Vintage R&T: 1976 Cadillac Seville Preview, Technical Analysis and First Driving Impressions

preview/guessing game from March 1975 issue

One of the most controversial subjects here at CC has been the Cadillac Seville, starting with my bestowing it Deadly Sin status. That article, both here and at the old site, has always sparked a lot of response, as well as a misunderstanding of why I gave it that designation. In a nutshell, it’s because it was designed to be a Mercedes-fighter, and in that particular role, it was not really successful. Commenters have endless argued that it wasn’t designed for that reason, but Cadillac’s management and PR department made it quite clear that it was so. And then there’s the perpetual issue about just how heavily the Seville was based on the Nova.

Today we’ll go back to the March and June issues of Road and Track, for a preview (from the March ’75 issue), analysis and first driving impressions (June ’75 issue), in which the Seville did not fare very well. Both articles repeat the point that the Seville was created to fight the erosion of Cadillac sales to Mercedes on the coasts. It’s theoretically possible that the gen1 Seville slowed down the rate of erosion, but Mercedes continued to post sales increases regularly throughout the Seville’s existence. And the driving impressions bring home the point that the newcomer Seville was no match for the mature Mercedes 450SE that GM supplied for comparison. The Seville was definitely another Cadillac in its dynamics, albeit a smaller one. And there was undoubtedly a market for that. But that turned out to be a lot of existing Cadillac buyers, many women who had long wanted a shorter one.

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Cadillac knew it had a problem with sales erosion to the smaller Mercedes for some years already, but it took the energy crisis and the resultant tumble in sales of their barge-sized cars to finally do what they had been hinting around at for some time: create a small Cadillac, and right now! 18 months later it was ready; mighty brisk for GM, but then it wasn’t exactly a clean-sheet project.

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The Nova’s X-Body was the starting point, but much was changed in the transformation. It’s always much quicker and cheaper to “remodel” than to start from scratch, because components only need to be refined rather than conceived, developed and tested from scratch. It was comparable to quick remodel on a house, transforming it from a modest rancher to a pretentious…rancher. Mini-McMansion, not Bauhaus.

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The accommodations were all very much traditional Cadillac; plush upholstery, shag carpets and adorned with plasti-wood trim

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GM supplied two Seville and one Mercedes 450SE at their Mesa, AZ test track.  A GM engineer on site claimed that the Seville had less understeer than the Benz; in reality, the Seville had “gobs of understeer”. The brake pedal seemed to bottom out, and “there was none too much stopping power”.  Several impromptu drag races were lost against the Mercedes, despite its driver leaving the line consistently late. The Seville’s time was 19.0 seconds.  0-60 was timed at a leisurely 14 seconds.

But R&T rightfully asked “After all, just how many Americans really utilize the benefits of all-disc brakes, or realize the IRS gives a better rear seat and trunk?” Never mind a more controlled ride over less than ideal pavement. The Seville might be Mercedes-sized, but it was no genuine Mercedes fighter. And depending on your point of view, that might have been fine, at least on the shorter term. But as Cadillac found out the hard way, they were chasing an older demographic that was fine with a smaller Cadillac. But bringing in younger and better-educated import buyers was another matter, one to be left to another decade, or century.

 

CC 1976-1979 Cadillac Seville: GM DS #11 – The Sin of Underachieving  PN