Home » General Motors Rarities: 1994 Pontiac Trans Sport vs 1999 Cadillac Catera

General Motors Rarities: 1994 Pontiac Trans Sport vs 1999 Cadillac Catera

Sbsd 12 7 2023
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Welcome back! Today we’re paying a visit to General Motors in the 1990s, and looking at some less-commonly-seen options from their back catalogue. After yesterday’s nightmares, you’ll be happy to hear that both of these run and drive fine, and are actually in quite good shape.

Speaking of yesterday, let’s see how the voting went. To no one’s surprise, the poorly-conceived LS swap into a high-tech Mitsubishi sports car went over like a lead balloon, clearing the way for an easy win for the Maserati. Several of you thought that it had $1700 worth of decorative value alone, and I can’t disagree. But I think you could get that car going again, barring any unseen catastrophic mechanical damage. And worst case scenario, as pointed out, you could probably recoup the cost by selling parts.

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Vidframe Min Bottom

As for the title, if I remember correctly, the tough part about a lien sale in California is getting the lien in the first place. Once the towing yard or mechanic or whoever has applied for and received the proper paperwork, I think it’s just like any other transaction for the next buyer. I don’t think they even brand the title when a new one is issued.

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Now then: I don’t think there is such a thing as a “rare” General Motors car, outside of some specialty high-performance models. The company has factories all over the world, and cranks out an incredible number of cars every day. But some of them you just don’t see very often, or maybe not very often any more. These two in particular jumped out at me as being uncommon, and uncommonly nice for their age. Let’s check them out.

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1994 Pontiac Trans Sport SE – $2,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.8 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Seattle, WA

Odometer reading: 187,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

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GM’s “Dustbuster” vans are rare enough these days, but when was the last time you saw a Pontiac Trans Sport? This is a post-facelift model, when Pontiac revised the front end from looking a little like the Grand Prix to looking a lot like the Bonneville. It uses Bonneville headlights, in fact, I just learned. It’s the fancy SE model, powered by the mighty 3800 Series II V6, buried deep within that long nose. You thought servicing this engine in a LeSabre was hard? Check this out. It’s in there somewhere, I promise.

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Paired with this cast-iron legend is, of course, a 4T60-E four-speed automatic transmission. In Europe, this van was available with the far more satisfying combination of a 2.3 liter Quad 4 four-cylinder and a five-speed manual, but GM never saw fit to offer that combo here in Pontiac’s homeland. “We Build Excitement, But Only For Others,” apparently. But the 3800/Turbo-Hydramatic combo is sturdy, and in this case, runs well. However, one thing worth pointing out is that the catalytic converter has been deleted; the seller tries to pass this off as a positive – “it’ll never be stolen!” – but it also means it can’t be smogged in places that require it.

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Otherwise, it’s in decent shape for the mileage. The interior is doing all right, and the exterior looks fine except for a few scuffs and some peeling clearcoat. I do wonder what the stacks of various carpets over the floormats is all about. Extra protection? Extra padding? Who knows?

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One detail I always found funny about these, and I feel honor-bound to point out, since our usual pointer-outer-of-taillights is out of commission at the moment, is that the center-mounted “high” stop light is actually well below the height of the regular brake lights. It had to be there by law, but why they didn’t put it above the rear window I can’t understand.

1999 Cadillac Catera Sport – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter dual overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Portland, OR

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Odometer reading: 140,000 miles

Runs/drives? Indeed

How many times has Cadillac tried to reinvent itself now? I’ve lost count. In 1996, reeling from Northstar V8 teething problems and finally over the Allante fiasco, GM’s luxury division attempted to take on European makes by importing a European Opel Omega and slapping a Cadillac crest on the nose. Playing up the car’s handling, Cadillac sold the Catera under the tagline “The Caddy That Zigs.” Cindy Crawford and a cartoon bird were also involved, for some reason.

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This Catera is the “Sport” model, with stiffer suspension and bigger wheels than the standard one, but powered by the same 3.0 liter four-cam V6 and four-speed automatic. At least it powers the rear wheels, unlike the rest of Cadillac’s lineup at the time. I never got to drive one of these any further than in and out of a service bay, but I’m told they do handle pretty well. This one runs and drives great, according to the seller, and has had a lot of recent work done to keep it that way.

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It’s in good condition cosmetically, with a nice clean interior and shiny black paint. It certainly doesn’t look like any other Cadillacs from the era, and that’s a good thing. It’s much closer to a European sports sedan than a Seville. It may also be why this car didn’t sell that well; Cadillac buyers didn’t understand it, and BMW buyers wouldn’t set foot in a Cadillac dealership.

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These days, Cadillac has finally gained some respect for its sports sedans, the CT4 and CT5, but too often the Catera gets lumped in with the Cimarron among its mis-steps. As a legitimate fan of the Cimarron, I feel a solidarity with the Catera crowd; the Cimarron might not have been a very good Cadillac, but it was a hell of a nice Cavalier. And the Catera wasn’t quite a Cadillac either, but it brought a pretty nice Opel to America.

General Motors is such a juggernaut that it almost doesn’t matter what you think of its products; you can’t avoid them. They’re everywhere. They’re so ubiquitous that most of them just blend into the background of the American automotive landscape. Because of that, when you see the uncommon ones like these, it’s kind of a treat. It’s even better when they’re both for sale for reasonable prices and in viable condition. So what’ll it be: the dead-brand minivan, or the dead-end Cadillac sports sedan?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Stephen Walter Gossin
Stephen Walter Gossin
4 months ago

Fun fact: That Trans Sport has the same steering wheel as my Trans Am. Easy-to-break plastic radio control buttons and all.

Great Showdown Mark!

GertVAG
GertVAG
4 months ago

The Caddy for me. My dad had the Opel Omega, albeit in turbodiesel manual 5 transmission. Fine comfort. But handling ? Compared to American big sedan norms, this would be considered sporty, but the Audi A6 B5 that followed was a spaceship compared to the Omega. But I have a fond feeling for that model still.

Carguy2219
Carguy2219
4 months ago

I recall in 1997 GM had an ad campaign for the Cadillac encouraging customers to “Lease a Catera”. Around the same time the TV hospital drama Chicago Hope introduced a new character named “Dr. Lisa Catera”. Obviously a joint venture at the time between Cadillac and the show to promote the Catera.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
4 months ago

Around here in CA, I feel the Pontiac version is the most common dust buster, for whatever reason.

> As a legitimate fan of the Cimarron, I feel a solidarity with the Catera crowd; the Cimarron might not have been a very good Cadillac, but it was a hell of a nice Cavalier.

A “nice cavalier” is like a “non-bleeding hemorrhoid.” It may be better than the alternative, but it’s still a hemorrhoid. A friend had one, garage kept in dry California, and it was still rusted out at just under 10 years old.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
4 months ago

My high school friend who called the Chevy Cavalier the “Cadaverlier” called the Cimarron “nothing but a Cadaverlier with power seats.”

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
4 months ago

You friend has rusted out hemorrhoid he keeps in the garage?

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
4 months ago

Yes, doesn’t everybody?

Scenic Route
Scenic Route
4 months ago

Dear Lord, that Cadillac is identical to a Opel Omega. The only differences I can spot are the hideous rear reflexive fascia and the front grille. The interior looks identical. Minimum effort! The Opel wasn’t a bad car, but it rusted and the automatic transmission had reliability problems. Nice engine, even though the old straight six was way better. I miss “my” Omega!

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