Curbside Classic: 1978 Cadillac Seville – Nope, Nothing Wrong Here

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(first posted 5/22/2013, as a rebuttal to my Deadly Sin post on the Seville)   Any way you slice it, General Motors made many mistakes in its long history. Good cars, bad cars, government meddling, shrinking vehicles and corporate idiocy all have a part in what New GM is today, and why Old GM perished. Did they learn their lesson? Will they turn it around? It’s too early to tell, but one thing I disagree with is that the original Cadillac Seville was a deadly sin. I just don’t see it.

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I imagine that most of you CCers have read Paul’s DS article on the ’79 Seville (CC here if you haven’t). It was a polarizing article to say the least, and whether you agree or disagree with his assessment, he made a lot of good points. Yes, the Seville’s start came via the X-body Nova–albeit heavily revised and stretched, to the point of being basically a new car–and the success of the car might well have led the corporate drones to decide on the “tart up a cheap platform for obscene profits” M.O. that led to GM’s 2009 downfall. But come on, the Seville was a breath of fresh air for Caddy dealers!

1969 Cadillac-09

Consider: The Cadillac de-contenting started around 1969. Interiors lost the aluminum and real wood trim, dashes became much cheaper-looking and plasticky, and even the steering wheels on 1969-70 models were all black, not color-keyed. To Cadillac’s traditional well-heeled customers, this was cause for dismay, but in my opinion the bones were still solid through ’70; in fact, I consider the ’70 the last of the real no-compromise Cadillacs (1970 Fleetwood Brougham CC here).

1972 Cadillac-a08

But that was just for starters. The 1971 model, despite being a very attractive car in your author’s opinion (perhaps due to my exposure to the oh-so-’80s movie License To Drive; the aqua ’72 in that movie was beautiful before it met its fate) was cheaped out, wallowy, and loosey-goosey in the body/chassis department.

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The 1971-76s were also gigantic; in fact they were the biggest Caddys ever produced, with only the Federal bumper-equipped variants being longer. Not too long after the ’71 B- and C-bodies debuted, GM appeared to realize this, and made plans to shrink their biggest offerings, starting with the next generation.

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But what to do prior to the ’77s debut? Starting in the early ’70s, well-to-do folks were starting to see the merits of a certain three-pointed-star make. And Caddys were getting cheaper (in order to chase more sales volume; Cadillac set a production record in 1973). The wreath and crest was getting a bit tarnished. What to do?

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Solution: offer a smaller Cadillac. Customers had been asking for a small Caddy for some time, well before the M-B started elbowing Cadillac, Lincoln and Imperial towards stage left. It was thought that a smaller version would be popular with not only women, who were not particularly enamored of parallel-parking a mid-’70s FWB or SDV, but as a way of offering a more MB-like Cadillac.

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Thus, the Seville came onto the scene in 1975 as an early ’76. It proved popular, and Cadillac made money on every one, as it was priced at the top of the range–including the venerable Fleetwood Brougham. Only the Series Seventy-Fives were pricier. I have to tell you, I think it was a beautiful car.

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And it sold well. These cars were well made, comfortable, and solid. It had rather advanced engineering for a Cadillac too, with Bendix fuel injection–a feature which, sadly, was trouble. Otherwise, these were every inch a Cadillac, despite the X-body starting point.

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Were they fast? No not really. You want fast, get a Ferrari. Were they heavy? You bet! A plush ride and absolute silence when under way were important to Cadillac customers. If they had utilized less sound insulation, today you’d be hearing about how noisy and rattly they were, not how their 0-60 mph times stunk. We could talk all day about how most post-1974 U.S. cars were slugs–at least when compared to their ’60s forebears.

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A ’76 Seville would hit 60 in about 13 seconds–not great, but consider all the then-primitive emissions devices on the things, not to mention the 4179-lb. shipping weight. It was still about 800 pounds less than a ’78 Eldo, and 140 less than a downsized ’78 Fleetwood Brougham.

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The 1976-79 Seville also ushered in Bill Mitchell’s “sheer look,” with cliff-face nose, tail and roofline. This styling would take the GM lineup by storm, being added to our beloved B-body and C-body GMs in 1977. It would soon become a bit of a cliche, appearing on the mini-Seville 1980-up A/G-body sedans as well, but that was later. In ’76, it was fresh, new and attractive.

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So, the Seville was a success. Its new, tidier dimensions and sheer-faced style was a preview of what was to come on future Cadillacs, it sold well, it was well made, and it started a nameplate that lasted all the way to 2004 (or 2011, if you count the succeeding 2005+ STS).

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Was it perfect? Nope. The Bendix FI was problematic, it was still based upon a plebeian Nova–no matter how well-disguised it was–and performance and handling to match contemporary Mercedes-Benz and BMW sedans could have been a boon. But it was not a Deadly Sin in my book. The next Seville, with its cartoon Hooper bodywork, and choice of self-destructing Olds diesel V8 or, starting in ’82, self-destructing HT4100 V8, would be much more of a contender. But not this one.

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Thanks to PN for providing the photos of this ’78. He couldn’t have taken these without some love for the Seville.

Alternative POV: 1976-1979 Seville: GM’s Deadly Sin #11 – The Sin of Underachieving   PN