The 1994-99 Cadillac DeVille was large, imposing and unabashedly a Cadillac. So how is it we haven’t had a full Curbside Classic on it yet, and why such a negative title?
Much has been said on these pages about the 1985-93 Cadillac de Ville/Fleetwood. Criticism of the first FWD de Ville generation typically boils down to this: it looked too small and anonymous for its first few years, before a heavy refresh made it look more like a traditional Cadillac.
To make it look like a traditional Cadillac, however, involved designers looking more towards the past for inspiration rather than towards the future. The result was a mostly attractive full-size Cadillac but one that was looking somewhat stale by the 1990s. My personal view was that the de Ville looked somewhat willowy against newer rivals, a bit too low and obviously stretched.
Although not the quantum leap in style the ’92 Seville had been compared to its predecessor, the ’94 DeVille was a markedly different-looking car. It was at once so much fuller-figured in appearance without looking bulbous, and it had significant presence.
Cadillac persisted with some heritage styling cues, for better or worse – the taillights were still vertical and somewhat reminiscent of tail fins and fender skirts partially concealed the rear wheels, the latter of which contributed to a slightly tubby appearance from some angles. Somewhat confusingly, it also bore a strong resemblance to the rear-wheel-drive, C-Body Fleetwood Brougham that had been redesigned for 1993. Like the Fleetwood, though, the ’94 DeVille looked big, brash and proudly Cadillac.
If you didn’t like the Cadillac look or the brand’s image, well, the DeVille wasn’t going to be your speed. Cadillac’s image had taken a hit in the 1980s due to a variety of factors. There were reliability problems (V8-6-4, HT-4100), ill-conceived products (Cimarron, ’86 Eldorado/Seville) and an ageing customer base, not helped by the lack of more youthful products. The ’94 DeVille was proudly a Cadillac when the wreath-and-crest wasn’t shining the brightest.
When Lexus came along with the LS400, it tapped into something the American market had desired. It undercut the increasingly expensive Germans and yet offered sublime build quality, a smooth and comfortable ride, a silky V8, and an extensive features list. It was exactly what Cadillac should have been building and yet it appealed to buyers who wouldn’t have considered a Cadillac, its lack of brand image also meaning a lack of connotations and baggage. Never mind the fact the LS400’s styling wasn’t terribly original or that it wasn’t as athletic as, say, a BMW – it gave a lot of buyers exactly what they wanted.
When the ’94 DeVille reached the market four years after the Lexus, it had a few aces up its sleeve. For one, it was still considerably cheaper than the smaller LS400, to the tune of up to $18k. Cadillac had persisted with its 1975-vintage pricing strategy, positioning the “internationally-sized” Seville atop the range.
The Seville had been lauded for its Northstar double-overhead cam 4.6 V8, a silky smooth and effortlessly powerful V8 that enraptured critics, appearing on Ward’s Best Engines List from 1995 until 1997. Into the new, flagship De Ville Concours it went, the priciest De Ville still undercutting the LS400.
For its second front-wheel-drive generation, the DeVille grew considerably. Underpinned by the same K-Body platform as the ’92 Seville, it was now 209.7 inches long, 76.5 inches wide and 56.4 inches tall. That made it 4.4 inches longer, 3.1 inches wider and 1.2 inches taller than the old Sedan de Ville. The wheelbase, however, remained the same at 113.8 inches. The slow-selling coupe variant was gone, as were the old de Ville-based Sixty Special and Fleetwood models, the latter of which had disappeared already after MY1992.
The engine in the base Sedan De Ville (the ‘d’ was now capitalized) was a carryover 4.9 V8, producing 200 hp at 4100 rpm and 275 ft-lbs at 3000 rpm and hitting 60mph in 9.4 seconds. The Concours used the same LD8 tune of Northstar as the Seville SLS and Eldorado, producing 270 hp at 5600 rpm and 300 ft-lbs at 4000 rpm and good for a 0-60 time of around 8 seconds. Although the Northstar was much more powerful than the 4.9, fuel economy was almost identical – 16/26 mpg versus a superior 17/26 mpg for the Northstar. Both engines were mated to GM’s 4T80-E four-speed automatic.
The two De Ville models were distinguished not only by their engines but also by their suspension set-ups. Both used the same basic layout – four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts up front and a short/long-arm set-up at the rear with electronic level control. However, the Sedan De Ville used what Cadillac marketed as Speed Sensitive Suspension while the Concours used Road Sensing Suspension.
Speed Sensitive Suspension was as it sounded. A computer-controlled actuator in each of the four struts adjusted the suspension’s firmness, becoming progressively firmer the faster you drove. The suspension also stiffened during hard braking and cornering. Road Sensing Suspension was a bit more sophisticated, using an array of sensors to determine the damping forces in the shock absorbers and struts, making adjustments within milliseconds. Additionally, all De Ville models used speed-sensitive power steering.
For all the sophisticated new technology, Cadillac was careful not to alienate loyal buyers. These buyers skewed older – the average De Ville buyer was 67. Though the Concours was designed to appeal to younger buyers in their 50s, even it didn’t scare existing owners too much. Despite its sportier pretensions, it retained the increasingly passé six-passenger set-up and was saddled with digital instrumentation. Nevertheless, it was the most Seville-like of the DeVille range, from its Northstar V8 to its use of perforated leather upholstery and Zebrano wood trim inside. The exterior was also more reminiscent of the Seville STS, Cadillac nixing the Sedan De Ville’s stand-up hood ornament and, at least at first, the lesser De Ville’s chromed wheels. There were also dual exhaust outlets and unique side mouldings.
For those previously unfamiliar with the ’94-99 DeVille, it’s all sounding pretty good so far, isn’t it? Ok, perhaps the bluff styling might be a turn off but otherwise it appears to be quite the package – sharp pricing, a capacious interior, 20 cubic-foot trunk, plenty of gadgets, and a modern, refined and powerful V8. Alas, this is where the wheels come off or, rather, the head bolts.
Like the V8-6-4 and the HT-4100 before it, the Northstar was no paragon of reliability. Initial reports of its reliability were strong, critics impressed by its long, 7,500-10,000 mile oil change intervals and an innovative limp-home mode that allowed the car to drive on four cylinders when there was coolant loss. Alas, the Northstar also suffered from oil leaks and blown head gaskets. The latter was caused by the head bolts which, when the engine ran hot, would pull. In turn, the engine would be more susceptible to overheating and the head bolts would stretch further. It took Cadillac eight years to rectify the issue, with Northstars produced after 2000 being far less prone to these failures. By 2004, the issue had been eradicated but the damage had been done.
Though the Northstar issues continued throughout this generation’s run, Cadillac made numerous running changes to the model. For 1996, the 4.9 was discontinued and the De Ville line now used two tunes of the Northstar. The Concours’ old tune was now standard in the Sedan De Ville and gained 5 horses, while the Concours received the Seville STS’s L37 Northstar with 300 hp at 6000 rpm and 295 ft-lbs at 4400 rpm, the L37 tuned more for high-end performance rather than low-end torque. It had the same EPA ratings, however, of 17/26mpg. That year also saw the arrival of the even more sophisticated Continuously Variable Road Sensing Suspension (CVRSS) to the Concours line, as well as Magnasteer electromagnetic variable-assist power steering; the regular De Ville picked up the Concours’ old Road Sensing Suspension.
In 1997, the De Ville line was given a modest facelift. The skirts over the rear wheel wells were gone, visually lightening the car’s flanks. There was a new hood and front fascia, which gave the car a fresher look. Even more importantly, front side airbags and traction control were now standard across the range.
The Concours had somewhat awkwardly existed as both the most luxurious De Ville and the closest approximation to a sport sedan in the line. For 1997, there was a new d’Elegance trim that effectively replaced the departed Fleetwood Brougham. With its whitewall tires and abundance of chrome and gold badging, plus some extra standard kit over the base De Ville, the d’Elegance assumed the luxury mantle.
That left the Concours to take on a more overtly sporty role, switching to analog gauges, front bucket seats and a console – making the interior look much like a Seville’s – and featuring a less chromey-laden grille than its stablemates. It kept the higher-output Northstar, leaving the less powerful tune to the base and d’Elegance models. The Concours gained firmer shocks and slightly larger brake discs, among other tweaks, while the other De Villes picked up the Magnasteer steering.
During this generation, Cadillac typically introduced features to the Concours before rolling them out to the other trim levels the following year. So, a year after GM’s Stabilitrak stability control system debuted on the Concours, it was added to rest of the line.
The last year of this generation saw the introduction of massaging front seats and a Golden Anniversary special edition. GM may have let some of its vehicles wither on the vine over the years but this generation of De Ville was blessed with regular updates and a six-year production run that was normal for the class.
Alas, even before the Northstar’s issues became well-known, De Ville sales were down from the previous model. In its last year, Cadillac produced just over 130,000 units of the old Sedan and Coupe de Ville. For 1994, that figure was down to 120,352 units, and then down to a worrisome 91,501 units for 1995. Sales mostly bounced back, however – if not the heights of the old de Ville – and stayed steady for the rest of the car’s run. It always sold roughly double the smaller and more expensive Seville’s tally, bested the Lincoln Continental’s numbers by the same margin, and was neck-and-neck with the Lincoln Town Car.
That the De Ville sold steadily must’ve pleased Cadillac as, though the company wanted to compete for import luxury car buyers’ affections with the Seville, the De Ville was the red meat for traditional Cadillac consumers. Alas, Cadillac sales overall were trending downwards and though the De Ville was a steady seller, it didn’t help buyers’ perception that Cadillac was a bit of a geriatric brand. For every modestly sporty Concours model, there were several beige d’Elegances with dealer-fitted landau roofs parked in front of the local Cracker Barrel.
Was the De Ville a missed opportunity? For all the focus on the Concours, plus the modern Northstar and high-tech features, this was still a traditional Cadillac in appearance and positioning. With diminishing market share and ageing owners, should Cadillac have taken more of a risk with its best-selling model?
One need look only at today’s CT6. Yes, yes, it’s in production limbo with the closure of Hamtramck and only rumored plans to move it to the same production line as the new CT4 and CT5. And yes, its sales are nowhere near what the De Ville used to manage, although that’s largely due to a dramatically different automotive landscape. Nevertheless, look at how it offers attributes appealing to both traditional Cadillac buyers (size, a stately presence) and buyers of luxury imports (modern technology, excellent handling). Would it have been better to offer this kind of balance in the De Ville, or at least start from a base of building an LS400 rival first instead of trying to spin a sportier model off a traditional plush Caddy?
We’ll never know. The ’94-99 De Ville may have been a steady seller but its reliability issues could only have aggravated loyal buyers, while its styling and image didn’t lure any new buyers in. All the while, Cadillac market share continued to dwindle.
’89-93 Sedan de Ville photographed in San Mateo, CA in June 2019.
’96 Sedan De Ville photographed in Oxnard, CA in September 2018.
’97-99 De Ville d’Elegance photographed in Beatty, NV in September 2018.
Curbside Classic: 1988 Cadillac Coupe de Ville – How Not To Downsize A Luxury Car
Curbside Classics: 1989 Cadillac Coupe de Ville & 1990 Sedan de Ville – Better As Time Goes By?
Curbside Classic: 1992-97 Cadillac Seville – A Forgotten Contender
Curbside Classic: 1998-04 Cadillac Seville – The FWD Sport Sedan’s Last Stand
Curbside Classic: 2000-05 Cadillac DeVille – Transitional Fossil
I think Cadillac’s appeal to young buyers would have been limited either way, simply because it was Cadillac.
They should have kept appealing to older people. Maybe they would have stayed an old folks’ brand, but at least those would keep buying Caddies.
Chrysler appealed to old buyers too in the early 90s. They managed a tremendous turnaround in buyer demographics. All it takes is the right product.
Disagree. Tomorrow’s old people aren’t necessarily going to buy what today’s old people buy and today’s old people wouldn’t be around for much longer… Plus, you can sell a young person’s car to an old person but not the other way around.
If Cadillac had just gone full stodge in the 1990s, even people in their 50s and 60s would probably have been loathe to buy them. Don’t want people thinking you’re 80 now…
They would need to evolve, but by appealing to new 70-year-olds, not by trying to appeal to 70-year-olds and 40-year-olds at the same time in hope that maybe the current 40-year-olds will be buying another Caddy in 30 years.
A waning brand has to do more than wait for young buyers to become senior citizens.
Otherwise, Packard could have followed that strategy.
Cadillac’s range in those days was awfully confusing – to an Aussie, at least. Above the Seville you had this choice of this front-drive or the other rear-drive big cars. Two cars in Cadillac’s traditional market segment where they previously had one. And this when sales were down. Why? How could Cadillac afford this? How much size difference was there? Which one was the ‘top’ Caddy? How could you tell, if you weren’t a Cadillac nerd?
Cadillac would have done better to concentrate their efforts on one or the other platform. If I’d been in charge, I’d have reasoned that the big front-driver smacked too much of bad times, fuel shortages and (shh!) knee-jerk reactions of the eighties. Leave it to Olds and Buick. A look out the window would show that nobody else outside GM made FWD cars that big, and that large prestige cars from elsewhere in the globe were either RWD or (if you’re Audi) AWD. So scrap the front-driver and let all those engineers loose on the one platform to make a truly world-class big rear driver.
Hope I don’t need to duck for cover…..
You’ve hit the nail on the head. Even during this time, with the rear-drive B-body Brougham (or whatever it was called) from ’92 or ’93 until ’96, along with two front-drivers, it was unclear which was top dog. In retrospect, it almost seems like Cadillac was trying to cover three different market areas. It may have made sense at the time but, again in retrospect, they simply created confusion.
If I had to break it down, it always appeared the rear-drive B-body was for the ultra-tradionalists and commercial users; the DeVille was for everyday customers and some commercial users (although these were the de facto Cadillac rent-a-car); the Seville was for the younger, trendier crowd or those wanting a Cadillac sedan of a different flavor. But let’s not forget the two-door Eldorado was in this mix and 1993 was the last year for the Allante.
It is confusing.
I think one of GMs problems in those days was that they were loath to drop anything that was selling in reasonable numbers and making a profit. In the short term it is hard to argue with this, but long term, it certainly did not help their image.
Sounds awfully like BMC in the sixties.
GM followed the same mechanical path into oblivion, BMC/BL never made a decent FWD car did GM?
No need to duck and cover at all. Cadillac had become the formerly expensive restaurant that was making most of its money with $8.99 Early Bird Specials.
That is a lot of money for a Early Bird Special to a senior citizen who remembers .15 cent hamburgers and real Buick Specials while driving a Camry.
Right. And that restaurant switched from making in-house meals to sourcing ready-made stuff from a supplier like SYSCO…and then wonders why people are so unimpressed and leaving in droves.
It is confusing, Pete. And the De Ville wasn’t even “above” the Seville. In size, yes. In price and positioning, no. So you’ve got two huge sedans, and then one slightly smaller sedan costing more.
Jason’s likely right about the buyers for each. Buick had the same situation going on: the Roadmaster was bigger than the Park Avenue but was priced and positioned below it. You bought a Roadmaster because you wanted to tow or you just liked a big BOF RWD car, you bought a Park Avenue because it was more modern and stylish.
Thank god you said this, pete! I never could work it out.
Nice write up. Awful styling on the outside, but I was always impressed with the 96+ dashboard.
But I’m confused: wasn’t this generation based on the old C-car platform still? Look at the doors, they’re almost identical. It was the next gen that shared the Seville platform.
No, this Deville, the 94-99, was a K-platform car, same as the Seville.
The C-platform was basically dead by 1993, with just the Park Avenue & 98 sticking around until 1996.
So it’s a stretched, reskinned Seville then? In that case I’m still wondering – why?
This model simply proved that Cadillac had lost the plot. It was never attractive in a way that the Seville and Eldorado were. It was a money pit as it aged due to a compromised engine design. They could not figure out who their market was. And I have to disagree with you – as one who grew up around the Cadillacs of the 1960s these had no presence at all, but looked good only in comparison with the previous generation.
The only reason the Lexus LS400 was such a success is that Cadillac and Lincoln had abandoned the market for a true luxury car. The Lexus was an attractive, expensive car of excellent quality and a great dealer experience. Cadillac was touting things with names like Magnasteer like it was still 1958.
Actual sales tell the tale – these were selling to confirmed Cadillac buyers and few others. Lincoln was doing pretty much the same thing. It is almost like the two of them formed some kind of mutual co-dependent relationship, each confirming to the other that they were on the right track.
The one addendum I would add to this generation Deville is the 1998-1999 Fleetwood Limited, essentially just a FWD Deville stretched 1 foot, 6″ added to the rear seat & 6″ added to the trunk.
Cadillac had these built by Superior and sold new at dealerships as an attempt to keep a Town Car competitor on the lots after the RWD Fleetwood was discontinued. They sold just under 1000 of them.
And they brought back the fender skirts…
Your picture immediately brought this to mind.
Ugh – that roof!
We’ve spend much time here at CC, discussing how Lexus’ LS400 ate Cadillac’s lunch when it came out and shook up the luxury sedan market. That last shot in this article of the CT6 makes me realize how badly Cadillac is trying to emulate the current Lexus.
I previously had an admiration for Cadillacs. When this came out though, I thought it just another Chev, with some goodies. It was the rear wheel well that did it, the resemblance to the Caprice of that era told me it was the same designers or corporate ID people who came up with the look. This Chev is from a previous article on CC. And. I. Extremely. Disliked. This. Look. Just trying too hard to be all soap bar looking like a Taurus, without pulling it off in a trim manner. Nope this Caddy was a foul ball for me.
I think that Cadillac’s sales decline during this period has as much to do with other GM Brands going “big” at the time as much as it has to do with outside competition. Take your pick, Chevrolet Caprice/Impala, Pontiac Bonneville, Buick Lesabre, Riviera, Park Avenue, Roadmaster, even the Regal/Pontiac Grand Prix was larger and available with supercharged 3.8 L power.
Oldsmobile 98, 88, and (True Lexus LS400 competitor, in GM’s eyes) Aurora. At least in the 85 through 93 years GM kept Cadillac Fleetwood (FWD) and Brougham (RWD) dimensionally and visually larger than everything else in GM’s line-up.
In these years (94-96) I would have taken an Impala SS all day everyday over any Cadillac. Post 96 I would have looked for a used leftover Impala SS or Caprice LTZ. If I had to pick something new from GM in 97, 98, or 99 I would have went with Pontiac Bonneville SSEi (sedan) or Corvette C5 (coupe).
Looking at Cadillacs line-up at the time these cars were new, I knew these were all for suckers. Even without the internet car guys “knew” about the Northstar issues.
Again, totally agree. It’s like a team deciding to go with an all-star lineup, paying for talent in every spot on the roster. They usually do well for a season, then the infighting between players trying to be the star of an all-star team, along with salary issues, end up busting the entire operation.
GM corporate stuck to the Sloane ladder, yet the individual brands did not. The ladder “worked” on sales only as long as the lowest brand was never offering product that the highest brand did. When one could easily option a Caprice to the same level as a DeVille, and still save thousands, the status of the higher priced car usually was not worth the premium.
At GM, the Cadillac Powertrains were the Sloane ladder in REVERSE after the Cadillac/Olds Diesel and 4-6-8 debut. You actually wanted the engines from the other “lower” divisions and this thought process lasted decades. Prior to this (circa 1980), and excepting the 1964-1969 muscle car wars, Cadillac Powertrains were the absolute top-end of GM Powertrain and had “Higher Nickel content” than other GM Powertrains for increased durability.
As late as 2017, I would recommend the Chevrolet SS over any non-V Cadillac and the 2019 Buick Regal GS makes a solid case for itself against the non-V Cadillac sedans of today. This is also without taking into account non-GM Brands.
As it was, the Chevrolet SS could have easily been a “rebirth” of Cadillac Catera if GM chose to go in that direction as precedent was set when the original Catera was a re-badged Opel which shared its bones with the Holden Monaro & Pontiac GTO.
Perhaps Cadillac would have sold more Cateras than Chevrolet did SS’s. It seems that only a few Chevrolet dealers (such as Kerbeck, etc.) even know or are interested in knowing how to market anything other than “Truck Month” to Cowboys and the “all hat and no cattle” crowds these days and Crossovers to their significant others.
This also explains why the Malibu Hybrid, Equinox Diesel, Volt, and Bolt and other “technology” lobbed to Chevrolet dealers is essentially DOA. The Chevrolet dealers have no interest in taking the time to show off this new technology and certain Chevrolet clientele has no interest in purchasing this technology.
Historically GM always had the new technology roll-out at either Oldsmobile or Saturn (and if successful) trickle down to Chevrolet and up to Cadillac. By that time, most of the customers had been “trained” to use this tech from interaction with those salespeople and customers.
Additionally, the technology was Proven at these divisions first so you did not burn your customers on the high end at Cadillac or on the low end at Chevrolet. If you did burn a Saturn or Oldsmobile buyer you can still up-sell them into the “reliable” Buick or Cadillac next time. GM’s transition to technology roll-out at the low end (Chevrolet) and high end (Cadillac) has been lackluster at best and a failure at worst.
Not that it means anything. But I’m in my 50’s and I now own my first Cadillac Deville. It is a 98 with Northstar engine. I get fairly decent gas mileage in it. (Average of 26-28mpg hwy) I bought it for the room and comfort as well. That was until it cam to the air ride level suspension. The air lines and air bags in the rear were dry rotted and the shocks both had leaks. The front is struts and also need replaced. When I went to have it checked out they wanted $1500.00 to fix the suspension. That’s what I paid for the car. So I’m not a fan of the suspension and I just noticed the oil pan gasket also needs replacing. Other than those problems it’s a really nice, roomy vehicle. It only has 140,000 miles on it. I am disabled and have bad back problems, I was hoping it would make traveling my long distance trips to my Dr visits more comfortable. Nope going to cost too much to fix so I’m stuck now.
Cut your losses on the Cadillac.
Find the nicest low mile Toyota Camry, Lincoln Town Car, Ford Crown Victoria, or Mercury Grand Marquis that you can afford. Any of these cars will be far more dependable with routine maintenance than the Cadillac.
Also, any Dodge Charger or Chrysler 300 purchased from an FCA dealer that has under 100,000 miles or is under ten years old is eligible for a Warranty extension though Mopar. I purchased a 2011 V6 Dodge Charger with 54,000 miles earlier this year from a FCA Dealer that is warrantied through 2024 or 114,000 miles for around $15,000 fees included. They ride as nice as a Cadillac and are as large inside too.
I am, right now, eyeing a ’99 De Ville, open in another tab. Northstar. 64K miles. Asking price $2500.
I turn 50 this year. I don’t need the car. I’ve just never owned a Caddy and have long wanted to.
But after reading this I’m closing that tab.
Your comment sure meant something to me. So, thanks for that.
Good luck to you.
Count me in as a fan which surprises even myself. I like the interior as I liked that of the neu-Seville as well and the exterior styling, while perhaps verging a little close to the caricature border, doesn’t actually cross it so all is good there, however it manages to lose all the tacky gingerbread in the quest for aero which is quite the achievement. The engines were eventually fixed and the ones that aren’t, can be. And Sofia Coppola bought a new Concours at around age 21 or so, which must have brought down the age average to just a smidge over 68.
I turned 69 yesterday. To me the ’96 Caddy is the perfect Lowrider. With the best hydraulics money can buy, you can set the car every which way. They look great with the ass end up as high as it will go and then drop it in a bounce mode as sparks fly from the skid plate. Bright purple or lime green, or burnt orange metalflake paint, little tiny real wire wheels, and a sixteen switch and the car is good to cruise all night long. Used to cruise my Mom’s brand new 1966 CDV all around my high school. Wish I had that car today. It remains my favorite Caddy ever.
I grew up in a rapidly aging town, and when I was in high school these things were popping up on the lemon lot as their owners kicked off. They weren’t expensive, but they also sat there for weeks on end until they’d find new owners. Those owners must have been from out of town, as now I never see these anymore.
I’ve always referred to this generation as “the bar of soap.” And not even a spicy bar of Zest. More like a totally forgettable, beige-colored Camay.
The rounded rectangle styling managed to be both too upright and too soft at the same time. Zero presence of any sort. An attempt to be modern by people without a clue about what modern was.
And to think that Cadillac always used to be at the forefront of style with a different look every few years from the start through the early sixties – then they seemed to get stuck endlessly reiterating 1965.
Hehehe kind of like the Cadillac of today, which has been stuck on the crazy “Art & Science” look for the past 15-20 years – when will it ever end?
Well, A&S has pretty much ended now, replaced with “Chevrolet with dripping, illuminated mascara.”
They never fully realized the potential of the A&S show cars, and when LED technology finally made it possible to get the ultra-slim lighting of those designs, instead they switched to a mess that neither embraces vertical nor horizontal. Not good when a Kia Telluride looks more upscale.
A lot of information here and a mind-run of thought:
This is the Cadillac version that had what looked like two hot water heaters under the rear end that were actually mufflers.
“Alas, the Northstar also suffered from oil leaks and blown head gaskets.” I’m a bit of an engine wonk but never knew this was an issue with these engines.
“By 2004, the issue had been eradicated but the damage had been done.” The story of GM’s life like the TurboGlide transmission, Corvair swing arm suspension, Quad Four Olds engine (head gaskets too), 700R-4 Transmission (had to rename it 4L60), Turbo-Hydramatic 200 transmission, etc.
And finally, who wants a white steering wheel? That never makes sense to me.
And finally, who wants a white steering wheel? That never makes sense to me.
At 2009 IAA auto show, Audi had a Q7 with diesel V12 and white leather upholstery on display for the teeming millions to sit behind the wheel and doing mental The Secret visualisations. A week later, I could see lot of scuff marks left by many jeans on the seating surface and lot of grimy fingerprints all over the steering wheel.
A white steering wheel is okay on an older car where it’s hard plastic. It looks much more upmarket than a black wheel. Of course, one colour-matched to the interior is even better. but for a modern, sort-feel wheel, it would be a disaster, showing every mark and stain.
While a white interior might look spectacular, I couldn’t live there; I’ve had a hard enough time over the years keeping a tan, beige or grey interior clean. And judging from Oliver’s show experience, neither could anyone else!
Light-colored steering wheels are a bizarre concept to me. My brother-in-law’s Ford Expedition has a light cream steering wheel, with a leather (or possibly fake leather) rim. After a few years, it looked completely awful. I can’t imagine any real-world setting where a light steering wheel would be a good idea.
The first one I remember among our family’s cars was in my aunt’s new 1955 Oldsmobile. It was considered quite the thing at the time – as white telephones would be a few years later. I assume Cadillac was counting on nostalgia among their aging clientele.
This was the last Luxurious generation of the FWD large Cadillacs. Nothing since then has really had that Cadillac feel. This car had a rich, colour keyed interior available in several colours, expensive, plush feeling materials, and a solid feeling of quality. The successor Deville which appeared in 2000 had a cheap, plasticky interior available only in grey and cheap, flat, ugly seats.
A lot of the FWD DeVilles and Continentals ended up in Rental fleets. A lot of the thrifty Greatest Generation waited until they had served their time at Hertz and bought them at substantial discounts.
I have no idea why American luxury is so derided. The LS400 is nice, but it has its disadvantages: it’s bland looking, without the presence of a glittery Cadillac, It’s considerably smaller inside than this Cadillac. German cars are smaller, less plushy, and have less presence, plus are insanely complicated to work on and repair.
This Cadillac was better suited to what Americans really want, which is large amounts of space for four people and luggage, a very plush interior, adequate power, a quiet, smooth ride, adequate handling, and nice jewelry inside and out. For taking the family to Disney World from Ohio, you could absolutely not beat this style of car. It will cruise the interstate all day at American highway speeds in great comfort and style with plenty of room and quiet. Pre-Northstar, they had solid engines and drivetrains and were very dependable, durable, and fairly inexpensive to repair.
The German and Japanese cars weren’t as roomy, quiet, smooth, or as comfortable as these cars. American luxury really works for our distances and landscapes and for American sized people.
Cadillac has tried to compete with the Germans and Japanese with various models, but if you want a BMW or Mercedes, wouldn’t you just buy that? The rejection of the model names also really baffles me, they copied the wrong page from the Acura book. Whatever an XT4 may be, I have no idea what it looks like. That pictured modern CT6? doesn’t look like a Cadillac, it doesn’t look like anything special.
The Lexus ES300/350 showed there was still a market for fairly soft fwd luxury sedans and took over what had been the province of the FWD LeSabre/Electra. I don’t know how much of the problem was the car, and how much of it was marketing, but . . . .
And of course another problem with the “luxury” market in general is that the average sedan is infinitely better than it was in the ’80’s. A ’70’s Caprice in its base/average version had vinyl seats, crank windows, less sound deadening, and despite being basically the same car as a Sedan De Ville was noticeably less plush. By the ’80s, a Sedan de Ville was immensely better than a Celebrity. Nowadays, a “luxury” car doesn’t feel that different than an average car.
In my opinion, (and it’s not like whoever has been paid to run Cadillac has done much better) Cadillac should have done/ still do a few things differently. The Seville/eldorado were good for the younger buyers and the Deville was good for the older buyers. That they got right.
Cadillac needs to go back to actual names for the cars as Lincoln is doing. These alphanumerics mean nothing. Perhaps Eldorado, Seville, Deville etc are too fusty for modern buyers but they should be able to pick new names which sound modern and appealing. Lincoln is also going back to American style luxury and making the cars super plushy and comfortable. The Lincolns are getting much more premium than their Ford counterparts.
The quality issues really hurt Cadillac and they should have/still give a serious Hyundai/Kia style warranty on it. They should really make the Cadillac ownership experience a premium experience with concierge delivery, a serious warranty, and some perks.
I agree with quite a bit of this.
But I think where this particular old boat fails entirely is that it didn’t provide the high-mileage integrity of service the floaties of the glory days did – which at the price, is not forgiveable – and it has not a jot of the styling wonder a (say) ’63 model had. It looks tasteless, outside of a pretty specific market. In these ways, lots of folk presumably didn’t want to be seen in it from Ohio to Disney, and likely also became wary of it completing its one essential capability of loungy cruising like that.
Very true about a cheap and an expensive car then and now. The gap between a high-lux car and a good everyday stodgeball sedan is now more imaginary than real, and Caddy having wandered right off-course over many years, the only real reason for buying expensive – brand – can’t assist it.
Finally, could not agree more about the nomenclature issue. How could anyone pine for, let alone remember, which new random letter lottery model was which?
Savage, you’ve hit a few points right on the head. American luxury is alive and well, think of the Escalade, Navigator, GMC Denali, Suburban. and about every high trim crew cab pick up out there. But those are trucks you could say. True, where are the cars? Nowhere, because sedans in general are dead in the water and manufacturers are fighting for a piece of a shrinking market. This is really hurting builders of distinctive sedans as Cadillac once was, Jaguar, Mercedes and others are facing the same dilemma. Even Porsche had to change their vehicle line up toward SUVs and even a sedan to remain viable. Every manufacturer is having to do the same thing to survive.
What does this have to do with ’90s Cadillacs? Cadillac was the epitome of the typical American car, unfortunately we were entering a period when American cars were losing their popularity and they were no longer something that the car buying public aspired to. It looks like Lincoln is starting to find it’s way back, but their Continental isn’t setting any sales records. Maybe Cadillac and Lincoln can find a way to profitably build a single sedan model that can be competitive in the shrinking sedan market.
Your photos here are a treat, William. The first setting is the original “I was a contender, y’know” old stager, now talking to himself alone, well down on his luck, not seeing his white suit is far from the pristine thing it once was.
The street-lit set is altogether different, but also filmic. I’m sure a fedora-and-trenchcoat clad owner is standing just out of sight, waitin’ to get the full story from some dame who told him to meet in the carpark at midnight. If only it really was a 1947 Caddie….
You’ve been valiant in defence, but this old white shoe is clearly a pile. Note even how the improved dash with round dials and other ultra-modern features looks cheaper than a even an upscale Mitsubishi of the time. Not a serious effort, and arguably better as the slab of white tuxedo tack with column shift from before – at least in Floridian Retiree cohesion with the execrable exterior.
So glad Old Pete mentioned confusion above! I thought it was me.
Thanks Justy. I thought it was only me that was confused. Agreed, I’m not in the Cadillac demographic, but how could I aspire to something I can’t figure out?
You make an excellent point about the interior, too. As the former owner of an upscale Mitsubishi (2000 Verada, or Diamante for the Americans) I have to say its interior was far more inviting, interesting, and really nailed the ‘surprise and delight’ bit without being overly confusing to the driver. This Cadillac just looks like a Chevy with wood by comparison. Doesn’t this look nicer?
Well done article! I too am surprised this has escaped a full CC for so long.
I think of Saul Goodman with this car, which is fitting because Cadillac basically said “It’s all good, man!” with this model.
That’s why I’ve never liked these. Trying to mix the old and the new very rarely works out, for everything that gets it right, a million others get it wrong. Of course, it’s other problems don’t help, the NorthStar, well, my comments have well documented that turd, so I won’t beat a dead horse here. Also, was price. I’m not sure how much these sold for, but the Fleetwood Brougham ranged from about 36-38k when it was sold brand new, if the Deville was more expensive, that would also contribute to its issues.
In my eyes, the Seville of this similar vintage was more successful at blending the traditional with the new, it may have its own problems (FWD sports sedan? Seriously?) but at least it was more successful in the looks department and a bit more successful in its mission. The Fleetwood of this vintage is a better choice to me, yes its not perfect either, but at least it was dead set on being an old-school traditional Cadillac and it succeeded in that, especially for the buyer set it was aimed at.
In defense of FWD, which I almost never do, Acura and Audi made gobs of “sports sedans” in this configuration then and now and nobody really balks at it. For their mission where Nurburgring times and drifting pageantry don’t come into play it works fine. Besides which, FWD had been with the Seville since the bustleback, and there’s something to be said for sticking with heritage in an industry that has pasted sports car names onto crossovers.
The Deville on the other hand should have stayed RWD on a thoroughly updated C body. Cadillac should have never given up on sheer largeness in their cars. For better or worse that’s the one thing that truly defined Cadillac, to this day even with the Escalade being the only real successful model in the lineup for the last 20 years
You do have a point, but to me at least, its pretty clear that GM was desperately trying to compete with BMW with the Seville, especially the STS model which you could argue was meant to be an American style M5. Both cars are similar in size, similar in price range, and similar in mission. True the E34 and E39s weren’t as soft and squishy, nor did the Cadillac have any diverse powertrain options, but I’ve always been convinced that GM wanted to beat BMW with the Seville, and the STS option proved that. So, FWD was a mistake to me, heritage or no, because it hampered the performance due to its layout.
And yes, Audi and Acura did have what could be called FWD “Sports Sedans” in their lineup, but (And someone can easily correct me if I’m wrong), most of those cars had 4 or 6 cylinder engines. A V8 motor was a whole different beast, especially one that was mounted transversely (Of course, that’s a whole other problem in and of itself)
I don’t think Cadillac’s competitive aim was as specific to BMW until art & science, I think the 90s Seville still aspired to Mercedes like the original did. The STS may have been hinting more at BMW but it was just a submodel attached to a car that was more of a German car compilation.
There were Audi A8 V8s made with FWD for a few years IIRC, it’s not unheard of. Longitudinal Audi’s always had an unfavorable front weight bias even with smaller engines due to the far forward engine placement, it’s just one of the quirks that make Audi Audi. The Northstar is aluminum only weighs about as much as an all iron V6 like the 3800, and it’s power doesn’t seem enough to induce crazy torque steer over any V6 or turbo 4 of similar output. The biggest problem with a transverse FWD V8 is how tight it is inside the engine compartment.
Great article and it’s hard to believe that this DeVille hasn’t been featured before. This was the DeVille Cadillac should have released in the late-1980s. By the 1990s they could have released a more worldly DeVille that could’ve gained conquest buyers.
I think *most* of GM’s historic issues from the 70s through the aughts was that its shareholders were used to making a certain amount of profit on any endeavor. That worked out *great* when cars were highly stylized, and inexpensive to make or to distinguish between brands…and not-so-great once you had to spend a whole lot of money to comply with safety, fuel economy and ever-increasing consumer expectations.
But even the intervening years have shown that GM is more than capable of building a competitive or class-leading car when the Powers That Be want to. They knew this wasn’t very good. They took one look at an LS, realized Toyota was probably selling it at or below cost, and said, “Eff that; we’ll make it up in volume.” Then, they continued to put lipstick on a pig, with predictable results.
The problem–which you highlighted and which has been highlighted in other articles–is that for every one of these halfhearted, low-cost Cadillac efforts, competitors were gaining serious ground. Yes, Lexus was probably taking a loss on the original LS at first, and yes, Audi was a quirky little upstart with its name in tatters…but look at where those brands are now. Meanwhile, stalwarts BMW and Mercedes-Benz made big moves in the late nineties and early aughts that preserved their brands as status-symbols.
These are ugly whales of cars, but by the time these rolled into showrooms Cadillac was doomed to younger buyers no matter what, it’s impossible to erase the previous 20 years of quality declines and mechanical woes, previously unheard of on American Luxury cars. If there were a Cadillac branded LS400 built at NUMMI it would have had the same dismissive attitude as the Nova. The traditionalists would say “that’s not a real Cadillac” and the yuppies would say”I’m not buying a crappy Cadillac like my Dad”.
The Seville looked good, good as a Cadillac, and as a whole about as good as a LS400 as far as I’m concerned. That it couldn’t turn the tide for the brand proved Cadillac was doomed, not helped by the Northstar pitfalls. It’s a shame GM couldn’t get their 4.6 DOHC V8 as robust as Ford’s 4.6 DOHC V8.
As an owner of a 1995 Deville, I can agree with some off the assessments of the car but I disagree that this car was out of touch for the times. There was still a demand for the traditional American fullsize car at the time it arrived (1994). The car was no BMW or Lexus but it still had an air of luxury. For instance this car was designed for passenger comfort and long trips. If you look closely at the car’s side profile, the rear doors are a bit bigger then the fronts. and the doors opened wider then most cars to allow easy entry and exit.
Mine is a 4.9l V8 and while the 200 HP may seem a bit low for a large car, the engine HP and torque was more then enough to motivate the metal. On mine, I have had no issue keeping up with traffic on the highways. Or going up hills. The engine gives off next to no vibration and the cabin mutes the engine noise so there has been a few times were I tried to polish the flywheel(start it when it was already running) because I did not remember it was on.
The ride is very smooth
Base model Devilles came with 15in wheels in 1994 and 1995. I switched mine over to 16in ones
The cluster was the same as in the Eldo but did not have all the features(like a digital tach and oil pressure) but by entering service mode on the cluster, I could input a few values and now I have a digital tach and an oil pressure gauge.
The cluster could also be used to tell you fault codes.
My favorite feature is a light panel that is above the back window(and can be seen through the rearview mirror) this let you know if your taillights were working and if there was a bulb out.
The A/C in this car blows colder then any other car i have owned
There are some issues that I have with it. Alignments are a pain with the skirts and I hate that automatic trunk closing because if the battery dies, you cannot close the thing. I removed it and switched the latch to a regular one.
As for Lexus, I think in 2019 they are going down the path that GM took in the 1990’s. The Lexus RX is on its 4th generation and it still looks like the first generation. It breaks no new ground
That’s a good looking car… You’re a lucky guy.
I don’t mind these, but like others have mentioned above, I think the bigger problem was that Cadillac managed to both stretch itself too thin and be directionless at the same time. I agree with Eckell3 above that traditional buyers were still a viable group of buyers in the 1990s, but Cadillac should have chosen either the Brougham or the DeVille lines to go after this group. Instead, we got the Brougham, and 75% of the DeVilles (maybe excepting the Concours), and some of the base Seville too.
And I’m amazed that the average age for DeVille buyers was 67. Goodness, if this car was 67, what on earth was the Brougham? Or the Roadmaster?
The front wheel drive overheating combo make for a disasterous recipe, albeit powerful and comfortable. I’ve owned at least six for some reason.
Did the subject car just shed its passenger-side front door trim on the parking lot ground?
I own a ’97 Deville (for about 12 years now). I also own a ’98 Lincoln Continental, a ’98 Town Car and a RWD Fleetwood Brougham, all of which make an interesting comparison.
The ’97 Deville has excellent fit, finish and materials, slightly better than the Lincolns and miles ahead of the Fleetwood, which looks and feels like a gussied-up Chevy by comparison. There’s nice quality touches in places where most people might not notice. It has among the best factory paint job I’ve seen on an American car, flawless and smooth as glass. Unlike the other cars, the pinstripes are painted under clearcoat, and not vinyl decals.
The ride is better than all, thanks to relatively soft springs, long travel suspension and IRS. The quiet luxurious and relaxed performance is in keeping with the mission of providing traditional Cadillac virtues. To this end it performs better than the Town Car, simply due to more sophisticated suspension and chassis engineering.
It’s not competitive with the Lexus or the German makes for performance, but imho it’s not intended to be. That market segment is the Seville’s territory. The Seville’s success is debatable, but that’s another story.
The headbolt issue is demoralizing. The Northstar engine is very similar in configuration and performance to the Intech V8 in the Continental (Both 4.6 liter aluminum DOHC 32 valve V8’s of about 270-275 hp). So its depressing to see Ford engineer a thoroughly reliable engine and the Northstar be fatally flawed.
These Devilles are cheap to buy on the used market accordingly. Most have blown gaskets or will blow at any minute. The repair technology is widely available (Time Sert kits or head studs) but the repairs are prohibitively expensive. It’s tough for some owners to swallow, their prefect low-mileage shiny $65k -when-new Cadillac is just worth a couple of hundred in scrap.
But the rest of the car is so well done, I’m on the lookout for another in pristine condition for pennies. I have a Time Sert repair kit and the willingness to dive int the engine and fix it.
Why did they name it concourse? Wasn’t that named after the late 70s Nova trim package that got carpeting and woodgrain trim to go with the nicer vinyl seats?
These got uglier with each redesign until the 2000s when they acrually hurt the eyes. And the Northstar doomed them with the leaks and head gaskets and labor intensive design.
I will say, if I ran Cadillac all would have the 4.9 and the limited Fleetwood package with the extension 6″ in back and 6 in trunk. Then it would not look so stubby.
William, I think that the title to this piece is my favorite out of all the ones on CC! It really did make me laugh heartily. It could be a motto that GM aspired to for the last many decades, hahahaa.
There’s a guy on our block–you know, the local handyman/ hoarder/ junk collector type with junk all over his yard–that has a Deville that he must have got off someone for cheap or free with a job (I say free, because it likely was a “take it away and you can have it!” deal). I said to my Mom, “I bet you it has the Northstar”, and it had a Northstar badge on the trunk and we both laughed. To my knowledge, he hasn’t got it running yet, and I doubt he ever will……he’s probably used to tinkering with the old carbed setup or changing a fuel filter or something, but I’d wager that it was a timing chain or headgasket issue that took the car off the road. The car is in great shape, but it’s virtually worthless in non-running condition.
“I’ll get it running one day!!”