Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera / Ciera

Sold from 1982 to 1996, Ciera proved to be a strong seller for Oldsmobile, with most years seeing over 100,000 units sold. To the surprise of many, the conservatively styled Cutlass Ciera repeatedly outsold the sleek and aerodynamic Cutlass Supreme.

1982 Cutlass Ciera Coupe and Sedan

Cutlass Ciera (also known simply as Ciera in later years)- first introduced in 1982, was Oldsmobile's first front wheel drive mid-size car. Front-wheel-drive was a bold move in the family car market. Olds held on to the rear-drives in case the new cars didn't catch on as hoped.

Built off of a stretched version of the then new GM X car, the Ciera rode on GM's front drive 'A car platform' shared with the Chevrolet Celebrity, Buick Century, and Pontiac 6000. These new, pricier A-bodies shared those compacts’ 104.9-inch wheelbase, but tended to avoid the X-car’s trouble-prone reputation.

Platform Evolution Ciera "A-Body FWD"
GM A RWD Platform - 1923 to 1981
GM G RWD Platform - 1978/1982 to 1988 (early A-body cars were redesignated as G-body when FWD A-body platform introduced in 1982)
GM X FWD Platform - 1980 to 1985 (Olds Omega was on this platform 80-84 - X-body was an early FWD platform in North America)
GM A FWD Platform - 1982 to 1996 (Derived from the GM X FWD platform, it was a stretched version of GM X FWD)
GM W FWD Platform - 1988 to 2016 (W Platform began phasing out GM A FWD in 1990, but GM A FWD production lasted to 1996)

Production began September 28, 1981 at Doraville Assembly in Georgia for the 1982 model year.

Sold from 1982 to 1996, Ciera proved to be a strong seller for Oldsmobile, with most years seeing over 100,000 units sold. To the surprise of many, including product planners at Oldsmobile, the conservatively styled Cutlass Ciera repeatedly outsold the sleek and aerodynamic Cutlass Supreme.

The Ciera succeded, primarily because it offered utility as both a sedan and wagon, and could be reasonably equipped for as much as $4000 less than comparable midsize domestic and import models.

CAFE was one definite motivation for the smaller midsize Olds- the Cutlass Ciera. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were regulations in the United States, first enacted by the US Congress in 1975, after the 1973-74 Arab Oil Embargo, to improve the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks produced for sale in the United States.

1982 - 1988 Models

Cutlass Ciera replaced the rear wheel drive Cutlass and Cutlass LS (Cutlass Supreme however continued on as the RWD intermediate size) in Oldsmobile's line up for 1982. It was originally available in 2-door coupe, 4-door sedan, and 4-door wagon body styles.

Engines included the 2.5L Iron Duke 4 cylinder and the Buick based 3.0L V6. A new 4.3L diesel engine was also offered, but sold far less than the gasoline engines. Rapidly falling gas prices in the mid-1980s meant that fuel economy was no longer a selling point. Later years would see the 3.8L V6 (1984-1988) a 2.8L V6 from Chevrolet, 2.2L 4 cylinder (Iron Duke replacement for 1993-1996) 3.1L V6 and a 3.3L V6. Transmissions included 3 and 4 speed automatics, as well as the one year only (1984) 5 speed manual transmission from the Pontiac 6000 and Chevrolet Celebrity.

Special Editions

Like many cars of the era, Special Editions were very popular. Cutlass Ciera offered a "Holiday Coupe" (1984-1986, RPO WJ5) "GT" (1985-1987) "ES" (1984-1987) and "International" (1988-1990) models. While Holiday Coupe models put the emphasis on luxury and traditional style; GT, ES, and International all added sporty flair to the Ciera line with V6 engine and blacked out or body color trim, as well as a host of other sport accessories.

1983 Cutlass Ciera ES
1983 Cutlass Ciera ES  (above)

The GT was an option package (introduced in 1985) for two- and four-door models that gave Ciera’s clean exterior a carefully considered makeover with a front air dam, lower-body aero add-ons, and blacked-out trim. The result was a mix of 80s “Euro-look” and early 3rd generation Chevrolet Camaro Z28. The styling remains handsome three decades on, especially when wearing the black-and-silver paint favored for factory photos.

Interior revisions added GT-specific trim that included a back-to-basics “Rallye” instrument cluster with four round analog gauges, reclining bucket seats, and a rear bench trimmed to suggest a pair of buckets.

GT chassis upgrades included FE3 suspension and 14" lace style aluminum rims with P215/60R-14 Goodyear Eagle GT tires. Ciera’s top powertrain was included in the GT package - a Buick-built 3.8L V6 with sequential port fuel injection at 150 hp and 200 pound-feet of torque. Transmission was a 4-speed overdrive automatic with console-mounted shifter.

1986 Cutlass Ciera GT
1986 Cutlass Ciera GT (above)

International Series was introduced in 1988. The International Series included the emblem with the flags of various countries below the nameplate, it was available in three bodystyles, and came equipped with a standard Buick V6 engine, a 4-speed automatic transmission, a dual exhaust system, front bucket seats, and power windows.

Mid 80's Facelifts

For 1985, the Cutlass Ciera received its first facelift with a new grille, sleeker headlamps, and new taillights. For 1986, the Cutlass Ciera's grille had expanded ventilation sections than the similar 1985 model. Additionally, the coupe received a new, more rounded roofline that was not shared with the other A-body models.

When the 1986 Cieras came out, the sportiest of them were GTs. From the start, Ciera’s crisply tailored notchback styling was popular, but the two-doors were nearly indistinguishable from the four-doors. Oldsmobile addressed this with a curvy new two-door roofline that was a dramatic visual improvement over the old box top. It was an Oldsmobile exclusive until Buick picked it up for the ’89 Century.

For 1987, the Cutlass Ciera was facelifted again with a new grille, and the steering wheel had the Oldsmobile logo moved from the right to the very center, and the 2.8 L LE2 V6 engine was dropped.

After the 1987 introduction of the Cutlass Supreme, the Ciera began to take on a new role as the traditional and value priced mid sized car in Oldsmobile's line up.

For 1988, the base and Brougham trim levels were replaced by S and SL, the 3.8L was dropped after 1988, and the Iron Duke was tweaked to gain 6 hp over the 1986 models. 1988 saw the addition of a sunroof for sedan models, as well as a driver information center.

Aero or composite headlamps were standard across the board for 1988 after being introduced on coupes in 1986 and on Brougham models for 1987.

Ciera Convertibles 

Between 1983 and 1986, most sources state that 814 Cutlass Ciera convertibles were made by Hess & Eisenhardt/Car Craft.

In the foreground of the photo below, we see the high style, high tech Cutlass Ciera PPG Indy Car World Series Pace Car at the 1983 Chicago Auto Show. The Oldsmobile design staff made this one of a kind Ciera to pace the world's fastest and most sophisticated race cars in the CART-sanctioned events.

1983 Chicago Auto Show PPG Cutlass Ciera
Cutlass Ciera PPG Pace Car at 1983 Chicago Auto Show

Some sources state that the PPG convertible was made in 1986, however 2 dated articles show it as first being seen in 1983.

 1985-86 PPG Cutlass Ciera
Cutlass Ciera PPG Pace Car in 1986 (however this date has not be verified)

The convertible pictured below is a special model called a Princess Ciera. Hess & Eisenhardt made 33 of these convertibles as festival cars for the 1985 IndySeries.

1985 Princess Ciera Convertible

They were used as parade cars, promotional vehicles, and pace cars for races other than the Indy 500. Easy ways to spot these are that they were all 1985 models. All were white, all had the console interior, and all had special Indy winged emblem below the name emblem on the fender (as you can see in the pictures) as well as the H&E applique on the dash.

1985 Princess Ciera Convertible Rear

The number of cars (33) and the name ‘Princess Ciera’ indicate a connection to the Indianapolis 500 Festival and its 33 princesses.

1985 Princesses of Indy 500
A few of the Indy 500 Princesses on the parade float in 1985


1989 - 1996 Models

The Cutlass Ciera was updated for 1989, with the sedan receiving a modern roofline (similar to the coupe), and revised bodyside moldings. Hood ornaments were gone, as the new model featured less chrome trim than before in an effort to appear more up-to-date. Rear seat shoulder belts were added. Both coupe and sedan models had updated rear-end treatments, the 1989/1990 taillights were Oldsmobile-themed — squared with a center emblem.

The 1989 International Series had revised rear-end styling mentioned above. Under the hood, the 3.8L V6 was replaced with a 160HP 3.3L V6.

For Cutlass Ciera in 1990, the front seat belts were moved from the B-pillars to the doors. This would also be the last year for the 'International Series'.

The changes for 1991 included a new instrument cluster with a trip odometer and an engine temperature gauge, and 1991 to 1996 models moved to a  three horizontal-sectioned taillight lens.

For 1992, the Cutlass Ciera coupe was dropped, and the Cieras could only be had in sedan or wagon form. Either in 'S' or 'SL' designations. The Cutlass Ciera wagon now had some internal competition in the form of the new Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan (itself based on the Cutlass Ciera's A-platform), offering buyers a choice of traditional station wagon or a multi-configurable minivan.

For 1993, there was a new 2.2L 4 cylinder was under the Ciera hoods this year with 120hp.

In 1995, the 'Cutlass' nomenclature was removed from the sedan and the car was known simply as the 'Ciera SL'. Brochures from Oldsmobile refered to the Ciera as simply 'Ciera' in print, but the photos in the 1995 brochures still showed 'Cutlass Ciera' (perhaps they had used old artwork for photos). Wagons were still named Cutlass Cruiser.

1996, the final model year, the 'Ciera SL', continued to be available in 'Series I' or 'Series II' equipment levels. The chrome "Oldsmobile" badge above the driver's headlight was deleted. During this time, Olds attempted to revitalize itself to a European-styled upscale make with new products such as the Aurora, but Ciera's continued strong sales proved almost embarrassing due to its dated design and perceived image as an "old man's car". On the other hand, because the tooling for the A-body platform had long since been monetized, GM was guaranteed a profit off each Ciera. Ciera was at the time among the oldest designs on the market.

Ciera was also among the last cars to wear the older Oldsmobile Rocket emblem.

1996 Last Ciera Front
The very last Ciera produced, a Ciera SL Sedan Series II

1996 Last Ciera Rear

Year to Year Changes

1982 Cutlass Ciera:
Ciera was Oldsmobiles version of the new front-wheel-drive A-Body. Old A-Body cars became known as G-Body (RWD). There were three trim levels: Base, LS and Brougham. Each available in coupe and sedan bodystyles. Inside there was room for five or six. Bucket seats were available with either floor or column shift.

1983 Cutlass Ciera:
Ciera returned with no real changes. Base coupe and sedan had been discontinued, but there was a sporty new ES model available. One visual change however, was a wider B-pillar on coupe models, though early models were the same as '82. New options included a digital instrument cluster and trunk mounted luggage rack. Rallye wheels were discontinued. The new ES coupe and sedan both featured blacked out trim, special wheel covers, bucket seats with console and firmer suspension. They used the grille design from base model '82s.

1984 Cutlass Ciera:
'84 Cutlass Cieras recieved a new grille design, as well as revised tail lamps. There was a new Holiday Coupe, which featured a padded vinyl landau top, and disticntive striping, otherwise it was much like a Brougham. There was a new cross spoke aluminum wheel design available. It was also available in gold depending on exterior color. Biggest news was the availablity of a manual transmission. Which was extremely rare, and was only available in '84. There was also expanded engine offerings with the newly available 3.8 Buick V6. 1984 Cutlass Cieras can be identified in the front by their unique vertical bar grille, or in the rear by the tail lamps, which have a black strip dividing them into top and bottom.

1985 Cutlass Ciera:
Up front there was more rounded styling, with somewhat recessed headlamps. In the rear, new tail lamps looked much like the '82-'83 design, but the license plate was moved to the rear bumper and reverse lamps became more horizontal. ES coupe was dropped, but ES sedans had more contoured bucket seats. After bieng introduced just one year prior, the four speed manual was dropped.

1986 Cutlass Ciera:
Changes for 1986 included a revised grille design up front. In the rear, back up lamp assembly was one piece stretching between the tail lamps. LS models, were just called Cutlass Ciera. Third brakelight was standard, as mandated by the government. The diesel engine was gone from the options list. ES wheelcovers were discontinued. There was a new GT coupe, similar in spirit to the ES which was dropped after '84. It had unique lower cladding and was the only Ciera to feature fog lamps. The major difference between the '85 and '86 Ciera's is in the grille area. The '85 design was composed of square openings, while the '86 featured enlongated rectangular openings.

1987 Cutlass Ciera:
For 1987 coupes featured a new sportier roofline. Ciera ES sedan was renamed GT like the coupe. Brougham and GT models had new composite headlamps. All models had a new grille composed of horizontal slats. There was a sporty new sloped roofline for coupe models. Models without composite headlamps feature a new grille composed of horizontal slats. Otherwise '87 was more or less identical to the '88 models.

1988 Cutlass Ciera:
There was a new three-function power sunroof available on sedans. Base models featured composite headlamps like all other trims had for the previous year. Inside, there was a new monochromatic instrument panel and an optional storage armrest for the split bench seat. The ES name was dropped. Sport models were called International Series.

1989 Cutlass Ciera:
Ciera had become Oldsmobile's best selling model. Exterior styling was revised. Overall length increased by two inches. 3.8 V6 was dropped, replaced by the all new 3300 V6. Ciera recieved its biggest styling update. Changes were primarily in the rear. The rear roofline was all new with a new rounded rear window. Trunk, taillights and rear quarter panels were also all new. Up front, the grille was changed to vertical bars. Sedan received a modern roofline (similar to the coupe), and revised bodyside moldings. Hood ornaments were gone, as the new model featured less chrome trim than before in an effort to appear more up-to-date. Rear seat shoulder belts were added. The 1989/1990 taillights were Oldsmobile-themed — squared with a center emblem.

1990 Cutlass Ciera:
Shock-absorbing suspension struts featured new "deflected-disc valving" to allow the suspension to adjust firmness based on feedback from the road. 55/45 and 45/45 seats were redesigned for additional lower back and lateral support. The 2.8 V6 engine was dropped leaving the 3300 as the only optional engine. Front seat belts were moved from the B-pillars to the doors in 1990. This would also be the last year for the 'International Series'.

1991 Cutlass Ciera:
Changes for 1991 included a new instrument cluster with a trip odometer and an engine temperature gauge. Optional Aluminum wheels were restyled. New taillights were divided into three sections surrounded with body colored trim. This would be the last year the coupe model was available (and only 1,665 Ciera Coupes were made in 1991). Cieras would remain largely unchanged from 1991 on, making it difficult to pinpoint the model year.

1992 Cutlass Ciera:
Power door locks became standard. Base Ciera was discontinued leaving the S and SL models. 2 door models were gone. Exterior colors were revised slightly. The Cutlass Ciera wagon now had some internal competition in the form of the new Silhouette minivan (itself based on the Cutlass Ciera's A-platform), offering buyers a choice of traditional station wagon or a multi-configurable minivan.

1993 Cutlass Ciera:
There was a new driver's airbag. 2.2-liter 110 horsepower engine (with a 3 speed automatic) replaced the 2.5L Tech IV as base powerplant. Bucket seats were dropped from the options list. Chassis refinements improved stability during windy conditions. The suspension was also refined for a smoother ride. Standard wheelcovers were also redesigned. The driver's side airbag was standard on SL models and optional on S models.

1994 Cutlass Ciera:
All models were now called Cutlass Ciera S. Driver's airbag became standard on all models. 3.1 V6 replaced the 3300 V6 as the optional engine. Anti-lock brakes were offered as standard equipment. Like all other 1994 Oldsmobiles, there was a "value priced" Special Edition featuring the most popular options.

1995 Ciera*:
Leather seating was no longer offered. Center storage armrest became standard. A brake transmission interlock was also standard. After the success of the previous year's special editions, Cieras were offered only in two well equipped models, the Series I and Series II and the 'SL' designation returned in place of the 'S'. 'Cutlass' nomenclature was dropped and the car was now known simply as the 'Ciera SL'
* - Many websites list the Cutlass name being dropped in 1996 (I believe this is incorrect). If you look at Oldsmobile literature, you will see that Olds refered to the 1995's as "Ciera". The 1995 (and 1996) Ciera brochure lists simply -Ciera- as the model name.

1996 Ciera:
For The last year of production, the 3.1 V6 was refined for smoother and quiter operation. Remote keyless entry was no longer available on the Series I, though cruise control and a six way power driver's seat did become available. A storage armrest and a cassette player were now standard equipment. The chrome "Oldsmobile" badge above the driver's headlight was deleted.