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Worst Car Wednesday: 1982-88 Cimarron Kicked Off Cadillac’s Death March

The beginning of the end of General Motors has been pinned on many things. Badge engineering; the use of a single car trimmed in various ways to fool the public into thinking they’re different was GM’s Achilles heel. In a zeal to glomb as much from a single platform as possible, it took everything it made and scattered them across many divisions. GM had five divisions it had to feed with new products. The Cadillac Cimarron was the shining star of GM’s abject failure to pull off these veiled attempts. So for Worst Car Wednesday may we present the 1982-88 Cimarron, one of the main cars kicking off Cadillac’s death march to mediocrity.

As a Cadillac, the Cimarron was an arrogant, greedy money grab

black Cadillac Cimarron with blue background
1982 Cadillac Cimarron | GM

The oil embargo of the 1970s kicked GM into high gear to develop a small, economic, German-like car. It was called “J-body” internally. All of the GM divisions got their very own J-body including Cadillac. Chevy’s was called Cavalier, and if you remember those abysmal attempts then you know the basis for the Cimarron. It was a crappy Chevy. As a Cadillac, it was arrogant and greedy.

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Even Cadillac knew it was a horrible car. When introduced in 1982 it wasn’t called a Cadillac Cimarron. Instead, it was advertised as “Cimarron by Cadillac.” Supposedly, dealers were instructed never to call the Cimarron a Cadillac. Did anyone within GM think this would go well?

The Cimarron’s 88 hp four-cylinder engine was a stomach pump

red and silver Cadillac Cimarron with orange background
1984 Cadillac Cimarron | GM

The many problems with the Cimarron started with the 88 hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It was a stomach pump. Surprisingly, it was available with either a four- or five-speed manual transmission, making it the first Cadillac to feature one since the early-1950s. But it was only available with the 4-cylinder. Later, a V6 became available but by then nothing could save it. 

Next was the quality. Built to GM’s negligent standards, it was a tinny, terrible car. Then there was the price. The Cimarron’s MSRP was an astounding $12,000. It could be the origins of the phrase “sticker shock.” That’s twice as much as the Chevy Cavalier sold for. Obviously, Cadillac threw every option it could at this turd to justify the price. It had to do something to disguise its Chevy origins. 

Who the car was targeted at based on Cadillac’s reputation as the car blue hairs aspired to is debatable? None of Cadillac’s demographic would ever consider such a compromised car. And those who would just couldn’t afford it. Then there was what GM perceived as the Cimarron’s competition.

Cimarron was thought to compete with the Audi 5000, BMW 320i, and Volvo GLE. Seriously?

red Cadillac Cimarron on grass
1983 Cadillac Cimarron. | Getty

The Cimarron was thought to compete with the Audi 5000, BMW 320i, and Volvo GLE. Seriously? It is stunning to think that anyone within the hallowed halls of GM would consider it competition to any of these clearly superior cars. Blind and delusional come to mind when contemplating what was going on inside GM. One of the only positives was gas mileage. City averages were 26 mpg while Highway was 42 mpg. Not bad. But you had to own a Cimarron to get that mileage so there was really no upside. 

In its first year, the Cimarron sold a bit more than 25,000 units. GM was anticipating just under 100,000 units. In 1988 when it was discontinued it sold 6,454 units. That’s all. Everyone could see the ruse. GM was done with badge engineering forever. Just kidding! 

You won’t believe it but the next new line from Cadillac suffered from the exact same thing. Except it had an asinine marketing slogan to go along with it. With the embarrassment of the Cimarron, Cadillac still thought it could outsmart the customer with another poorly disguised badge-engineered platform. But that’s another Worst Car Wednesday for another time.