Cadillac Cimarron | Mediocre then, Radwood-ready today?

By Jordan Rimpela
Aug 10, 2021 | Cadillac, Radwood, Cimarron | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

Benjamin Franklin once opined that “in this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” And while he might have been right, it could be said that he missed one more certainty: lists.

People love lists. Music? We have a top 40 for that. Movies? Of course.

Automobiles? Yep. We enthusiasts love reading and debating lists that discuss all aspects of the automobile: best engines, cleverest wheels, grooviest colors and–the lowest of all hanging fruit–worst cars ever made.

Maybe it's due to the constant barrage of coffee table books on the subject of “bad” cars being dubbed good gifts “for the car guy in your life,” or perhaps it's just some strange predilection for reading about the mistakes of giants.

Regardless, we cannot stop talking about “bad” cars, never missing a chance to admonish or reference them when a new car elicits a comparison. You know the usual players: Pontiac Aztek; Yugo; Austin Marina; HT4100-equipped Cadillacs; Bricklin SV-1; Cimarron.

Ah yes, Cimarron.

Many, many words have been written on the much-maligned Cimarron–so many, in fact, that we need not cover its history for fear of putting you to sleep.

Here are the greatest hits: inadequate power, sloppy handling, humble underpinnings and, of course, badge engineering. Suffice it to say that many cars have been compared to the Cimarron, and as you could probably guess, it does not end well for the plucky Cadillac.

Nevertheless, Cadillac persisted. 

In its July 1985 review of the updated Cimarron, MotorTrend found itself ordering crow from the menu:

“It’s embarrassing to be so cock-sure of what a car can or cannot do, only to find out that your preconceptions weren’t even close to reality. It’s also extremely satisfying to know that a car maker can so radically transform a ho-hum car into a vehicle that deserves to be classified in the performance sedan category.”

That's high praise for any car, especially one pitted against an E30-chassis BMW 318i, the quintessential sports sedan of the 1980s.

[Project car: 1991 BMW 318is]

The Cimarron, though, has its own cult of personality. So infamous is the Cimarron that, if we were to create a poll asking all Americans to name one Cadillac that they consider polarizing, we have little doubt that the little Cimarron would be number one–quite the legacy for a car whose production ended some 33 years ago.

Will we still be talking about the XTS in 30 years? Probably not, but something tells me "Cimarron" will still be on the lips of automotive enthusiasts any time Cadillac dares to introduce a new small car to market. That is some legacy.

But, as they say, talk is cheap.

We talk about the Cimarron in a similar fashion to dinosaurs. The key difference, of course, is that there’s still quite a few Cimarrons on the road. Dinosaurs didn’t fare so well.

What, then, do we do with this remaining stock of Cimarrons? Driving them into the ground does not seem fair or warranted. After all, the cars themselves aren’t bad; if they’re still on the road in 2021, don’t they deserve a second chance?

Is it safe to predict that a Cimarron will never be seen crossing the auction block at an RM Sotheby's auction? We’re willing to eat crow on that one, but watch this space, as they say.

Enter Radwood.

Unless you've been living under a rock, chances are you've heard of Radwood: the only car show experience that fully captures the zeitgeist of nostalgia that so many of our fellow Gen-Xers and millennials have for the cars that were contemporary during our wonder years.

Vehicles once destined for the scrap heap of history are now pampered treasures treated with all the love and respect befitting the rock stars that preceded them. Have you seen the prices for a nice ’80s Porsche 911 lately? Good luck finding one for under $30K that isn’t a mangled husk. Even more run-of-the-mill cars, like the 1990-’93 Honda Accord, have shot up in value.

So why not the Cimarron?

It's pretty safe to say that a Cadillac Cimarron of any vintage–no matter the condition–won’t match an air-cooled Porsche 911 in worth, nor will one ever be mentioned in any list other than the aforementioned “worst car” lists.

No one can change that; its reputation will always precede it. But honestly, that's okay; the Cimarron will always be a bargain, offering you cheap entry into any classic car show.

We will concede, of course, that maybe we're still a decade or two off from that day, but the Cimarron is a classic you can enjoy now. They are fundamentally sound cars; keeping one on the road will not break the bank. And due in no small part to their much-maligned badge engineering, turning one into a competent automotive masterpiece is easy thanks to all that glorious parts sharing.

Cadillac found no success taking on the E30 BMW during the ’80s, but the 2020s are anyone’s game. Bring one to Radwood and park it next to an E30. No one will walk by a pristine Cimarron and not stop to take it all in. Sure, they'll more than likely discuss its infamy, but there’s no such thing as bad press, right?

We see the display now: Those wide taillights perfectly complemented by pearl white paint, offset by the glistening gold d’Oro trim as the sun sets over a field of its peers. The Cimarron will never break free from its inevitable death, the tax of use and the lists it always makes around Christmas time, but today, it lives.

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Red5 New Reader
8/10/21 8:02 a.m.


Powar UltraDork
8/10/21 8:32 a.m.

Here's the thing: If I saw a Cavalier of that generation still on the road and in decent condition, I'd take a second look. Maybe a third. Why wouldn't I feel the same about the Cadillac version? I've owned a few Cadillacs from that era and enjoyed every one. They definitely belong at Radwood and other shows featuring cars from that era.

MadScientistMatt UltimaDork
8/10/21 8:56 a.m.

Preserving those is best done in the spirit of "Those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it." They don't even have spectacularly overdone, period-piece styling, like an Edsel or Aztec. The Cimarron is just a mediocre '80s car. Its main problem was that they attempted to market it as a premium '80s car. As a business lesson, though, it's a great example of the dangers of brand dillution.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
8/10/21 9:21 a.m.

My mom's uncle, as I remember, always drove Cadillacs. And, yes, he had a Cimarron when they were new. A clean one would totally stop me in my tracks. 

Is it a great car? No. But it's nostalgic through and through. 

gearheadmb SuperDork
8/10/21 10:06 a.m.

Fueled by Caffeine
Fueled by Caffeine MegaDork
8/10/21 10:24 a.m.

My first car was an 84 cavalier.  I hope they and all derivatives die.   I wish them the most painful of deaths. May disease grip their families and pestilence ruin their crops forever. 

APEowner GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
8/10/21 12:52 p.m.

I've ranted about '80s GM cars plenty in other threads so I won't do it again here but I will say that nostalgic is not how I feel when I think of the Cimmaron.

fidelity101 (Forum Supporter)
fidelity101 (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
8/10/21 1:45 p.m.

mediocre then, terrible garbage now

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela Dork
8/10/21 6:50 p.m.

I mean, that's just like your opinion, man. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/10/21 6:52 p.m.

I maintain that any clean survivor becomes inherently interesting after about 25-30 years simply by continuing to exist. Especially Cimmarons, as they are the vehicular equivalent of a gruesome crash that you just can't stop looking at.

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