The luxury car market was in the midst of a seismic shift during the 1980s. A new generation of luxury car buyers were buying compact, nimble sport sedans like the BMW 3-Series. In addition, there were other imported luxury sedans that, while not considered sport sedans on their home turf, could put American luxury cars to shame with their handling and performance. GM finally realized they had to do something or they could watch their share of the luxury car market winnow away. Three decades of Cadillac sport sedans arguably began with this, the first Seville STS.
Their first attempt at a sport sedan – or at least something vaguely approximating one – was the infamous 1982 Cimarron. In terms of size and exterior appearance, the Cimarron was not entirely out of the realm of sport sedan-dom. The availability of a manual transmission also lent it some credibility. Alas, any credibility it had was entirely lost once buyers realized it was little more than a Chevrolet Cavalier with some extra tinsel and a price more than twice as high yet with the same hoary 1.8 four-cylinder under the hood. Later models tidied up the styling and added a 2.8 V6 but this was still a parts-bin special and no BMW 3-Series.
Then came the 1986 DeVille Touring sedan and coupe. Cadillac made myriad performance enhancements to the newly downsized, front-wheel-drive DeVille to create the Touring. These included firmer springs, thicker stabilizer bars, modified drive and power steering ratios and a larger exhaust. In addition, there was a “Euro-style” monochromatic color palette inside and out. Although handsome, the Touring didn’t quite hit the sport sedan mark even if it was more European in execution than any Cadillac before. Its six-passenger set-up in particular undermined any sport sedan pretensions.
Cadillac’s next attempt at tackling the Europeans came with the 1986 Seville. The Seville line had been introduced in 1976 to lure buyers seeking a Cadillac that was smaller and more European (if only in size). Alas, the baroque 1980 had lost the plot and so the 1986 aimed to rein the Seville back in.
The ‘86 Seville was no sport sedan dynamically thanks to its flaky, underpowered HT-4100 V8. Nor was it a sport sedan aesthetically due to Cadillac’s predilection for slapping on a vinyl roof and wire wheel covers. But it was more rationally sized, being similar in dimensions to the W124 Mercedes E-Class, and its handling and manoeuvrability were vastly improved over its predecessor. It also had a modern front-wheel-drive platform with four-wheel independent suspension. If Cadillac was to develop a sport sedan, this was the base from which to start.
In 1988, Cadillac followed through and introduced the Seville STS, built in partnership with Cars & Concepts who handled final assembly during the car’s first year. Although the ’86-87 Seville had already offered an optional touring suspension package, the STS option added a raft of aesthetic and mechanical improvements to help justify the extra $6000.
The featured STS is a 1988 model, of which just 1,499 were built. The regular touring suspension option, which cost less than $200, added 15-inch alloy wheels, Goodyear Eagle GT4 blackwall tires, stiffer springs, a rear stabilizer bar and a stiffer front stabilizer bar. The much pricier STS option had all these mechanical improvements plus anti-lock brakes, 3.3:1 drive ratio (instead of 2.97:1) and a faster 15.6:1 steering ratio.
Fortunately for the STS, all Sevilles and the related Eldorado received a more powerful 4.5 V8 for 1988. This bored-out version of the old HT-4100 bumped power up 25 hp (to 150 hp at 4000 rpm) and torque by 40 lbs-ft (to 240 lb-ft at 2800 rpm).
The exterior of the STS eschewed typical American extravagances like excessive brightwork and gauche wire wheels. The mouldings, for example, were painted in the same color as the body; the STS could be had only in White Diamond, Sable Black, Black Sapphire or Carmine Red. The 15-inch alloy wheel design was rather European in appearance, while amber rear turn signals further demonstrated the European inspiration. The STS’ front fenders differed from the regular Seville, ditching the large cornering lights; the grille, too, was different and had a flush-mounted wreath-and-crest in lieu of a hood ornament.
At a time where a manual transmission gave serious legitimacy to a car’s claims of being a sport sedan, the lack of one was disappointing. The market was evolving, however, and it wasn’t long before manual transmissions began their descent into irrelevance. What really hampered the STS’ credibility was the lack of proper instrumentation.
Yes, the Seville STS was a sport sedan without a tachometer, a small yet consequential oversight for an aspiring sport sedan. Indeed, the STS used the same digital dash cluster as the regular Seville, a rather uninspired affair lacking the information of German rivals’ gauge clusters or the visual panache of some of the Japanese. Speaking of visual panache – or lack there of – the STS had the same boxes-upon-boxes interior design language as many GM vehicles since the ’78 A-Bodies. There were also plenty of drab plastic surfaces that made the STS’ cabin less modern to behold than, say, an Acura Legend while also lacking the visual cohesion and sheer class of the W124 Mercedes. The rear of the cabin was also somewhat tight for larger passengers.
Where the STS made up ground and justified its hefty premium over the regular Seville was in its interior appointments and visual enhancements. The cabin received a lavish makeover, using 95 square-feet of beechwood ultra-soft leather in a rich saddle color. Real elm burl trim decorated the dash, door trims and a console that separated the two rear bucket seats – the STS was a four-seater only, at least until the console was dropped for 1991. The STS also added a 12-way power front seat and equipment optional on the regular Seville, including an illuminated entry system.
Critics were generally impressed with the STS if all too aware of its deficiencies, like the lack of instrumentation and steering and ride quality that couldn’t match the Europeans. The consensus, however, was that it was a sign of more focussed, athletic sport sedans to come from GM’s luxury brand.
Unfortunately for this generation of Seville STS, the car was hampered by its styling. The details, like on the regular Seville, were nice enough – the frontend styling was crisp and elegant, the tail dignified. But its formal roofline was generic 1980s GM and its proportions were rather wonky. The STS was a neat makeover of the Seville but failed to address the car’s biggest visual failings, particularly the ungainly meeting of the C-pillars with the trunk and rear wheels. To my eyes in 2018, it’s mostly handsome with a touch of awkwardness. Thirty years ago, it looked derivative and aged poorly as the years went by and new German and Japanese luxury sedans reached the market.
Then there was the matter of price. The MSRP for the STS was around $35,000, an amount that could net you any number of impressive sedans if not a comparably sized BMW or Mercedes. For example, an Audi 100 Quattro or 200 Turbo cost around the same. A loaded Acura Legend topped out at $30k and was available with a manual transmission. There were some left-field options, too, like the Sterling and Merkur Scorpio. And if you were a domestic loyalist which, let’s face it, you probably were if you were considering a Seville, Oldsmobile could sell you a Ninety-Eight Touring Sedan. It had similarly adept front-wheel-drive handling to the Seville, plus plenty of leather, wood and gadgets. It even had a tachometer! Buick’s Electra T-Type was much the same and both of these full-size GM sedans cost a whopping $10k less than the STS. They may have lacked Cadillac’s prestige but that was eroding after a decade of poor brand decisions.
If the Seville was looking tired by the dawn of the 1990s, buyers didn’t seem to care. The Seville actually saw a spike in sales in its penultimate year, albeit not a return to the heady days of the first- and second-generation. After four years of selling around 20,000 units annually, the third-generation Seville jumped to 31,235 units; this was also the best year for the STS, which accounted for 2,811 units.
All ’90 Sevilles received a new fuel injection system that bumped power up to 180 hp, as well as a standard driver’s airbag; the regular Seville also aped the STS by ditching the fender-mounted cornering lamps. All STS models received new bright, stainless steel exhaust outlets, larger STS badges, Teves anti-lock brakes and new 16-inch machine finished alloy wheels.
The Seville was most certainly tired-looking by its final year but sales sat at their second-highest during the entire generation: 24,225 in total, with 2,206 STS models. Cadillac hadn’t let the Seville sit entirely still: though it was visually unchanged inside and out, it now came with Computer Command Ride, a speed-dependent damping system. The 4.5 V8 was also replaced with a 4.9 V8 producing 200 hp and 275 ft-lbs. STS-specific changes included new, more heavily bolstered front seats from the Eldorado Touring Coupe and the replacement of the two-passenger/rear console set-up with a bench.
No, the Seville STS couldn’t match similarly-sized German sport sedans in sheer driving pleasure. And even if it did, it was unlikely to get many conquest sales, either. The first STS was instead a prelude to a three-decade (and counting) span of Cadillac sport sedans, from the following two generations of Seville STS to the rear/all-wheel-drive CTS, ATS and STS and their V-Series companions. And though Cadillac will never unseat the Germans – and the game is changing entirely with electrification – it was with the first STS that Cadillac finally realized they couldn’t just sell button-tufted, loose-pillowed, vinyl-roofed, wire-wheeled sedans forever.
Photographed in Miracle Mile, Los Angeles in September 2018.
Additional photos courtesy of Nick Ferrari. When I shared this STS on Instagram, this Seville fan asked where I spotted it and went out and took some photos of his own. Who knows, this ’88 may end up in his garage!
An Alternate Point of View:
Curbside Classic: 1986-1991 Cadillac Seville – GM’s Deadly Sin #21 –by Paul Niedermeyer
My Seville Chronicles:
Curbside Classic: 1980-85 Cadillac Seville – How to Lose Momentum (In More Ways Than One)
Curbside Classic: 1986-91 Cadillac Seville – The Sales in Spain Fall Mostly With The Plain
Curbside Classic: 1992-97 Cadillac Seville – A Forgotten Contender
Curbside Capsule: 1992-97 Cadillac Seville STS – The Pursuer
Curbside Classic: 1998-04 Cadillac Seville – The FWD Sport Sedan’s Last Stand
Not bad looking cars viewed from the right angle but side on its dorky and quite silly looking, styling comes across as a twin cab Japanese ute with the bed covered by a lid, and yes Ive seen one close up theres a pale blue Caddy STS here in Napier, Sport and Cadillac in the same sentence is quite a mouthfull, maybe they should have rented a BMW or Benz just to see what an upscale express really was. Nice try but no cigar
Twin-cab ute – bingo! That’s what the styling says.
It does have an odd c-pillar setup, but I like the direction Cadillac took during this time. It was nice to see them not getting their butts kicked by the German cars quite as badly in the car mags back then. In my perfect car world there would always be a place for the sporty-ish American sedan after the soft and squishy but before the hard-core modern. My beater ’89 regular Seville even had some good qualities. It was vault-quiet and very comfy. I was impressed by the armored car-thickness of the door glass. It was quicker than my then-almost-new Taurus and got about the same mpg.
Here’s a big reason why the downsized Seville was a failure – it looked too close to the much cheaper N-car sedans like this Olds Calais, especially in profile. I drove a rental ’86 Seville for a few days back in the ’80s. It was actually fairly pleasant to drive – quiet, smooth, and decent handling. But I never would have bought one. I’ve heard that the ’91 Seville STS with the 4.9-liter engine was a fairly capable car.
Maybe if the Seville had had a year or two under its’ belt before the Ns hit the showrooms things would be different, but the N-bodies came on the market first and were well-established (even if the Pontiac Grand Am was the only one to sell *well*) by the time the more expensive lookalikes appeared.
Actually, only the two-door N-cars were available for 1985. The four-doors came along for 1986 – the same time as the shrunken Seville. Even then, it wasn’t any help to the Cadillac.
How to try to kill one of your most prestigious and profitable model lines… The design was definitely the Deadly Sin here.
The Eldorado was even worse. I think it was a 60% sales drop for the first year of the new generation. Yikes.
The worst parts of the Eldorado were the curved line at the base of the roof and the cheesy and cheap-looking taillights. Both were fixed for the 1988 facelift and the looks were improved.
A minor point: these Sevilles actually did have a tachometer. It was a digital (numeric) read-out in the trip computer, which was located in the center stack just in front of the gear shift. Of course, that wouldn’t satisfy the Euro sedan enthusiasts like an analog gauge in the instrument panel, but still, a tach was technically present.
I think the real problem is just that these Sevilles didn’t look right: they had weird proportions and a dated, blocky interior. (Personally, I think the exterior is kind of cool, but it’s certainly not “satisfying” in the manner of a w124. And the trim quality of the interior is impressive, even if the design is ugly.)
There are some American cars where you can argue, “Well, if they had just used the sport/luxury/final-refinement version as the standard version from the beginning, it could have competed with the Europeans.” But not for this generation of Seville. With those looks, it never had a chance.
Thank you for that. I figured there was some kind of read out down there but you could forgive someone for not thinking to look at the bottom of the center stack for a rev counter! 🙂
It could be argued you don’t need a tach with an automatic anyway – but the would-be sports sedan owner would surely look for one. Placement so far from the line of sight – you could get away with that back in the sixties, but we’re talking twenty years later here. Ergonomics should have improved, not regressed.
I find it bizarre that someone would want a tach on an auto, and even more bizarre the notion that somehow fitting a rev counter to a couch makes it a sports car.
Well, some of us automatic drivers shift them manually at times. That’s hardly bizarre, eh? Automatics have been set up for manual shifting for almost forever. Otherwise they would only ever have had a Drive position and no way to deviate from that.
That and some of us just like to know what our engines are doing up there.
GM made some excellent sports sedans in the ’80s, but like all the others, the Seville STS was hidden in a rarely-ordered, thin-on-dealer-lots option package or separate “sporty” model. You didn’t have to order the “touring” or “sports” version of a BMW or Benz to get a sporty ride with good handling, supportive seats, and restrained but elegant styling. The STS, like the 98 Touring Sedan, LeSabre and Electra T-Types, and 6000 STE, was a capable and desirable sports sedan, but it was hidden in the back corner of dealer lots while showrooms featured the far more common Broughamed-out editions like the 98 Regency and Electra Park Avenue, making it clear the “sporty” editions were an afterthought unlike with the European competition that was designed with sportiness baked in from the start.
It didn’t help of course that the STS had that boxy vertical rear window – which lent a distinctive air to the Mk1 Seville but by the late ’80s was found on nearly every GM sedan, including the look-alike but half-its-price N bodies (Calais, Somerset, Grand Am).
I’m curious what the perceived advantage was of Cadillac’s standard suspension.
They were softly sprung and ate up the bumps giving a very smooth ride. The Interstate highway was where they shined. Just don’t push them into the curves.
“Get it”? This was the automotive equivalent of an overweight, 63-year-old grandpa throwing on a pair of Uggs, a Northface jacket, and holding a Starbucks frappe to try and look like a 19-year-old college girl on spring break. The mismatch of modern and old school with the styling cues on this car is mind bogging… but it’s painfully obvious where the base inspiration came from, and it’s nowhere near Europe.
That vertical rear window and wickedly forward C-pillar placement… are you serious GM? They practically had to draw a fake cut around the wheel well in the back door to avoid making it a straight vertical line. A wonky, fun-house clown car straight out of the factory. Don’t even get me started on the interior full of 90-degree angles, cheap parts bin materials, and gaudy fake “wood”. GM sure did have a bad habit of making even their genuine wood trim look like the same tacky plastic material out of a K-car.
General Motors was being dragged into the future kicking and screaming around this era (1985-1992), and it showed in all of their designs. Sure, we’ll round the corners of our box sedans. We’ll throw in some bucket seats, and a digital dash that malfunctions right out of warranty. We’ll even offer a suspension setting that’s less marshmallow-y, but the car will still weigh too much and give zero feedback through any of the controls. Forget about the door slam sounding solid like even a lowly Volkswagen, or engineering a turn signal stalk that doesn’t sound like it’s breaking off every time you touch it. We’re “European” now! Look at that sleek lower body cladding and amber turn signals on the “Touring” model that no dealer stocks, and no real person buys!
Ok… these cars were quiet and smooth, and if anything, the taillights looked kind of cool in that squinty, aggressive way. But I could say the same about a 1997 Toyota Camry. This was a $35K Grand Am with a tacky grille and casket-style door handles. Deadly Sin of Deadly Sins.
Well, yeah I was thinking that this was “Cadillac shows they still don’t get it” but I’m neither a GM guy or a luxury car guy. I’ll take yesterday’s 1965 New Yorker, quite the opposite of this.
And that C pillar, it always makes me think the car is going to collapse just sitting there..
….”And that C pillar, it always makes me think the car is going to collapse just sitting there..”
Right. That about wraps it up perfectly.
It may be thin, but upright! The C pillar that is. Sounded weird to me too…
Yesterday’s 65 New Yorker was a true luxury car. It had the look, the quality, the materials, the aura. With all of that, who gives a flying fig if you have to crank your windows?
I’ve been giving these 3rd generation Sevilles some thought recently, since a few weeks ago I photographed an ’87 Seville which I hope to write up eventually. Whenever I see one, I can’t help but thinking What If GM tried just a little bit harder?
The car was such a flop, it’s out of the question to wonder what could have been done to make it a Great Car, but… with a little bit more thought at least it could have avoided being an embarrassment. And something that would have helped would have been to offer the STS treatment from the beginning… or better yet, having it be standard.
That wouldn’t, of course, have catapulted the Seville to the top of the sport sedan heap, but it would have avoided the humiliation that the Seville became. It was a joke, especially when festooned with a fake convertible top, wire wheels and a fake Rolls-Royce grille, as many of them were. An STS-type Seville, though, introduced for 1986, would have at least shifted the needle more to the positive.
There were a few grains of goodness here — the size was right, and the ride was a good compromise for the day, and the 4-passenger seating (while not to everyone’s taste) was a unique and luxurious touch. Too bad the rest of the package was so unfashionable.
It would have made a very nice luxury El Camino
Yeah. Today’s luxury pickups have hinged tonneau covers – is that the market GM was aiming for here – a decade or so before it existed?
Viewed as a four-door short-bed luxury pickup with hinged tonneau, the design isn’t quite so bad. But it’s not a sedan, let alone a prestige one.
It’s hard to half-arse a purpose-built car. With the stench of Cimarron still lingering in the background and a preceding string of non-sporty sporty sedans doing little to overcome Cadillac’s reputation as a soft traditional luxury brand, they needed an expensive and focused effort here. Instead, it began with weak engines, a fuddy-duddy interior, fuddy-duddy GM exterior cues. I mean, look at that steering wheel. This had no chance of winning over those drawn to the trendy European cars.
Ironically, 20-some years later, the ATS and CTS are legitimate BMW/Audi fighters and it’s too late. Everyone wants luxury CUVs now. Maybe Cadillac should have stuck to building the plushest and most regal barges around.
Thank you William.
I’ve grown progressively fonder of these cars over the years. Compared to most other domestics of the era, they were very enjoyable to drive and visibility all around was excellent.
One thing I’ve always wondered about the Cimarron is why it was allowed to wither on the proverbial vine for so long, From ’82 – ’88 with production beginning in ’81. GM quickly realized it was a monumental embarrassment. Why keep it going for seven years? Was it that profitable? Nothing could justify the permanent damage it inflicted on the Cadillac brand. Even the much lauded and ballyhooed original Seville lasted only five years, and very strong-selling ones at that.
Nobody ever bothers answering questions in this forum. Thanks. Not.
Probably because I thought your first question was rhetorical. As for your second one, I am neither an accountant who worked at GM in the 1980s nor Roger Smith so I can’t possibly answer it.
On a housekeeping note, this isn’t a forum, it’s a website and even if I did subscribe to comment replies, I wouldn’t have seen your reply sooner as you replied to your own comment.
You’re spot-on though about the Cimarron. For a low-volume, image-damaging, half-assed entry-level Cadillac, it sure stuck around for a while. I know Cadillac joined the J-Car development program at the 11th hour but you’d think they would have angled for the Cimarron to be a short-lived stopgap and for a “real” compact Caddy to be launched a few years later.
I’ve had 2 1991 Seville’s over the years. I’ve found them to be fine dependable luxury cars. They have mostly been forgotten by everyone. This shows in the pricing of these cars and you can pick up a well kept one for very little money. We must also remember that a 1991 Mustang GT was also about 200 hp.
“1986-1991 Cadillac Seville: William Stopford Shows He Still Doesn’t Get It” 🙂
Sorry, but this stinking pile was one of the all-time worst GM Deadly Sins.
The fact that only 1,499 buyers ponied up for the $6000 (!!) STS package speaks volumes about how utterly clueless Cadillac was.
And yes, that all-time dorkiest steering wheel ever alone would have repelled any import car buyer. Yuck!! Never mind the rest of the dash and interior.
I guess the Liberace effect was strong enough in the 80s so that Cadillac could still sell as many of these as they did. There’s no other explanation.
PN beat me to it. When the “European Sport Sedan” you are trying to sell pulls in between 1500-3000 customers *a year* (and in a booming economy, at that) something is wrong. Especially when you are offering it with V8 power. If somebody wanted a Mercedes, BMW or Audi, Mercedes BMW and Audi made pretty decent ones. And to be clear, their “sport sedan” versions were not cladded and tightened up versions of flabby regular cars.
I have gotten so sick of Cadillac trying to go all “Look at us, we can make a European-style sport sedan too!” Really, it is like the character Rick Moranis played in Ghostbusters.
The only reason the basic Seville sold at all is because there were still buyers out there who always bought Cadillacs because, well just because. Cadillac has spent thirty years (30 years!?!?!?) trying to be American luxury cars and European sports sedans at the same time. Besides the glimmers of hope cars like the next generations of Eldo and Seville offered, it has been one long and constant descent into irrelevance.
PN and JPC are right, Cadillac did NOT get it then!
The 1989 Lexus LS400, and subsequent Lexus LS for the past THIRTY years are the modern Cadillac—powerful and luxurious. While the emphasis is clearly on comfort, the LS is not a flabby car (unlike the Detroit’s big floaty yachts from the 70s) and corners commendably enough.
What’s bad about the 88-91 STS (Joke-TS!) is that GM did not learn the right lessons from this experience, and previous Cadillac experiences, BEFORE and AFTER. The 89 LS400 had it down pat. I’ve only driven one LS once, a 2002 model 15 years ago, and it struck me as the ultimate….Cadillac!
The current (soon to be expired) Cadillac cars out-BMW BMW in terms of ride and handling. Yet, the angular styling, vertical tail-lamps, and mediocre interiors, and non-competitive pricing have prevented the ATS, CTS, and CT6 from getting their due (and their sales). Not to mention their idiotic naming convention.
And GM’s luck is bad. Just this month, Car & Driver did a road test of the Audi A7, which they evaluated very favorably. In terms of price and size, the A7s competitor is a CT6 with the twin-turbo V6. Yet in the comparison stats, C&D used the CTS V-Sport, which is more of an 5-series M light.
GM spent a lot of money on the CT6. It is a more credible competitor to the A7, yet C&D picked the weaker (for this comparison Cadillac).
GM has so much potential, yet it let Cadillac die. That is sad.
Don’t the magazines test with loaner cars? If this was the case, it may have been GM who sent them a loser, instead of their best.
Oof, tough crowd.
Just to be clear, the purpose of this article wasn’t to say the first Seville STS was a credible sports sedan. I thought I made clear it was overpriced for what you got and deeply flawed.
I think my title was a bit controversial because this generation of Seville is so deeply loathed that it looks like I’m giving the car itself credit. Where GM “got it” with this, I feel, was that they realized they had to do something different with Cadillac. Previous sporting Cadillacs were short-lived or half-assed and there was an incredible divide between plush, cushy, be-chromed Cadillacs and firmer-riding, cleaner German cars. The STS was a small first step into entering the modern luxury car market and the expectations said market had. What Cadillac had been building for many years still had its fans and would continue to do so but it represented the past and not the future.
And like many of you have said, German and Japanese rivals didn’t have to offer a sport package to give buyers good dynamics. Cadillac eventually figured that out in the 21st century. But no matter how half-baked it may have been, this STS was a bridge between the big, cushy DeVilles and Eldorados of the 1970s and the ATS and CTS sport sedans of today.
Forgot to mention Will, don’t like the car, appreciate the effort. Interesting reading 😉
Tough crowd on the car, perhaps, but like DougD I think your article on the car was informative and well-written. It’s appreciated, William, so thanks.
The flaw in the logic is the “bridge” Cadillac may have made with this and their other 80s touring sedans is it has a massive gap in the middle of it, also known as the decade of the 1990s. The Seville made during that decade was attractive, yes, but the Cadillac brand image was arguably lower than it ever, was and has never shaken the stigma. 80s Cadillac may have been old and out of touch, but 90s Cadillac completely retired. I’ll forever associate the brand during the 90s with Seinfeld’s Del Boca Vista retirement community, talk about perfect car casting.
Will, I certainly agree that there can be endearing or praiseworthy things in connection with cars that were market failures. Lord knows, I have written lovingly on plenty of cars that buyers shunned in huge numbers.
And these may have been pretty decent cars, actually. I could see buying one from an elderly owner for a pittance and enjoying the (contrarian) drive.
But as for giving Cadillac credit for knowing that it had to do something with the brand – I am not sure I go that far. Of course they had to do *something*. Anyone could see that just from the sales figures and owner demographics. But what did they do? Tom LU86 makes a great point – Lexus understood what the market wanted. The market wanted something to fill the void that Cadillac left when it stopped building Cadillacs after, say, 1966 or 1970. That market was Cadillac’s to lose, and they lost it.
I will break with many here and argue that part of Cadillac’s problem was CAFE which hindered bigger American cars more than it hindered the inherently more efficient cars that were designed for overseas conditions. Although looking at the numbers Lexus got the LS400 to provide better EPA fuel mileage numbers than the regular Seville. So much for that.
Bless you for giving these cars the love they need so badly. But I don’t think this car took Cadillac anywhere near the place it needed to go.
I give Lincoln far more credit for knowing they had to do something during the 80s than Cadillac, they got hits(Mark VII) and misses(82-87 Continental), but they truly did leave behind the old conventions on their new models, even the 89 Town Car. Cadillac just made their 70s conventions smaller, and with these touring sedans gussied them up with mag wheels and black paint like a high school student would.
William, you write beautifully, and it is a well researched piece, but it does not change the fact that only a Cadillac apologist/enthusiast would think that this model has any real merit as a car that showed GM “got it”. This was GM phoning it in at it’s worst. And to charge Cadillac pricing for a basically warmed over Oldsmobile was doubly damning on them for any hope of long term success.
I understand, I love some craptastic cars as well, and will defend my love for them to the end. But I will always admit to their being crap.
Well JFrank, it would be very easy for me to just write an article saying this Seville is crap, its interior is crap, it was laughably overpriced, its ugly, it has rings run around it by the Germans, etc etc. Indeed, we have a terrific Deadly Sin article on this very generation of Seville that’s worth reading. But I wanted to give GM some credit here for 1) doing a better job than the Cimarron in making this sport sedan (ain’t that the faintest of praise!) and 2) for starting the transition from floaty barge manufacturer to genuine BMW rival.
I thought I made it clear the car was hugely overpriced (you could get most of the mechanical improvements for $5700 (!) less, or a 98 Touring Sedan for less) and that it was seriously lacking in some areas. Maybe I should’ve bitched some more about it so you didn’t think I was a “Cadillac apologist”.
I know I’m a Cadillac fan but I’d like to think I can still present a balanced article on one like I do for all the Yugos and Checkers and Jaguars and Holdens et all that I write about.
William, as I stated, you write beautiful and well researched articles, and I don’t want you to bitch about a car just to make me happy. Actually, doing that does just the opposite. But, to be fair, this car did not show that GM “got it” as noted in the title of the article. That was my point. I don’t consider you as much an apologist for GM but rather a true enthusiast of the marque. As an enthusiast/fan, you will forgive things that others would not. You don’t judge as harshly as others might. That is how it should be.
The article was relatively balanced, but the fact remains that this model was perhaps a glimmer of the idea that Cadillac could “get it”, but we seem to be of two minds as to whether Cadillac (or GM) has ever really “got it” or not. I take the view that they lost their heritage when they downgraded quality for price points and badge engineering, and then mistakenly decided to benchmark the Germans. The problem is that they benchmarked current product to make future models, so by the time they brought out the CTS, the sports sedan target had moved forward, still leaving them behind. If you consider this “getting it”, your opinion is different than mine. Thanks for writing the article and the discussion. I do appreciate your viewpoint, no matter how it differs from mine.
Nice write up and an underappreciated car. I owned a benz W124 from this era. while it was a great and reliable car…………….i’m lost as to how the interior on the Benz is classier than the Caddy. clearly it it not.
You serious? Your opinion is certainly valid having owned both vehicles, but from style, architecture, and visible details alone the Benz looks leagues ahead to me.
Even the blocky, dour BMW of the era had a more modern vibe to it.
eddie has opinions that invariably veer from the mainstream. I’ve yet to agree with him on anything. 🙂
There’s no arguing about taste (or the lack of it).
LOL!!! Love you too Paul!!! seriously, the w124 has an interior that is a level (sans the wood trim) above a german taxi cab(which by the way is one of their uses) The quality of materials is better than the Caddy and it’s put together better……………..but it’s definately not classier.
In my world:
Timeless design with high quality materials = classy.
Fussy out-of-date frilly styling with cheap materials ≠ classy.
Sorry for this. But.
I’ve frequently read commenters on this site describe shamelessly tacky broughamobiles as “classy” or “elegant”. My inclination is to put these comments in a box marked “American dictionary abuse” (I also have the word “libertarian” in there, amongst others).
Screaming “I gots loadsa money!” from a gold rattle-canned toilet seat JB welded to the bed of a King Ranch pickup is neither “elegant” nor “classy”.
If you object to spending so much on a car that they didn’t even bother to Pritt Stick and sprinkle with glitter, that complaint might well be valid, but it has nothing to do with elegance.
It seems to me the most charitable adjective might be “glitz” or ” glamor”. Glamour if you prefer.
I don’t find either one particularly “classy”, but the Cadillac dash looks like something from a work van
Yeah the Mercedes dash looks as if it was designed, and the Caddy dash looks like I built it with a nail gun and whatever was lying around. I actually like the car than most people commenting here, but the dash is just embarrassing.
The dash reminds me of a 1978 Cutlass Supreme with some extra gingerbread and a digital cluster. Certainly not cutting edge by 1986.
An analogy comes to mind….
As a connoisseur of sweet tea (as is Will) there is a mountain of difference between sweet tea that is prepared correctly by merging the sugar with hot water and letting it steep versus those who simply brew tea and then add sugar later on after the steeping process.
With these the sugar was added later when it could have easily been incorporated at the beginning.
The bad thing is the type of tea used can also lead to undesirable outcomes. Mixing green tea with Earle Grey isn’t the most endearing flavor. Green tea with Chai, however, is amazing. This Seville is a breakfast tea with rooibos that isn’t quite what the palette desires.
Will, I’m not piling on. I’m rather glad these Cadillacs have a champion; you do have a terrific enthusiasm for them, which I admire. And, if you think about it, each of us who writes here champions something (Studebakers, English cars, Mercurys, crew-cab pickups) that many don’t and this is a very healthy way to stretch outlooks.
I rented an STS in ’91, again from National Car Rental Emerald Aisle GM dumping ground. It had less than 100 miles on it. Drove Pacific Coast Highway with it. It was very nice and handled well, but with the stiffer suspension and harsher GT4 tires, it felt like lots of rattles were in the near future. Often when hitting a rough spot, there would be some “almost” noises in the interior, as if the harmonic vibrations inherent in the new suspension settings were in conflict with the original body structure. Still, for about $28 a day, unlimited mileage (Luxury for a mid size rental price!), it made for a nice trip.
IF this was the standard form of the Seville Cadillac may have been on track, but like everything else GM made in this decade the few good and contemporary(or closesest to) cars they made cams at top of the line premiums on models with terrible stigmas. I bring this up all the time, but the Buick Grand National is a key example. Those only got the respect they deserved after the other 99% G-body Regals with their paper clip wheel covers and puffy tops left everyone’s collective memories.
I don’t hate these as much as I thought I did, even the proportions look better to me than I had in my head. But they aren’t Cadillacs, at the very best this is what the Cimmaron should have been. The other problem is FWD. GM really tried their best to sell that as “high tech”, and while it has its benefits, Mercedes and BMW success despite old RWD isn’t a coincidence.
I wouldn’t have looked at these at all, not when there was a 1991 Cutlass Calais 442 with the w41 package (and a 5 speed manual transmission) for much less down the street at the Olds dealer.
William, I remain amazed by your granular knowledge of US cars and our market. I like to think I know something about cars worldwide, but for example, I have only a rudimentary knowledge of the Australian market. Don’t ask me anything about the Middle East market, for example. My knowledge is even less informed in that regard.
But, even though I was not a fan of the car back in the day, nostalgia has softened my position. I remember the time well, I worked for a Tier One supplier at the time. My boss always had a new Cadillac (of some stripe) and I specifically remember when he traded his RWD B-body DeVille for his first FWD Cadillac (1985). He never said much about it, but that car didn’t last long with him, he got back into a RWD B-body as soon as he could.
I think there were several mistakes made here. One, was to release a less expensive car with these styling cues ahead of the lesser cars. Second, Unquestioning adherence to the CAFE rules. One place where the Germans got a leg up on everyone else was their absolute immovable position on what their top-tier models were going to be and no pesky rule like CAFE was going to stop them. OTOH, Lexus managed to achieve all of those goals, so there’s that.
Regardless, I like the balanced approach to a somewhat unbalanced car. Thanks!
This should read: One, was to release a less expensive car with these styling cues ahead of the *expensive* cars
William, this is a great write-up on a not so great car. I can see your point that Cadillac did recognize some of the attributes that appealed to European buyers, but I tend to follow the consensus that this car was way off the mark. While on paper it was a better attempt than the bustle back Sevilles that preceded it, in reality, it didn’t appeal to the traditional Cadillac buyer and certainly not those who were interested in Euro sedans.
As for the car itself, I don’t have much praise for these Sevilles. The design to me hasn’t gotten better with age, and they offered mediocre performance and dynamics. On top of all that, they were just not well built or reliable cars. I worked at Chev-Olds-Cadillac dealer, and we saw a few of these in the shop. They were loathed by all the techs. These were part of the reason we called Cadillacs “Cadil-scrap.” I could tolerate the FWD Devilles of the early 90’s, because they at least weren’t trying to be something they were not. While they weren’t great cars either, by the time the 4.9 came out power was finally okay while reliability had improved greatly, and they did offer good space efficiency and better dynamics than the larger D-Body Caddys.
Lincoln did well in the 1980’s while Cadillac failed with stuff like this. A big part of the reason that Lincoln did so well was that they didn’t ignore their traditional buyers with cars like this Seville. The Town Car was an American luxury barge and was proud of it. And it was also a pretty decent car overall, especially by the late 80’s. Then they were also able to appeal to the younger demographic with the Mark VII, again without isolating traditional buyers. Lincoln lucked out by having no money in the early 80’s, which didn’t allow them with the big overhaul of their car lines. Cadillac had the money and the major overhaul and downsize with FWD conversion was a huge failure.
Estás claro Vince. Lincoln tuvo mucho éxito con su Town Car hasta su última generación
si Cadillac no con su STS. Innovaron con su futurista tablero digital pero no lo pefeccionaron debidamente para continuar la producción.