Blogs at Amazon

« 1984-1989 Toyota MR2 | Main | Oldsmobile 350 Diesel »

"Cimarron, by Cadillac"

Look! Up in the sky! It's Sunbird! It's too plain! No, it's Cimarron! (Roll theme music)

Cimarron Brochure On May 21, 1981, one of the biggest "You've got to be kidding me!" moves in automotive history was made when General Motors' Cadillac Division rolled out this generic economy car to an unenthusiastic, not-so gullible press corps and public. Essentially a rebodied Chevrolet Cavalier, even today the Cimarron evinces grimaces from Cadillac faithful.

Cadillac expected sales of  75,000 Cimarrons in the car's first year; instead, only 25,968 sold. In 1988, the last year of the Cimarron, the sales had dropped to 6,454. The first two years of the Cimarron's existence, the Division was so ashamed of the car that the car was called "Cimarron, by Cadillac", not Cadillac Cimarron. This drove home the fact that the car was a Caddy by name only--which, of course, everybody already knew. Anybody who doubted that the Cimarron and Cavalier were siblings had only to look at the two cars. For example, compare the Cimarron at right to the junky Cavalier immediately below.

The car officially became the Cadillac Cimarron in 1983 after rightfully earning the nickname "Cadvalier." Cadillac's unmet expectations should have banished these product planners into the Phantom Zone until they could have made a car worthy of the Cadillac crest.

This is perhaps the worst and most cynical example of automotive rebadging. Cadillac marketed the Cimarron as part of its "Standard of the World," but the Cimarron's only differences from the other GM "J" cars (Chevy Cavalier, Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Firenza, Pontiac J2000/Sunbird) were Cadillac badges, nicer seats, dressier door panels, and a shock absorber system to help keep the drivetrain from dancing around inside the engine bay. To enjoy Earth's yellow sun, an optional "Astroroof" was available exclusively to Cimarron buyers.

Cavalier-RiteObviously a reject from the planet Krapton, the Cimarron's mild-mannered approach to everything automotive included an anemic 88-horsepower, 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine with a 4-speed manual transmission standard. To further slow you down, a 3-speed slushbox cost extra (Extra?!?!). Cadillac had not offered a 4-cylinder since 1914, nor a clutch in more than 30 years. The 120-horsepower, 2.8-liter V-6 became available in 1985, then was made standard in 1987.

The Cimarron was virtually identical to GM's other J cars, but its Planet Bizarro pricing was roughly twice that of any of the other "J" cars that had the same equipment. During development, GM President Pete Estes had warned Cadillac General Manager Ed Kennard, "Ed, you don't have time to turn a "J" car into a Cadillac."

The poor little car got a freshening in 1983, but it was too little, too late. Like the Fiero around that time, the car's reputation had already set--it was doomed. Cadillac changed the front and rear fascias and tried to tighten the suspension up to European standards, but who cared? The car eventually became such a standard of the world for what not to do that, according to Car and Driver, Cadillac Product Director John Howell had a picture of the Cimarron on a wall that said, "Lest we forget."

Cimarron Interior I have only driven a Cimarron once. We had some very nice neighbors that were in the auto recycling business who frequently attended auto auctions, so we never knew what they might bring home. The Mr. bought the Mrs. a light yellow Cimarron, and they were kind enough to let me take it for a spin. I said, "Nice!" and grinned as best as I could to not let them know that I knew what a farce this vehicle was.

Other than soft, comfy seats, this thing had every grunt, groan, and yelp that a car costing half its price would have ... hardly a Fortress of Solitude. The gauges looked very similar to those in a Chevette, the engine always sounded like it was in the next higher gear way too soon, and it drove like a cheap, early-production front-wheel-drive car. Imagine that. It didn't have enough power to pull a hat off of your head, the steering was very loosey-goosey, and the brakes required planning light years ahead to be effective. Yes, it was a used car, but there was still no feeling of quality in anything this car did.

The only thing faster than a speeding bullet on these cars was their depreciation. Many Cadillac owners, after buying these cars, never returned.

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

The car at the top is a Cimarron; the lower one is a Cavalier. Thanks to David Colborne for finding the brochure image to match the Cavalier view!


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

J-cars were a not-all-that-good design assembled with the Lordstown plant's typical inattention to detail. The only thing worse than a J-car is a J-car tarted up as a pretend luxury car--the Cimarron. The damage it did to Cadillac's brand equity and GM's customer loyalty cannot be understated.

Well, that was the 80s, the "golden age" of compact cars, if there ever was such a thing. You had to be there. First you had the energy crisis which brought us gas lines and President Carter on TV in a sweater, then the implementation of CAFE. For a short while, you actually had upscale compact cars. Unfortunately, most of the good ones were based on the Chrysler K platform.

As for highway MPG, I have no idea how they came up with those numbers. 42 MPG from a Cavalier? No frickin' way. The manufacturers must have pulled those numbers from you-know-where because I can't believe the EPA could have verified them even with the old test.

Thanks for the shout-out, but I just pulled them from Flickr. More specifically, you can find the brochure ad in That Hartford Guy's feed here:

As for the period gas mileage numbers, yeah, they definitely had the old-school "gross horsepower" feel to them, where there was absolutely no bearing on reality whatsoever. I remember seeing ads for Metros and Civics extolling 50+ highway MPG (they were good, but not THAT good) when I was a kid, among other flights of fancy.

Can we say... "Your Mileage May Vary" LOL!

I'd rather have the Chrysler Lebaron of that era myself.

I have a thing for cimarrons, i've never seen one in the flesh, i've never driven or sat inside one, but i really want one for some reason.

Think like a contrarian for a moment, the Cimarron made a pretty good Cavalier. However, if anybody is still wondering how GM could get itself in its current condition, look no further. The sad part is, they have begun building some darn good cars, but it may be a case of too little, too late.

The vintage car phone in the interior shot makes it the '80's ultimate poseur-mobile (UPM for short).

My mom bought a new Seville in '78, and it was a nice, plush ride. Within 3 years, when the Cimarron was introduced, the dealer sent her a Cimarron brochure inviting her see the new Cadillac and offering a generous trade-in. We both laughed at the offer, and I still have the brochure and offer from the dealer. The Cimarron was clearly a world away from the regular Cadillacs and definitely out of its league. It was a mistake from the start.

Look's a Crapillac!

Bad enough that they tried to pass this thing on as a Cadillac... but to DOUBLE the price? Geez!

For a while in the late 80s - early 90s I worked for a large chain automotive repair shop, and a big part of our business was cigar-chomping geezers who would bring their 70s land-yachts in for tire rotations on a monthly basis as if they were still driving around on war-ration retreads.

So when they asked me to go outside and get a car and the slip would say "Color: Brown; Make: Cadillac," I'd be looking for, you know, *A Cadillac*. I must've spent hours in that mall parking lot searching for Cadillacs when all the time I was standing right next to a Cimarron.

Yeah, look no further than the Cimmaron to understand why GM is in such bad shape.

Because Toyota and Nissan have made a mint in the supposedly zero-profit margin of sedans by selling upscale versions of their small cars as Lexuseseses and Infinitis. (Honda slightly less so; I'm still convinced Toyota/Nissan start with the upscale version and dumb it down to make the Toyota/Nissan version, whereas Honda seems to start with the Accord and add/subtract from there to create every other sedan they produce).

In every family there is one, ours was Aunt Virginia, the kind of person who always thought she shined brighter than any of her siblings. In 1983 her mother, my grandmother, died at 94. Aunt Virginia had a new Cimmeron and I had a 1978 Chevrolet Caprice Classic. When it was time for the funeral procession to the grave side, she insisted that her Caddicrap out ranked my Caprice. The funeral director fixed her wagon by pointing out the Caprice was much larger and could handle more people and she should relinquish third in line. I was 27 at the time and my Aunt Virginia was the baby sister of 15 kids. At the wake I was very quietly the star of the show for putting her car in its place. You know, I never hear from her anymore. She and Aunt Sandy used to fight over who was my favorite Aunt. Guess Aunt Virginia decided Aunt Sandy could have me!

Bob: A used Cimarron would be mildly intriguing for the very reason you cited - it would basically be an upmarket Cavalier. Nothing wrong with that. Trouble was, they cost too much new and had the wrong brand. Frankly, this car probably should've been a Buick or an Oldsmobile... oh wait, it was.

Is "Pontillac" a word?

yeah...Cimarron not impresive,
nowadays Caddy shouldnt fallow german brands,
it sholud have unique american style.!:)
tha's why Sixteen concpt as an flagshp car could be good idea
where are Persnal luxury cars? eldorado....Monte carlo etc?

modern muscle and personal luxury muscle : debate :)

yeah...Cimarron not impresive,
nowadays Caddy shouldnt fallow german brands,
it sholud have unique american style.!:)
tha's why Sixteen concpt as an flagshp car could be good idea
where are Persnal luxury cars? eldorado....Monte carlo etc?

modern muscle and personal luxury muscle : debate :)

The fact that GM marketed the car as "Cimarron by Cadillac" is not unique and therefore shouldn't necessarily suggest embarrassment as they had also marketed other models like the Seville and Eldorado the same way i.e. Seville by Cadillac, Eldorado by Cadillac. Also, pricing although certainly higher was not twice that of other *comparably* equipped J-cars. Was the Cimarron a mistake for the brand? Perhaps! Surprisingly it survived seven model years.

Hey CarZ!

Please read this from Wikipedia, then read the info from "How Things Work" concerning the Cimarron:

"The Cimarron, introduced on May 21, 1981, was initially advertised as "Cimarron, by Cadillac" and sales personnel were instructed by GM to not refer to the car as a Cadillac and to inform customers that it was technically, not a Cadillac. The pretense was woefully ineffective, and in 1983, it became the Cadillac Cimarron."

The "How It Works" article explains the pricing as twice that of a comparable "J" Car., "How Things Work". My bad.


Unfortunately not everything found on the Internet is 100% accurate. If one were to price out a lesser but similarly equipped J-Car against a Cimarron, the Cimarron would not come in at twice as much. A variety of items standard on the Cimarron (a/c, leather, stereo) were extra cost options or not even available on the other Js. This is not to say that it wasn't overpriced just not that overpriced.

Since the Cimarron was a departure from traditional Cadillacs of the day, they no doubt wanted to market it slightly differently i.e. Cimarron by Cadillac just as the new "internationally-sized" (their words) 1976 Seville was a departure from traditional big Caddy sedans of its time and was initially marketed as Seville by Cadillac. A goal with both cars was to reach out to customers who may not have otherwise considered Cadillac and possibly equated the brand with the white shoed retirement crowd and/or just big, bulky, floaty sedans. The market they were after were younger import shoppers - Audi, BMW, MB, Volvo, etc. - where to be considered driving a "Cadillac" may have actually been a turn-off. Hence, Cimarron by... Seville by... One could suggest that they didn't want to directly associate Cimarron with Cadillac more so than the other way around. Nothing really to do with embarrassment or shame just different products for different demographics.

WELL? where do you begin with this???????????????????????
i like it for what it is cause iam a cdillacman first and formost

The Cimarron was not really a bad car for it's day. It sold a lot more than other Cadillacs in comparison (usually 20-25,000 per year). The quality was as good as other Cadillacs of the time. I checked the odometers of Cimarrons in the Salvage yards while looking for parts for my 22 year old car & Cimarrons usually made it to 115,000 to 150,000 miles before being scrapped! To stay on the market 7 years shows somebody liked them. If Cimarron was they only J car GM manufactured, it would have been thought to be exceptional!

when i was in high school i got to drive a rusty 85 cavalier and a kid i knew had the same car with leather, power windows, and i think a V6. it was of course, a cimarron. it really was a dressed up cavalier, lol. IIRC the trunklid on the cimarron was identical to the cavalier, while the sunbird, firenza, and skyhawk used different body panels for the trunk. so the irony was the cimarron was more like a cavalier than an olds firenza or buick skyhawk.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

Powered by Rollyo

Car Lust™ Contributors

June 2016

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30