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A Brief History of the Cadillac Cimarron, One of the Worst Cars Ever

Someone thought polishing up a Chevy Cavalier was a good idea. They were wrong.

Every automaker has some doozies in their closets, cars or trucks they've built that they are—or should be—ashamed of. General Motors, thanks either to its sheer size, longevity, or propensity for turning out affronts to automotive decency (perhaps all three), has turned out a number frightful oddities throughout the decades. From the Chevrolet Corvair and Chevy Vega to the Pontiac Aztek and this, a steaming pile of Cadillac, known as the Cimarron.

Wait a minute, isn't that a rebadged Chevy Cavalier with a new grille and a leather interior? Hammer, meet nail. The Chevy wasn't the issue and there are plenty of fans of the Cavalier, but passing one off as a Caddy surely had Detroit founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac spinning in his grave. The Cimarron was one of the darkest days in the legacy of America's luxury marque.

The compact Caddy was touted as "a new kind of Cadillac for a new kind of Cadillac owner" in its day. Certainly. Cimarron by Cadillac was built on GM's J platform at plants in South Gate, California, Lordstown, Ohio, and Janesville, Wisconsin between 1981 and 1988. Depending on the model year, Cimarrons were powered by 1.8- or 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines good for 86-88 horsepower. But if you were really livin' large—as one did in the Eighties—there was a 125-hp 2.8-liter V-6 available. Transmission options included a sad three-speed automatic for the V-6 and a sweet four- or five-speed manual for fours. Not impressed yet? Have you seen the Cimarron's thirteen-inch wheels and seriously classy hubcaps?

"The Cimarron, introduced for the 1982 model year, became an instant icon of badge-engineered mediocrity, a mean stew of cynicism and desperation tinged with the sour stench of wheezy four-bangers and cheap velour," is how Automobile sang its praises, adding, "In the early '80s, Cadillac still stood for a certain large-scale American bombast, but the Cimarron drove an 88-hp, four-cylinder stake straight through the heart of Cadillac's brand identity."

Inside, the front-wheel-drive sedan came standard with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a tachometer, perforated leather bucket seats, hand lever parking brake (sporty!), air conditioning, Trianon deep-pile carpeting, and an AM/FM radio—with four whole speakers! The cabin offered 89 cubic feet of passenger volume, per the EPA, which also pegged the Caddy's mileage at a decent 26 mpg city, 42 mpg highway.

The Cimarron's competition included Audi 5000, BMW 320i, Volvo GLE, and the Saab 900S—which were all superior choices. Fortunately, the Cimarron was discontinued in 1988 and today we thankfully have more luxurious and badge-worthy vehicles to take its place, including the Cadillac Escalade SUV, the CT5-V sport sedan, and many more.

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