Home » These Were Meant To Compete Against BMW: 1988 Cadillac Cimarron vs 1988 Merkur Scorpio

These Were Meant To Compete Against BMW: 1988 Cadillac Cimarron vs 1988 Merkur Scorpio

Sbsd 1 16 2024
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Good morning, and welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! I hope you’re all having better luck with vehicles than I am. Remember the other day when I made a comment that all my vehicles ran just fine? I spoke too soon. My truck’s starter went out yesterday. And it’s the only thing I have that can drive up my steep snowy hill. I should have known better than to taunt the car gods like that. Let this be a lesson to you all.

We’ve got a couple of wanna-be Euro competitors today, courtesy of suggestions from the Discord, but first we should check in on yesterday’s Isuzus. And it seems the Bandit-themed Rodeo has stolen your hearts, or at least your votes. I can’t say I blame you; the Amigo/Rodeo Sport is just plain cool, and that Tyco tribute sticker job is the icing on the cake.

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Not that there’s anything wrong with that little Spectrum; it’s a cool version of an unusual little car, but it’s not painted up like an RC car, and I’m sorry, but in this case that’s a strike against it. Give it some red, orange, and yellow graphics like a Tamiya Hornet, and then we’ll talk.

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Now then: Back in the 1950s and 60s, American luxury cars were kings of the road: Cadillac with their tailfins, Lincoln with their suicide doors, Chrysler with their Hemis. Sure, you could get a Mercedes or a Rolls-Royce, but nobody at the country club would know what it was. BMW was making funny little sedans that didn’t even come with power windows. Volvos weren’t even boxy yet; they looked like 1940s Fords.

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All that changed in the 1970s. European cars sailed through the malaise era largely unscathed, just a little down on power and wearing funny bumpers, and getting nicer all the time. Meanwhile, American luxury automakers kept downsizing, cutting back the power, and phoning in the build quality. By the time the yuppies came to power in the 1980s, Mercedes, BMW, and Volvo were the status symbols, and American offerings were like bringing a wooden spoon to a gunfight.

But they tried. Bless their hearts, they tried. And the funny thing is, if you considered these cars for what they were, and not what the marketing departments wanted you to think they were, they were pretty much more or less not terrible. And now, they have a certain kitschy charm, like old Hart To Hart plotlines. Let’s take them for a virtual spin.

1988 Cadillac Cimarron – $1,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.8 liter overhead valve V6, three-speed automatic, FWD

Location: West Babylon, NY

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Odometer reading: 76,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

I have to start this with a confession: I love these cars. My family had one when I was in high school and college; my dad bought it to use as a spare/backup car, and in that capacity, it was excellent: comfortable, reliable, reasonably efficient, and tough enough to survive inadvertent torture from both me and my younger brother. (I spun it out on an icy patch on the freeway at 60 mph; he stuck it headfirst into a hedge.) Don’t get me wrong; it’s an absolute crap Cadillac. But it is one hell of a nice Cavalier.

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Aside from the Cadillac crests and the cushy leather seats, this is a completely ordinary garden-variety General Motors J-car. The Cimarron was originally equipped with the same pushrod four-cylinder as the rest of them, but when the corporate 60-degree V6  became available in 1985 in the Chevy Cavalier Z24 and Oldsmobile Firenza GT, the Cimarron followed suit. In 1988, when this car was built, the V6 was standard. A few Cimarrons were blessed with a Getrag five-speed manual, but sadly this isn’t one of them; it makes do with a Turbo-Hydramatic 125C automatic.

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This Cimarron has been owned by the same family since it was new. It has only 76,000 miles on it, and the seller says it runs and drives “excellent.” It must have been garaged, and washed often in the winter; I would imagine most cars on Long Island don’t stay this rust-free this long. Somehow, it has lost all four bumper end caps along the way, and I can’t imagine anybody makes reproductions. They’re probably gone for good. Inside, it’s scruffy and worn, but functional.

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This little car is parked in some rarefied company in these photos: I see a nice Chevelle, a Boss Mustang, a C3 Corvette, and a newer Mustang and Camaro in the background. Some would say the Cimarron is outclassed by those other cars, and they’d be right, but that makes me want to give it a good home even more. I guess it’ll never be a classic, but it will always have a place in my heart.

1988 Merkur Scorpio – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.9 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Paynesville, MN

Odometer reading: 109,000 miles

Operational status: Has been in storage, ran and drove well before then

Ford had an advantage when the tastes of the rich and trendy turned to European cars: It built its own cars there. After failures such as the Lincoln Versailles, Ford decided to just import its BMW-killers. They were sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships under the Merkur nameplate, and I have heard that Ford went to some considerable trouble getting its salespeople to say “Mare-koor” instead of “Murker.” Two models were sold: the sporty XR4Ti coupe, based on the Ford Sierra, and this car, the more luxury-oriented Scorpio, based on a German Ford of the same name.

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It’s a rear-wheel-drive five-door hatchback, powered by a 2.9 liter “Cologne” V6 and a four-speed automatic. A manual was available, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a manual Scorpio. Not that I’ve seen many Scorpios to begin with; they were only imported for two years. This one has been parked for a few years, though the seller says it ran and drove beautifully before that. It’s not clear how much, if any, of the work needed to wake it back up has been done.

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We only get four photos, and they’re terrible, but it looks like it’s in decent shape. The seller does note some rust, and a few clearcoat issues, but it doesn’t sound too serious. It’s funny; I don’t think about the Merkur Scorpio often, but if someone brings it up, in my head it’s always this gray-brown color. I’m sure they were offered in other colors, but this drab hue is how I remember them.

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Inside, from what I can tell, it’s in nice shape. I remember these as being pretty fancy inside, which makes sense considering Ford had such lofty targets as the Mercedes 190E and the BMW 5-series in its sights with this car, so the interior had to measure up. Those wine-colored buckets do look mighty inviting.

At first glance, these cars can’t hold a candle to the Mercedes and BMW models they were meant to compete with, but who cares? They’re comfy, they’re cheap, and because they both share mechanical parts with much more common cars from their parent companies, repair and maintenance costs should be pretty low. So what’ll it be – the comfy baby Caddy, or the German-built Ford?

(Image credits: Cimarron – Craigslist seller; Scorpio – Facebook Marketplace seller)

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Oldskool
Oldskool
5 months ago

I love the gen 1 J bodies. By the end of the run, in typical GM fashion, they actually had the Cimarron looking decent (like it should have looked to begin with), and with a good powertrain. That 2.8 MPFI and 3 speed will go forever, is cheap and easy to work on, and has an awesome exhaust note. So yeah I’d take it for what it is, a decked out Cavalier.

James Carson
James Carson
5 months ago

Owned a BMW 325is, Merc 190e 2.3 and a Mercur. The B and the 190 handled better. All three where great highway cruisers. Performance was fairly close, with the Scorpio being not as tight in the handling. It was far more luxurious than either of the others. The Mercur was a better dealer experience. The B and 190 were trouble from the moment I drove them off the dealer lots. Kept each of those for about a year. The Scorpio for three. Sometimes wish I still had them all. I quickly sit down until the feeling passes. Three old german cars at the same time… nightmares are made of this.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
5 months ago

I knew two people in the late 90’s who had Cimarrons. They may have made shit Cadillacs, but those were the nicest $500 beaters ever. Inflation is a bitch, so I guess that makes it $1900 now.

Rapgomi
Rapgomi
5 months ago

As a kid I knew someone whose parents owned a Scorpio. The huge power back seat is all I really remember about it – but that is enough to make me want one!

Benny B
Benny B
5 months ago

The crapiness of the Cimaron make it more interesting to my eyes than the rwd Taurus clone.

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
5 months ago

I would pay good money for a mint, manual Cimarron. This one is neither. I’ll take the Merkur.

I would pay even better money for a mint, manual Z-24 hatchback.

Gene1969
Gene1969
5 months ago

The Cimarron is missing drivers side carpeting, needs reuphostery on the seats, and something is weird with the steering wheel/column. It also should also have the digital dash and luggage rack on the trunk.

Still… I want it!

Von Baldy
Von Baldy
5 months ago

Ill be one of the weirdos and take the Cimarron, only because the euro taurus would be kind of a bear to find parts for.

My dad had one as a economy car to drive to his work, a cadillac buick dealership, and other than a weird water leak he never could fix and a radio that would randomly blare at max when it was super cold out, it did the job admirably for the several years he had it till it finally jumped timing.

In my sick and twisted mind, id take one of these and a vert cavalier of the same year to make a one of none caddy j vert, but slap a 5sp in it, for the tailer park refined class of goofiness

Gene1969
Gene1969
5 months ago
Reply to  Von Baldy

I always wanted to do this with the later gen Cavalier Z24 convertible. Imagine a baby Eldo convertible with decent handling. Maybe even the Quad 4 in it.

Von Baldy
Von Baldy
5 months ago
Reply to  Gene1969

Yessssss
Other weird stuff would be a quad 4 fiero and for extra pokey but super fuel miser, a 1.9 isuze diesel fiero.

Me and my brother often joked how even though they screwed the pooch on the Cimarron, they coulda made honey out of horse poo if theydve given it a coupe and vert version, even with z24 handle bits for a neo bimmer fighter, but we got what we got.

Gene1969
Gene1969
5 months ago
Reply to  Von Baldy

I would’ve loved to have seen a Quad 4 Fiero.

Von Baldy
Von Baldy
5 months ago
Reply to  Gene1969

If only

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
5 months ago

Scorpio for me. It’s a better vehicle in every way and more interesting.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
5 months ago

No to the Cinnabon. Just no. When I was in high school, I couldn’t believe these were actually Cadillacs. Just too depressing. The Merkur is just more interesting. I had a chance to drive a neighbor’s XR4Ti and was amazed at how responsive it was and how it handled. He just said it was a German Ford. thought it looked weird enough at the time to be a SAAB.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
5 months ago

I voted Mercury with the silent y.
1. The Cadilac is made of squeaks and squeals yuppie dog tails.
2. The Mercury is made from speed and ICE and everything with a low price.
So the mercur is what it says it is that Caddy is just crappy.

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
5 months ago

“Some would say the Cimarron is outclassed by those other cars”

It’s outclassed by even the neighbors highlander in the 1st pic

Justin Short
Justin Short
5 months ago

Sorry Mark, it looks like you’re among the few with good memories of the Cimarron. They came out while I was in hs, and almost no one wanted the 4cyl. The few I saw later were on used car lots and usually had problems, something about cramming cadillac wiring into a Chevy just didn’t age well.

Beekeo
Beekeo
5 months ago

Scorpio gets my pretend money

But it seems like it would ruin a marriage as it would inevitably turn into mustang driveline swap that drags out over 15 years

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
5 months ago

A friend had a XR4ti. His name was Mark, so we called it Marky’s Merkie.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
5 months ago

Your buddy Mark should get a Lincoln…

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
5 months ago

He passed away a few years back so that could have very well been his last ride.

John Crouch
John Crouch
5 months ago

I owned a Black 88 Scorpio 5Sp. What a great car, distinctive comfortable reasonably fast, cool features. Loved that thing, wish i had it today.

Baja_Engineer
Baja_Engineer
5 months ago
Reply to  John Crouch

this is the 1st time I heard about anyone who owned a Scorpio with the 5spd

Chi_spotting
Chi_spotting
5 months ago

I’d get the Cimarron as my winter beater, but the Scorpio is my choice for everything else I need out of a car.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
5 months ago

Easy one today! I guess if the Merkur was in better condition the voting wouldn’t be so close.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
5 months ago
Reply to  FloridaNative

Yeah Florida goes for the caddy, makes sense.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
5 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I actually went Merkur (and no longer live in FL)!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
5 months ago
Reply to  FloridaNative

Okay but you do understand I had to go there?

Mike F.
Mike F.
5 months ago

Could not go with the Cimarron and maintain any self respect. I got a ride in a fairly new one back in the day, and all I could think about was what an absolute piece of garbage it was and it had to represent Cadillac hitting rock-bottom. Of course, then it was marketed to be something impressive and now it would just qualify as a mildly interesting junker to pilot around. Still, can’t do it. Despite the somewhat vague info on the Scorpio, I’m going with it.

Cyko9
Cyko9
5 months ago

Both are decent, but the Cimmaron is more competitive on price, mileage, and infamy. People love to bash on that car, so driving one would be like real-life trolling on the roads. I just wonder how many people thought it was called “Cinnamon”?

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
5 months ago
Reply to  Cyko9

I thought it was called the “Curmudgeon” ( º﹃º )

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
5 months ago
Reply to  Cyko9

I’m sure parts for the Caddy would be dirt cheap, and interchangeable panels with old J-Body cars would make long-term ownership more tolerable.
But, if that’s your goal, I’m sure you could get the equivalent Chevy/Pontiac/Olds/Buick J-Body for less – so why pay more for the Caddy unless it’s genuinely in decent condition?

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
5 months ago

To me, the greatest attraction for these cars is the reaction they’ll get at the next Radwood. The Scorpio scores high on that metric, but not as high as the Cimarron. When people want to define the concept of bad badge engineering, or simply illustrate the state of GM in the ’80s, it’s the Cimarron that always comes up. It’s what I would call “iconically infamous.” Or is it “infamously iconic?” Either way, Radwood nerds go nuts for that stuff.

Last edited 5 months ago by TriangleRAD
Nycbjr
Nycbjr
5 months ago

I drove a boss’s cimmarron (burger kind manager lol) it was kind of nice, had the digital dash tho, that really made it “lux” lol

Stephen Reed
Stephen Reed
5 months ago

I’ll go ahead and throw my vote with the Cimarron. It’s an ideal candidate for a winter beater – cheap, easy to run, easy to maintain, and nobody will care if it’s a little beat up.

The Scorpio would be interesting to drive, but rust and sitting for several years… I’m not sure I would want to deal with it.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
5 months ago

My ex’s dad had a manual Scorpio in the most splendid purple colour. We called it ‘The Aubergine’ and it did sterling service for years. I’d love one, if there were any left over here. Alas

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
5 months ago
Reply to  Gilbert Wham

“Sterling service”…there’s a pun in there about the Scorpio’s Rover competitor.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
5 months ago

I’m torn. I like the Scorpio, but as a former Minnesotan I know that by the time you see the rust on the outside, the rust beneath these is 10x worse.

By contrast, the Cimarron is not a car I care to own, but does seem a decent deal for the price – as you say, not a bad car, just a bad Cadillac.

Screw it – Scorpio.

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