillac had resisted these add ons, especially the landau roof treatments. “Pig bladders”, Bill Mitchell scornfully called them.
The difference is that when BMWs devolved from being drivers cars to being prestige cars their market grew. There were far more people who wanted the image of a BMW without having to put up with road feel, a spartan interior, a gear shift, or a horsepower curve.
It was a joke then as now.
It just looked like a cheap Chevy with some do-dads put on the exterior.
Ditto for the interior except seats.
It might have been a joke as a new car, but it was a great used car – esp. with the 2.8V6 had good get-up, good economy, seated 4 comfortably, was usually not abused by the previous owner, and was reliable.
Exactly. The Cimarron gets a lot of (deserved) vitriol, but the fact is it was good as a used Cavalier (particularly the later V6 versions).
It just wasn’t very good as a new Cadillac. If Cadillac dealers hadn’t been in such a big hurry to get something small into their showrooms, and had waited a bit for the later, better versions, things might not have turned out so badly.
Someone once suggested that the Nova-based Cadillac Seville was a Deadly Sin precisely because, if not for that smaller Cadillac’s success, GM might not have went for it a second time with the Cimarron. Plus, the big difference is that the Seville didn’t look like a Nova; the Cimarron looked like a Cavalier.
It was originally called “Cimarron by Cadillac,” but of course, it was covered in Cadillac crests. Would it have sold as a LaSalle?
The 1.8L engine got the whole J car line off to a bad start. GM has a bad habit of saving the new and improved engine for the second year of a new body.
The V8-6-4, diesel, and HT4100 were bigger disasters than the Cimarron, since they alienated existing customers.
My father never owned a Cadillac (his brother had a few) but he did own this same year (’84) Pontiac Sunbird, which was really the same car. Unfortunately for my father, it turned out to be the worst car he was ever to own, primary because of the 2.0 litre engine. So this was yet another 80’s engine you might want to avoid.
My father bought it new, after his ’78 Caprice Classic Wagon was crunched in an accident and he didn’t want to get it fixed. Despite having it maintained per schedule at the dealer, the first engine blew a timing belt at less than 1000 miles, and then was blown before it got to 40k miles. It was replaced with another new 2.0, which itself only lasted another 40k miles (total of a bit more than 80k between the two) after my youngest sister took it over when commuting to college. The second engine threw a rod, don’t remember what happened to the original engine, but it was also terminal.
Even more interesting, my other sister bought this same year same model new earlier that same year (her only new car) even though she lived 1900 miles away up in the snow belt, her car had no engine issues, going the “normal” way up there i.e. the body rusted until the car was a gonner. It also had the 2.0 (only engine in the Sunbird I believe).
After the 2nd engine went, my father scrapped the car (in 1990, so only 6 years old). My sister (the one who took over the ill fated Sunbird) never bought another American car (she passed away at age 37 of Ovarian Cancer), as the Sunbird had other issues like leaky power steering hoses and broken headlight switch, it wasn’t durable in other ways too. My father did eventually go back to GM for his last 2 cars (both Chevy Impalas) but it took 20 years. I can imagine if the car were to be a Cadillac with the higher cost, it would have been even worse. With this engine it wasn’t even a good entry level car, let alone a Cadillac. Seems there was some testing missing in the haste to bring out models that got better economy, but the lack of durability caused a worse problem…any fuel savings with the economy engines was more than offset by having to replace the car prematurely, which is no economy at all..
> All 1982 J-cars were powered by an 88-hp 1.8-liter carbureted, 4-cylinder engine.
Some J cars made later in the 1982 model year got a completely different engine, a Brazilian throttle-body fuel injected OHC 4, which actually made a few HP less than the carbureted version. I think only Pontiac and Buick used it though.
Also, the “fuzzy headliner” was not a Cimarron exclusive; all J bodies (and most American GM cars) used these. But amongst the J’s only the Cimarron also had fuzzy trim surrounding the windows on the pillars; that trim was exposed plastic on other J cars. Other unique Cimarron interior pieces (at least at first) were a rear center armrest and a larger center console that wrapped around to the dash. When the J was first introduced, the front center armrest, low-back seats with adjustable headrests, and seatback map pockets were exclusive to Cadillac. I rode with my parents on a test drive of an ’82 Cimarron and it did feel quite upscale inside. The look and feel of the Cimarron interior is not why the car failed.