(first posted 8/31/2015) In many ways, the second generation Seville looked good on paper. The continued availability of a diesel engine seemed wise, given the popularity of Mercedes’ oilers and the recent oil crises. An entirely new, modern, front-wheel-drive platform also brought Cadillac into the 1980s, and there were newer, more modern gas engines offered shortly after launch. But even if these engines hadn’t been unreliable, the second-generation still would have failed at what was supposed to be its mission. Blame the bustleback.
The first-generation Seville was a paradigm shift for General Motors’ luxury brand. Arriving two years before the downsized DeVille/Fleetwood and four years before the smaller Eldorado, the Seville shared showroom space with giant land yachts and yet was priced higher than the entire range (bar the Fleetwood Series 75 limousine). Higher price no longer equated to greater size: the Seville was based on a version of the compact X-Body platform used by the humble Chevrolet Nova. However, it was extensively revised and featured a completely unique interior and crisp, distinctive exterior styling that was GM’s first use of the [soon to be over-used] “Sheer Look”.
The aim of the game had been to lure in buyers who were moving to the European import brands. Cadillac was still a powerful player in the luxury car market, but GM had acknowledged the growing popularity of cars from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Unfortunately, what GM found was that the inaugural Seville was failing to lure in import buyers: by some accounts, only 15% of Seville buyers had traded in a foreign luxury car, and buyers were barely younger than those of the DeVille.
Still, the first Seville had shown that an internationally-sized Cadillac would sell if it looked the part. Compromises had been made in its development – using an Oldsmobile V8 engine and the X-Body platform as a base, for example – but the modest success of the Seville had surely shown that the basic concept was there, it just needed further refinements to appeal to import buyers.
If anybody realized that, it wasn’t communicated up the chain. One of the most crucial missteps in the development of the second Seville was letting Bill Mitchell have his way.
A talented designer, Mitchell had become the head of styling for GM upon Harley Earl’s retirement in 1958. He had been inspired by European automotive design, and was responsible for the gorgeous first-generation Buick Riviera and Cadillac Eldorado. Although he retired in 1977, one of his last acts was to ensure the second-generation Seville would wear a less desirable styling affectation from some European luxury cars of old: a bustleback.
An homage to old Daimlers and Hooper-bodied Rolls-Royces, the second-generation, Wayne Kady-designed Seville was a jarring neoclassical design in a showroom full of handsome, well-proportioned and modern-looking Cadillacs. Wire wheel covers and vinyl tops, those gaudy additions so popular with Cadillac’s core clientele, served to make Seville 2 even more fussy and tacky to behold. It did have its fans, and in the right colors and from the right angles it could look handsome, but the design was an absolutely baffling choice for Cadillac’s purported import fighter. The kind of people buying BMWs and Benzes – the kind of buyers Cadillac was trying to attract – would scarcely have considered this car.
Underneath styling that harkened back several decades was a platform that looked forward. Seville 2 had moved to the E-Body platform used by the 1979 Cadillac Eldorado, Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Toronado, although it was designated K-Body for the Seville. Front-wheel-drive, four-wheel disc brakes and all-independent suspension with automatic self-levelling were the highlights of the E/K-Body cars. For the first time, the Seville could be optioned with a special touring suspension that offered nicely composed handling, but it wasn’t a popular option.
The interior was richly appointed, with plenty of brightwork and great big slabs of woodgrain trim. It was very much a Cadillac interior, much like the first Seville’s cabin had resembled the downsized ’77 DeVille’s. Where the new Seville had improved was in space utilization and packaging, as the cabin was much more spacious. The second-generation car was not only roomier, it was also appreciably lighter with a weight saving of almost 300 pounds despite almost identical exterior dimensions.
The weight reduction would have been more noticeable were it not for the seriously flawed engines offered. The 368-cu. in. fuel-injected Cadillac V8 was a no-cost option for 1980, putting out 145 hp and 270 ft-lbs (Californians Sevilles used the carryover, fuel-injected 350 Oldsmobile V8 with 160 hp and 265 ft-lbs). However, the 368 V8 would disappear after just one year and never be replaced by an engine its equal.
The rest of the engine range was comprised of the Oldsmobile 350 diesel – actually the standard engine at first – as well as, from mid-1980, the Buick 4.1 V6 with 125 hp and 205 ft-lbs. The diesel engine (as seen in the featured Seville) had been available in the first generation and had very well-known reliability failings, but stuck around until 1985. Where the 368 was rated at 14 mpg in city driving, the diesel was noticeably more economical with a claimed 21 mpg. However, it was painfully slow: while 0-60 in the 368 was around 10.5 seconds, the diesel barely broke the 20 second mark. Diesel Sevilles also had poorer fuel economy and braking than a Mercedes 300SD, although they were considerably cheaper. Official power and torque output for the oiler was 105 hp and 205 ft-lbs.
For 1981, the Cadillac 368 was replaced by a version of the engine with the V8-6-4 cylinder deactivation technology. Developed by the Eaton Corporation, an electronic module controlled the engine’s fuel injectors and opened and closed the valves on two or four cylinders in part-throttle driving. The aim of the game was improved fuel economy, but the technology simply wasn’t there yet. Embarrassingly, Cadillac retired the V8-6-4 engine after just two years; it lasted only a single year in the Seville, Eldorado and DeVille lineups.
The following engine would be little better in terms of reliability, and noticeably worse in terms of performance. The HT-4100 (or “High Technology”) was similar in concept to the horribly unreliable Chevrolet Vega engine a decade earlier, mating iron cylinder heads to an aluminum block. It was more fuel-efficient than the other gas engines employed in the Seville – a four-speed automatic had also become standard fitment, which helped – but it was utterly mediocre in power output: 125 hp and 190 ft-lbs, almost identical to the Buick 4.1 V6. A whopping 210 pounds lighter than the old 368 V8, the HT-4100 was also down a similarly whopping 70 pound-feet of torque.
To add insult to injury, the new engine quickly established a reputation for flakiness, with legions of HT-4100 engines suffering from cracked heads and warped blocks. Unlike the hastily-scrapped V-8-6-4, the HT-4100 stuck around for several years but was eventually improved. The early 1980s was a dark time for GM powertrains as the corporation hurriedly tried to adapt to new fuel economy standards, and weak, unreliable engines like the HT-4100 were a black mark on GM’s reputation. At least the troubled engines of the 1990s (Northstar; 3400 V6) were powerful!
On the road, the Seville was as plush and floaty as any Cadillac. That was a problem: luxury imports had firmer and more composed ride and handling, while the Seville handled like a DeVille. It seemed a peculiar choice, considering the new, modern platform developed for the car. Sure, there was the optional touring suspension, but it was scarcely advertised and rarely ordered. There was also no visibly sporty trim level à la the Eldorado Touring Coupe, although one wonders how convincing a sport-trimmed bustleback Seville would have been.
Like other Cadillacs, the Seville was well-equipped with myriad impressive features. Automatic headlights (or “Twilight Sentinel” in Cadillac speak) were standard, and the Seville was also available with memory seats, electronic climate control, side window defoggers, illuminated entry, and cornering lamps. An upscale Elegante trim was also available with plusher interior trim and a range of two-tone exterior color schemes.
The first half of the 1980s had proved to be embarrassing misstep after humiliating failure. Three unreliable engines. A half-baked Cimarron. It was a horrid start for the decade, and initially the more expensive Seville’s sales slumped by 25% for 1980. The first year of the 1980s wasn’t a great year for the automotive industry, but for Cadillac the following year was even worse as Seville sales fell another 31%, and then another 35% for 1982. Then something funny happened: sales recovered. No, the Seville hadn’t gotten any better, a four-speed automatic and a handful of new geegaws aside, but for some reason Cadillac buyers didn’t mind. For 1984 and 1985, sales figures sat around the 36k mark, lineball with 1980’s numbers.
Of course, those Cadillac buyers were not the ones the Seville had been originally conceived to attract. The median age of Seville buyers had reached 60, a whopping 25 years older than the median import buyer and the same median age as the DeVille. Cadillac had a demographic crisis on its hands as owners were becoming older, less-educated and less wealthy than ever before. 28% of Seville buyers were retired, almost double the industry average and almost quintuple the average for import buyers. While Cadillac volume had increased during the 1970s, they had targeted more blue-collar buyers with lower incomes, the kind of buyer who would be far more likely to cut back on luxury spending during an economic downturn. Adjusted for inflation, the median income of Cadillac buyers had fallen around 25%. These statistics were troubling.
Clearly, Cadillac had made the second Seville just another sedan targeted at the same ageing buyers they had come to rely on. Only the Cimarron was reaching younger buyers, and one can only imagine how Cadillac’s fortunes in the 1980s could have changed if they had invested one iota of effort in differentiating the smallest Caddy from its J-Body counterparts. With the second generation, Cadillac had steered the Seville far, far away from its intended mission. A cushy ride disguised a modern platform. Unreliable engines infuriated buyers. And, the final blow: polarizing looks chased away any would-be import conquests.
The subsequent Seville shrunk to more international dimensions and ditched the controversial bustleback. Unfortunately, it was once again handicapped by styling. Although Cadillac made a more concerted effort to appeal to import buyers (eventually), the wire wheel and vinyl top brigade within GM’s ranks ensured the third generation’s positioning remained confused.
There are some who are fond of the second Seville’s distinctive bustleback styling, and who admire its plush ride and sumptuous interior. As a Seville, though, the second generation was a miscalculation at best and an utter failure at worst. It helped steer the Cadillac division towards irrelevancy and further compounded the marque’s woes during the most disastrous decade of its existence, and one it is still recovering from today. Among the younger generation and particularly in the coastal states, Cadillac is still struggling to shake a reputation for being a manufacturer of “old man cars.” Cadillac could have made assertive moves in the 1980s to appeal to younger, more affluent buyers and helped establish the more cohesive and desirable image then that it is slowly achieving now. Unfortunately, it took baby steps and kneecapped itself with each one.
The second Seville didn’t advance the game for Cadillac, let alone for luxury cars. It didn’t follow its own mission brief. All in all, it was the most misguided of all six generations of Seville/STS.
My Seville/STS Series
Agreed on this being a step away from the original Seville intent. For a long time, any Seville seemed like a scaled down Deville, which appeared to be robbing sales from other models.
My father-in-law had a 1983 Seville. I drove it a time or two before Mrs. Jason and I were married. Having never driven a Cadillac, it was quite fun to do. Years later when test driving an ’05 Deville, Mrs. Jason commented on how it seemed so much like the Seville.
The 4.1 engines were trouble prone, although the one my father-in-law had lasted a mere 177,000 miles before it imploded. That car had other, bigger issues during its life. First, the interior trim started to fall off at around 120,000 miles; before it died, the drivers door panel was being held on with electrical wire he had employed to tie it in place.
Second, and something that was a huge issue in his, was the front suspension. The car went through ball-joints and tie-rods with alarming frequency. The road to his house at the time was about 1.5 to 2.0 miles of gravel that was well maintained, minimizing potholes. The rest of the time the car was driven on good highways. It didn’t matter, as these items quickly wore out. The first time he replaced the ball joints he was alarmed at how small they were, figuring the replacements would also have a short life.
It’s beautiful, elegant, classy. Have experiences with the 4.1 Litre “Digital Injection” V8 and with the 6 Litre V8 ~ 4,6,8. 🙂
Guess I’m old. I’ve always liked this generation of Seville, as long as the wheels are alloy and the vinyl roof isn’t ordered. My personal car would have about 10-15% of the chrome removed, although I’d consider one of the two-tones.
Then again, I’ve always been a fan of the razor-edged Hooper stylings, even to the point of being amused by the Triumph Mayflower.
Bottom line: The Seville, any generation, minus the fake wire wheels and vinyl roof, are the only vintage Cadillacs I’ve ever had a desire to own once you got past the 1958 Cadillac.
GM was really, really good at putting out luxury scrap metal in the ’80s and early ’90s
+1 the only GM cars to interest me at the time were the F bodies.It’s ugly and looks like something from a chop shop the bustleback doesn’t go with the front end. Ugly,expensive to buy and run and poor build quality, what’s to like?
William, thanks for this balanced and in depth article on this controversial car. When Paul did his write up with the junky example interspersed with period new Mercedes pictures, it got a few peoples blood pressure up. No one was surprised that he was not a fan of the car, but the venom was hard to take. My blood pressure was fine after your still negative take. So thank you for that.
I want people to take a mental excersize. What if the A body 6000 STE was instead the eighties Seville. It had youth oriented trim, the HO 2.8 was a match for eta BMW or the 80+percent of W123s that were diesel. Yes even faster than the 280e. Faster than a NA 5000 Audi. The handling was very good with a firm but controlled ride. The interior had the best A body dash with Opel derived seats. If sold at Seville prices it would have been very profitable. If Cadillac had decided to chase the Germans with the Seville, the STE would have been it.
And a total freaking disaster. It would have just been a trim package on a decent but bland mainsteam Celebrity. No standard of the world. A bigger Cimmarron waiting for the 85 Deville to fill out the line up.
Cadillac put the 80 Seville on a modern, luxury platform. It offered the choice of the traditional Cadillac ride or a firmer setup for those interested. The body was an American take on British tradition, but certainly would not be mistaken for being anything but American. Just another bold choice from the people that brought you split rear window Corvettes and boat tail Rivieras. I regret the end of times when stylist took bold chances just because they could. Is it really better to be homogenized, Euro influenced, but built to a price like everything today? Remember, when you spit at things like this, that is what you are asking for.
This Seville shows that it isn’t enough for a design to be “bold.” It should also be attractive, which the 1963-67 Corvettes definitely are. These cars were not. It looks as though two different committees designed each half of the car, and then joined their respective efforts at the B pillar.
These cars were also seriously handicapped by a selection of truly terrible engines. The bad reputation of the Oldsmobile Diesel was well-known by the early 1980s, while the HT-4100 was seriously underpowered even when it was working properly. At least the 1981 variable-displacement engine could have the cylinder deactivation computer easily disabled. The owner then had a conventional 368 cubic-inch V-8, which was a sound engine.
The original Hooper style had a practical aspect. The flat trunk lid opened downward and became a sort of picnic table with built-in toolbox. Caddy could have extended this idea to make a high-class tailgating machine with built-in wet bar. It still would have looked awful, but at least it would have a justification.
I really liked the bustle-back Sevilles. The styling was unique in an increasing sea of box-styling and stood out above the crowd. I always vacillated between the Caddy and the bustle-back Lincoln about which one I liked best.
I suppose you could throw in the Aero-back Monte Carlo SS, too, for styling and being the more practical car though being a coupe!
For some reason I can’t entirely fathom, I tend to associate these ugly second-gen Sevilles with real estate agents. Mercedes, BMW, and Jaguar must have broken into gales of laughter when they saw these cars. A few custom houses turned Sevilles into coupes with better styling results than the factory sedans.
I don’t think I’ve seen a Seville turned into a coupe before; I like it – thanks for posting! 🙂
That’s the first one I’ve seen that wasn’t an extended hood/short cabin coupe with sidemounts. Quite apart from those tacky things, this “normal” Seville coupe actually looks great.
Its technically considered a 4 Door Version of the Eldorado since that’s where the Seville’s platform comes from. This version looks more like a bulkier version of the previous Nova X-Bodied RWD based version.
That got me thinking…
What if Seville had 1979 Eldorado’s rear end rather than the bustleback style?
Exactly what I thought when it first appeared. My Dad had a 1979 Eldorado and I thought it quite the handsome car…its Diesel and the lack of quality in materials and workmanship (such as peeling of the extra-cost Firemist paint on the deck lid, in the exact shape and size of a human hand with fingers spread) notwithstanding. The only reason I could think of then was “to be different”. I did not know about Bill Mitchell’s ego and power at the time.
If it had the Eldorado’s rear styling, it would look very similar to the Nova based RWD Seville. However the BOF chassis (exclusive only to the 2G Seville) would fit perfectly well and would otherwise be different to the 1G version.
Count me in as one who is “fond of the second Seville’s distinctive bustleback styling.” I’ve always liked these cars, particularly with two-tone paint and no vinyl or fake convertible roof. I think the styling is classy and distinctive and was exactly the kind of car that Cadillac needed to stand out in an increasingly competitive 1980s luxury car market.
Of course, I also realize that when I like a car, it’s usually that car’s kiss of death. Yes, the styling isn’t for everyone, and I completely appreciate that fact.
I think the Seville was really sunk by the V8-6-4 engine, the awful diesel, and the rest of the sad drivetrain combinations. People just didn’t associate the Seville with being a car they’d like to drive or own.
Where in VT was this shot? The location looks familiar but I’m not 100% sure. Either way, sweet wheels!
I see interesting cars all of the time but have yet to submit anything to the Cohort. It’s in my near future if I can figure out how to get good pictures.
My first guess was the spectator parking area of the Stowe car show, but some of the pics don’t quite line up for that.
It was the same day I photographed the previously featured Zephyr. Some fair in or near Bennington, they were selling crafts and antiques. They had a huge circus tent set up with a bunch of stalls.
Very cool! I don’t get down to the southern part much. Bennington is also the home of Hemmings.
Cadillacs, more than any other cars have had an emphasis on the rear end styling since the 40’s. With that in mind this doesn’t seem so strange. Unfortunately, this was a love it or hate it design. The styling can be excused, the wimpy engines were a sign of the times, but the lack of quality in these is just not acceptable, especially in a flagship luxury car.
The emphasis on Cadillac rear-end styling may have reached its pinnacle with the absolutely stunning 1967 Eldorado. It’s quite poignant to compare that timeless classic with the polarizing (to put it kindly) 2G Seville.
Of the brief bustle-back fad of the time (Seville, Lincoln Continental, Chrysler Imperial), the Imperial seemed to wear the look best. Unfortunately, the Chrysler’s extremely unreliable electronic engine controls doomed it to being a dismal failure.
The 1980s were not kind to Cadillac. During that decade, many luxury car buyers (especially in California) were buying BMWs, Mercedes-Benz and other European imports instead of Cadillacs. Those cars were more reliable and handled better. Cadillac during the 80s and 90s had a very stodgy image and appealed mostly to the AARP crowd. Cadillac’s weakest link during the 80s was it’s trouble-prone V8-6-4 and gutless HT4100 engines. It was also the time when many traditional luxury car buyers were turning to Lincoln. In other words, Cadillac’s loss is Lincoln’s gain.
Were these body-on-frame, or full unit-body?
Body on frame.
among its numerous other problems, the diesel would have been unappealing simply due to clattering as loudly as a truck engine. Mercedes’s diesels may have been similarly gutless, but they were a lot quieter.
There was nothing nice about the clatter of these GM diesel engines. The risk that they would blow out soot was another of its charms.
Is there a good history book available on the rise and fall of Cadillac? I started paying attention in the early 70’s when a college friend had a 69 DeVille that his father had given him to drive at school rather than trade it in. That was a wonderful car. However his father complained a lot about the (lack of) quality in its replacement which was a 73 or 74, and dad’s next car was a Benz.
I see in the article above that Caddy decided to chase volume and went downmarket in the 70’s – who in
HellDetroit thought that was a good idea when GM had Olds, Buick, Pontiac, and Cheverolet which only existed to be downmarket from Cadillac? At the same time, all of these brands were permitted to move upmarket. Why was that permitted? The Cimmaron destroyed any pretense that Caddy’s were distinct and different (beyond the badges) from Chevy. Surely some Cadillac oldtimer committed Hari-Kiri in an attempt to stop it, or was it just crickets all the way down?
The first Seville, I thought, was reassuring; an attempt to modernize Caddy. Sure it was on a Nova platform, but it was in no way a Nova. Then comes the car of this article. A giant step backwards in modernizing Caddy’s design and a mechanical disaster. Who was at the wheel of Cadillac organizing all this? How did the stylists get unsupervised free reign while the engineers got bullied, rushed, and were forced to watch their work suffer destruction a penny at a time? Surely, someone knew that the iron heads were a bad idea, that the 8-6-3-0 system wasn’t ready, and that the Diesel engine was not developed enough. At very least they could have kept it out of Cadillac as the very idea of a diesel Caddy is, well, wrong. If you can afford a Caddy, you can afford the gas, right? Right?
I guess I just want to know whose grave to hunt for so I can go and
redacted, uhm, plant daisies on it.
TL/DR: It is hard to understand why Cadillac management permitted the things that happened to their cars in the 70’s and early 80’s.
I think a lot of what happened to Cadillac, and GM in general, can be traced back to the dealer arrangements that GM was, and to some extent is, tied into. Chevy dealers wanted/needed to go upmarket, Cadillac dealers wanted/needed to chase the Pontiac and Olds demographic, and the three in the middle wanted to go up- and down-market at the same time, all to benefit the local dealers at the expense of the brands and the corporation. And GM had little leverage to make any change to the way the dealers operated.
When I was a little kid in the early to mid-70s, it was our understanding that a Cadillac was something to aspire to–if you had one, that meant you were “rich” (or a kid’s understanding of rich). By the time we were of driving age, it just meant you were old, and no young person would be caught dead in a Cadillac, unless it was an old one and you were being ironic. This very model was part of the problem. And it happened in the space of 10-15 years.
If you’re going to plant daisies 😉 on graves, you may need to track down more than just Cadillac managers’ graves. 🙁
GM had long allowed its divisions to “poach” sales from each other. Buick’s sales success in the early and mid-1950s was based largely on the low-priced Special series, which could be bought for the cost of a well-optioned, top-of-the-line Chevrolet or Ford. But GM didn’t punish Buick executives for encroaching on Chevrolet and Pontiac territory.
I remember reading that, when Buick first knocked Plymouth out of third place in 1954, the general manager of Buick was told by a GM executive (I believe it was Harlow Curtice) that any division holding down third place in sales needed to do one thing – “Sell even more cars.” I’m sure that GM leadership understood that this would mean more Specials as opposed to more Roadmasters.
Cadillac had purposefully kept production just below demand until the early 1970s. This held up resale values, and gave Cadillacs an air of exclusivity. By the early 1970s, however, Cadillac leadership had been bitten by the volume bug, too. Cadillac began pushing for sales just like the other GM divisions, and was initially rewarded with a big rise in volume. By 1980, the division found that it was no longer viewed as special or particularly exclusive.
At some point in the 60s GM also decreed that the divisional executives, to that point Caddy drivers one and all, would have to drive their own division’s car. That added to the push upmarket and especially the Chevy Caprice.
During this period each division was run as if it were a separate auto company. The rise and fall of each division was reflected in the fortunes of their particular managers. In other words Chevrolet divisions loyalty was to Chevy first, not GM.The major in house suppliers such as the Hydramatic Division, Delco, etc. were also treated like separate entities. Even the assembly divisons that assembled the cars were treated separately. Obvously it would be difficult to chart a comprehensive corporate vision using this structure. You can see how each division would try to steal a little market share from the others. It was under Roger Smith when this began to be dismantled. The change led to a lot of confusion and mis steps.
Good article, I thought the 2nd generation Seville was a totally ugly vehicle and a huge misstep; it seemed as if the front half and back half were designed by separate committees to never met to reconcile their differences.
I will always view this car as one of Cadillac’s deadliest sins. Love or hate the design, it never should have been a Seville. Perhaps Cadillac could have launched it as an additional model, like they did with the Eldorado Brougham in the 1950s, as an over-the-top niche vehicle. Of course they would have needed to give it a decent engine… which was not in the cards for Cadillac in the early 1980s. However, no matter how you look at it, this Gen2 car couldn’t have been more wrong for the new audience Cadillac was trying to cultivate.
Let’s consider the sales results of the 1st generation Seville. While 15% import trade-ins may not initially seem impressive, I think it was actually quite good. Keep in mind that at the time, import penetration by premium brands was still relatively small (most import sales then were smaller, cheaper cars, and it’s not likely too many VWs were traded for Caddys). So, those trade-ins would have come from a pretty select group of pricier imports. The leaders in premium import volume in the mid- to late-1970s were Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, each retailing around 40 to 50k units per year (for comparison, the Seville alone did 46 to 56K units per year) . BMW was still a smaller, more niche player. Jaguar didn’t move over 10k units per year. So, out of this relatively small pool of potential premium import trade-ins, the Seville got 7 to 8K units per year! Not half bad, actually, especially since I doubt the bigger Cadillacs brought in many import trade-ins at all, so this was all Seville-driven “plus” business for GM. Add in the number of “import intenders” (people who owned domestic but were considering an import for their next car) that the Seville attracted, and it should have been very clear to GM that the Seville was a critical component to Cadillac’s future success.
But, instead of building on the credibility and good will the Seville had just started to cultivate, they threw it all away with this car. I would imagine that the 15% import trade-in rate plunged to around 0% with the Gen2 Seville, with retained import intenders also falling to 0%, thereby sending Cadillac back to being a domestic only brand. That was a really, really stupid choice for Cadillac at a time when it was becoming abundantly clear that the leading-edge of the premium market was developing much more internationally oriented tastes.
Adding salt to the wound was the fact that GM had the tools needed to develop a great Gen2 Seville. The Opel Senator, introduced to rave reviews in 1978, could have formed an outstanding basis for the next Seville. Alternately, even the FWD X-cars could have also formed a more modern foundation (I know the X is lambasted today, but GM could have stretched and improved the platform for Cadillac, just as they did for the Gen1 Seville. This move likely would have eliminated some of the bugs that plagued the less expensive FWD X-cars.) Either way, the Seville would have continued as a smaller, lighter, nimbler Cadillac, and an appropriate successor to the successful Gen1 car.
Instead we got this.
There’s no doubt the second generation Seville was a big disappointment after the promise of the original. And most definitely a deadly sin. Equally frustrating to me, is why Chrysler and Ford made the same product planning mistakes with the ’81 Imperial and ’82 Continental? All three of these models targeted limited markets for their manufacturers. Chrysler and Ford both appeared to have GM exclusively in their sights, with their own copycat bustle back designs. Equally ignoring the younger import buyers entirely themselves. It appeared poor product planning wasn’t exclusive to GM, and the real threat of the luxury imports seemed to be lost on all of Detroit at the time. Assuming the domestics were still far too overconfident in the brand loyalty of their customers at this point?
GM was hard-wired for the gaudy, tasteless vinyl roofs and wire wheels styling aesthetic. Any brief impulses toward European styling and handling (Gen1 Seville) would inevitably be overpowered by the unstoppable Liberace faction at GM that always swung things back toward floaty ride and Vegas tackiness.
Cadillac did not offer a vinyl roof for the 80, 81 or 82 Seville. Beginning with 1983 they did, I suspect that either dealers or customers, and most likely customers, wanted them. I am not sure, but I don’t think Cadillac offer a vinyl roof on the Seville’s beginning with the 1986 model year and after. There are after market vinyl roofs available though.
I remain in the camp that the Seville didn’t really appeal to import buyers so much as a segment of existing Cadillac customers who wanted something that didn’t require a tugboat to park. That said, with more evolutionary styling and better engines, I think Cadillac could have snared a few more import buyers. It wasn’t a bad chassis for the time and the touring suspension was surprisingly competent, so if it hadn’t looked like it was bucking for a slot on one of those awful, brain-dissolving, taste-free variety shows of which ’70s TV executives were so fond, it might at least have established itself as a reasonable alternative for the Boomers who wanted to buy American for ideological reasons.
The Senator probably wouldn’t have flown for the same reason the original plan to base the Mk1 Seville on the Opel Diplomat 5,4 — tooling specs Fisher Body and GMAD couldn’t use without a complete redesign, at which point any cost savings tended to evaporate.
Next to the first generation Seville, this generation is my favorite. I always admired the bustleback design because, IMHO it looked unique and distinctive and stood out as the most original looking American car of the era,even though it did draw upon past classic style to achieve that look. That being said, I never really cared for them being “tackied out” with vinyl tops or fake wire wheels. I once saw a `80 in a two tone color scheme, black lower body with yellow upper works.Car was drop dead beautiful.
I liked the bustle back Seville but as a cartoonish representation of what the classic cars of the 30s were all about. These looked crazily appropriate with the continental kits that were slapped on many of them.
I’d love an early big block model with two tone, no vinyl or fake convertible roof slapped on it, and a continental kit.
I think the basic problem with the overall look is that the front fenders and hood don’t go with the bustle back. If you look at a Hooper body you can see what I am getting at (search in the CC cohort).
Cadillac long and disturbing problems with engines beginning in the 80’s (if not the 70’s) was not managements idea. When the various engines went into production they expected them to be good. What is bad is that both the 4100 and FWD Northstar engines did not get fixed for years. Problems did take quite some time to show up.
Excellent write up and a fair treatment of this car. I liked the car when it came out, it is obviously distinctive and the styling details were generally well done. If all 1980s Cadillacs had become known as paragons of quality, I think I lot of history would have been changed about this car and styling trends for the ’80s. While I liked this car, I also liked the 1992 Seville, and can even see a transition between the cars. The 1992 Seville’s raked C pillar and high deck lid mimic the profile of this car to an extent. Even the ’86 – ’91 Seville has a sort of high deck lid thing going on, but that car was pretty terrible by most standards.
An easing up on the gingerbread – particularly the various vinyl top treatments, and the aluminum wheels helps keep the brougham factor in check in this car. Trying to find a picture of this Seville with the aluminum wheels yielded a surprise for me. The good looking and rather rare aluminum wheels were actually standard equipment, at least in 1981. Considering wire wheel covers were overdone and equipped on just about every price and genre of American car by 1980, Cadillac should have promoted the Seville more with the standard wheels.
Really a shame about GM and Cadillac engines in the 1980s. If GM had been willing to pay the nominal gas guzzler tax, they could have kept the 350 gas engine going in these cars until the more advance engines were truly ready for prime time. That alone would have made this car a lot more desirable.
Cadillac did not offer a vinyl roof for the first 2 or 3 years. The 83 Seville offers the fake convertible top. The 6 liter engine was good and the 350 Olds engine with throttle body fuel injection probably would have reduced fuel consumption vs the 6 liter engine. At the time the 4100 was expected to be a good solid engine. Hindsight is all well and good but………
My best friend in college had an 84, same tannish-brown. It was great on road trips but its electrical gremlins became an issue.
OH, and the vinyl top flew off on I-440 in Nashville.
A very balanced and well-written article about a controversial Caddy. Never liked this car when it first came out, and haven’t warmed up to it in the years since, either. It’s just ugly. If this is what rich people aspire to, then I’d rather be poor!
GM did play with the bustleback themes with the 1974-76 Buick Riviera, which I really like. I wonder if Seville would have been more successful if the back end had been handled in a similar way?
Once upon a time the term luxury stood for mechanical excellence and Cadillac stood at the top of the pile having won the Dewar trophy for said mechanical excellence that was the reason the Nairn brothers chose Cadillac cars for their Beirut to Baghdad mail service and why they were able to maintain a fast schedule through a largely trackless desert,
However it seems GM abandonned all that built up equity so hard won by its premier brand by the time this ugly ill considered tacky geegaw laden turd was concieved, The Standard of the world used to mean something far removed from these cars.
This generation Seville would have looked stunning as a show car – but for the real world? I remember at the time thinking it was interesting – but not the sort of car I would have driven. Of course Americans are different, I thought…. But sales figures showed Americans weren’t all that different after all.
As an alternative, keep the roofline but blend it in to a conventional trunk. I reckon it would’ve worked. The swoopy roofline would have been distinctive, and a pleasant change from the bolt-upright rooflines GM was getting into. Would have been more likely to interest import-intenders too.
Of course all the style in the world is no good if the mechanicals aren’t up to scratch……
If the mission of the Seville was to target import buyers, they couldn’t have been any more wrong than this car. As a kid growing up in the 80s, I never truly hated this car, though I often times disliked the bustle-back from certain angles. What I absolutely HATED were the faux convertible tops (especially bad with a sunroof), continental kits and vogue tires so many of these had. The appeal of the imports was reliability (often times still spotty, but better than these), but also sportiness and handling. As a kid, I understood none of these things. My uncle had a Mercedes in the 80s, and I hated it. It was noisy, had a “cheap” plasticy dash (no wood or chrome?!) and bucket seats with a floor shift so I had to ride in back. My parents had an Oldsmobile Cutlass and a Pontiac 6000LE, both with plush velour seats and rather soft rides. While not luxury cars by any stretch, a luxury car to elementary school aged me should only be plusher, softer, quieter and most important bigger. I remember my parents rented a Lincoln Town Car once, and I loved the way that car rode. I sat tall in my seat… it made me feel rich and I wanted the world to see me. I probably would have LOVED these Sevilles if I had the chance to ride in one too.
I love these bustleback Sevilles. Probably wasn’t the route to take with Cadillac’s “import fighter” but as someone decidedly in the Brougham camp, this is probably in my top 5 Cadillac designs.
Honestly, I think it would have made more sense to have made this design as a special edition of the Fleetwood. Cadillac should have been working on a truly modern import fighter in the Seville, something along the lines of a Lexus LS400.
That said, I think the “Elegante” ones with black and silver two-toned paint with no vinyl top or trunk spare and all that really look the best.
I always thought this model of Seville was the result of the entire GM design team taking acid at the same time. I mean, what were they thinking. Sadly, with GM, one’s most cynical thinking was usually true.
“Instead of really benchmarking those horrible ferrin’ things (the ones we haven’t actually driven) we’ll slam’em with a whole lot of kitch with a side of schlock.” Which is exactly what they did in the Seville.
These were awful cars and the materials were nowhere near the quality of the asking point. The GM engines at the time simply sucked. The diesel turned off an entire country on diesels, they were that bad. GM sold them on their then good rep and loads of customers were burned on these pieces of crap. Lexus made a fortune on old Cadillac customers.
I drove one for a weekend once, a diesel. This one had been religiously maintained but still ate an injector pump at low kms. A 300D Turbodiesel could outrun one with a second gear start. The GM diesels never felt good like say, a 240D does loping along does. They kind of struggle and trob away until they go “boom.” It was amazing a car that cost so much could be so bad. It leaped and bounded over bumps and swayed in corners, amazing considering it had four wheel independent suspension.
It was cars like this, and the even more horrid next generation, that did Cadillac in as a force in the Big Bucks division. They debased they brand. Everybody who has ever been in an W126 S Class Daimler knows it is one Special Car, and even a W123 was Special, since it was built like a tank. There are loads of these Mercedes cars around still but hardly a Seville. Hmmm, wonder why?
My family garage made a lot of money doing engine swaps for Olds diesels. A 307 would swap right in with all the accessories.
I couldn’t agree more. I still have a 1987 300TD. and while maintaining it is becoming an astronomical burden, it still drives like a bank vault on rails. And once the turbo spools up it can scoot pretty well for an almost thirty year old lump.
I’ll be one of the odd men out and say I like these little Cadillac. In the ’79-’83 era, after the last giant FoMoCos and Mopars exited right and before the Taurus and Mark VII, almost every single American car looked like some version of a 1975-79 Gen 1 Seville. So, I view this design as a recognition of that, the understanding that if the mode is going to evolve, something has to be done to the source of that design first.
Now, surely, this car didn’t end up setting much of a stylistic precedent—though the ’82-’87 Continental aped it for sure–but I just can’t get myself to be too hard on it. Didn’t prevent the yuppies from sticking with BMW and MB? Nope, but neither did the comparatively blah Gen 1. I would actually imagine this MIGHT have been cross shopped by a frugal minded XJ6 customer, at least early in the model run; it’s the only other car sold at that time that has that clubby/saloon vibe, in this case solely because of the exterior design and not because of an interior that was in any way competitive with Jag. Early on though, given the choice between a 368/THM 400 and the Jag’s sterling reputation for reliability…well, perhaps a few rich old duffers in tweed jackets gave the little Cadillac a once over. And then damned them both and bought a Wagoneer.
No, it wasn’t this car that brought down Cadillac. I’d say it was the iffy engines and transmissions of ’81-’85 followed by the totally underwhelming redesign for MY ’85 of the bread and butter DeVille, a car that could have been a competitive modern FWD design but hedged too much on the older design cues and still came with a POS 4.1 until ’88.
A few more risks with the new DeVille and keeping the Brougham–as they ended up doing ANYWAY–for the traditional customer, instead of basically building a FWD baby Brougham, and the story might have been different (and all types of Cadillac customers happier).
That picture of Bill Mitchell sure reminds my of Tor Johnson, the pro wrestler who appeared as a re-animated corpse in Ed Wood’s delightful epic, “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”
There’s gotta be a parallel in there someplace.
…”and in the right colors and from the right angles it could look handsome,” but from all too many angles, that trunk looked like Jethro sawed the back end off his Caddy — you know, like almost every El Cademino you’ve ever had the misfortune to view.
I’ve commented on previous Seville posts, but I love the look of these! I find the styling to be elegant, very attractive and quite edgy (ha, pun!). I became acquainted with them from the age of about 8 or 9 in 1983ish, as someone in my small rural New Zealand home town had one (they weren’t sold new here, so it would have been a private import; quite possibly converted to right-hand-drive). I remember walking around it with joy every time I saw it on my way home from school.
Haven’t seen one here in NZ for a few years now though – and the last one on our trademe auction site was spectacularly rusty. I did see one in Lausanne in Switzerland a couple years ago (see the QOTD post on unexpected cars in unexpected places) and just like I did in 1983, I walked all around it, reminisced, and fell in love all over again. Unlike 1983, phone cameras exist, so I got photos this time. 🙂
The Lausanne Seville, resplendent in two-tone:
When these came on the market, I didn’t like them at all. Cadillac appeared to join 2 different cars together to make one Seville. But in ’83 a department head at work bought a new Seville – in the light brown metallic – and I grew to really like the design. I feel it was a very controversial design, which perhaps didn’t help it appeal to a wider audience. The kiss of death were those awful, durability challenged powertrains that were the hallmark of almost every GM vehicle of that time. It wasn’t just the diesels.
I have an ’80 Fleetwood Brougham with a carbureted 368 (6 liters) rated at 150 HP. It’s odd that the fuelie 368 in the ’80 Seville has 5 fewer ponies, but that is indeed what all sources say. It seems like GM ought to have been able to do better with the 368. Maybe if they had taken the money wasted on the V8-6-4 design and spent it instead on a port fuel injection system with better engine control electronics, and connected it to a four speed overdrive trans with a lockup converter. Ironically the next Cadillac with a 6 liter engine would be the Escalade, using a Vortec series engine, getting more than twice the HP of the 1980 6-liter.
Very nice article – I can remember when these first came out – they were shocking, and not in a good way. Rather than looking “classic”, they just looked disjointed.
It’s unfortunate that this was one of Bill Mitchell’s last designs – his 1964-67 series of cars throughout the GM lineup to this day represents a high point in American design.
Comprehensive, well-written piece, William. This expands very nicely on what I’ve already read about these Sevilles. Count me in the camp that likes their overall styling. It’s not the back that I mind – it’s the blocky frontal styling that looks a little busted to me.
My family had a ’78 Seville. We bought a Volvo 740 turbo in the 80’s. The Europeans were light years ahead in the 80’s and didn’t have any competition from the Japanese until the 90s. I really think this car along with the rest of the 80’s GM lineup really killed the buy American mentality in Americans because the cars were so sub par.
I have always like this version of the Seville. The bustle back makes it distinct.
The V8-6-4 engine was an engine before its time with its variable displacement management system. It is a big shame that GM did not continue to tinker with it and refine it as this was a technology that would be used to great success starting in the 1990’s.
In fact it is stupid that the General did not try to refine the engine after its initial failure. After all the HT4100 was not a reliable engine in its first 2 years but by 1987 it was pretty reliable and it was replaced by the 4.5 and the 4.9 which were even more reliable.
The sad thing was the only issue with the V8-6-4 engine was the computer controls. Those caused the car to have driving issues and stalling issues but if you snipped a wire from the 3rd gear switch, the engine stayed in V8 mode and ran fine and was reliable and smooth running engine.
Actually the 4.5 and 4.9 are the same engine as the 4100 but a larger displacement. The basic engine that was the 8-6-4 was based on the old 472, 500 and then 425 design. It was a big block design. The 350 V8 used in the first generation Seville would have been a good choice for the Seville and Eldorado if the digital fuel injection had been added. It might have been a good choice for the larger Cadillacs too.
Never has any particular car demonstrated a misunderstanding of Cadillac customers than this one. Not the Cimarron, by the way- that was a misunderstanding of import customers, since it was never intended to tempt DeVille buyers.
Cadillac’s customers consisted, from what I can tell, of three groups. The first was old money, especially old American-Made money. They bought Cadillac limousines, and were driven around in them. No other Cadillac would appeal to them, except maybe a fully loaded Fleetwood sedan. “Understated Loyal American Money” was the image they wanted. Nothing did that better than Cadillac, besides maybe the ’61 Continental.
The second was GM brand climbers- they started off with a Chevy or something and worked their way up with their life circumstances. They would not buy a Seville- they would not be spending more money for less space- unless it was a coupe. They wanted the Big Cadillac. Their previous car was probably a 98 or Electra.
The last type were, for lack of a better word, pimps. People who made their money in “easy” ways, made it fast, and wanted to show it as gaudily as possible. Most bought Eldorado. This generation Seville would appeal maybe to one who wanted to carry more people easily, perhaps. But this customer is best not cultivated anyway. Cadillac, the brand of Pimps! How classy.
The previous Seville had uncorked a market. Not the one Cadillac aimed at- they didn’t have what it takes to take on Unterturkheim’s Panzerwagen. But it did find a market for people who wanted all the Cadillac luxury in a smaller, easier package. And people who wanted a more Mercedes-like American sedan. Remember, back then a lot of people bought American because it was seen as gauche to not. Now you just have somewhat misinformed people who want to believe, against all evidence, that American machinery is at parity.
But this car? Who was it for?
Not old money- too loud.
Not the German sedan customer- contrary to the author, this car was not an example of modern engineering. Body on frame? Longitudinally mounted engine- without the advantage of moving the engine within the wheelbase? And, FFS, an aluminum block and iron head??? Thats been clearly demonstrated to be a combination that misunderstands basic metallurgy.
The smaller Cadillac customer? Well, the regular Cadillacs were not much bigger now. And vastly cheaper. And didn’t look gauche.
No, this car demonstrated perfectly Cadillacs misperception of its own customers, almost as perfectly as the Cimarron demonstrated its vast misunderstanding of its competition’s customers.
I could talk about how much I dislike this car’s styling, but I could be egalitarian instead and note how I have a similarly visceral negative reaction to the first-gen (W129) Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. Which wasn’t neo-classical, but also suffered the drooping tail (see also Infiniti J30/Nissan Leopard J. Ferie) and a similar sense of gratuitous excess applied to the otherwise inoffensive and competent E-Class. On the other hand, I gather that that one was a profitable hit; I suspect the fact that Mercedes got a bunch of people to spend nearly S-Class money for what mechanically was an E-Class with a frightful makeover and mediocre rear headroom while the bustleback Seville was a sales disappointment says more about respective brand equity than taste…
Put me in the like column.
I have no interest in owning one, but I’d much rather see one at a show than the 1st and 3rd generations.
Leaving aside business decisions and tastes decades ago, these cars now squarely fall in the ‘classic/oldtimer’ bracket, and should be judged accordingly.
Some of the greatest automotive failures make for some of the best automotive classics, while some of the greatest successes (I’m looking at you Camry) make for horridly dull classics.
The styling is bizarre and nothing looks like it on the road. I could see someone having a lot of fun and do a ton of things with one – minty show car, LeMons racer, pimped out beastie, drivetrain swap sleeper, so on and so forth. In short, the 2nd Gen. Seville, after 30 years, is actually pretty cool.
The 1st has it’s place in history as an example of Cadillac downsizing, and a minty low mileage example may be interesting, sort of, but overall they are nothing to look at and blend in the background even 30 years on. The 3rd is just hopeless and completely devoid of charm, character, or even ugly distinctiveness.
I briefly owned one, light metallic green with olive green pillow tufted leather interior…slow as hell, a/c never did really work right, but even in that oddball color scheme, it was really a lovely car.
I see a late 70s little square Seville near my house, white, vinyl top delete, light blue leather, smooth wheelcovers…I could see myself driving that car, although the color scheme leaves me cold.
Perhaps if Gen III had followed Gen I then the import intenders would have followed. Personally I thought Gen II was polarizing and not in a good way.
My dad owned a 1983 Seville Elegante, identical to the last one pictured on this article. I loved that car, that is, until a friend of mine mentioned that the car looked like a dog taking a dump. That mental image ruined it for me. I could never look at it the same way afterwards.
Only in the right color combination for me would I like one of these. I Like The lightest of greens with white interior. Or Rose Mist elegante with rose Wine Leather, not triple yellow though , thats too much yellow.
black is nice,red leather and dash or white even.
the blue and white sailing or yacht package looked nice a well.
Am I the only one who noticed the “Handicap Parking” sign behind the Seville? Quite symbolic and true, don’t you think? And it is for the CAR, not the driver. That car was truly handicapped. That is just so funny to me.
Love these. Love them quite ardently, others’ opinion be damned. I’m not even quite sure why, I’ve just always had a thing for the bustleback design and its razor edges. Perfect with a two-tone.
I’ll admit the rest of the car is a letdown–the engines other than the 368 were abysmal–and it is a pretty radical left turn in strategy. Nothing even close to an import fighter, so who exactly was their intended customer? But the looks, inside and out, just work so well for me.
Find me an ’80 or ’81 with the 368 and silver over black or silver over burgundy two tone, and I just might buy it.
Or, alternately, find me one with good body/interior but a dead diesel or 4100. I’ll bet you can fit a 425 just fine…
This, if equipped with a good motor, could have been (and should have been) a reasonably (for the 80s) sporty 4-door coupe a la the Lagonda. All the styling department needed to do was slant the nose “aero” style, and bring the roofline just a tad lower. Of course, it would have had to be RWD too, no chance with 80s GM. Can you imagine this thing, with those changes, as well as buckets up front, a floor console, and a sculpted rear bench for two? Keep the bustleback feature, it’s the nose and the relatively tall roofline that sink it. Every time I see one of these in traffic, I’m struck by the fact that they’re just too boxy. That, not the bustleback tail, was these cars’ greatest styling flaw.
I have an 83 silver and black Seville with alloys and no vinyl roof. These cars only look great with the right combination of wheels and colors. They are ugly otherwise. This 83 belonged to the late Robert Schuller from Hour of Power and the Crystal Cathedral so it has some historical interest. It’s slow, it floats and it’s beautiful. Destined to be a classic. Never a “me too” car collector.
American cars were unique style second to none. The ride was a comfortable and fun. US car makers made their biggest mistake. They started to build European cars on American platforms. To this day Cadillac is.building a car to compete against all the strengths of Mercedes Audi and BMW. Build a Cadillac a Cadillac and watch customers come. back. Dodge has realized that no one is better at being Dodge than them.
It’s just plain “FUGLY”
This car shows the difference that a lack of leadership can make. The Eldorado it was based on was one of GM’s most successful efforts at downsizing. Nobody seemed to mind that it was somewhat boxy, that it was a few feet shorter than the car it replaced, or that it gave up a huge Cadillac V8 for the small Oldsmobile V8 that had powered the previous Seville. The chassis was so good that Cadillac was able to produce an Eldorado Touring Coupe which received the sorts of reviews that Cadillac has been chasing ever since.
The previous Seville was a sharply styled and luxuriously equipped Nova. Here was a perfect opportunity to make a Seville that wasn’t just a Veblen good. All the pieces were in place, even if CAFE was about to overwhelm Cadillac Powertrain’s capabilities. So what did Cadillac do with the sales momentum of the ballasted X-body Seville and the fine second-generation E/K platform? They built a neo-classic that had zero crossover appeal to import-intenders, driving enthusiasts, or people of conservative tastes. I don’t want to bad-mouth the car. I knew some very nice now-deceased people who bought them new. But it was a car of limited appeal when it could have been a car that made people faced with buying expensive and slow early W126 Mercedes take note.
Or, frankly, another generation of the Seville as a tarted up Chevy might have been just fine. It at least would have been better than this, and I think there were still a number of Where GM messed up on this was definitely the baroque styling. Old Bill Mitchell was definitely losing it by this time…and I wonder how much of the fact that the gen. 2 Seville’s approval was due to his positive track record up to that point.
The Nova was replaced by the Citation, which did not have as luxurious a chassis as the E-body used on the 1979 Eldorado. With years of development, the FWD X-body begat the 6000STE and Buick Century, but they really weren’t as refined as even the first ’79 Eldos. Besides, chances are that the Citation would have been robodied to the tastes of the same guy who gave us this Seville. Engine options would have been pretty dire too.
I was just thinking last week that I could finally see myself buying a new Cadillac if I had the money. With the CT4-V and CT5-V they have finally built a better BMW, something BMW can’t themselves seem to do anymore. Power, smoothness, perfectly weighted steering, a composed chassis, slick manual transmissions, and mediocre interiors (well, they got almost everything right). Equally important, I’m finally able to get a negative image from decades of snooty but behind-the-times Cadillacs out of my mind. Young people I know actually aspire to own one of these. Still, sports sedans aren’t really where the market is going. Cadillac knows this. They need to get their upcoming electric crossovers right the first time.
I remember in 1979 reading about the upcoming gen2 Seville and being quite excited about it. I loved FWD at the time (my uncle had a Citroën DS) and thought the Seville would be the first American car (except maybe the Cord) to take full advantage of the layout. GM’s previous FWD efforts – the Toronado and Eldorado that premiered in 1966 and 67 respectively, had good bad-weather traction and a flat floor, but wasted the space-efficiency advantages on a long-hooded, short-cropped coupe. The smaller 1979 versions (which now included the Riviera as well) were a big step in the right direction, but still coupe-only. Finally, GM was about to build a world-class, practical, yet luxurious world-class sedan. Or so I thought. Car and Driver published spy photo of a camouflaged ’80 Seville that was undisguised except for a box built around the bustleback that extended the decklid and sheetmetal rearward, giving it a conventional appearance. That camouflaged Seville wound up looking much better than the actual Seville. They should have built it that way. Would have had more cargo space too.
Also, the 1975 Seville wasn’t GM’s first use of the “sheer look”. This was! https://digital.hagley.org/2012_06_15_Frigidaire_The_Sheer_Look#page/1/mode/2up . There isn’t a thing in that 16 page catalog I’d kick out of my home. More here: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/tv-ads-and-videos/cc-vintage-video-gm-did-build-an-imperial-the-frigidaire-imperial-line-for-1957/
I get the feeling that the E-Body’s longitude-FWD layout (in which the transmission sat beside the engine and was linked to it by chain) and semi-unitized body were more expensive than the traditional longitude-RWD/BOF X-Body-based layout of the original Seville, to start.
It’s also worth noting that the original Seville was designated a K-Body, which GM said was due to the substantial reengineering that it received versus its X-Body donor platform, and the K-Body-for-Cadillac designation continued through the third generation (when the E and K body became transverse-FWD) and to the slick, angular fourth-generation Seville, which was again an offshoot of the contemporary E-Body. The Deville used it through 1999.
In general, GM has had some ambiguity behind these designations. For instance by the 90s, the differences between the C-, G-, K- and H-Body platforms were unclear, and its widely believed that they were all the same basic thing.
This is the ugliest car Cadillac ever made. It looks like two different cars welded together. That hideous rear end does not look right with that sheer front end. The car looked like a normal boring Cadillac that someone took a blow torch to. The first generation Seville is still an attractive design – this Seville – hell, no.
Continental tried to do a similar look and wisely changed the front end after a year to a sloped design that better incorporated a less severe bustle back than the Seville. The Imperial wimped out completely and ended up with a bustle line dropping from the C pillar, but with a standard trunk rear design. However, the Imperial had a cartoonish front end.
This look, those engines, that brand – this car is a rolling embarrassment for Cadillac.
I like the bustleback.
I like the strong American-style front and lights.
I like the angular “sheer” windows and roofline.
I don’t like wire wheels or vinyl roofs on them.
I would like one solid black with black “BBS” style rims on it. Just 16″; not too big.
Medium-black tinted windows.
A healthy (modern) Chevy V8. Nothing too fancy.
Wow, we’ve said a lot about this over the years. Several thoughts from me. Mostly positive. We need some positive…
There seems to have been confusion in the management ranks about just what the Seville was intended to be. Was it about style and exclusivity? If so, big hit here; this was certainly stylish. Or was it about attracting the dreaded import-intender? Hmm, might be a harder sell there. We’re told this appealed to the older Cadillac buyer. Why didn’t somebody take Bill Mitchell aside and say, “We love it, Bill, but it’s not quite the right thing for a Seville. Let’s scale it up and make it the new De Ville.” Or did they really think Cadillac could start a new design trend that would have Mercedes and BMW rushing back their drawing boards? Hubris, anyone?
Also, notice how the side windows and roofline are so similar to the fourth-gen Seville. If this had had a conventional trunk line instead of the bustle, it would have been quite an attractive car. It would have led nicely into the fourth-gen too, and we might have been spared the third-gen.
Also, price-positioning. I never quite grasped the concept behind the original Seville being so expensive. Were subsequent Sevilles sold at such a premium price, or did they settle down to a logical position below the bigger Caddies?
The point behind the original Seville’s price is that they didn’t want it to be seen as a junior model.
IIRC they were always above the DeVille but by the early ’90s the Fleetwood and Brougham models surpassed the base velour-trimmed, column-shifted fourth gen if not the STS the main marketing push featured by that point.
The original Seville was at least partly a response to older Cadillac buyers requesting something easier to drive and park than the leviathans Cadillac offered from 1959 on. The high price was about gaining acceptance for a Cadillac based on a Nova. Someone was picking up what Thorstein Veblen was putting down. Even now that the bones of the Nova are no more mysterious to anyone who cares than the shape of a sphere, there are still people who don’t want to admit that they desired a pet rock.
Back in the 1970s when Buick management felt the controversial boat-tailed Riviera missed the mark, they extensively redesigned the rear of the car and replaced the boat-tail with a more conventional, but (as Frank Bray noted) bustle-backed rear end. It’s too bad that Cadillac didn’t come out with a redesigned rear end for the 2nd gen Seville, at least for its last couple of years of production. I guess GM was having financial problems then in the 80s and couldn’t afford it. But, still.
The rear third of this car has reminded me of Garfield’s expression in the last panel of this cartoon since it ran in the Denver Post one day in 1985.
Its best look is the gold one from the brochure above: single color, no curved chrome side molding, simple wheels. I’m surprised no one made a squared-off cover for the trunk lid.
The wire wheel covers were garish and common enough on the RWD Cadillacs, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Bustleback without the even uglier FWD ones, and few Eldorados.
Both S & E ’84-85 models had de-chromed dashes, a big improvement.
I’m trying, but failing: what do you imagine a squared-off trunk lid cover might have looked like, in terms of its lines?
When my grandmother was looking for a car to replace her ’71 Calais, she was very explicit about not wanting “one of these new Cadillacs with the smashed-in back”.
My grandmother had a name for these Sevilles that would violate our rules of decorum here.