COAL #11: ’94 Cadillac Seville STS – Can A Dream Car Serve As A Family Car?

This was my second dream car. It raised the question; “Can a dream car really serve as a family car?”

I hadn’t thought too much about Cadillacs for quite a few years. I had been busy with married and family life, and was currently driving a minivan! But I had held onto my ’77 Sportster, which I rode most of the time, motorcycling was never just a weekend activity for me. I had already dabbled with a couple of older Honda Civics as hobby cars.

My Wife had noticed that I was constantly looking through copies of the Auto Trader, and she knew that I wanted another special car. She then made this suggestion: “Instead of looking for an old car, why not look for something almost new?”

As I’ve mentioned before, when the family CFO makes a suggestion like that, I’m all ears and action!

I pretty much knew what I wanted. When the ’92 Seville and ElDorado debuted, they impressed me in much the same way as the ’77 DeVille had. I gave a thought to the new Riviera, since I had a couple of those before. But the Riviera wasn’t nearly as nice a car as the Cadillac.

This is a brochure shot. All images from the web.


I had also considered a later model Mercedes, especially an SEC coupe, which had been another dream car, but these were a fairly old model by then. A late model S Class seemed pretty attractive, and I’d gone to look at a couple. Yet, I found that the Seville outperformed the recent S Class and even the old 6.9 model. Better performance, and a newer car seemed to be the best plan. And best of all… it was a Cadillac!

I had initially wanted to get an ElDorado, but I’d promised my Son that I would get a car where he would have his “own” door.

A terrific but troubled engine.


I started looking at a few used Sevilles. I even test-drove an earlier model with the 200 hp. 4.9 engine. This is a very good engine and I found the performance to be satisfactory. But of course, the big thing was the 4.6 NorthStar. It’s not like I got to buy a nearly new Cadillac every day, and most importantly, my wife was all for it!

Eventually, I found my car at St. Claire Cadillac in Santa Clara. It was a ’94 STS. Black inside and out. It had a set of ’96 year model chromed wheels, which made it look like the newest model. I was really into it, and had the dealer send it out to have a moonroof installed.

Okay, here’s a detail shot of Zebrano wood. That’s what the catalog called it. The web called it zebrawood.


A black car with chrome wheels, what a cliché. Ask me if I cared!


This was the most expensive car that I’ve ever bought. It had 22,000 miles on it and still looked and smelled like new. The STS had the more powerful 300 hp. engine, tighter suspension, and a slightly fancier interior. I hadn’t felt so special driving a car since my ’77 Coupe de Ville, which was also three years old at purchase. The styling was clean and modern, very substantial looking. It looked like a Cadillac without looking like a cliche. A claim the previous ’90’s models couldn’t.

The interior was the nicest ever from Cadillac. Reviewers had reported that it looked like it could have come out of an Audi. The instruments and the switch gear were modern looking and operated with the proper feeling. The dash, console, and doors were trimmed in a “rich Zebrano wood.” The STS carried the wood across the tops of the back doors. The interior was spacious, with plenty of leg and hip room in the rear seat. However, the twin bucket design made a middle passenger a bit uncomfortable during a long ride. We were down to two kids, the oldest was now away at college, so that was fine. There was no trace of Brougham in this cabin!

A nice example, but showing its age.


Lots of space back here.


Business-like and beautiful.


Man, was that thing fast! The acceleration would pin you back in the seat and it didn’t seem to lessen until the speedo needle swept past 100 mph. Car and Driver and other magazines reported that average quarter mile times were in the high 14’s, o-60 was under 6 seconds. Top speed was pegged at 145 mph. This was a muscle car in a designer suit. It re-established Cadillac’s image as a legitimate road car. There was still some torque steer under sudden full throttle acceleration, but that was a small price to pay.

The ride was firm but comfortable, the car handled very well and was confidence inspiring. Yes, it was FWD, so there wasn’t the opportunity to use over steer to rotate the car in curves. But really, at my age, why would I want to grind the tires down just to go a bit faster in the twisties? This was a car for Grand Touring.

If it’s good enough for Sly…


If you’d like to see a Seville really wrung out, check out the Stallone film, Get Carter. There is a chase scene between a Seville and an older Jaguar XJ6. It’s interesting to see how a Seville behaves under extreme circumstances. The car in the movie is the next gen model, but I believe that the ’94’s performance would be similar.

One night we were driving down to the Central Valley for a family wedding. I pushed it and kept it near 100 mph. for long stretches. Normal cruising speed was 85+ mph. Really, any speed that you felt comfortable at. It never broke a sweat, being able to cruise at high speeds for extended periods. Fuel economy was usually in the low to mid-20s. It did require premium fuel.

It was “my car” first, but it was also our family car, and we took a lot of trips in it. Every time we drove somewhere I felt that we were living out one of those old Cadillac magazine advertisements that showed a lucky family living “the Good Life!”

I was pretty fussy about the car and kept it immaculately clean. I didn’t want to drive it as a daily. So most of the week it spent a lot of time in the garage. My Wife didn’t think that the car should be sitting in the garage while we were still making payments on it. It was depreciating every day that it sat, better to get more use out of it. She was right of course, but it sure stayed cleaner parked there. Black cars are so hard to keep clean!

It was always a dilemma for me, because I wanted it to be my hobby car. That meant less use, but it could also be kept in immaculately clean condition. However, the car was being paid for out of “house money.” It hadn’t been purchased out of my hobby car fund, (I really didn’t have one at the time). Depreciation was also a factor, so it didn’t make sense for the car to sit. It was a real car that should be driven.

I told my Wife that she should drive it, as I was still primarily riding my motorcycle to work. So she did. It became one of her favorite cars.

As the miles increased some problems developed. Early on there was a problem with the coil packs that resulted in a slight roughness under load. That was repaired after an extended diagnosis process. Later the electronic transmission module went bad, and that was replaced. Both repairs were performed under warranty. Then the warranty ran out.

The starter went bad and I decided to replace it myself. The starter is located under the intake manifold. Don’t laugh, there are other OHC V8s like Lexus and Infinity that also have it located there. I changed it out for a new one, but I unknowingly damaged the idle control motor. I had that sorted out by the dealer. After this, I wouldn’t buy another vehicle with this same starter location. This was the first fuel injected V8 that I ever worked on. However, I improved my skills and would later find it easier to work on my fuel injected 4.6 Mustang.

The thermostat went bad, but that was easy to replace. This had caused the engine to start to overheat as soon as it warmed up, due to the thermostat having stuck closed. Another time coolant started gushing up around the top of the engine, it looked like a blown head gasket, but it was only the leaking water pump. The pump is a small cylindrical device that is fitted into one of the heads. It was easy to replace with a special GM tool. I’ve seen several NorthStar Cadillacs offered for sale on CraigsList at a low price, due to a similar leak that makes it appear as though the engine is toast. As long as the car hasn’t been allowed to overheat, it’s a simple repair.

Then it needed a radiator replacement, it consists of an aluminum core mated to plastic end tanks. It split along one of those seams. Then another starter, which I let a shop replace this time. Then another radiator! Back to that same shop.

I kept the car for an additional 140,000 miles and over ten years. It still looked great inside and out. My biggest gripe was that it had developed an oil leak from the motor. The leak dropped oil on the exhaust pipes which made the car smell like burnt oil. It wasn’t bad enough to cause a fire, but it did make a mess wherever I parked it. I learned that it was from a bad main seal.

The repair required dropping the front subframe, removing the engine, then removing the oil pan. I got a couple of estimates, and most shops advised me to just replace the entire engine with a rebuilt unit, instead of dismantling it and fixing it. I had the car now for around eight years and I wasn’t keen on spending thousands of dollars to fix the leak.

Then the a/c went out and the driver’s window stopped working, at least it died in the closed position. I didn’t want to invest in even these minor repairs. Not that I never worked on the car myself. I had replaced a failed alternator after buying some specific tools that made the job easier. The car was now over ten years old and had depreciated to a low level. My enthusiasm for the car had also dropped to an equally low level. The car had also picked up a couple of scrapes and a small dent.

This car also marked a turning point in my wife’s understanding of my automotive mania. She had felt that once I’d bought my dream car, that I would be satisfied and content to maintain and preserve it. At least for a while!  She did not expect me to continue thinking about, and to keep looking at obtaining additional hobby cars! She realized that I’d never be content and satisfied with any car, not even a relatively expensive one. This resulted in her becoming a lot less sympathetic to my hobby. The new plan was for us to have a good family car that I liked well enough, and that I could spend my enthusiasm (and money) on a series of cheaper and older hobby cars.

I have to admit that she saw the situation pretty clearly. I really can’t see that I would ever find a car that I would be completely satisfied with. Something that I would own for a long time, maybe even a lifetime car. I guess that I might have been burned out by my old Sportster, which I held onto for twenty years, eventually growing tired of it. I’ve come to accept the reality of this, but it hasn’t stopped me from buying a lot more hobby cars!

Such a beautiful, desirable, and powerful machine, still in pretty good cosmetic condition, the interior still looked great. How did I get tired of it?

My car also suffered from moisture intrusion into the tail lights, but not this bad. NorthStar, Make a wish!


Writing this account, it’s pretty apparent that this car needed lots of expensive repairs, even if you factor in the extended time that I owned it. Honestly, I’d forgotten most of the specifics of all those issues, and remember the car in a much more positive light. My Wife told me that she also has primarily pleasant memories of the car. At least it never broke down and left me and my family on the side of the road.

It was actually pretty trouble free until the odometer passed the 100,000 mark, and I kept the car well past that point. I ended up selling it through Wheels and Deals for 1,600 bucks. It had a bit over 160,000 miles on it by then.

I decided to take a break from fancy cars, at least newer ones!

So ends the saga of my Dream Cars. At this point in my life, I don’t spend much time or energy thinking about them. I still like cars, I still have a couple that I’m quite fond of. There has been a long line of hobby cars that have provided me with a lot of pleasure since then. There will probably be a few more to come.


Further reading:

Curbside Classic: 1992-97 Cadillac Seville – Forgotten Contender

Classic CARmentary: Cadillac Seville STS