For many a classic Cadillac fan, the bloom fell off the rose when the majority of the lineup followed the Eldorado and Seville to front wheel drive, and downsized in a 1-2 Punch between 1985 and 1986. I for one think it was a semi successful move, since I never really cared for the C/D-body Brougham. The more modern FWD DeVilles might have been a bean counter move, but they ended up a lot better than history remembers them.
Cadillac touted the all new for 1985 DeVille/Fleetwood as “The Cadillac of Tomorrow.” But as Cadillac soon realized, you can’t force your most conservative, traditional buyers into something because it’s better for them. Even if the downsized C bodies had almost the same interior volume, got better fuel economy, performed better and drove better than the nearly 19 foot long barges their names once graced, they still didn’t *scream* Cadillac to their buyer base. The result? A significant number of those buyers fled to the slightly updated Lincoln Town Car.
So the act of adding length to give more “importance” to the emasculated Caddies started with larger, more fin like tail lamp lenses for 1987, a larger 4.5L V8 in 1988 and for 1989 a longer wheelbase and all new styling (although the coupes cleverly hid their 1985-88 bodies with the new front and rear caps grafted on).
Now they appeared more traditional, more respectable. By the time the 1991 model year cycle rolled around, the best evolution of the 4-add three digits aluminum V8, now with 200hp had the ability with proper gearing to give some rather un-Cadillac-like haste. And with fewer issues with the drivetrain and assembly quality up, they started getting Consumer Reports Best Buy recommendations again, and recaptured the crown of being America’s Favorite Luxury Sedan.
But that’s before some new, soon to be perennial favorites started chipping away at the DeVille’s shaky confidence. First the LS400, followed by a upsized, more elegant Acura Legend, and to an extent the newly distinctive Buick Park Avenue started making inroads into the DeVille’s home turf, and splitting the buyer base once more, more so than the Town Car had done on its missteps half a decade before.
It’s not too clear in hindsight if you can blame the DeVille for losing the Cadillac Playbook. The restyled for 1994 models were decidedly more baroque with their skirted rear wheels. It was more ridiculous when they moved the DeVille Touring Sedan concept to the DeVille Concours model. It was all the conceptual failure that the 1991-93 Olds Ninety Eight Touring Sedan was.
But the Seville in particular did an earnest effort going after the new import challengers. Although, in the Seville’s case there were a couple of notable flaws. I remember Car and Driver complaining about fit & finish during their long term test of the redesigned 1992 Seville, especially given the price that was par for a lot of better assembled competitors. Add in the initial shock of torque steer when the Northstar came on board in 1993 (and then the eventual maintenance issues later in the early editions of that engine’s life) and you start to see why people, once and for all, started turning away from Cadillac in droves.
This generation of DeVille however, always seems to show up on my beater shopping list. Often well preserved by elderly owners, there is always at least 35 on Craigslist for low low prices at estate sales. But there’s one flaw that I’ve read about in online forums that keeps me away. Flaws that don’t prevent The Allen family across the street from keeping these two 1991 DeVilles as daily drivers.
More often than not, if you go to any forum online, you’ll most often hear about the gas tank baffles coming loose and causing lack of gas flow and stalling. More often than not the forum recommendation is keep 6 or more gallons in the tank. Between that, or replacing the gas tank (at purchase or down the road) has kept me away from indulging my own type of Brougham Fetish and acquiring one.
And when I say my “own” type of Brougham Fetish, you can understand why it might not be quite as traditional as someone who prefers the D body Broughams. There’s no “Sofa Pillows” on the leather interiors of this generation of DeVille (although I believe there is on the Fleetwoods). I have a hard time separating the sensation of pillow top Brougham interiors with the phenomenon of “swamp ass.” But the rich variety of full colored interiors, from this deep navy blue to maroon and off white, and you have all of the rich color that was a Cadillac staple all throughout the post -war era.
And with that I offer a theory (and duck and run before the tomatoes start flying): that this generation of DeVille was the last great traditional Cadillac. It’s widely known that the 1993-96 Fleetwood D bodies suffered from the same fit and finish woes that plagued the last B Body Caprices and Roadmasters. The DeVille that followed it tried too hard to be what it wasn’t. And they soon became the General Motors alternate to rental fleet “luxury” choices opposite the ubiquitous Town Cars you could rent at Hertz.
And the rest of the Cadillac line-up tried to walk an awkward tightrope of Cadillac tradition and fighting an import war that they lost. Or are still fighting. And even then, these almost great DeVilles don’t count for most Cadillac enthusiasts. But I’ll sing their praises. For Smith era GM products they aren’t half bad. And maybe, just maybe I’ll get over my gas tank fears and own the last great traditional Cadillac.