Thursday, January 7, 2010

A True Story / A Cadillac Catera

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about taking a late night drive with a friend to see an Audi 90. She didn't buy that car, but she did buy an Audi. A 2002 A4. I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds nice.

I couldn't go with her to look at the A4, so she took another friend with her, a guy I call "Italian Joe".

Joe is a huge man who drives a huge Ford pick-up truck. He only buys American made vehicles because he believes it's the patriotic thing to do.

I got a call the day they looked at the Audi. It was Joe who called - My friend was driving and they were in Connecticut, where's it's illegal to drive and talk on the phone. - "She bought the car", he said. "I bought one, too. A Cadillac Cantera". I explained it was called a Catera and asked him why he bought it. "With my new job I need something that gets better gas mileage." - Joe just took a new sales job. From what I can gather, his territory is everything north of Washington, DC. - "It's an '01 with 56,000 miles on it. I got a deal, just a few thousand bucks. I bought it on my credit card" Then, referring to my friend and I, he said, "Unlike you two freaks, I want a car made in the USA".

Uh-oh. It was now up to me to tell him he just bought a German car.

Joe was not pleased. "F*ck! I knew there was a reason it was so cheap!"

Uh, no. Actually, Cateras are cheap because no one really wants them. I'm going to let someone else explain that to him...

The Catera was a German built, "americanized" Opel Omega sold as a Cadillac. It was not a success. Euro car fans found it too cushy, too unexciting to be a valid European sports sedan. Caddy buyers found it too small, too "unrefined" to be a "real" Cadillac. Talk about a car with an identity crisis...

Yep, there are all kinds of downsides to the Catera. Besides not being a true sports sedan, they had some reliability problems early on. Most of those were taken care of by 1999, but it was still not as good as most similar European or Asian cars. It's not really a spectacular looking car. It really looks like something that should have been sold by Oldsmobile. It received a facelift in its later years, but still never looked either sporty or classy.

The upside is the price. Used Cateras are almost worthless. A very, very nice one can be picked up for less than $5000.00. A decent one can be found for half that price. Try and find another similar vintage German built luxury sedan for that kind of money.

OK, the Catera isn't a BMW, Audi or Mercedes, it isn't even close, but it really isn't an awful car, as long as you are aware of what you're getting.

Besides the price, the Catera has some things going for it. The 3.0, 24 valve, DOHC V6 engine is powerful. 0 - 60 came in about 8.5 seconds and it had an electronically limited top speed of 125 MPH. The transmission was a 4 speed automatic, the same one used in certain BMW and Mercedes models. The car's ride and handling aren't up to European sports sedan standards, or even current Cadillac CTS standards, but it was better than anything Cadillac had offered before. It came loaded with just about every possible feature you'd want on a car back in the 1990s.

I've driven a Catera a few times. It was owned by an 80 year old friend of mine, Bob. I remember thinking it was the best Caddy I had ever driven, but not something I'd buy. It wasn't European enough. Bob, a lifelong Cadillac owner, hated his Catera. He got rid of it a year after he bought it, trading it in for a bigger American built Cadillac. The Catera wasn't "Cadillac-enough" for him.
It's that kind of car.

The Catera isn't a bad choice for Joe. Most likely it will be a comfortable, fairly reliable car. On the highway, where Joe will spend much of his time, it should get gas mileage in the low twenties. Not great, but better than his truck. Parts, unless you live here in Western Massachusetts, where GM closed all the Cadillac dealerships (dumb move), should be easy for him to find.

With his new job, Joe estimates he'll be putting 40,000 miles per year on the car. He says he'll run the Catera until it dies and then junk it. To a guy coming from a huge pick-up truck (which he's keeping), this car will be a big change. If he can get past its "foreign origins", he'll probably like it.

The Catera is not a car for enthusiasts. It's not a car for retirees. But, if you spend a lot of time on the road, and have a "fun car" to come back to on the weekends, it's a not a bad choice. It is a car that is perfect for a guy like Italian Joe. It's a comfortable, disposable, salesman's car.

The 2001 Catera shown above is located in Indianapolis, IN. It has 65,000 miles on it and a Buy It Now price of $5500.00. The seller is also taking offers. Click here to see the eBay listing.


Anonymous said...

Joe is going to laugh when he reads this!


m4ff3w said...

Opel was planning on making a V8 version of the car that would have made it to the USA. But they canceled the car right before it was released.

They had done all of the development work and Lingenfelter Performance Engineering ended up with some of the prototype parts. GM had even created the service manuals for the car.

There are a few V8 Cateras running around the US now using some of the preproduction parts.

Max Power said...

I always have to laugh at the 'patriots' who refuse to buy anything but American. Don't get me wrong, I get the concept however the line is too blurred. What's more American? Ford's and Chryslers built in Mexico or Canada or GM's built in Australia? Or Toyota's or BMW's built in the US? Plus, Joe is probably going to go home and watch his Sony TV...

Anonymous said...

If you really wanted to add insult to injury - do Joe a favor and dig up an old Catera advertisement featuring the goofy cartoon duck and the slogan "Catera is the Cadillac that zigs."