Curbside Classic: “1988” Cadillac Cimarron Convertible – So Many Questions

This isn’t the first time that this exact car has been featured at CC before, as well as other classic car blogs, but to my knowledge this is the first time that this “1988” Cadillac Cimarron “convertible” has been documented after being spotted in the wild. Quite possibly the most infamous example of one of the most infamous American cars of all time, I use air quotes because of course, there was neither a factory Cimarron convertible nor any authorized aftermarket conversion, and while this car may have started off as a 1988, in its current state, it’s much less of a 1988 than it is an amalgamation of multiple model years. Confused yet?

Well, just as a bit of a refresher, the 1982-1988 Cimarron was Cadillac’s ill-fated entry-level car, conceived and envisioned as competitor to European imports such as the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz 190E — cars that were growing far more popular than Cadillacs among upwardly-mobile younger buyers. Unfortunately, the production Cimarron was little more than a thinly rebadged variant of the corporate J-body economy car shared by every North American GM division besides GMC.

Shocking to no one, the Cimarron was an abysmal failure, and one that significantly hurt Cadillac’s already ailing brand image. Sales were weak from the get go, and the Cimarron quickly became and ultimately remains one of many laughing stocks of the Roger Smith era of GM.

As with most unappreciated and ridiculed objects, the Cimarron naturally found a few admirers who made their way out of the woodwork, probably none more passionate than the owner who decided to spend a small fortune converting their drab Cimarron sedan into the ultimate J-car convertible.

Now the even more bizarre thing about this particular car is that its VIN ties it to a regular 1988 Cimarron 4-door sedan — its third digit showing it’s a Cadillac, its fourth and fifth showing it’s a Cimarron, and its sixth showing it’s a four-door sedan. Yet I’m skeptical that this car actually started life out as a 4-door sedan, and am far more inclined to believe it has been a 2-door convertible all along, just not a Cadillac Cimarron.

For starters, the body sans rear drivers side collision damage, without any other signs of weld marks, stress points, or added structural supports. Likewise, its body does not look like an aftermarket job as to the eye it matches perfectly with the factory Cavalier/Sunbird convertibles produced for the 1983-1987 models years.

It just seems like a whole lot of extra work and expense mutilating a 4-door sedan into a custom 2-door convertible, when a J-car convertible already existed and could much easily be transformed badge-engineered into a Cadillac Cimarron with a few styling changes.

Front and rear clips are stock Cimarron, though the strange thing is that the front, with its grill shape and composite headlights is from a 1987 or 1988, while the rear, with non-wraparound taillights is from a 1982-1986. Lacking the chrome across the back and rub strips, the rear bumper is not from a Cimarron, but from a Cavalier. The same can be said for its lower bodyside molding, which consists merely of the Cavalier’s thin black rubber strips and not the Cimarron’s ribbed lower body cladding.

Inside, the story is equally perplexing, as the car possesses a true Cimarron interior, with the Cimarron’s exclusive leather seat design, “stitched” dashboard, “push button” (as the brochure described) HVAC controls, armrest and leather door panels.

The interior, however, exhibits one glaring error that may hint at the fact that this wasn’t originally a Cimarron. Notice the automatic gear shifter — it’s backwards. Cimarrons, and other left-hand-drive J-cars with this shifter for that matter, had their release on the left side. The rest of the console including the gear indicator is correct, but the shifter is definitely a peculiarity.

The interior is otherwise as Cimarron-specific as can be, though the door panels clearly started life out on a Cavalier or Sunbird, as the power window controls are mounted on little pods that stick out. Cimarron sedans by contrast, had their power window controls mounted directly against the door panel.

Now I’m not about to lose sleep over this perplexing mystery, but that’s my two cents on this “1988 Cadillac Cimarron convertible. If anyone else has some insight, please so share.

Photographed in Newport, Rhode Island – June 2018

Related Reading:

1984 Cadillac Cimarron

1987 Cadillac Cimarron (GM Deadly Sin)

1988 Cadillac Cimarron convertible (eBay find – this very car)

1985 Chevrolet Cavalier convertible