Cadillac Cimarron

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Cadillac Cimarron
Cadillac Cimarron 2 -- 07-01-2009.jpg
Manufacturer General Motors
Production 1982–1988
Assembly United States: Janesville, Wisconsin, (Janesville GM Assembly Plant)
South Gate, California, (South Gate Assembly)
Body and chassis
Class Compact
Body style 4-door sedan
Layout Transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive
Platform J-body
Related Buick Skyhawk
Chevrolet Cavalier
Oldsmobile Firenza
Pontiac J2000
Pontiac 2000
Pontiac Sunbird
Opel Ascona
Vauxhall Cavalier
Holden Camira
Isuzu Aska
Engine 1.8 L L46 I4 (gasoline)
2.0 L LQ5 I4 (gasoline)
2.8 L LB6 V6 (gasoline)

4-speed manual
3-speed automatic

5 speed manual
Wheelbase 101.2 in (2570 mm)
Length 177.8 in (4,516 mm)
Width 66.3 in (1,684 mm)
Height 54.0 in (1,372 mm)

The Cadillac Cimarron was a compact luxury car built by General Motors based on the GM J platform. It was first introduced in 1981 for the 1982 model year, and sold through 1988. During its seven-year model run, 132,499 Cimarrons were built.

The Cimarron was Cadillac's badge engineered entry-level product of the Chevrolet Cavalier, which was a replacement of the Chevrolet Vega. Other than the installation of Cadillac's traditional "egg crate" grille, the Cimarron didn't exhibit any traditional Cadillac styling features associated with earlier products, and other than Cadillac badges, was virtually identical to the Cavalier. Both the Cimarron and Cavalier were built on the same assembly plant in South Gate, California and Janesville, Wisconsin.


1982 Cadillac Cimarron

Cadillac's first modern foray into smaller cars, the 1975 Seville, was intended to answer the sales threat from Mercedes-Benz luxury cars. The Seville was a relative success, but the political and economic climate of the 1980s suggested a need for something smaller. A crucial factor was the advent of CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) requirements from the U.S. federal government, which severely penalized automakers if their fleet average fuel economy dropped below the minimum. Another was the success of imported compacts such as the BMW 3 Series, Saab 900, Volvo 240 and Audi 4000.

Since 1976, GM had been developing the J-body, an economy car platform shared across all passenger car divisions.[1] Each had the same 101.2 in (2,570 mm) wheelbase, MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear suspension, and engines. The basic body/frame structure used a unibody with a front subframe that carried the lower front suspension, engine, and transmission. Although Cadillac had intended to introduce the Cimarron later in the 1980s, it was rushed into production early at the insistence of Cadillac dealers.[2] The result was a small, slow car whose "econobox" roots were obvious. Technologically, the Cimarron was far behind the luxury imports with which it was meant to compete.[2]

Pete Estes, GM's president at the time, warned[3] Ed Kennard, Cadillac's general manager:

The name was selected from a list of seven finalists, including J9000 (after the Pontiac), Carmel, Cascade, Caville (similar to Seville and DeVille), Envoy (later revived by sister brand GMC for the GMC Envoy), and Series 62, with a preference for an initial "c".[4] Cimarron topped the list in favorable reaction, though ironically, it evoked economy, while Caville suggested the opposite.[5]


The Cimarron, introduced on May 21, 1981, was initially advertised as "Cimarron, by Cadillac" (similar to how Cadillac's Seville and Eldorado models were marketed in previous years) 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 Cadillac nameplate didn't even appear anywhere on the car. This strategy failed, and it became the Cadillac Cimarron for 1983.

Rear of a 1982 Cimarron showing Cavalier style taillights

The new compact Cadillac had the unconventional, for Cadillac, straight-4 engine (the first 4-cylinder Cadillac since 1914) and a four-speed manual transmission (Cadillac's first manual since 1953), with a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic automatic optional. The Cimarron had a high level of standard equipment for the time including items like air conditioning, leather interior, alloy wheels, accent stripes, locking fuel filler door, power mirrors, courtesy lights, intermittent wipers, rear window defogger, and AM/FM stereo radio. Cadillac also included many sporty features as standard, such as a tachometer, specially tuned suspension, and stabilizer bars.[6] This pushed the base price to US$12,131 (equal to $31,469 today), nearly double its J-body siblings. The price difference, however, wasn't nearly as great when compared against other J-body models with these added (if available) options.

The Cimarron was coolly received by Cadillac buyers. First-year sales were only 25,968, about a third what Cadillac anticipated.[3] The Cimarron's compact dimensions did not appeal to traditional Cadillac buyers, while its humble origins and barely competitive performance did little to appeal to the buyers of European imports.

The standard four-cylinder engine was also roundly criticized for its lack of both power and refinement. A V6 engine became optional on 1985 models and was made standard in 1987. Its arrival was welcomed, but the V6's availability on less expensive J-platform vehicles still left questions about the Cimarron's value.[7]

Cadillac faithfuls considering another Cadillac rejected the Cimarron because they considered it the budget car Chevrolet Cavalier with an upgraded interior and the Cadillac name plate slapped on. In an article writing about the worst cars of all time, Pulitzer-prize winning automotive journalist Dan Neil listed the Cimarron and said of it: "Everything that was wrong, venal, lazy, and mendacious about GM (General Motors) in the 1980s was crystallized in this flagrant insult to the good name and fine customers of Cadillac."

The last Cimarron rolled off the assembly line on June 3, 1988.

1988 Cimarron

Even though the Cimarron had grown comparatively more refined by the end of its production run with more Cadillac-like styling to further distinguish it from other J-cars, buyers stayed away, and the car was discontinued after 1988 with a production run that year of only 6,454 units. The Cimarron's failure was part of a series of events throughout the 1980s and 1990s which eroded the brand's share of the US market from 3.8% in 1979 to 2.2% in 1997.[8]


The Cimarron accomplished at least some of what Cadillac hoped it would. Among early purchasers of Cimarrons, nearly three quarters had never owned a Cadillac before.[9] It also helped bring younger customers to the brand. The average age of a Cimarron buyer was under 50 years old.[2] However, one quarter of long-time Cadillac owners would never buy another Cadillac, instead switching to other luxury marques like Lincoln and Chrysler.[citation needed] It has been said that the Cimarron did pave the way for the Cadillac Catera and later the Cadillac CTS, another compact luxury sedan, that was credited with reviving the marque in the 2000s. Unlike the Cimarron, however, the CTS was a much roomier and more substantial vehicle with distinctive styling and performance, and upon its introduction, did not share a platform with any other General Motors brand.[10]

Yet even years after the model was discontinued, the Cimarron's legacy remains negative. The car has become a staple of books and articles about bad cars.[11][12] Forbes placed the Cimarron on its list of "Legendary Car Flops," citing low sales, poor performance and the fact the car "didn't work, coming from a luxury brand." Author Hannah Elliott explained that the Cimarron "appealed neither to Cadillac's loyal followers, who appreciated powerful V8s and Cadillac's domestic luxury edge, nor to buyers who favored Europe's luxury brands, whose cars out-handled and out-classed the Cimarron in every way."[10] In 2009, CNN Money noted in "GM's junk heap" of unsuccessful nameplates that the Cimarron was, "In all important respects, a Chevrolet Cavalier. It also added thousands to the price tag. In all, it was neither a good Cadillac nor a good value. Today, GM executives will readily admit that this was a bad idea."[13] According to Car and Driver, current Cadillac product director John Howell has a picture of the Cimarron on his wall captioned, "Lest we forget."[14] TIME magazine named the car to its list of the 50 worst cars of all time, stating that the Cimarron "nearly killed Cadillac and remains its biggest shame."[12] The magazine then went one step further, describing the Ford Mondeo-based 2001 Jaguar X-Type as "the English version of the Cadillac Cimarron, a tarted-up insult to a once-proud marque and a financial disaster for the company", although the X-Type received positive reviews from the motoring press and shared far fewer parts with its mass-market siblings than the Cimmaron did.[15]

Other manufacturers have since produced badge-engineered luxury cars that have been successful, as these had distinct branding and style, high-quality interior materials, wide range of convenience features, and performance powertrains, attributes key to distinguishing them from mass market equivalents. Top-selling re-badged luxury cars following this trend include the Lexus ES, Acura TL, and Audi A3.[16][17][18]


  1. ^ Yates, Brock: The Decline and Fall of the American Automobile Industry, p. 24. Empire Books, 1983.
  2. ^ a b c Yates, p. 71.
  3. ^ a b Bonsall, Thomas E. (1997). "Trouble In Paradise: The Story of the Cadillac Cimarron". Archived from the original on January 18, 2001. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  4. ^ Witzenburg, Gary. "The Name Game", Motor Trend, 4/84, p. 86.
  5. ^ Witzenburg, p. 86.
  6. ^ "Cimarron '83". Cadillac Devison of General Motors. Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  7. ^ Consumer Guide: Auto '86, p. 23. Publications International, 1986.
  8. ^ Flammang and Kowalke, pp. 149-189.
  9. ^ Flammang and Kowalke, p. 157.
  10. ^ a b "Legendary Car Flops". Forbes. May 2010. Retrieved Jan 30, 2014. 
  11. ^ Peters, Eric: Automotive Atrocities! The Cars We Love to Hate, pp. 94-95. Motorbooks International, 2004.
  12. ^ a b Neil, Dan (September 7, 2007). "The 50 Worst Cars of All Time". Retrieved February 26, 2010. 
  13. ^ "GM's Junk Heap: Cadillac Cimarron". CNN Money. May 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  14. ^ Hutton, Ray, 2006 Cadillac BLS, Car and Driver, June 2006.
  15. ^ "The 50 Worst Cars Of All Time". Time. September 7, 2007. 
  16. ^ "Test Drive: 2010 Audi A3 TDI -". June 21, 2010. Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  17. ^ "2006 Audi A3 Reviews by Experts and Consumers". Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  18. ^ Proudfoot, Dan (April 29, 2010). "Audi luxury compact is ready for the future". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved October 2, 2010. 

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