Cadillac Cimarron Dual Cowl Phaeton Pace Car by PPG

Car of the Day #112: 1985 Cadillac Cimarron Dual Cowl Phaeton Pace Car by PPG

Cadillac Cimarron Dual Cowl Phaeton Pace Car by PPG
Cadillac Cimarron Dual Cowl Phaeton Pace Car by PPG • via GM

More than 40 years ago, the Cadillac Cimarron divided the world’s moderately-heeled car shoppers with a question: is this a real Cadillac?

No, your hunch was correct: it was pretty shit.

Without rehashing General Motors' darkest days, today I spread some light(s): one of the coolest single purpose pace cars ever made just happens to be a Cadillac Cimarron.

In the grand tradition of coachbuilders, if you pretend PPG is a builder, it means the car is also one of the most outrageous ’80s neo-classics, in that its body style makes it a dual cowl phaeton. Wearing a huge clamshell hood and unique styling all-around, it is closer in spirit to Cadillac’s excessive 1930s than its ’80s.

Indeed, Cadillac thought the same; this is an official photo of the car:

Bookended by falling market share and critically acclaimed documentaries Final Offer (1984) and Roger & Me (1989) that tore the behemoth’s public image a new one, arguably, the only thing GM could successfully manage in that era was its on-track reputation.

Exhibit C: this pace-setting Cimarron.

Official brochure for the car

Here in Canada, early J-body models (GM's internal code for its small car platform, which was also used for the Cavalier, Isuzu Aska Irmscher Turbo, and others) were sacrificed in vain to appease the winter’s Road Salt Gods. We begged them to take the Toronto Maple Leafs instead, to no avail.

The Cimarron production car can be summed up as a Caddy that zigged, zagged, and zucked — however, the PPG Pace Car program can not be painted with the same airbrush. 

At the peak of its popularity, IndyCar and PPG Industries teamed up for a novel initiative that featured a parade of PPG-customized vehicles during breaks in the on-track action on race weekends. Driven by a team of women racers (who in many cases were just as experienced as the male racers competing), the PPG Pace Cars and associated pageantry were a beloved fixture at IndyCar events for the better part of two decades.

PPG Industries is known for being a leader in automotive paints and chemicals, however, keeping a fleet of near-concept cars running — much less built in the first place — was a huge undertaking and a significant investment for all involved. 

In most cases, each car was a collaboration of sorts between its automaker and PPG. Here, Cadillac Design Studios ultimately determined the look of the most special J-Body. 

Far more than a simple sticker and body kit package, pretty much every PPG Pace Car was fully-engineered and capable of safely ripping around circuits fast enough to keep fans in their seats. I was a kid at the time, and remember them well from our years spectating IndyCar at Detroit's Belle Isle circuit.

Don’t believe me? Believe it:

[PPG Pace Cars are] the most striking, expensive and uncommon automobiles… unique in the automotive world: faster than street cars, sturdier than race cars, able to meet a particular combination of stringent demands that neither street car nor race car will ever face. — Anthony Young, Automobile Quarterly, 1988

Cadillac Cimarron Dual Cowl Phaeton Pace Car interior

Unlike its race-inspired siblings, the introduced-in-1985 PPG Cimarron was more of a parade car, with its claim to trackside fame being its long-dead dual cowl phaeton body style. 

A holdover from the days where wealthy people had drivers and not pilots, the passenger compartment is divided in the middle, with a fixed bulkhead to separate the front and rear seats. Rear seat passengers get their own windshield, useful for keeping bugs out of teeth and big hair. In the few dual cowl phaetons I've sat in, it's clear that the passengers would enjoy more creature comforts than the driver—the PPG Cimarron was no different. 

With data displays, front and rear televisions, and a phone system built into the car's fixed steering wheel hub, the whole cockpit was then finished in medical supply company white, giving it the open aired look of a dentist’s custom-ordered Chris-Craft. 

Under the Cimarron’s hood sat the standard Cimarron 2.8-liter multi-port fuel-injected V6 engine…connected to a three-speed automatic and front-wheel-drive. In promotional materials, its top speed is listed as potential 193 km/h (120 mph) — I can’t see why that wouldn’t be the case.

Now that I've written about its best-ever variant, I'll try not to bring up the  Cimarron again.

Read next: The fan site,, which has taken on the mission of chronicling each of the PPG models, including the Cimarron (with great interior photos), as well as a fantastic page detailing each of the PPG Pace Car drivers and team members.

OK but srsly, does anyone here have ^ the apparel? Send me PPG Cimarron gear, get membership for life, especially if a light taupe poplin jacket with burgundy trim ever shows up! ;)


Thank you to my supporting members: Ben B., Brad B., Chris G., Daniel G., Damian S., Daniel P., Drew M., Ingrid P., Karl D., Luis O., Michael J., Michael L., Michelle S., Mike B., Mike L., Mike M., Richard W., Sam G., Sam L., Wiley H.