Cadillac Cimarron

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Cadillac Cimarron
1983 Cadillac Cimarron Ultra - 2.jpg
1983 Cadillac Cimarron
ManufacturerGeneral Motors
Model years1982–1988
AssemblyUnited States: Janesville, Wisconsin, (Janesville GM Assembly Plant)
South Gate, California, (South Gate Assembly)
Body and chassis
ClassCompact executive car
Body style4-door sedan
LayoutTransverse front-engine, front-wheel drive
RelatedBuick Skyhawk
Chevrolet Cavalier
Oldsmobile Firenza
Pontiac J2000/2000/Sunbird
Transmission4-speed manual
5-speed manual
3-speed automatic
Wheelbase101.2 in (2,570 mm)
Length177.8 in (4,516 mm)
Width66.3 in (1,684 mm)
Height54.0 in (1,372 mm)

The Cadillac Cimarron is an entry-level luxury car that was manufactured and marketed by the Cadillac division of General Motors for model years 1982–1988. The first post-war compact car offered by the brand, the four-door was developed to compete with similarly sized premium sedans marketed by European automakers in North America.[1][2]

The flagship offering of the GM J platform, the Cimarron was marketed with counterparts from Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. In one of the most controversial examples of rebranding in the American automotive industry, the Cimarron shared much of its exterior with the Chevrolet Cavalier.[3] The shortest-wheelbase Cadillac since 1908, the Cimarron was the first Cadillac with a four-cylinder engine since the 1914 Cadillac Model Thirty.

Through its entire production, the Cimarron was manufactured at South Gate Assembly (1981–1982) and Janesville Assembly (1982–1988); both facilities produced the model alongside the Chevrolet Cavalier. In North America, the Cimarron has not been replaced directly; the current Cadillac CT4 (and its 2013–2019 Cadillac ATS predecessor) are larger and share no design commonality with other General Motors four-door sedans. The Cimarron is noted as a nadir of GM's product planning — for its low sales, poor performance and ill-conceived badge engineering.


As General Motors prepared for the 1980s, Cadillac product planners considered the introduction of a sedan smaller than the Seville. While the model line had sold well following its 1975 introduction, in its research, Cadillac discovered that a growing proportion of Seville buyers were not conquest customers of European brands, but American-brand customers seeking a smaller sedan. To further diversify and modernize their product range to compete with European luxury sedans, Cadillac dealers requested a smaller car (slotted below the Seville) that could compete with the compact offerings of European brands.[4][5]

In early 1980, General Motors commenced development of a Cadillac version of the GM J-car platform, leading to one of the shortest development programs ever undertaken by the company.[5][6] Originally scheduled for mid-1980s release,[4] the launch of the Cimarron was pushed to early 1981 to matching the 1982 model-year release of the J-car for the Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac divisions. In development since 1976 to replace the H-body,[7] the J-car marked two major changes: shifting to front-wheel drive and expanding into the compact car segment. In line with its predecessor, the J-car was to be the Chevrolet Cavalier (replacing the Monza), the Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Firenza (a premium trim of the previous Starfire), and Pontiac J2000 (replacing the Sunbird, eventually taking on the Sunbird name); the J-car was also to be sold by Opel/Vauxhall, Holden, and Isuzu worldwide.

While the creation of the Cadillac Cimarron was intended to give the division a compact sedan that matched multiple European premium brands, the selection of the J-car platform within 14 months of its launch was met with heavy resistance. Pete Estes, GM president at the time, warned Cadillac general manager Ed Kennard: "Ed, you don't have time to turn the J-car into a Cadillac."[6] The original design offered little more than a well equipped Chevrolet Cavalier, but cost twice as much.[8]

Model name[edit]

At its 1981 introduction, the copy text of original sales brochures associated the Cimarron nameplate with "fortitude, adventure and pioneering".[9] The nameplate was chosen from a list that included J2000 (used on predecessor of Pontiac Sunbird); Carmel; Cascade; Caville (blend of "Cadillac" and "De Ville"); Envoy; and Series 62 (predecessor of Cadillac Calais).[10]

For 1982 production, the brand nomenclature was "Cimarron by Cadillac", although initially the Cadillac name did not appear anywhere on the car.[3][6] For 1983, the naming was revised to Cadillac Cimarron;[6] for the rest of its production, the Cadillac script appeared only on the grille.


The Cimarron used the front-wheel drive GM J platform with a 101.2 in (2,570 mm) wheelbase. Employing unibody construction, the suspension used front MacPherson struts (mounted to a subframe) with a torsion-beam rear axle, along with front and rear stabilizer bars.[11]

To distinguish the Cimarron from the Chevrolet Cavalier and its Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac counterparts, Cadillac standardized many of the available features offered on J-platform cars at the time, including air conditioning, leather seats, alloy wheels, power mirrors, full instrumentation (including tachometer; the only Cadillac to do so at the time), courtesy lights, intermittent wipers, rear window defogger, and AM/FM stereo.[11] Its interior featured simulated aluminum trim, notably foregoing simulated wood trim.[12][13]

Available options for 1982 included automatic transmission, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, power windows, power door locks, power driver and passenger seats, sunroof, and a cassette player.[12][13] With the exception of its upholstery and model-specific special suspension tuning, J-platform sedans from other GM divisions could be optioned nearly identically to a Cimarron, though doing so would raise prices close to the Cimarron's $12,131 base price (equivalent to $34,500 in 2020).[6][3]


For 1982, the Cimarron was equipped with a 1.8 L four-cylinder engine, producing 88 hp (66 kW) (the first four-cylinder Cadillac since 1914 and the first engine below 2.0 L displacement since 1908). For 1983, the engine was enlarged to 2.0 L and given fuel injection, though engine tuning would drop peak output to 86 hp (64 kW). For 1985, a 2.8 L V6 (shared with the Chevrolet Cavalier and Oldsmobile Firenza) was added as an option, producing 130 hp (97 kW); for 1987, the V6 became standard. The four-cylinder engines were paired with a 4-speed manual (later a 5-speed), with a 3-speed automatic as an option; the 3-speed automatic was the sole transmission with the V6.

Model history[edit]

For 1983, the grille was updated; the center-mounted crest emblem was replaced with an offset Cadillac script.

For 1984 and 1985, Cimarron was offered with a special option package called D'Oro. Essentially a gold trim package (D'Oro translates to "golden" in Italian and Spanish) with a unique hood badge, the option added gold accents to the aluminum alloy wheels, grille, and bumper rub strips, along with accent stripes on the belt line and hood centerline. The interior featured a D'Oro instrument panel plaque and gold-finish steering wheel spokes. For 1984, the option was offered only with a black exterior and a tan leather interior; all trim on the bumpers were black, along with smoke-grey foglamp covers. For 1985, the D'Oro option added white and red exterior colors (alongside black); grooved lower-body trim was color-keyed to match the body.

For 1985, the exterior underwent a minor revision for the first time. Alongside a new grille, a "power dome" hood was introduced; silver-color grooved lower-body trim was introduced. Dependent on trim, grille badging retained the Cadillac script or returned the Cadillac crest.

For 1986. the rear fascia underwent a separate revision, including wraparound taillamps. A premium Delco-Bose sound system was introduced as an option.

For 1987, the front fascia underwent a second revision, receiving composite-lens headlamp units (the first American J-body to do so) and redesigned alloy wheels.

For 1988, the model line was withdrawn from Canada; for its last year in the United States, the Cimarron received several engineering updates.


As the Cimarron was the only direct American-brand competitor of premium European models like the Mercedes-Benz 190E, Cadillac initially sought to keep the model in production.[6] While Cimarron sales had been lower than predicted, many of them were to conquest buyers new to Cadillac and younger in age than the typical Cadillac buyer of the time.[14]

In a 9-to-1 vote, General Motors management instead decided to discontinue the model for multiple reasons including Cimarron’s disappointing sales and the company wanting to prioritize its resources towards major updates of the 1988 Eldorado/Seville and 1989 Sedan de Ville/Fleetwood.[6][14] While the larger Brougham was ultimately redesigned for 1993 (becoming the Fleetwood Brougham), GM saw no upside towards continuation of the Cimarron, as it also sought to limit the price overlap between Cadillac, Buick, and Oldsmobile.[6]

Therefore, GM ended sales of the Cimarron following the 1988 model year. Oldsmobile’s J-car variant, the Firenza, was also discontinued that year, followed by the J-car Buick Skyhawk in 1989.[14] By 1990, the J-car model range in North America was pared down solely to Chevrolet and Pontiac.

Reception and legacy[edit]

The Cimarron's market failure is one in a series of events throughout the 1980s and 1990s which caused Cadillac's share of the US market to decline from 3.8% in 1979 to 2.2% in 1997;[15] it is routinely cited as the nadir of GM's product planning:

  • Noted automotive journalist Dan Neil included the Cimarron in his 2007 list of Worst Cars of all Time, saying "everything that was wrong, venal, lazy, and mendacious about GM in the 1980s was crystallized in this flagrant insult to the good name and fine customers of Cadillac."[16] He added that the Cimarron "nearly killed Cadillac and remains its biggest shame."[16]
  • 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."[3]
  • CarBuzz called the Cimarron a "textbook example of what goes wrong when a carmaker tries to badge engineer an economy car into a luxury car."[17]
  • Forbes Magazine said 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."[18]
  • CNN Money described the Cimarron as "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."[19]
  • In its introduction of the Cadillac BLS, Car and Driver said that Cadillac product director John Howell kept a picture of a Cimarron on his wall, captioned "Lest we forget".[20]

Since the withdrawal of the Cimarron after the 1988 model year, Cadillac has not produced a direct successor to the model line. Subsequent Cadillac sedans derived from other GM vehicles, including the Cadillac Catera (Opel Omega) and the Cadillac BLS (Saab 9-3) were not compact executive cars, in terms of size. The smallest current Cadillac sedan (the Cadillac CT4 and its Cadillac ATS predecessor) is a compact executive car larger than the Cimarron, sharing no common body panels with other GM sedans.

Yearly American sales[edit]

Model Year Sales
1982 25,968
1983 19,194
1984 21,898
1985 19,890
1986 24,534
1987 14,561
1988 6,454
TOTAL 132,499


  1. ^ Corporation, Bonnier (August 1985). Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation.
  2. ^ Ristic-Petrovic, Dusan. "1982 Cadillac Cimarron Brochure". Retrieved August 30, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d "Rebadged Disasters: Cadillac Cimarron". November 11, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Yates, Brock (1983), The Decline and Fall of the American Automobile Industry, Empire Books, p. 71
  5. ^ a b Dunne, Jim (January 1981), "GM Designs for the '80s", Popular Science, Bonnier Corporation, p. 88
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Bonsall, Thomas E. (1997). "Trouble In Paradise: The Story of the Cadillac Cimarron". Archived from the original on January 18, 2001.
  7. ^ Yates, p. 24
  8. ^ Keenan, Tim; Smith, David C. (October 1994). "Anatomy of a car launch: GM's J-cars: New in '82... and alive in '95". Ward's Auto World. Ward's Communications. 30 (10): 38.
  9. ^ Ristic-Petrovic, Dusan. "1982 Cadillac Cimarron Brochure". Retrieved August 30, 2018.
  10. ^ Witzenburg, Gary (1984). "The Name Game". Motor Trend. No. 4/84. p. 86.
  11. ^ a b "Cimarron '83". Cadillac Devison of General Motors. Retrieved October 2, 2012.
  12. ^ a b "1982 Cadillac Cimarron Brochure". Retrieved September 4, 2018 – via
  13. ^ a b "Directory Index: Cadillac/1983_Cadillac/1983_Cadillac_Cimarron_Brochure". Retrieved September 4, 2018.
  14. ^ a b c Ernst, Kurt (November 4, 2013). "Lost Cars of the 1980s - Cadillac Cimarron". Retrieved February 13, 2021.
  15. ^ Flammang, James M, and Ron Kowalke: Standard Catalog of American Cars 1976-1999, pp. 149-189. Krause Publications, 1999.
  16. ^ a b Neil, Dan. "The 50 Worst Cars of All Time". Time Magazine.
  17. ^ "Rebadged Disasters".
  18. ^ Elliott, Hannah (May 2010). "Legendary Car Flops". Forbes. Retrieved January 30, 2014.
  19. ^ "GM's Junk Heap: Cadillac Cimarron". CNN Money. May 2009. Retrieved June 2, 2009.
  20. ^ Hutton, Ray, 2006 Cadillac BLS, Car and Driver, June 2006.

External links[edit]