Let’s continue our Cadillac Friday with the polar opposite of the ’83 Eldorado: The Cimarron. It’s hard to believe that these very different cars shared space in Cadillac showrooms at the same time. What a decade Cadillac had in the ’80s! While the Cimarron might go down in history as the worst-ever idea for a Cadillac, that shouldn’t prevent one from earning its keep–even 24 years after Cadillac shipped the final one to a (certainly) less-than-enthusiastic dealership.
Yes, the Cimarron is the poster child for Cadillac’s fall from “Standard of the World”–a reputation it had managed to keep more or less intact for six decades–to, well, this. The first 1982 Cimarron was virtually identical to its Chevy, Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile cousins, although later versions became much more palatable. I know I might get blasted by the Curbside Commentariat for it, but I have a confession: I like the 1987-88 model Cimarrons. Yes, seriously.
It’s hard not to see the original 1982 version as anything but a cynical marketing exercise: Tack on quad headlamps, an eggcrate grille and leather seats, then ship ’em off to the dealers–and oh yes, don’t forget to mark the price way, WAY up. There. Job done. Well, not really.
Once the Cimarron debuted, most folks rolled their eyes at this Cad-valier. But for those who kept paying attention, the car actually did get better. The 1985 models got BMW-like side cladding, wraparound taillights, a new front fascia and handsome alloy wheels. But the best-looking Cimarron came out in 1987. Its new composite headlamps, wraparound parking lamps and trademark eggcrate grille finally gave it a strong resemblance to the front-wheel drive Fleetwoods, de Villes and Eldorados. The front air dam and integrated fog lights added for ’85 completed the look, which I think was a pretty good one.
By now, all Cimarrons came with the 2.8-liter V6; in reality, the 1.8- and 2.0-liter fours should never have been offered. Despite a newly available five-speed manual transmission with overdrive (instead of the previous 4-speed), it’s likely that most of these compact Caddys were fitted with automatics. Small details, perhaps, but at least indicative of Cadillac’s attempt to improve the car through the years. Was it a viable competitor to Euro sedans like the Mercedes 190E and BMW 325i? No, not by a long shot. Nevertheless, the car DID get better.
It was, however, all for naught. Sales continued to be less-than-satisfactory, and the little-changed ’88 model would be history by June of that year. It might have looked a lot nicer than the original ’82, but there simply was no way to completely disguise those Cavalier origins. And therein lay the rub.
The few prospective buyers who liked the Cimarron faced the major downside of being mocked by their neighbors, their dentist, their mailman and random passers-by: “Nice Cavalier! Har har har!” They could add all the options they liked–digital gauges, fake convertible top, fake continental kit–but there was just no getting around it.
I recently was reminded of all this when I spotted this super-nice ’87 or ’88 Cimarron, posted by sometime CC author and frequent Cohort contributor Chris Green (AKA mistergreen on flickr). These recent photos were taken by a friend of his.
I haven’t seen one this nice since–well, actually, the last time I saw one this nice was at the 1988 Chicago Auto Show. It was hiding in a corner of the Cadillac display, locked and with a “SOLD” sign on the dashboard. Deep burgundy with silver rocker trim–in fact, just like the one shown in the ’88 Cadillac brochure a few pictures above.
What’s best about this Cimarron is its lack of “traditional” Cadillac dealer-installed options. No aftermarket grilles, no fake convertible top, no landau roof or JC Whitney wire wheel covers. OK, it has the gold badging but, all in all, it’s quite a nice find. Thanks for sharing, Chris!
Updating the grill and headlights, etc..just an exercise in turd polishing…
If they had started with the 87 model, and then did five years of equivalent development from there, they’d have had something. 99% of all people who happily slag the Cimarron have obviously never driven one. The car actually drove rather nicely. Now, if the originals had only been called Buicks or Oldsmobiles . . . . . . .
I beg to differ. I had one of these in high school, in the early 90s. An 87, with the 2.8. I did not find it to drive rather nicely. Other than the increased power and whorehouse red leather interior, it rode the same as the Skyhawk and Firenza that two of my good friends drove at that time. I remember it was loud and jarring without being taught and firm; it had this impossible combination of poor handling and poor ride comfort.
Once it ate its head gasket (without cause or warning, naturally, and at less than 100K miles), it was replaced with an Audi from the same model year. Despite the fact that the Audi’s platform was even older than the J-platform, it handled and rode much better. And despite the fact that it was an Audi, it outlasted the Cimarron by over 150K miles.
The saddest part is that I had friends who had new Cavaliers in the mid-90s, and they still rode just as poorly even when new.
I just found an old 1987 Cadillac cimarron with only 16000 miles on it and in perfect condition seems like it was put in a time capsule and rides pretty nice in fact it has a he whorehouse red leather and not a leak the car has plenty of power and handles fine so all you haters can keep on hating me he car elide ain’t to shabby haha
I’m still looking for an 86, 87, 88 model from which I can buy the complete boss cassette system. That would include the wiring , the relay, the trunk mounted Bose amplifier made only for the four speakers. I would need the rear two speakers as well as the two front carpet covered speakers in the foot wells. Please help me finish my project. Thank you. Joseph from New Mexico. duranjr71. At. Yahoo. Com.
I have an 86 doro cimarron with 41000. I am selling sometime soon. It is 100% original. Message me if interested. It is white. It can be seen on youtube. Just google cadillac cimarron doro. I am not the guy in the video lol.
I’m still searching for a complete BOSE music system from a 87-88 Cadillac Cimarron. Please help. email@example.com
Your car is an amazing find!! 16,000 original miles??? WOW! From the picture the only thing i could tell that was wrong with the car, which was very common, was the power antenna doesn’t retract all the way down. The burgandy over the silver was probably one of the most rich looking color combinations on the car. I owned a 1988 5-speed Dark blue over silver and it was indeed a rare awesome car. They only made like 112 5-speeds out of the total run over about 5,000 cars that year. The 5-speed transformed the car by allowing you to tap all 125 hp out of the 2.8 V6 motor. I got soo many compliments on my car. I bought it with 50,000 original miles from a local in a neighboring state. I drove the car till 285,000 miles and it was still running when i finally junked it. I regret getting rid of it now. I miss it so much and probably will never find another 5 speed model. In 25 years since they made that car i’ve NEVER SEEN another 5 speed model and trust me i look all the time. They were the most rare of all Cimmarons in the years between 1987-1988.
A true Deadly Sin!
The hangover continued well up to fairly recently, too. A friend drives an immaculate 1995 metallic red seville with the Northstar motor. He hasn’t had any problems with it, either – a beautiful car until you look at the dash and see the same flat-black plastic knobs and less-than-Cadillac-level dash. A real let down.
1980 Caddy Dealers on Con Call: “We need a small car, stat!”
GM brass: “OK, we got one coming!”
Conferance call ends.
GM brass: “What we got?”
Hi Tom, thanks for another fun entry in the history of Cimarron, a car I love just because so many people hate it! I meant to get back to you and tell you that although my friend didn’t get the year, he thinks it’s an ’87. He did chat with the people, who do use it as a daily driver, although it seems to have fairly low miles. They were loading up at a nursery in the San Gabriel Valley area near Los Angeles. That license plate is from the late ’90s, so I’m guessing these folks aren’t the original owners.
I thought the setting of that photo looked familiar! I live not too far away in Pasadena. That’s Uncle Joe’s Donuts across the street (San Gabriel Blvd).
Yep, it’s San Gabriel nursery, in San Gabriel! Thanks to Paul Evleth for taking the photos of this clean example!
NO the car featured in your article is in fact the last year, 1988! I’m a huge collector and fan of these cars. The only small change that happened on the exterior between the 1987 and 1988 model year was the bezel for the power antenna. That’s the only notable exterior cue to tell the difference. 1987’s have a smaller chrome echelon where it meets the front fender and the 1988’s have a larger black plastic echelon. As you can see in the one picture of the passenger right fender it has the larger black plastic echelon so it is indeed a 1988!! Last and best year of the car!
Also, I want to say, styling-wise, there was nothing wrong with these. Look at a small BMW or Mercedes of the time, or even the lauded Honda Accord, and you see a very similar 3-box shape. These looked fine. The build quality, on the other hand, could have been way better, starting with the cheap door handles that felt like they would break off in your hand, and continuing through the whole driving experience.
The only problem with the styling was that everybody in the world could look at the car and immediately tell that it was a tarted up Cavalier.
Chrysler could not sell Imperials that looked like Newports, and Lincoln could not sell a Versailles that was plainly a Granada. Nobody who spends Cadillac-type money for a car wants to look like an idiot to his friends.
I agree that the car, in a vacuum, is not a bad looking little car. If GM had given the car some unique sheetmetal, and particularly around the C pillar where most of the J car’s visual character was found, these might have had a chance.
Yes. One of my memories from the late ’70s- early ’80s (childhood-teen years) that stands out is a cousin who we saw every year when visiting family out of state. She married a banker, and while still in her mid-twenties, was driving a new full-size Cadillac (probably a ’78 or ’79 Sedan de Ville.) I thought she seemed young for the car, but I loved riding in it! One year we came back and she was driving a Honda Accord LX hatchback (probably an ’82 or ’83). She went on and on about how she loved that little Accord. I didn’t think of it at the time, but I’m sure a Cimarron wasn’t even considered. I like this story because it shows that not only was Cadillac not getting the entry-level buyers it was hoping for, but it was losing its full-size customers to companies like Honda! Sad (for GM) and telling….
I missed the chance to photograph one of these last spring – a girl on my daughter’s high school lacrosse team was driving one. A fairly well-worn example, it looked like the kind of car that had been handed down by someone’s grandparents and then had the snot driven out of it by several high school grandchildren.
You would have thought that Cadillac would have paid attention when Lincoln did the very same thing with the Versailles. I realize that the GM folks were insular, but surely someone at Cadillac had gotten a good laugh when Lincoln tried to sell a trimmed-up Granada as competition for the Seville. Then they did the very same thing, only worse. After all, there was never a 6 cylinder Versailles.
“You would have thought that Cadillac would have paid attention when Lincoln did the very same thing with the Versailles.”
The initial Versailles effort was ahead of the Cimarron. Yes, the Versailles spoke volumes about borrowed platforms and a rushed effort to differentiate the models from any existing on the market. Yet, the J-car was quite honestly a half-*ssed effort at a front-wheel-drive platform. What existing car from this platform has gained any respect at this point in history?
The fact that the Cimarron in it’s first year came under the marketing platform of “Cimarron by Cadillac” as opposed to “Cadillac Cimarron” speaks volumes about what GM marketing felt about the car.
This car was IMO “THE” black mark or “Deadly Sin” of anything GM brought to market for the last 30 years. Oh to be a fly on the wall during the GM executive meetings that approved this.
Could have been worse: What if GM had used polished up the Chevrolet Chevette/Pontiac 1000 and presented it as an overpriced Caddy-compact? The Cadette! The very idea begs for a photoshop.
Cadette – I love it!
Ooh, I do love that idea. I don’t know if my Photoshop skills are up to it, but I’m tempted to try it!
I do too………but I have to go to work for a couple of hours, If no one does a Photoshop I’ll try it when I get back
Send it to me, and we’ll do a What If? post.
I drove an ’87 for a week while my sister was away and as I recall, craftsmanship wasn’t that great (typical for the era). Craftsmanship didn’t start improving for any of the car makers un til the 1990 Lexus LS400 made its debut. Anyway…the car was anemic and drove like a small car. The aura it had was its nameplate. Back the 80s and early 90s, the best bang for your buck was anything by Buick. Buick was a small notch below Caddy in comfort and ride but at thousands of dollars less.
One other reason GM built the Cimmy, was some Caddy dealers were adding import makes as ‘duals’. Example is a large, high profile, Chicago Caddy dealer, Hanley-Dawson added Datsun* in 1979. ‘Hanley-Dawson Cadillac-Datsun’ ads on the radio must have made GM brass nuts.
Also, the press was nailing GM with “Why doesnt Cadillac sell a small car like BMW?” I still remember the news on the radio in winter of ’80 “Cadillac is going to finally make a small car, the Petite next year!”. There was intense pressure to ‘do something’. But ‘not invented here’ forced the rebadged J car.
*The Nissan name change was a year or so coming.
I suspect that there were some CAFE considerations in play here, as well. Why else would you offer the thing with a 4 pot. Every Cimmy sold probably printed a license for sale of one of the V8 models that paid the rent.
I don’t know about your theory on the duals. About the time these were rolling onto the showrooms GM was shoving what I called “The First Dealer Rehabilitation Act” down dealers throats. There might have even been a clause in the franchise agreement about non-GM brands sharing the same space. Anyway the place I worked out of had a few dealerships spread out and every single one was a dual or a thriple. I was at the Chevy/Subaru place and we had a Chevy/BMW and Chevy/Mazda/Car D’Jour. One day I was told to pull every single bit of anything Subaru off the shelves and out of the building. A few weeks later some tiny dicks from GM did a spot inspection and deemed the place OK. The same thing went down at the other places. All I know is that our bank was one happy institution as the dealer built three new showrooms to sell the imports from sometime around 1984.
I still see Cimarrons cruising the boulevards were I live. I’m also seeing a lot more in the boneyards too. Funny how these things show up 2 or 3 in the same week. Almost like somebody is hoarding them. That there should tell us about how good this J-Car was and who bought them. I mean you spend lots of money for a supposedly cheap car and take good care of it and it lasts way longer than your average Cavalier of the same year. Like I said. I’ll see way more Cimarrons in one place and not a Gen 1 Cavalier/J2000 in sight. The crying shame seems to be gaping rust holes in the body or major collision damage. I’m assuming some major mechanical breakage is the reason they were sent to the boneyard.
You want a Chevette thats been Caddy shacked? Try the Chevettes brother, the Vauxhall over in Europe. Just add a Caddy style grill.
Back when these came out in 82, I wondered why anyone would buy a Cimarron. It was clearly a Cavalier. Sometime in the mid 1990’s, I saw a pristine dark blue (87 or 88) for sale in front of a house in my town. I stopped to look, not really interested, so I didn’t inquire about price. I really didn’t want it then at any price.
It was positively beautiful, and I must say, I wouldn’t mind having it today. As I said in my 83 Eldo comment, the “modern” world is not designed for 224″ 5,000 pound cars.
I haven’t seen a Cimarron for a long time.
Yes, the 1987-88 Cimmarons were a better car…I know because I still own one, the second one I’ve bought. Love the J-body anyways, but the Cimarron was a step above . Still lookin for parts for the Cim…
If they had introduced a small Cadillac that was their flagship model, like they did with the late 70’s Seville, it would have been a success.
Headlights and tailights and trim, those were the marching orders given to the people in charge of the Cimarron, NO sheetmetal changes, NO engine changes, NO dash changes other than unique gagues and radio. The Cimarron wasn’t part of the J-car plan, it was an 11th hour knee-jerk Cadillac reaction to Cadillac dealers screaming about not having a small car, and as others mentioned, fear of flagship Cadillac dealerships “dualing up” with Audi, Saab or BMW or gasp…..Mercedes.
They made a bad choice, its not that Cadillac shouldn’t have done a smaller car, its that they should have learned the lesson from the Seville and taken time and care to make small Cadillac, not a small car with Cadillac emblems. Cadillac was very concerned about using the X-body as a base for the Seville back in 1975, and wanting to cover that up at any costs, the outstanding 1976-1979 Seville was born, the Cimarron was almost the complete opposite of that, its like they didn’t care if anyone knew it was a J-car.
I always wondered why they limited the Cimarron to just the sedan bodystyle? If your going to whore yourself out, go all the way Cadillac, they should of at least had a coupe version to(especially since there wasn’t even a 3 series sedan when the Cimarron was launched in 1981), I mean its not like the J-cars didn’t have a coupe, sedan, hatch, wagon and later a convertible.
Hmmm. everyonce in while I think about finding a clean Cavalier convertilbe and a clean Cimarron and making a convertible Cimarron, just for the hell of it.
Try, try again…in spite of the Cimarrons failure and long lasting stigma, Cadillac slowly continued marching along a path that was originally blazed by the Cimarron, todays CTS, V-series cars and the new ATS, all much, much, much better cars that a Cimarron, still kinda owe a little bit of their existance to that long distant relative that first climbed out of the Brougham swamp.
Circa 1980 Cimarron coupe sketches indicate they at least considered it.
You would think that at the very least, if the Cimarron couldn’t have unique sheetmetal, GM would have made the 2.8 V6 the standard engine right from the beginning to give it at least a minimal amount of “prestige” over the other J’s.
I think there were two reasons they didn’t:
First, the Cimarron was conceived at a point where it looked like fuel would be really expensive throughout the 80s and CAFE requirements seemed likely to continue climbing (instead of leveling off at 27.5 mpg and staying there, as they actually did). I assume part of the rationale for doing the J-car Cimarron was to help bring up Cadillac’s CAFE, and if fuel had been $5 a gallon by 1984 as some people assumed, a V6-only lineup would have been an issue.
Second, the Cimarron’s ostensible target was the E21 BMW 3-Series, which in the U.S. I think was only available with a four. There were six-cylinder E21s in Europe (the 320/6 and 323i), but I don’t recall their being federalized. I think the first factory 3-Series with a six was the E30 325e in 1984.
So, it’s somewhat understandable why Cadillac didn’t offer only the V6 to start. In retrospect, it was a mistake, but that part I’m willing to give them, in particular because around the same time, BMW came to a similar conclusion, leading to the adoption of the fuel-saver “eta” engines around the time gas prices were plummeting in the mid-80s. Everybody guesses wrong sometimes…
Yes, the BMW 318i was the only 3 Series available in the US at the time, and made like 98 or 101 hp. That’s still 15 more than the Cimarron, and the running characteristics of the engines was very different. Cadillac should at least have put the 1.8 L SOHC engine in the Cimarron, along with a proper fuel injection system, which would have ameliorated its engine deficiencies to some degree.
I test drove a first year Cimarron, and the weak and crude 1.8 L ohv four really was a very sorry excuse for an engine. Not even remotely like the smooth 318i engine.
Sure — I’m not implying that the pushrod 1.8 was an adequate choice, just that I understand that it probably made sense in an on-paper comparison sense (“They have a 1.8-liter four, we have a 1.8-liter four”).
The Standard Catalog of Imported Cars says the U.S. E21 was badged 320i, despite having the 1.8-liter injected engine. I dimly remember that, but I’m too lazy right now to go digging to confirm it. (I have a comparison test from Car and Driver around here somewhere.)
I can’t say what motor they had, but I can confirm that the e21 3-series in the US was badged 320i. I was living in Marin at the time, and the place was littered with them. There was also an “S” model, which was dintinguised by having no model badge at all.
Remember the 2.8 at the time was being touted as the “new small block V8” for the fuel efficient 80’s. The idea of putting V6’s in the J’s came much later.
Maybe so, but the 2.8 was available in the X-cars right from the time they were introduced, so putting them in the J’s just seems logical.
I guess I just like sin today or at least in 1990. Almost bought an 87 in Burgundy like the one pictured above in 1989. Instead bought the T/A which I pictured in the comments on the Camaro piece just before this one.Doubt I would have kept the Cimarron this long. Anyway question for all of you. What does CTS stand for Catera Touring Sedan or Cimarron Touring Sedan?
The idea of the Cimarron wasn’t necessarily bad. I mean, c’mon, that’s what GM’s all about, basing different tiers of autos from the same platform.
The problem with the Cimarron was the half-assed, lazy, el Cheapo way they went about it. As others have stated, if the original 1982 had been done the way the ’87-’88 ended up, it might have been a success.
Instead, the 1982 ‘Geez, this is obviously just a real expensive Chevy Cavalier with leather seats’ Cimarron became one more example of GM’s downward spiral.
“Try, try again…in spite of the Cimarrons failure and long lasting stigma, Cadillac slowly continued marching along a path that was originally blazed by the Cimarron, todays CTS, V-series cars and the new ATS, all much, much, much better cars that a Cimarron, still kinda owe a little bit of their existance to that long distant relative that first climbed out of the Brougham swamp.”
I had to have a second glance at this to get that you meant the Cimarron was a step in the de-Broughamification of Cadillac, rather than that the following cars owed anything to the Cimarron.
In a way they did – would it be fair to say that the impact of this turkey was a wake-up call, sparking a turn-around for Cadillac?
IIRC, I think I mentioned my uncle had one of these. It was a POS that felt just like the Cavalier I had rented to drive from the airport when I came home on leave from the military. Mercifully, it was broken into and stripped, and he got a Chrysler New Yorker Turbo sedan. Yeah, the K-car based one.
Cynical is an understatement. They didn’t even bother to change the fecking roofline on this thing to differentiate it from it’s J-car siblings.
All of this started with the Cadillac Seville which came out for the 1976 model year in the spring of 1975. It was the smallest Cadillac in years and was basically a reworked Chevy Nova using an Oldsmobile engine with EFI. Granted, the Seville was a far cry from the badge engineered Cimarron, but that is where the idea germinated. I once owned a 1976 Seville and, especially during the first model year with the drum brakes in rear, was very much a mechanically off the shelf parts car. Now they did a wonderful job with the body and interior to make it look genuine. Plus the 350 Olds engine with EFI was faster than the other Cadillacs of the day so the only potential complaint was size. It did have leaf springs in the rear which caused a lot of tongues to wag but the car was a hit and considered a classic to this day. The Versailles was a direct result of the Seville. Ford did not have the time or money to work the Grenada enough that Cadillac worked the Nova (they eventually did by the 1979 model year) and it was mocked as a Grenada in makeup. Of course the Versailles bombed, but remember Lincoln was still selling the original-sized Continentals/TCs and Mark Vs until the 1980 model years while Cadillac downsized their deVilles/Fleetwoods for 1977 and the Eldorado for 1979. Alot of extra Lincolns were sold in those years to people who still wanted a land yacht.
The Cimarron was insisted upon by then Cadillac GM Edward Kennard who wanted to attracted foreign car buyers and younger people. Most Cimarron buyers were people of that camp but not enough of them. Part of the problem, aside from the obvious brand engineering, was image. In the early 80s, even most foreign cars were terribly slow compared to domestic makes but those buyers accepted that as a quirk. Most Mercedes then were smelly noisy diesels and Japanese cars felt like rolling tin cans. Domestic cars were large, powerful, quiet, and distinctive in design. The biggest issue for the Cimarron was that it was a Cadillac – it confused both traditional Cadillac buyers and non-Cadillac buyers who generally understood Cadillac market positioning. Had the Cimarron been executed as an Oldsmobile or a Buick, things might have worked out better. Especially since by the late 1980s Oldsmobile was trying to position itself as something of the import fighting brand of GM.
There is a guy that goes around to many of the Cadillac Club shows with an 88 Cimarron that is just cherry. White with red leather a really nice example. At an old shop that I used to worked at the car wash manager in front used to own an 87 Cimarron in grey and enjoyed it. I used to own a 1988 Cavalier Z24 convertible which had the same drivetrain, sport suspension, and loaded with goodies including digital dash but minus leather and retailed for about the same price as a Cimarron.
Some cars are bad designs but yet sell fairly well, some cars are not inherently mechanically bad but do not sell.
The Cimarron was basically a Chevy Cavalier. Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile all had copies. Actually, the Olds and Buick versions had a different dash design. I owned an 83 Skyhawk. The Cimarron did get leather seats, which made it somewhat more high end, but no automatic climate control, which my Skyhawk actually had. While my Skyhawk was not a bad car, it was not great either.
I own one and here in Estonia (Europe) the J-body is known as Opel Ascona, rather than Cavalier. I looked for Cimarron for many years, before one came up for sale in Sweden a few years back. Bought it immediately and it has been bringing smile to my face ever since. Allthough it is a feeble little contraption it still has comfortable seats and decent quiet interior. Mine is a 1986 fourbanger with slushbox and despite its lack of power it is good for long strips using cruise control. Did some 400 miles non-stop trip in a row in it and had no fatige whatsoever. And it complements my 500 cid Caddys 🙂
I recently purchased a 1988 blue caddy cimarron and before this one I’ve never seen nor heard of one. I’ve never owned a car only 4 yrs older than myself that’s so nice inside and out. (Including the engine) It has 40k on it and no rust and everything works. So far I have only tinted the windows b/c that’s what I do to all my vehicles. Yes, the cimarron is def an ugly duckling but i just couldn’t pass up it up. I found a hood ornament on ebay that’s on its way to me now. My favorite thing about the car is what i paid! Every time I drive it I love it more and more.