Convertibles were hot again in the 1980s after having been sworn off by domestic manufacturers less than a decade earlier. For ’82, Chrysler fielded a K-platform LeBaron convertible in two different trim levels that would sticker for half again as much as their closed-roof, two-door counterparts. The open-air LeBarons, the first convertibles sold by Chrysler Corporation since ’71 (in the form of the E-Body Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger ponycars) would sell a very respectable 12,800 units in their first year out. Also in ’82, Dodge would move 5,500 related 400 convertibles, and Buick sold about 1,200 of its tony Riviera convertible, the first ever for that model. Eighty-three would bring the return of the soft-top Ford Mustang, as well as the introduction of the Pontiac 2000 LE (later called Sunbird) and Chevy Cavalier Type 10 convertibles. Oldsmobile, in the meantime, hadn’t had a convertible in showrooms since the full-sized ’75 Delta 88. All this was after the ’72 Cutlass Supreme was the most popular domestic convertible that year, with around 11,500 units sold.
Lansing justifiably wanted some of the action from the convertible’s reborn popularity. What to do? This car. Contract with Cincinnati, Ohio based coachbuilder Hess & Eisenhardt and have them convert two-door models of the front-wheel-drive Cutlass Ciera Brougham into convertibles between 1983 and ’86. This example was from the best sales year for the H&E Ciera convertibles, because there were just over 800 built over those four model years, with 600 of them being ’84s. I couldn’t find any original sales brochures online, but in the comments of one particular essay from 2013, one reader indicated that one of these might have cost about $20,000 new, which translates to over $55,000 in 2022. That was almost Corvette money, though I believe that few people if any were cross-shopping a Ciera convertible against a Corvette in the exclusivity sweepstakes. The ’84 Buick Riviera convertible cost just north of $25,000.
This example must be powered by the 3.0 liter V6 engine with 110 horsepower, because there’s simply no way the base, 2.5L four with 92 horses was going to be included with this luxurious asking price. A column-mounted, three-speed automatic transmission was standard on the ’84 Ciera, though a four-speed auto with overdrive was available. A lot of stiffening had to have gone into the body structure as part of the conversion process, though there’s shockingly little official information I could find about these cars online. Most examples I’ve seen pictures of were finished in either factory White or Dark Autumn Maple (the burgundy we see here). The few I’ve spotted in recent classified ads have also had very low asking prices for such a limited production model. That isn’t to say anything bad about these cars. For those who didn’t care for the basket-handle roofline of the reborn 1990 Cutlass Supreme convertible, try this Cutlass Ciera on for a completely unencumbered, open-air experience… if you can find one.
The thing I wondered about the most with this particular example, as is usually the case with an exclusive model with limited production, is how it got to the point at which I had photographed it almost a decade ago. When the aforementioned ’90 Cutlass Supreme convertible arrived as an official GM offering, was that the trade-in point for this Ciera? I hadn’t even noticed the custom mud flaps emblazoned with the period-specific Oldsmobile script before reexamining these photos more closely, years after having taken them. One of the prior owners also seemed to have gotten a discount on white adhesive cosmetic striping at the local Murray’s auto parts store. Liberal use of the stripes where the front header panel meets the front fenders is indelicate and the car would look probably 79% better with those stripes removed. With that said, the body was free of rust and dents. Could this car have been the transportation of one of the local Loyola University students who had inherited this car from a relative? I really hope it’s still on the road today.
The styling of this Cutlass Ciera convertible, with its contrasting-color top and the absence of the donor car’s thick B-pillar, is attractive. I can only wonder what a convertible based on the RWD, G-Body Cutlass Supreme of the same model year would have looked like, but one could base an aftermarket convertible on a much worse car than an Olds A-body of this generation. Eighty-four was the year that Cutlass Ciera sales really took off, with over 281,000 examples finding buyers. This was up sharply from ’83, where only 170,000 were sold; This number was likely affected by the continued popularity of the rear-drive Cutlass, of which Olds moved 294,500 copies in that same year. Still, this ’84 Ciera convertible, being one of 600 from a total of 22,700 Brougham coupes that year, was certainly a rare and welcome site when I spotted it close to ten years ago. It seemed to have both appeared and vanished from the streets in my neighborhood very quickly, as did the Hess & Eisenhardt convertible from Oldsmobile showrooms.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.