by That Car Guy (Chuck)
Look! Up in the sky! It's Sunbird! It's too plain! No, it's Cimarron! (Roll theme music)
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. Expecting 75,000 sales that year, they sold 25,968. In 1988, the last year, they sold 6,454. The first two years, the Division was so ashamed of this thing that the original name was "Cimarron, by Cadillac", not Cadillac Cimarron, so that it would have been a Caddy by name only, which of course it was. It officially became the Cadillac Cimarron in 1983 after rightfully earning the nickname "Cadvalier". The unparalled overexpectations of Cadillac should have banished these product planners into the Forbidden Zone until they could have made a car worthy of the Cadillac crest.
This "Standard of the World" has to be automotive rebadging at its very worst, trying to become more Cadillacish from the other "J" cars (The Buick Skyhawk, Chevy Cavalier, Oldsmobile Firenza, and Pontiac J2000 [Later the Sunbird]) by adding more standard stuff, Cadillac badges, nicer seats, dressier door panels, and a shock absorber system to keep the drivetrain from dancing around inside the engine bay.
Obviously a reject from the planet Krapton, its mild-mannered approach to everything automotive included an anemic 88-horsepower 2.0-litre 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 over 30 years. The 120-horsepower 2.8-litre V-6 became available in 1985, then was made standard in 1987. Virtually identical to GM's other "J" cars, its Planet Bizarro pricing was roughly twice that of any of the other staggeringly-similar "J" cars that had the same equipment. During development, Pete Estes, then-General Motors' president, had warned Ed Kennard, Cadillac general manager, that, "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 was set and it was doomed. Cadillac 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".
Only one time did I get to drive a Cimarron. We had some very nice neighbors that were in the auto recycling business who went to auto auctions frequently, and 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 a Chevette, the engine always sounded like it was in the next higher gear too soon, and it drove like a cheap, early-production front-wheel-drive car. Imagine that. Not enough power to pull a hat off of your head, very loosey-goosie steering, and brakes that required planning years ahead of time to be effective. Yes, it was a used car, but there was no feeling of quality in anything this car did.
The only thing faster than a speeding bullet on these cars was their depreciation. Perhaps customers who eventually sold or traded their Cimarrons, after leaving their cars (and investments) behind said, "Fool me once, shame on, shame on you, you fool me... can't get fooled again!".
--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!
Most of the information for this post came From Wikipedia and "HowStuffWorks: 'The Cadillac Cimarron' ". The Cimarron interior image came from CadillacOwners .com.