For most of their existence, American automakers, particularly the Big Three and especially GM, operated the big, bold, and brash American way. They built the cars they wanted with little constraint on their creative freedom from outside conditions such as fuel economy, foreign competition, and even economic conditions. When it came to luxury cars, with each successive redesign it was about greater size, greater power, and greater road isolation. This is simply how the industry operated and no one seemed to have any issue with it.
Sure, over the years the Big Three did show a few signs of adaptation to market conditions, such as the introduction of compact cars and lower-priced models from higher-end brands, but luxury cars were among the most steadfast in their ways. Brands like Cadillac did not adapt; they defiantly resisted pressure to change.
By the 1970s, however, it was clear that this old, isolationist way of thinking was not going to fly in a new age of German imperialism. Brands like Mercedes-Benz were gaining an ever increasing percentage of market share, with a more business-like approach to luxury and manageable size versus the overstuffed, overweight American luxo-barges.
Especially when it came to younger buyers, many of whom were just joining the ranks of luxury car owners, this German way of luxury was becoming increasingly appealing. Without anything remotely comparable, the self-proclaimed “Standard Of The World” was at risk of losing its once concrete footing. At last, even Cadillac was forced to concede to societal pressures and marketplace conditions by branching out into a previously uncharted segment. Enter the 1976 Cadillac Seville.
Introduced in early-1975, the 1976 Seville was the smallest Cadillac since at least the 1910s, and some 26.7 inches shorter, 8 inches narrower, and over 900 pounds lighter than a 1976 Sedan de Ville. Likely by no coincidence, the Seville was externally sized right in line with the short-wheelbase W116 Mercedes S-Class, with length, width, and height all within 1.5 inches. Of course, versus a North American-spec 450 SE, the Seville was still some 500 pounds heavier.
Early plans proposed basing the Seville the European Opel Diplomat or even an Australian Holden model, but these were deemed too expensive. Instead, the Seville’s chassis was heavily-derived from the economy X-body platform that underpinned the Chevy Nova, Oldsmobile Omega, Buick Apollo, and several others. Engineers stretched the X-body’s wheelbase from 111 inches to 114.3 for the Seville, resulting in its official name as the “K-body”.
Front and rear suspensions, along with steering linkage were also shared with the X-body as well as the Camaro/Firebird’s F-body. Cadillac engineers did make a number of modifications to the suspension and body mounts, such as the addition of Teflon interliners to the rear leaf springs and hydraulic dampers on the steering column and bumper mounts, decreasing vibration and harshness for a smoother, more Cadillac-like ride. Front and rear anti-roll bars were added, however, for less sway.
Although the Seville gained an exclusive “formal” roofline with near vertical rear window and wide C-pillars. To save costs, part of the X-body’s roof stamping used for the forward portion of the Seville’s roof, necessitating a standard full-vinyl roof to cover up all the seams. In order to accommodate an available “bare” steel roof, all new roof stampings were created exclusively for the Seville in 1977.
Unlike other Cadillacs, the Seville did not feature a Cadillac engine. At the time, Cadillac’s smallest V8 was a gargantuan 7.7 liters, and simply too big for the Seville’s engine bay, resulting in Oldsmobile’s 5.7L 350 Rocket V8 powering the Seville. With electronic fuel injection, the Seville was able to achieve a reasonable for the era 15.4 mpg combined, while also offering higher peak horsepower and lower emissions than the carbureted version of the 350 Rocket found in other cars.
Output of this engine in the Seville was 180 horsepower and 275 lb-ft torque. Not that it probably mattered to most Seville clientele, but it was capable of a zero-to-sixty sprint of 11.5 seconds. This was just three-tenths slower than the lighter Mercedes 450 SE, which for North American spec had the same horsepower but only 220 lb-ft torque from its 4.5L single-overhead cam V8.
Headed under legendary chief GM stylist, Bill Mitchell, the Seville ushered in a new era of styling for Cadillac and GM, setting the tone for GM designs for the next decade. Highlighted by crisp lines, sharp angles, and low beltlines for a trim, square shape, the Seville’s design was clearly European-influenced, and represented a clean break from the bulges and pudginess of contemporary American cars.
While novel at the time of its introduction, the Seville’s design language soon made its way to other GMs, copied again, and again, and again. Within just a few years, everything from the Chevy Celebrity to the Pontiac Bonneville to the Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight to the Buick Regal to the Cadillac Fleetwood would wear this squared-off, formal roof styling to the point where it was nearly impossible to distinguish one GM-branded car from another to the untrained eye.
Inside, Cadillac stylists took far fewer leaps forward in design, providing an interior that would be familiar to the well-seasoned Cadillac buyer of the era. Like other Cadillacs, Sevilles featured a visually similar sweeping dash design, with minimal instrumentation beyond a large horizontal speedometer. Light and climate controls were arranged to the left of the steering column, with radio, defogger controls, cigarette lighter and ashtray to the right.
Despite what might be called a lack of originality, a more understated interior was better suited for the Seville than something more baroque. As expected, lots of fake wood in Cadillac’s preferred “peel-‘n’-stick” variety from the era was present. Velour cloth in eight available color choices was standard with Sierra Grain leather optional in nine color combinations.
As expected, the 1977 Cadillac Seville came very generously equipped for the era, with standard features including four-wheel disc brakes, load-leveling suspension, automatic climate control, power windows and locks, AM/FM stereo with power antenna, 6-way power drivers seat, 50/50 split front bench seats, and cornering lights.
Rather defiantly, Cadillac chose to price this heavily re-engineered Chevy Nova higher than any of its other and significantly larger vehicles (sans the Seventy-Five limousine). After all, it was a Mercedes-Benz competitor, so why not charge Mercedes-Benz prices, right?
Price didn’t seem to deter many buyers from the Seville, as they came in droves from every direction, buying and quickly embraced this “small Cadillac”. The Seville succeeded in attracting both new and previous Cadillac owners, with roughly 60% of Seville buyers first time Cadillac owners, and 15% of Seville buyers coming from luxury import brands such as Mercedes-Benz. Additionally, approximately 45% of Seville drivers were female, nearly double that of any other Cadillac.
The Seville proved that even when succumbing to outside forces and building a smaller car, Cadillac still could do it mostly on their terms. While the Seville offered a more maneuverable, European-like size, it made little concession to the traditionally soft ride and handling characteristics Cadillac buyers came to expect.
By largely sticking to their brash, set way of doing things, in some ways Cadillac and GM might have made too few concessions with the Seville, solving one problem but ultimately leading to many more down the road. The GM Deadly Sin angle of this first generation Cadillac Seville has already been played, so let’s leave it at that.
Regardless, in its own right the Seville was a successful car, selling some 200,456 units in four years and proving that Cadillac could build a successful small car. More importantly, it brought more female buyers, first-time Cadillac buyers, and import buyers to the brand. The Seville also was responsible for setting the direction of style for virtually every new GM car for the next decade. Most lastingly, the Seville represented Cadillac’s first attempt at a competitive import fighter, something the brand has been trying to perfect with some actual success on and off again ever since.
Photographed: November, 2016 – Rockland, Massachusetts
1976-1979 Cadillac Seville (GM Deadly Sin)
Great sighting, photos, and article!
From some angles, like the rear, these look almost plain. But then I remember how baroque and/or bulky so many American cars were in the era and I think, “Wow, these must have made quite an impact when they were introduced!” The procession of similarly styled Sheer Look cars that came after also help people forget how, dare I say it, daring these cars were visually.
There’s only one line on these I don’t care for and it’s the windshield. It seems too steeply raked or just too far back. That kind of long, long hood look works on a coupe, not as much on a sedan. But it’s a minor quibble–these are otherwise extremely handsome. Even the interior looks nice to me.
Those performance and fuel economy figures aren’t bad for the times. Oh, if only Cadillac had offered competent powertrains in the following Seville. And actually built on the progress the Seville was making, instead of going in a weird neo-classical direction. But then, I already ranted about that in my article you’ve helpfully linked above. I mean, it’s nice and all that Cadillac introduced four-wheel independent suspension in the 2nd generation, but then they went ahead and gave it crappy engines and front-wheel-drive…
P.S. I do wish the next four generations of Seville were rear-wheel-drive.
Yes quite plain from the back, there was a Seville a couple of streets away rotting quietly by the curb its gone now probably being wrecked for parts it was incredibly rusty but I had to go around the front to discover what it was all badges bar the crest up front were removed and 100 spoke wheels fitted and chrome chain steering wheel that didnt seem stock either, it was ready for the crusher but probably escaped to become a lawn ornament.
The bustleback Seville did have one good year: in 1980, it came with the big-block engine (though destroked to 368 CI). And it wasn’t a V8-6-4 like the 1981 models, just a normal full time V8. Still FWD though.
I don’t think the longitude-FWD architecture (also seen on the ’79-’85 Eldorado, Riviera and Toronado) was a bad idea. I think the 2nd-gen Seville’s baroque styling–right as the 80s ushered true Euro design sensibilities into the US market–killed it. Along with those shitty engines, but not the powertrain layout itself. Did you really want some approximation of some decades-old Hooper-bodied Rolls-Royce (with none of the build quality), when you could have something svelte and German instead?
The Seville and the other E bodies were capacity limited from 83 to 85. GM could have sold as many Sevilles as it could build.
Absolutely right. Seville I was an elegant, understated car capable of being a substitute for the non-flashy vibe Mercedes had on offer at the time.
Then Seville II went a whole new direction. Completely failed to appeal to the same market, the same people who were being pulled away to the spare elegance of Mercedes.
Cadillac got its hands around the problem of their most prosperous customers leaving for the Germans with Seville I. And they just plain threw it away with Seville II.
The 1980 Seville may have “come with” the gas V8, but the standard engine was an Oldsmobile diesel.
As a car-crazed preteen when the Seville came out I can assure you that it was quite a big deal at the time. There was a lot of pre-release hype on network news and in newspapers about the upcoming “Baby Cadillac”, and there was a buzz of curiosity about the car. Once it was released it was quite well received and considered very chic among the glamor set. Most of my parents’ friends seemed to feel that it was the first Cadillac they’d consider owning (their group was made up of hardcore Oldsmobile owners in the ’70’s, with a smattering of Chryslers and Buicks.) There was a family we were acquainted but not close with who owned 2 Diesel 1st gen Sevilles by the late 70’s, but those people were considered to be overly flashy in their choices. I do remember as a kid that when my friends and I were traveling together with some or another parent on the way to or from swim meets, etc we would always point out and comment on the new “Baby Cadillac” if we saw one.
I think the black and silver Elegante (the car with the wire wheels) is a fairly attractive car. Ditching the vinyl roof was a smart move for the package.Here’s one out in the real world.
A guy a work had this wire wheel and tire combination on his ’76 Seville, but was painted solid black with black vinyl roof, it really looked nice. Could only find a 2 door for picture, his was 4 door.
Interesting that there was never a Seville coupe.
There were about 400 coupes built by a conversion firm in Westlake Village for new car dealers.
Too late to edit, the coupe was called Cadillac Seville San Remo, the company was called Coach Design Group and built them for SoCal dealers Hillcrest Motor Company of Beverley Hills and Ogner Motors of Woodland Hills, both premier Cadillac dealers. 400 were built in 1977, don’t know how many were built in total. They were conversions from 4 door cars. There may have been other conversions from other companies as well, not sure.
When I click the link it goes to a Seville sedan. Intended?
The first link (above Old Pete’s observation there was never a Seville coupe) shows the coupe.
In an Inverse CC Effect, I just saw an early Seville at a used car lot in Maryland yesterday!
For many years, I’ve had a see-saw relationship with the Seville. I go from disliking it due to its bland styling and plebeian Nova roots… on to admiring it for its relative straightforwardness and its appropriate response to imported luxury cars.
What keeps swaying me is the styling; I’ve just never warmed up to it. Cadillacs should inspire emotions, and for me, the First Generation Seville just doesn’t. The rear, to me, is the most offending culprit. The rear decklid seems unusually low, the tail lights too small, and the overall effect just not imposing the way Cadillacs ought to be.
Then again, maybe I’m biased, since I’m one of the few who actually likes its successor, the bustle-back ’80-85 Seville. That one definitely inspires emotions. But I often wonder what kind of effect the bustle-back design would have had, if it had been introduced in 1976 instead?
One thing that the Seville got right that eluded American stylists in the 70s and occasionally gives some fits today: pulling the wheels out to the edge of the opening. The Seville looks wide and sure-footed compared to how tucked-under the 70s’ skinny whitewalls usually were. Between the long dash-to-axle ratio and the wheel track out to the edges, the Seville’s proportions and stance are far better than its humble roots and GM source would otherwise promise. Replace all Seville specific suspension and steering items with their Z28 versions and have an original STS.
I was thinking to do that to the suspension. Throw in an LS motor with 4L80E while you’re at it, and call it a day.
This sounds so appealing a plan, that I’m tempted to ask Eric703 where in MD he saw one of these. Another upside: that Caddy will be comfortable to sleep in parked next to my other project vehicles.
The Seville was located on US-40 in either Havre de Grace or Aberdeen. I was travelling westbound (i.e., towards Baltimore) on US-40, and the Seville was on a small used car lot on the right-hand side. The lot is one of those smaller businesses on a property that looked like it had formerly been a gas station.
I didn’t get a good look at it, but it may be dark brown (or some other dark color that appeared brown in evening light). I have no idea about the condition of the car, or the reputation of the dealer.
And it was just yesterday when I saw it, so chances are, it’s still there…
I’m going to convince myself that this is not a recipe for domestic bliss, no matter how cool it would be.
Quite true. Domestic bliss and 40-year-old Cadillacs on used car lots are concepts that are rarely mentioned together.
The pair of 56 year old Willy’s Wagons are already straining enough.
Interesting that the more “plebian”(?) Chevy Nova of this era was compared by Car&Driver to the 5 series BMW, at least in styling, while the much more expensive Cadillac was compared to the top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz….for dimensions and performance.
I always thought that these were fairly good looking cars, but never really saw the interior when they were new and didn’t know they were THE most expensive Cadillac until I read a previous article here. For a mid-late 70s Cadillac, the interior isn’t too bad, but the designers definitely should have tried to copy the Europeans when it came to the instrument panel/dashboard. As the owner of a 77 Nova, there doesn’t seem to be much commonality with the “original” Chevy design except for the vents at the top of the dash.
I have seen about 5 or 6 of these cars on the various Craigslists in my area in the past year, one seller even had 2 on offer. All seem to look like this one pictured here: lacking whitewalls (which I believe are essential to “the correct look”) and missing the bumper filler pieces.
One car that I wouldn’t mind owning in nearly any color combination offered by the factory….even that execrable banana slug yellow with a yellow roof and interior.
It’s unfortunate that the Seville only had speedo and gas gauges. However, the trip computer offered in ’78-’79 models had readouts for rpm, voltage, and engine temp, but not all at the same time.
That “trip computer” is almost laughable, buttons for speed, time, AND clock?
Sadly enough, a digital quartz clock was still something of a big deal then. Quartz watches had only been available for 7 years when the Seville bowed, and digital ones only 4. That trip computer looked like something out of Skylab to car buyers then.
The speed and the clock were continuously displayed. Speed where the original mechanical speedometer would have been, and time where the standard mechanical digital clock was.
The “clock” button was to set the clock.
Lincoln didn’t waste any time catching up with Cadillac. In 1980, when the new, down-sized Continental coupe and sedan, and the new Mark VI were introduced, both were available with a similar digital dash arrangement.
What did the Arrive button do? Calculate arrival time based on average speed, after you had entered the trip distance?
You answered your own question.
I don’t know how valuable this feature was, but you could enter the distance in miles to your destination and the car would display your estimated arrival time based on speed/stops.
The Lincoln digital dash had this feature, as well.
Here’s the electronic digital instrument panel from a 1981 Lincoln Mark VI. In my opinion, a much nicer layout.
I have always admired the first generation Seville. At the time of its introduction I thought it the right Cadillac for the times. I didn’t view it as a stretched Nova but as a Cadillac from which (almost) all of the wretched excess had been trimmed. I do, of course, agree with the complaint that GM soon made all the children dress just like the Seville, and I agree that was a mistake.
In that context, I can understand the reasoning behind the bustle-back generation; an attempt to bring back distinctiveness. However, I thought that the bustle-back was a step in the wrong direction: Cadillac should have gone with more modern styling not retreated to the 30’s. Although I’m not a huge fan of the ‘Art and Science’ look Cadillac uses, I do think that some variant of that styling would have been a good direction in 1980. But…that’s just dreaming.
Again, we have the ‘did you know the first Seville was just a fancy Nova’ old saw, like it’s diminished simply because GM started with an old platform. I still occassionally also read the old saw that the Continental Mark III(1969-1971) is just a tarted-up Thunderbird. So, people, look at the 1975 Nova sedan again, and now take a look at the ’77 Seville again. What part of the Seville resembles any mid-70s Nova? If you are thinking ‘nothing’, you’re on the right track. Also, Road&Track Magazine, a publication that never roadtested a previous Cadillac was so keen on testing a ’76 Seville(during the time when the L.A. GM press fleet had no Sevilles to give out), that they borrowed a brand new one from a dealer close to their editorial offices in Newport Beach, CA. They concluded that while the Seville was no Mercedes-Benz, it was a very good Cadillac, designed to appeal to the Cadillac buyer looking for a smaller model Cadillac while unwilling to give up anything that they’d expect to find on a Sedan deVille.
Last year I bought a All original 1978 Cadillac Coupe DeVille has 17000 original miles. Original Wire wheels its a beautiful machine!
One of the few 70s cars that combined both “tacky” and “tasteful”.
Reminds Me Of The 1986 Movie The Hitcher.Great Movie.
thought it funny that the first model name in each X-Body derivative in GM’s divisions spelt out N.O.V.A.S
Nova – Chevrolet
Omega – Oldsmobile
Ventura – Pontiac
Apollo – Buick
Seville – Cadillac
Would have been smarter to use the GM Intermediate A-body, then it was using the rear leaf springed, X-body. It was a lovely Nova, but not a ‘real’ luxury car by any stretch of the imagination.
They may have spent a fortune engineering it to look different and drive a bit better. They charged for it too. At $12,479 base price, it was over three times the price of Seville’s lesser siblings. It was also the most expensive 1975 Cadillac Model, save the Factory Limos. Seville used a fuel injected version Oldsmobile 350 V8.
For example a 1975 Buick Apollo base price was $4,170.
A competitor for BMW 5-Series or Mercedes 280, this Seville was not, except in price.
For comparison a 1975 BMW 530I base was $9,097 (the 3.0SI 13,752) and 1975 Mercedes-Benz 280, $12,756 (the 280S $15,057)
Using the “A” platform for it would cause a conflict with the upcoming 1977 “C” body. The 1977 “C” was inches from the 1977 “B”, The bad part comes in when you consider that the 1973-77 “A” is basically the same size as a 1977 “B”. This would make a Seville the size of a Buick LeSabre by 1977, Granted it would be a LITTLE smaller than a 77 DeVille, but not enough size difference to matter. Bad enough that GM would crowd out whatever uniqueness Seville had by making almost every 80-81 RWD “A” body sedan look like it!
I rather like the original Seville and the departure it represents from the bloated and corpulent styling of GM’s 1971-76 full-size lineup. Given the long lead times needed for development, it must have been conceived prior to the 1973-74 Arab oil crisis and, in the context of $0.28/gallon gas prices, the wallowing soft riding competition from early Seventies Ford and the overall trend toward excess, Cadillac made some courageous choices at a time when nobody was predicting the need for rationality in car design.
The Seville was also a thorough-going effort to break the mold and set a new standard for American luxury cars. The cynical response to the exigencies of the day demonstrated by Ford with the Lincoln Versailles stood in glaring contrast to the Seville.
While not in the same class as the contemporary Mercedes S series or the first BMW 5 series in terms of ride and handling dynamics, the Seville at least was competitive and thoroughly American in style when that was not such a bad thing.
The only substantial drawback of using the X-body as a basis was the leaf springs out back, otherwise I never understood why people are so quick to call the Seville a Nova in drag but not accuse a Deville of being an Impala in drag.
I think these cars were the exact right first step GM needed to take to make an American Mercedes fighter with the recourses available. Basing it on an Opel, as opposed to reality, just seemed destined to fail, and indeed a quarter century later when GM did exactly that with the Catara(Opel Omega), it flopped. So DS status of these never sat right with me, despite many valid criticisms. The sin came solely with the bustleback second generation, which essentially turned the Seville right back into a traditional Cadillac, a 4 door Eldorado specifically.
The Sheer look styling certainly had it’s place, these, the 77/80 B bodies and the 78/81 A/G bodies had some real good looking models using the look. It should have ended the moment the following waves of downsizing happened though, it should have never seen 1985 except on the carryover RWD cars.
The Nova was designed first to be cheap. In 1965, no one imagined that the 68 Nova would evolve into America’s most expensive car. The 1971 Impala was intended to be good enough to be an adequate Cadillac.
The Seville started out as a Nova, but the production model was not a Nova, which is why it was so expensive.
The retail price of the Seville had nothing to do with the cost of its tooling.
I have seen somewhere that the Seville’s cost to develop put it into the Fleetwood price range. I have not been able to find a reference on the internet though. This is close though
The target price was supposed to be $8000
The Seville’s asking price had nothing to do with tooling or costs. The only way to give it the snob appeal that Cadillac was hoping for it was to price it higher than the traditional Cadillacs and have it be quite well equipped.
If they had sold it for less than the DeVille, its image would have been as a “lesser Cadillac”, or “cheap Cadillac”. That was one of the big issues with the Cimmaron.
Mercedes were more expensive than DeVilles, so the Seville had to be too.
Paul, would the Cimarron have worked if they’d started with an 81 Jetta or an 81 Accord?
The Impala was a DeVille in drag. Which explains a lot, actually.
Not a Deadly Sin IMO. A new styling direction that looked very elegant, good proportions and a more reasonable size that showed buyers that smaller cars need not be penalty boxes. The real deadly sins were the second gen Seville (ugh!) and GM’s obsessive copying of the first gens upright sheer styling throughout the lineup.
Oh, the Seville deserves Deadly Sin status, but in the perverse GM world, it’s for the complete opposite of the usual reasons. It wasn’t a bad car and sold well, and at a big profit margin, too. The Seville gets a DS because, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, it was a “catastrophic success”.
The Seville’s failing was it opened the door and cleared the way for the later Cimarron, which was one of the bigger examples of a GM DS. If not for the Seville, the Cimarron might not have been green-lit for production.
Regarding GM copying the Seville’s styling throughout the other divisions, honestly at first glance I mistook the subject car for a Buick or maybe and Oldsmobile. I know the Seville came first, and I can see how it probably seemed new and different at the time. But since it debuted a few years before I was born I was exposed to those other, much more common, GM cars first, and therefore associate that styling with them. In other words, to me this car doesn’t look like a Cadillac; it looks like a generic GM car.
In the interior shot of the subject Seville, right next to his cup of iced coffee, appears to be a hand-held air horn. Do you think the under hood one was kaput?
Massachusetts roads… you’ll never know when you might need it ?
The rear of the Seville says Olds Cutlass all over it.
And the Cutlass was a fancied up F-85.
The Seville debuted first. That Cutlass sedan didn’t debut until the 1980 model year, which was the same year that the second-generation Seville was introduced.
+1 that and these Cutlasses were originally designed as the much malaigned aerobacks for 78, making them look like a first gen Seville was no doubt damage control on some level.
When the Seville debuted, even non car types were talking about it.. A small Cadillac with its vertical back window was so radical for the times, but it even had newly legal square headlights! Totally radical.
Every 1975 Cadillac already featured rectangular sealed-beam headlights when the Seville debuted.
Very true, I only meant to point out how different it looked from the competition.
And yet it didn’t use the typical Cadillac rear end treatment, bumper blades and fins. Was that even more radical?
Exceptional write-up, Brendan – I like your take!
This jogged my memory for some reason… When I was first learning to identify cars (and I really have no explanation for this), I would sometimes get the back of these Sevilles confused with the back of the late-70s Pontiac Grand Prix. There really aren’t that many similarities, outside of blocky, outboard taillamps and the placement of the license plate.
Thanks Joe, and I can relate. When I was a kid I used to think the 1991-1996 Oldsmobile was related to the “whale” B-bodies due to their similarities in styling cues.
I think what Cadillac set out to do was make a smaller and lower priced Cadillac. So starting with the Nova body made sense as it should have been possible to make a smaller and cheaper Cadillac out of that. However, the Nova was not designed to be a Cadillac. By the time they got the Nova body where it was considered to be good enough to be a Cadillac, they probably needed all new tooling to make it which pushed the price of building into Fleetwood territory.
Mercedes was building “safety cage” bodies, which were smaller but far better structurally than lets say the 1961 Lincoln’s, which were unibodies, but not really safety cages.
The nose bleed pricing of the 1st Gen Seville had little to do with tooling–there was minimal new tooling. It was partially the very lavish standard equipment, partially the scarcity compared to De villes, and partially the enhanced snob value. If you bought a Seville, people knew you had enough money to buy a Seville. You weren’t some schlub who decided to treat yourself this time to a de Ville instead of an Electra.
On the pricing spectrum, it filled a legitimate place between de ville and Mercedes S class, even if the actual metal for the money didn’t make sense. This may not have been the car it should have been, but it was a real niche.
It had nothing to do with tooling or costs. The only way to give it the snob appeal that Cadillac was hoping for it was to price it higher than the traditional Cadillacs and have it be quite well equipped.
If they had sold it for less than the DeVille, its image would have been as a “lesser Cadillac”, or “cheap Cadillac”. That was one of the big issues with the Cimmaron.
Mercedes were more expensive than DeVilles, so the Seville had to too.
How much of the Seville’s ability to carry its price came down to its equipment level? If you loaded a Sedan or Coupe DeVille up with Twilight Sentinel, leather, and all the things we take for granted today in a rental car; how much would it have cost relative to a Seville?
Does anyone remember the plastic strips running between the wheels to hide the ugly underpinnings?
And some plastic panels at the doors to hide some hinge parts?
I have an interesting question for you Brendan.
As you said in your writeup, the Seville was aimed at the young, successful, hip up and comer to bring them back to the domestic fold. Sort of like a 1970’s version of you!?
It did a bit but obviously not as much as Cadillac wanted.
Is there something in this day and age that might appeal to you as a representative from that viewpoint or has the time set for domestic/ imported cross shopping?
If I understand your question correctly, if there is one American car I can say appeals to me in that sense, it is the Tesla Model S.
Beyond that, I can’t really say that there’s another high-end American car that appeals to me for its level of status and head turning presence. Lincoln and Chrysler have no appeal at all to me.
I do like the exterior styling of some of the new Cadillac sedans, but overall they don’t appeal to me as something I’d want to own or something that draws positive attention to. And believe me, Cadillac’s buyers still skew considerably older. I have a friend who was a finance manager at Cadillac between BMW and Audi where she works now. Apart from the Escalade, she said nearly every Cadillac buyer was over 50.
We do see the ‘Honda Element effect’ here…
When Honda Element was introduced, the design and functionality were aimed at the young, active demographic. Unfortunately, the older group of people, 50 and older, loved the higher seat and higher roof as well as its practicability so they bought them in droves. Hence, the age group skewed much higher than Honda wanted. The younger people seeing lot of older people driving Honda Element called them ‘geriatic special’ and avoided them.
Perhaps driving Cadillac Seville was the equivalent of ‘nip-n-tuck’ for the seniors?
How about the Chevy SS ? So sad to see this model go away. The Seville was long rumored to arrive as the LaSalle. BTW, Brendon you should hit the Spindles car show at the Marshfield fairgrounds this weekend. It looks like it will be on the raindate of Monday the 4th. 100’s of cars. Good material for future articles.
My dad bought a brand new Seville, his first Cadillac, in 1976. Fresh off the lot it was an impressive car at the time. I’d driven probably every 60s-70s model Caddie ever made as a teenage lot boy/mechanic’s helper at a local dealership, and the Seville was such a departure from the land barges when introduced. But, in a matter of a couple of years dad had a stack of service records 3 inches tall…multiple failing window regulators, electrical gremlins, weird vibrations. Then, darned if he didn’t go buy the first model year of the next generation bustleback Seville…with the diesel no less, which is a whole different story. I tried to tell him, but hey, I was driving a Sunbeam Alpine at the time, so we were on totally different wavelengths.
While I wasn’t a big fan of the first gen Seville when it came out It’s kind of grown on me. In retrospect it has a classy, knife edged look to it. seems like now it would make the basis for a fine fast luxo-touring car. As mentioned before an LS swap for more power and there are plenty of x and f body suspension upgrades available to make this little Caddy a very nice handling machine. It certainly would be a sleeper.
One minor correction: the Seville failed to attract younger buyers. The average age was 57 vs 52 for other Cadillacs.
Its success with women is highly predictable: they had been complaining about the Cadillac’s excessive length for a long time. Cadillac tried to appease them with the short deck cars in 1962-1963, but that was not nearly enough. The truth of the matter is that women are a lot more practical about a lot of things, especially when it comes to oversized cars and trucks.
Ever since compacts arrived and became popular, women wanted a compact Cadillac. The finally got one in the Seville.
But Cadillac made no progress at all with the younger demographic; rather the opposite. Which explains why I called it a Deadly Sin. It sold well, but not at all to the younger import-buying generation that was then becoming more important and influential by the day.
I think a lot of our readers were very young when the Seville came out, and thus very influenced by it. But if you were a successful youngish professional in a big city/California, the Seville was the last thing you’d consider. Everyone driving them was old, or a oldish woman.
The Seville was far too expensive to attract younger buyers (like 35 to 45). I think Cadillac would have been better off using a modified mid-size body on frame platform if they had wanted a lower priced small Cadillac. I liked the Seville when it was new, but it was too expensive. Priced like the Buick Riviera it would have been affordable.
The 50,000 buyers Cadillac wanted for the Seville were considering spending at least as much money for a Mercedes as a Seville. The price wasn’t a problem if the target audience wanted the car.
The Mercedes 450 SEL was about $40,000 while the Seville started at $12,500. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercedes-Benz_450SEL_6.9
No. A 1975 450SE listed at $18,333. Please don’t compare the Seville to the 6.9; it was in a whole different league.
The Seville was far too expensive to attract younger buyers (like 35 to 45).
Not necessarily, in places like LA, NY, etc. I bought my 300E in 1985 when I was 33. There were lots of Yuppies my age or so buying Mercedes and BMWs and Porsches and Saabs and other imports. Not Cadillacs, though.
It was not a matter of price; it was a matter of appeal. Don’t forget leasing was quite common then; that’s how I got my Mercedes within my budget.
YES eventually the downsized 1977 RWD Cadillac C (later becoming D) Bodies did used a modified RWD mid-size body on frame construction which were derived from the 1973-77 RWD A-Bodies collectively known as the: Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu, El Camino, Monte Carlo, GMC Sprint, Pontiac LeMans, Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Cutlass Supreme, Buick Century & Regal. In addition, the downsized RWD B-Bodies in 1977 used a shorter RWD Body on Frame version of the RWD C-Bodies. So all in all, the RWD B & C/D Bodies were all based on a modified RWD A-Bodied Chevelle platform.
I’m way too young to accurately comment on the demographics, but my take away based on modern day observations is that the Seville was fighting a losing battle no matter the end product. Mercedes momentum was way too strong to be deterred by 1975 and Cadillac wasn’t going to drop the median age with one single model in a showroom still full of stuffy old men still buying the land yacts.
The deadly sin then would be Cadillac/GM not seeing the tide turning out of their favor in the 60s and coming out with this car 5 or so years earlier than it did. Playing catchup and proclaiming “me too” isn’t the recipe for cool, I see that today with products responding to, rather than pioneering, new technology, and that was unfortunately GM’s usual approach. The Seville may be used as a posterchild for that corporate deadly sin, and that I would agree with, but so many products they had were belated responses, and some were successful despite it, while others weren’t.
I think in the case of the Seville it was a success as an individual model, especially considering what it is. Cadillac the brand wasn’t saved by it but Cadillac the brand clung hard to the baroque DeVille/Eldorado mentality, those cars never shook it in their 77 and 79 redesigns either, and even the 80 Seville itself regressed back into that baroque look that was probably turning people off to begin with. The Sheer look itself should have probably been used with more restraint, not spreading beyond Cadillac. That certainly didn’t help.
I agree very much with your first two paragraphs. That’s the essence of why I call it a DS.
And why I wrote this:https://www.curbsideclassic.com/alternate-history/automotive-alter-history-1965-cadillac-seville-the-car-that-beat-back-mercedes-and-became-a-global-best-seller/
“The truth of the matter is that women are a lot more practical about a lot of things, especially when it comes to oversized cars and trucks.”
Does that mean that the Hummer H2, so popular with woman realtors from La Jolla to Charlottesville fifteen years ago, was actually a more practical reskinning of the Suburban? I’ve known far too many women who’ve bought convertibles only to discover they’re incompatible with their hair styles, who buy gigantic SUVs for dogs a little too big to fit in their purses, and who have three vehicles that are all capable of towing their horse trailers to believe women are more practical than men. Women wanted a smaller Cadillac because they wanted the status of a Cadillac without possessing the skill required to park one. Full stop.
Spot on Paul. I just turned 46, and in 1979 my grandmother bought a brand new Baby Blue Metallic Seville. She loved the size as it was the first car since a Mercedes 190SL to fit in her garage, permitting the installation of automatic door openers / closers. She loved that car — kept it 8 years. Until her next (and what was final) Baby Blue Metallic Cadillac.
Some complain endlessly about the RWD Seville being a “Chevy Nova”, ignoring all the years of DeVile sharing parts with Chevys.
Especially the ‘iconic’ 1959, which shared greenhouse/roofs with the “plebian” Biscayne/etc. And their current big icon, the Escalade, being a Chevy Tahoe.
True. GM has had body and other component sharing since the 1930s. And Cadillac reached down to “plebian” ranks before: There was an “B” Body Cadillac into the early 50s. Along with Buick, (Who was the only other line to share the highest of holies “D” body) Cadillac shared the “C” with not only Olds, But Pontiac! THE HORRORS!
So their response to the S Class was to get a low priced compact chassis with cart springs, put a new body on it (albeit one that had to have a vinyl roof to hide weld joins) and grab an engine from another GM brand. The only real similarities to the S class being the size and price of the end product.
Styling wise I think it was a rather good effort and compared to some other products of the era it is almost an example of restrained good taste, but what a cynical way to compete. Their development and engineering effort and costs would have been a fraction of the S class. The fact they sold so many at that price must have had them laughing all the way to the bank, but not for long……
The S class prices were about 2 to 3 times what a Seville cost at the time. The 1976 Seville was around $12,500. An S class was close to $40,000.
No. A 1975 450SE listed at $18,333. Please don’t compare the Seville to the 6.9; it was in a whole different league.
“At its launch in 1975, the 450SEL 6.9 cost DM 69,930.” from wikipedia – conversion is about 2.5
The 6.9 was for a completely different market, and wasn’t available in the US in 1975.
NADA Blue Book
1975 Mercedes-Benz 450SE
4 Door Sedan
Base Price $18,333
Why are you even bringing up the 6.9? It was a very limited production ultra-expensive car. It had nothing to do in terms of what the Seville was competing against.
The Seville competed against the 450 SE/SEL, and the 300TD/280E. The S Class was not its only Mercedes competition; plenty of folks were spending Seville-type money for the W123 mid-size Mercedes, as well as cars like the BMW 5 Series, etc..
As it turned out, the Seville was simply not competitive against the imports. As Brendan said, only 15% of Seville buyers came from imports, and import sales grew strongly during this time.
The 450SEL 6.9 is in a COMPLETELY different league than a 450SE. It is sort of like using the price of a new BMW M3 as a descriptor of 3-series pricing, i.e. not a valid description. Or an even better simile is using the price of a RAM 3500 Dually Megacab with a Cummins engine when describing what the RAM pickup truck line starts at.
The “6.9” part is the issue if that’s unclear.
OK, the Mercedes 230 in 1976 was priced near $11,000 making it nearly as expensive as the Fleetwood sedan, or more than the De Ville, which was about $9,000 before options. The 230 is the low end of Mercedes in the NADA blue book.
You seem to forget (or conveniently ignored) the ‘poverty special’ 280S with carburetted 2.8-litre straight six starting at $15,057 ($70,743.62 adjusted for inflation). 280S was upgraded to 280SE with fuel injection for 1977 model year.
I had not been aware that I could find “new” prices for classic cars from the NADA website. But that is really not the issue. Cadillac had done marketing research (surveys) which indicated that a small Cadillac would have a market. I think that Cadillac started out thinking that the X-body (Chevy Nova) could be transformed into a suitable luxury car with some minor refinements and then assembled on an existing X-body assembly line at very low cost. In the end all the refinements resulted in the Seville not being an X-body, but was called a K-body. It was assembled in Detroit, where there were no X-body assembly lines. So either the Seville was assembled on a C-body assembly line (which I doubt) or an assembly line was established for it in an existing factory.
I don’t dispute the point that the final retail price had little to do with the actual cost of building it, but the cost of building it in the end had a lot to do with what the minimum price tag could be. I think that what sales could be was a guess. Marketed as a small de Ville with a nice selection of interior appointments (which is where the big difference is between the Calais and the de Ville) sales might have been quite good, but it might well have cost as much as the de Ville which probably would not do.
It is funny but these completely escaped my radar at the time. I am sure I remember the hoopla surrounding their release, but I was a) into big land barges and b) into Lincolns and Chryslers. Cadillacs were of no interest to me and when they came out with a new small one I just didn’t really care. It is amazing but I have zero memory of any impression of the car at the time.
In later years I worked for a guy who had bought one used from his father. It was probably 8 years old and getting a little ratty but still seemed to run and drive well enough. Cadillac did know how to make a nice red leather interior, I will give them that.
All I know is that I don’t look at these as askance as I once did after snagging a ride in Sevair’s silver on red(!) Seville that he brought to Auburn a few years ago. While I was not in a very valid position to really judge it relative to its competition when new, it was a good experience riding around Auburn almost forty years later.
this website article http://autosofinterest.com/2012/05/22/design-notes-1975-cadillac-seville/ suggests that Cadillac’s target price for the small Cadillac was $8000, which would have been less than the Calais. The Calais sales were not great at less than 10,000 while Deville sales are 170,000 or so. The Fleetwood Brougham sales run 20,000 to 25,000.
If the Seville had been a low priced Cadillac sales would have been difficult to predict, although I think it would have done better than the Calais. Pricing it in the Fleetwood range would also have made predicting sales difficult, but as it turned out sales were comparable to the Eldorado, which sold much better than the Fleetwood Brougham. I suspect that they had expected to build it for Nova like costs, but in the end it was much more expensive than that. So if sales were going to be about 15,000 then they needed a different business model to make it profitable.
Cadillac’s sales target wasn’t 15K per year. That would have been a disaster. Information based on that number obviously is wrong. The 1st gen Seville averaged almost 50K per year, which was about 15 percent of the brand’s volume.
The function of the absurd pricing was to give this sawed-off runt snob value instead of selling it as a lesser alternative. Cadillac didn’t want or need a cheaper car than the De Ville, they needed an alternative for the buyers they were losing to M-B and other prestige imports.
Do you have proof?
The 76-79 Seville was a “masterpiece” compared to the hideous bustleback nightmare that succeeded it. Bill Mitchell’s deadly sin.
The big beautiful 72-80 Mercedes S class sedans are almost timeless in so many ways. Beautifully crafted inside and out, durable, and they’ll practically run forever; unlike the fragile, failure prone Cadillac’s, especially the diesels.
Cadillac’s non-diesel drivetrains during the 1970s were quite robust. A lack of drivetrain durability wasn’t the problem with 1970s Cadillacs.
Cadillac drivetrains in the 70s was better than Mercedes drivetrain. It wasn’t before the 4.1 HT (1982) and the Olds 5.7 Diesel engines the engines were bad. The 472/500/425/368 was and is one of the most reliable and durable engines ever produced. Not high technology, but quiet, durable and reliable.
MB had problems with it’s automatic gearbox on some models, and problem with it’s carburators on the inline 6 engines in the 70s.The MB also lacked equipment and I think the ride of the S-class is quite harsh and the sound level at 60 mph is higher than in a Chevrolet Caprice from the same era.
But else, it’s quite timeless and the workmanship was outstanding.
On a rare occasion when I see an old ’70s luxury car on the road it’s always an old Mercedes Benz. Particularly the diesels. Old Caddies didn’t age well, and were not the greatest mechanically, complete with their infamous manifold leaks that could be heard a block away. Most american made automobiles back in the dark ages weren’t designed and built to last a very long time.
I think the last time I saw one of those 76-79 Seville’s on the road was in the mid ’80s. They just didn’t last very long, period. The 80-85 Seville’s disappeared even faster.
Mercedes Benz built the most technically advanced, some of the prettiest, best engineered, and some of the most durable and safest automobiles in the ’70s. Many ’70s era MB’s lasted well beyond the 200,000 mile mark. Most ’70s era american cars were done by the time they reached the 80K mark.
Comparing a ’70s Cadillac to a ’70s Mercedes Benz is like comparing a Motel 6 to the New York Park Sheraton.
I’m sorry but this is not true.
Most american V8s and I6’s from this era easily made it passed 200.000 miles. The I4 in the Chevrolet Vega was maybe finished at 80.000 miles, but the 80.000 miles rule was more of a European rule, 130.000 kms for the smaler and cheaper cars.
MB the best in the 70s? Maybe, but they lacked a lot of comfort creatures, the automatic gearbox was hard shifting, and sound deadening was still very sparse.
A 1975 Cadillac with the 500 cid, TH400 and a 12 bolt rear end will last as long as any Mercedes from the 70s in terms of durability, if you could afford to fill it up with fuel. MB had better quality and materials in the interior in this decade, but the american drivetrain was simple, very durable and reliable, more like the MB diesel (who was embarrasing slow).
In Norway the MB diesel taxis went about 300.000 kms(200.000 miles) as a taxi in the 70s, in those days some still used american cabs, note that we are talking the cheapest Chevrolet or Plymouth, and som of them ran over 600.000 miles as a taxi cab with the same drivetrain.
In Norway you will see more of the american cars from the 70s than anything else from the 70s. I own both a 67 Riviera and a 74 280S, the first one is a better car to drive, especially on bad roads. The W116 was and is a very good car, but it’s not like it’s another league than, say the Lincolns of the 70s, it’s just different.
At that time Cadillac’s main clientele were members of the greatest generation. A lot of them would not entertain any thought of buying a German car. Take my grandparents on my Dad’s side. They were Jewish. My grandfather fought in Europe in WWII and help to liberate some of those camps. With what he saw, he vowed never to buy German if he could help it. If my grandparents had been faced with buying a Benz or taking the bus, they would have gladly taken the bus. My grandparents were very well off and could have bought any car. But my granddad always bought a Buick (except for the 1980 Malibu that was bought as a spare car). I remember my father telling me that when he(my dad) bought a VW, things were quite frosty around that household until my father wrecked the thing.
I suspect there were a lot of folks that bought American luxury cars at that time and shared that same sentiment. Mercedes might make the world best luxury car in the world and they want no part of the car.
To the extent that it was possible, (West) Germany had been rehabilitated in the US by 1975. West Germany was an ally against the USSR, and most Americans had a positive image of the modern country. The Beetle had been loved by a generation that was ready for its own luxury cars. While hardline Jews and WW2 holdouts were not an insignificant factor, most of the Mercedes target audience (a younger, wealthier, and more educated slice of the Cadillac constituency) was willing to consider Japanese and German products on their merits.
Thank you both Paul and Brendan for your viewpoints.
I know talking to my son and his friends, who are early twenties and starting to think of their first new “beginner” cars there is no comparing. Either they are into pickups, muscle cars or imports. When I listen to them talk I understand why average for lack of better wording domestic vehicles are in trouble. I hear Nissan, kia, Hyundai and Toyotas. Mention GM, Ford or Chrysler and you get that “must pretend to be nice to the parent look ?”
And I would presume that point of view will continue as they climb the automotive food chain.
When I look at my viewpoint at that age (late eighties) to now it really makes me wonder if there is going to even be much of a traditional domestic car market in thirty years.
Thanks again to all. Besides enjoyable, CC can really make you think!
over the last 5 years I think the GM, Ford and Chryslers market share has been stable, along with Toyota and Honda, these are the top 5.
About the DS article, there is two sides to this car, It was both perhaps the peak of a vigorous golden age, but it also showed all the signs of an advanced mortality.
But “We couldn’t use the Opel Diplomat because *the tolerances were too tight*” sounds like a complete over-simplification. Back then, Opel and GMNA were completely different companies which shared a styling department. Their production processes/ methods/ systems were completely different. You couldn’t just dump off a bunch of German blueprints at a Detroit factory and expect to see cars coming out of the other end. It would be like asking GMNA to build BMWs instead of Novas.
GM tried the world car thing in the early 2000s, and the resulting Chevy Malibu and Opel Vectra shared a lot of basic engineering, but were very different under the skin, every region had its own incompatible version.
It wasn’t until the late 2000s when GM had standardized its procedures enough that they could take tooling from Germany, send it to Canada, and start making Buick Regals. Expecting that they could do this within a short timeframe back in the 1970s is just totally never-would-have-happened. The only way the Seville could have been an Opel in drag is if they decided to build them in West Germany.
I really loved these Sevilles and felt in a somewhat limited way they were a game changer for Cadillac. Imagine for a moment though if Cadillac had concurrently released a Seville STS with less chrome, much sportier suspension, and a euro-type dashboard lifted from the Senator or even sourced from a competitor. I wonder if that would have gained any traction in the younger market.
I have to say, it’s kind of a let-down when you think about the fact this was the last Cadillac Elvis ever bought. I wonder what he would have thought about the way these would be regarded years later.
On a more positive note, I can’t help but stare at that beautiful 2-Series in the background of the first two photos! 😉
About 30 years ago I was at an Elvis exhibit and what was billed as his actual Seville was on display. It was the first time I saw a gen1, and I was shocked how much that Cadillac looked like our 1981 Buick Century sedan.
Elvis Presley’s 1977 Cadillac Seville:
I could talk about this generation of Seville forever.
It was the first car I fell in love with. I saw it in May 1975, at Robinson Chevrolet Cadillac in Kenosha, Wisconsin when I was 10.
I would kill for a pristine 1976.
My parents purchased a brand new Seville in 1977. It was bright red/white vinyl top with a while interior. Even as a little kid I didn’t like the red/white combo, but my mother liked red.
The biggest issue they had with the Seville was with the primitive, and extremely problematic fuel injection system. When it worked properly the car ran quite well compared to a carburetor.
Another ongoing problem with the Seville was with the headlamps constantly going out of alignment. My father kept an ample supply of headlamp aiming screws and a screwdriver in the glovebox for emergency repairs.
The paint didn’t hold up well at all, even though my dad was vigilant about washing and waxing the car. Also the vinyl dash pad developed cracks after a couple of years.
After much debate my parents decided to sell the Seville. My father was turned on by a 1981 Audi 5000 diesel that his business associate recently purchased. Unfortunately my mother wanted another Cadillac and settled on purchasing an ugly dark brown (not red?) 1981 Eldorado V8,6,4. That Eldorado was an absolute pile of junk. It made my mother, a longtime lover of Cadillac’s, despise the brand.
The Eldorado was eventually replaced (hip, hip HORRRRAY!) with a very lovey and extremely reliable 1984 Volvo 760 that eventually became my first car that I adored.
Did y`all know that Mrs. Betty White drove a Seville too?
So it seems to be right what they said about women and their love for the Sevilles.
Did y`all know that Mrs. Betty White drove a Seville too?
So it seems to be correct what they said about women and their love of the Sevilles.
What impressed me so about the first generation Seville is that when I moved to the SF Bay Area in 1978, they were seen everywhere; and when I left the Bay Area in 1996 they were STILL to be seen everywhere!
Same in LA. Cadillac sold two or three times as many Sevilles as Mercedes sold W123 and W116 6-cylinder sedans. Even if the median age was a tad older for the Cadillac — does anyone have the Mercedes demos? — Seville probably outsold Mercedes in the 35-50 age bracket it’s simple math. Where I grew up everyone loved the Seville — young. old, middle age, didn’t matter — and that’s why we saw them everywhere. Seville was a hot car and as such was cross-shopped against a variety of luxury imports, not just sedans but also the Mercedes SL.
Mr. Saur’s article gives many not-commonly-known details about the development of the first Sevilles, and so does our friend Aaron Severson’s fine article, which I’m sure many of us have read: https://ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories/cadillac-seville/