Automotive Histories: When The Old Names Died (Part III)

gmc jimmy

(first posted 2/4/2016)    The cost of rehabilitating a “damaged” nameplate can be high. So is the cost of introducing and marketing an entirely new nameplate. If you introduce a high-quality, competitive new model but saddle it with an outmoded predecessor’s name, you will encounter resistance from buyers. “This looks nice but, oh, it’s a Cavalier? And you’re charging how much?” In the 2000s, GM simply decided to drop 19 decades-old nameplates, 12 of which were covered in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Today, let’s look at the remaining 7.

1998 2004 cadillac seville sts

Cadillac Seville

Final year? 2004

1956 cadillac eldorado seville

How old was the name?

Cadillac first used the Seville nameplate from 1956 until 1960. For 1956, the Eldorado Seville was a hardtop coupe in the Series 62 line, a companion to the Eldorado Biarritz convertible. A hardtop sedan arrived the following year. Although the Eldorado Biarritz continued well into the 1960s, the Eldorado Seville was discontinued after 1960. The name remained in disuse until the 1976 model year when it was dusted off for a new sedan that would simultaneously become both the smallest and yet the second most expensive Cadillac line (after the Series 75 factory limousines). The new, small Cadillac was the brand’s attempt to reach new buyers more concerned with manoeuvrability and fuel economy instead of sheer size; GM also had recognised the rising popularity of German luxury brands and the Seville was generally Cadillac’s bulwark against Mercedes and BMW.

2002 cadillac seville 2

How was it looking?

Cadillac launched the final generation of Seville in 1998, touting its performance luxury sedan credentials and announcing it would even be sold in Europe and Japan. It sat on a stiffer chassis and once again packed the powerful Northstar V8 in two states of tune. At the time of the Seville’s launch, though, Cadillac executives were already discussing the importance of rear-wheel-drive in the luxury car market and were looking ahead to new RWD models. When the new century dawned, Cadillac launched a splashy new advertising campaign and introduced razor-edged new products like the CTS. The Seville, although only launched in 1998, started to look very old very fast. It didn’t help the exterior design was only a gentle evolution of the fourth-generation Seville. Extremely minor cosmetic tweaks were made during the fifth-generation’s run and high-tech options like satellite navigation, parking sensors and Magnetic Ride Control were made available in 2002. But sales decreased each year of the fifth generation’s run, never besting the most prosperous years of the previous generation: 39k Sevilles were sold in 1998, but only 18k in 2003. For 2004, the Seville STS was retired and a lone Seville SLS stayed pat.

2005 cadillac sts

What replaced it?

Cadillac did re-use a name for the Seville’s replacement: STS, after the sportier of the two Seville models. Despite crisp new Art & Science styling, the use of the rear-wheel-drive Sigma platform, and new V6 and all-wheel-drive variants, the STS was a sales disappointment. Much as the fifth-generation Seville had never topped the best year of the fourth-generation, the new STS never exceeded the best year of fifth-generation Seville sales.

1998 2004 cadillac seville

Did it make sense to scrap the name?

Cadillac had never had a very consistent approach to developing and marketing the Seville, as I’ve outlined previously in my features on the second, third, fourth and fifth generation models. The Seville name was elegant and had heritage but Cadillac had been placing increasing focus on the STS nameplate since its debut in 1988. With the switch to three-letter designations for their passenger cars, it was only logical for Cadillac to use the STS name for a Seville replacement. This also allowed Cadillac to position their new RWD sedan as more of a sport sedan than a luxury cruiser.

2000 cadillac deville

Cadillac DeVille

Final year? 2005

1949 cadillac coupe de ville

How old was the name?

The first production car to wear the “de Ville” name, as it was then known, was the 1949 Series 62 Coupe de Ville which along with that year’s Buick Roadmaster Riviera and Oldsmobile 98 Holiday were GM’s first pillarless hardtop coupes. Most of Cadillac’s numerical designations disappeared over time and Coupe de Ville and Sedan de Ville became the heart of Cadillac’s range. The coupe disappeared after 1993.

2000 cadillac deville 3

How was it looking?

The 2000 DeVille may have featured smoother styling but it still had the attributes Cadillacs had long been renowned for: a smooth V8 engine, innovative technological features and ample cabin space. Unfortunately, the loyal Cadillac buyers that had purchased DeVille buyers for years were exactly the buyers Cadillac was trying to wean itself off. The quest for volume in the 1970s and 1980s had eroded Cadillac’s prestige and although the DeVille had a modern, powerful Northstar V8 and technological advances like Night Vision, it had developed a reputation for being a car popular with senior citizens. Front-wheel-drive, once seen as an innovative feature, was now utterly déclassé in the luxury car segment and the DeVille was also showing its age mechanically. It had only a four-speed auto, when rivals were offering five- and six-speeds. The Northstar V8 was no more powerful than it had been in the previous decade, either, although it had become more reliable. In the new millennium, Cadillac’s lineup had been dramatically overhauled with edgy new rear-wheel-drive offerings like the CTS and SRX, clothed in Cadillac’s polarizing new Art & Science design language. Next to them in the showroom, the DeVille – although just two years older than the CTS – looked very old-fashioned.


What replaced it?

DTS, or DeVille Touring Sedan, had replaced Concours in 2000 as the name of the sportiest DeVille. As Cadillac’s new passenger cars were switching to three-letter names, the DeVille’s replacement assumed the DTS name. Styling was crisper, although the design was more Art & Science Lite. But it was still unmistakably the same car, especially under the skin where few improvements were made. The DeVille had been an intriguing and much cheaper alternative to equivalently-sized Germans in 2000; the DTS was simply a relic in 2006.

2000 cadillac deville 2

Did it make sense to scrap the name?

Keeping the DeVille name would have been no worse than keeping the actual DeVille around, which is what Cadillac effectively did with the DTS. Three-letter designation aside, there was no fooling buyers into thinking the DTS was anywhere near the breath of fresh air the CTS, SRX and STS had been for the Cadillac brand. Cadillac would have done best to retire the car as well as the name, as I’ve mentioned previously.

2002 chevrolet camaro

Chevrolet Camaro

Final year? 2002

1967 chevrolet camaro

How old was the name?

It debuted in 1967 on Chevrolet’s direct response to the Ford Mustang. Although Chevrolet had offered the sporty, practically-sized Corvair Monza before Ford’s pony car hit the scene, the Mustang had taken the market by storm. Chevrolet slowly wound down Corvair production and the more conventional Camaro would become the Mustang’s arch-nemesis for several decades.

2002 chevrolet camaro interior

How was it looking?

A little dated but still a credible Mustang rival. In fact, critics generally agreed this generation of Camaro outperformed the Mustang. Performance figures were definitely superior: the 5.7 LS1 V8 had between 310 and 335 horsepower, depending on the tune, while the Mustang’s 4.6 V8 had only 260 horsepower. Even the V6 engine was more powerful than its Blue Oval counterpart, with 200 horses from a 3.8 V6, 10 more than the Mustang’s 3.8. So why, then, did the Mustang cream the fourth-generation Camaro in the sales race year after year? In 2000, for example, Ford sold 173,676 Mustangs while Chevrolet sold only 42,131 Camaros. Rumors of the GM F-Body’s impending demise had been circulating for some time and 2002 was the last year for the Camaro and its Pontiac Firebird platform-mate.

2004 chevrolet monte carlo

What replaced it?

Nothing really. The front-wheel-drive Monte Carlo coupe gained a supercharged V6 for 2004 and a V8 in 2006, while sportier SS variants of the TrailBlazer, Impala, Cobalt, Malibu and HHR appeared in turn. It was a good time for variety in Chevy performance but not necessarily a great time for raw V8 muscle: the two Chevy passenger cars with bent eights were hobbled with front-wheel-drive.

2002 chevrolet camaro 2

Did it make sense to scrap the name?

GM had once considered moving the Camaro to a front-wheel-drive chassis with the GM-80 platform, but the costly program was scrapped. When the FWD sport coupe segment faded away in the mid-1990s, GM likely gave precious little thought to developing a FWD Camaro again. With no suitable RWD platform available and sales sliding, Chevrolet retired the Camaro nameplate. However, development started shortly thereafter on an entirely new Camaro derived from Holden’s Zeta platform. The fifth-generation Camaro’s debut was drawn out and much buzz was generated, so perhaps the absence of a lameduck fourth-generation helped promote the new Zeta Camaro. The Aussie-developed Camaro has proved to be a much stronger seller than the final F-Body and has regularly outsold the Mustang.

2002 pontiac firebird collector

Pontiac Firebird

Final year? 2002

1967 pontiac firebird

How old was the name?

Like its fellow GM F-Body, the Chevrolet Camaro, the Firebird debuted in 1967. Although GM considered killing the F-Body coupes in the mid-1970s due to flagging sales and the increasing importance of fuel economy, they sensibly kept the coupes alive and were rewarded handsomely in the late-1970s when sales surged. The Firebird also outlived and enjoyed a far better reputation than Ford’s rebadged Mustang companion, the Mercury Capri, which was axed in 1986.

1998 2002 pontiac firebird trans am convertible

How was it looking?

The swoopy, bullet-shaped fourth-generation Firebird received a fussy facelift for 1998. Sales stayed pat from then on, sitting around the 30k mark and only dropping in the Firebird’s final two seasons. When the F-Body’s epitaph was read, many reasons were speculated for the demise of the 35-year-old nameplates: the popularity with young drivers of sporty compacts like the Honda Civic Si and Acura RSX; the increasing popularity of pickup trucks and SUVs; and the advancing age of the fourth-generation F-Bodies.

2002 pontiac firebird collector 2

Did it make sense to scrap the name?

Whatever the reason for the F-Body’s waning popularity, it is worthwhile nothing that Mustang sales declined noticeably between 2002-04. Once a redesigned Mustang bowed for 2005, though, Ford enjoyed the spoils of having a segment all to itself before rising gas prices hobbled the Mustang’s sales. Even still, in those lean years of the late 2000s, the Mustang still sold better than the Camaro and Firebird.

2004 pontiac gto

What replaced it?

The Firebird was indirectly replaced by the 2004 GTO, a rebadged, Australian-built Holden Monaro. Although both were rear-wheel-drive, two-door coupes packing powerful pushrod powerplants, the GTO had much more milquetoast styling, a more luxurious interior and a base price around $3k higher than the flagship Firebird Trans Am. Consequently, the GTO sold about half as well as the Firebird had.

2001 2005 chevrolet blazer

Chevrolet Blazer/GMC Jimmy

Final year? 2005 (Blazer), 2001 (Jimmy) 

1969 chevrolet blazer

How old was the name?

The Blazer and Jimmy names first debuted in 1969 on a Ford Bronco rival derived from the full-size Chevy truck chassis. Blazer and Jimmy were prefaced with “K5”; in 1983, the S-10 Blazer and S-15 Jimmy debuted, based on the new compact Chevy S-10/GMC S-15 trucks. In 1995, the smaller SUVs dropped the S-10/S-15 prefixes and around this time the K5s were renamed Tahoe and Yukon. 

chevrolet blazer interior

How was it looking?

The larger, more comfortable TrailBlazer was launched in 2002 but Chevrolet kept the Blazer around for a few more years. After all, the TrailBlazer – like many new SUVs –  had no two-door variant. The four-door Blazer was also carried along, although by the Blazer’s final year, only the two-door was available to retail buyers. Poor crash test ratings, a cheap interior with poor build quality and yet a stout powertrain (the 4.3 Vortec V6) were attributes shared with the Chevrolet Astro, also axed after 2005. Unlike the Astro, whose GMC variant remained on sale until 2005, the Blazer’s GMC Jimmy clone ended its run in 2001. The Blazer outlived the equally outmoded Explorer Sport 2-dr (final year: 2003) and was ultimately, in two-door guise, in a class of its own.

2002 chevrolet trailblazer

What replaced it?

The TrailBlazer briefly enjoyed sales heights in the 2000s that exceeded those of the Blazer during much of the 1990s, peaking at 283k units, but things eventually slowed down; the same held true for the new GMC Envoy. Tougher competition from a redesigned 2006 Explorer likely played a large part in this; the new GMT-360 trucks may have had superior powertrains but the TrailBlazer’s interior in particular was dreary and cheap. GM exited the mid-size truck market after 2009. Chevrolet did, however, enjoy great success with the Equinox compact crossover. Although it lacked the off-road ability of the Blazer, it had superior on-road refinement and may well have appealed to former Blazer buyers.

chevrolet blazer 1997 2005

Did it make sense to scrap the name?

Given the increase in size, it made sense for Chevrolet to make use of the Blazer’s 1999-2001 uplevel TrailBlazer nameplate for its new SUV. GMC did the same, using the Envoy name previously applied to uplevel Jimmy SUVs. Also, considering GM decided to keep selling the 1995-vintage Blazer alongside the new offering, a new nameplate was entirely warranted.

2001 cadillac eldorado 1

Cadillac Eldorado

Final year? 2002

How old was the name?

It first debuted in 1953 on a range-topping, limited-production convertible. Priced at $7,750, it was a cool $2k above even the Series 75 factory limousines. The Eldorado would become the most stylish and, in some years, the most powerful Cadillac. In the early 1960s, it was considered part of the De Ville series before officially becoming the Fleetwood Eldorado. The Eldorado line shifted in 1967 to the new, front-wheel-drive GM E-Body platform shared with the Oldsmobile Toronado but not shared with any other Cadillacs. After 1993, the Coupe de Ville’s last year, the Eldorado became Cadillac’s only coupe.

2001 cadillac eldorado 3

How was it looking?

Dated. Although rumors were rampant in the mid-1990s of an upcoming rear-wheel-drive replacement, these plans were scrapped and the Eldorado soldiered on with few changes. The Seville moved to the more rigid G-Body for 1998 (although GM still referred to the Seville as being a K-Body) and the DeVille followed in 2000, but the Eldorado stuck it out on the aged E-Body chassis even while lesser Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac full-size models were getting more sophisticated new underpinnings. GM evidently saw little point in keeping the Eldorado fresh as personal luxury coupe sales were declining and rivals like the Lexus SC and Lincoln Mark VIII were axed.

cadillac xlr neiman marcus side

What replaced it?

Nothing, really. The XLR arrived as a halo roadster in 2004, assuming the mantle of the most stylish and “personal” Cadillac, but it was quite different in concept from the Eldorado with two seats, rear-wheel-drive and a folding metal hardtop. It also cost around $30k more and was consequently much lower volume.

2001 cadillac eldorado 2

Did it make sense to scrap the name?

Cadillac hadn’t used the Eldorado nameplate on a four-door model since 1960 and there was no coupe to use it on after 2002. A coupe Cadillac wouldn’t return until the 2011 model year, and that CTS variant was dramatically different from the final Eldorado.

GM may have axed 17 nameplates in the 2000s but they reversed course on some of those decisions. Camaro famously returned, as did Regal, while Park Avenue, S10 and Blazer/TrailBlazer remained outside North America. GM appears to have learnt the mistakes of its mass culling of names: while the first-generation Colorado and LaCrosse were mediocre offerings, GM has continued to use those names on dramatically improved replacements. Toyota has used the Camry and Corolla nameplates for decades. Perhaps in thirty years, you will still be able to buy a Chevrolet Malibu or Cruze.

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1976-79 Cadillac Seville

Curbside Classic: 1967 Chevrolet Camaro

Curbside Classic: 1971 Chevrolet K5 Blazer

Car Show Classic: 1967 Pontiac Firebird