preview/guessing game from March 1975 issue
(first posted 1/28/2017) One of the most controversial subjects here at CC has been the Cadillac Seville, starting with my bestowing it Deadly Sin status. That article, both here and at the old site, has always sparked a lot of response, as well as a misunderstanding of why I gave it that designation. In a nutshell, it’s because it was designed to be a Mercedes-fighter, and in that particular role, it was not really successful. Commenters have endless argued that it wasn’t designed for that reason, but Cadillac’s management and PR department made it quite clear that it was so. And then there’s the perpetual issue about just how heavily the Seville was based on the Nova.
Today we’ll go back to the March and June issues of Road and Track, for a preview (from the March ’75 issue), analysis and first driving impressions (June ’75 issue), in which the Seville did not fare very well. Both articles repeat the point that the Seville was created to fight the erosion of Cadillac sales to Mercedes on the coasts. It’s theoretically possible that the gen1 Seville slowed down the rate of erosion, but Mercedes continued to post sales increases regularly throughout the Seville’s existence. And the driving impressions bring home the point that the newcomer Seville was no match for the mature Mercedes 450SE that GM supplied for comparison. The Seville was definitely another Cadillac in its dynamics, albeit a smaller one. And there was undoubtedly a market for that. But that turned out to be a lot of existing Cadillac buyers, especially women who had long wanted a shorter one.
Cadillac knew it had a problem with sales erosion to the smaller Mercedes for some years already, but it took the energy crisis and the resultant tumble in sales of their barge-sized cars to finally do what they had been hinting around at for some time: create a small Cadillac, and right now! 18 months later it was ready; mighty brisk for GM, but then it wasn’t exactly a clean-sheet project.
The Nova’s X-Body was the starting point, but much was changed in the transformation. It’s always much quicker and cheaper to “remodel” than to start from scratch, because components only need to be refined rather than conceived, developed and tested from scratch. It was comparable to quick remodel on a house, transforming it from a modest rancher to a pretentious…rancher. Mini-McMansion, not Bauhaus.
The accommodations were all very much traditional Cadillac; plush upholstery, shag carpets and adorned with plasti-wood trim
GM supplied two Seville and one Mercedes 450SE at their Mesa, AZ test track. A GM engineer on site claimed that the Seville had less understeer than the Benz; in reality, the Seville had “gobs of understeer”. The brake pedal seemed to bottom out, and “there was none too much stopping power”. Several impromptu drag races were lost against the Mercedes, despite its driver leaving the line consistently late. The Seville’s time was 19.0 seconds. 0-60 was timed at a leisurely 14 seconds.
But R&T rightfully asked “After all, just how many Americans really utilize the benefits of all-disc brakes, or realize the IRS gives a better rear seat and trunk?” Never mind a more controlled ride over less than ideal pavement. The Seville might be Mercedes-sized, but it was no genuine Mercedes fighter. And depending on your point of view, that might have been fine, at least on the shorter term. But as Cadillac found out the hard way, they were chasing an older demographic that was fine with a smaller Cadillac. But bringing in younger and better-educated import buyers was another matter, one to be left to another decade, or century.
CC 1976-1979 Cadillac Seville: GM DS #11 – The Sin of Underachieving PN
I would rather have a Seville than a Mercedes or bmw any day. It looked nicer and drove nicer and was way more comfortable than a Spartan European car. The Seville rides better and handles easier. It had a much nice interior with nice switches unlike the German switches with the strange symbols.. I would much rather have a Seville. I do think it should have been sold cheaper than a deville though. At least it was a real Cadillac though in comfort, ride and looks. Copying bmw and Mercedes is the downfall of most American luxury cars nowadays. I for one hate the things. I have no use for heavy steering, harsh ride, hard seats, complicated mechanical and austere interiors to go with the over engineered drive line. Cadillac should go back to its roots and build real Cadillac again.
Spoken like somebody who clearly hasn’t driven a modern Cadillac (eg current ATS, CTS, CT6). They don’t have harsh rides at all, instead they are well-damped but not at the expense of handling and roadholding. The seats are firm and supportive but not hard. The interiors aren’t austere as Cadillac offers many different colors, woods, textures etc. But no, the seats aren’t loose cushions and it doesn’t float and wallow so I guess they can’t be real Cadillacs, right?
I’ll also never understand people who complain about “strange symbols” on European switchgear. I mean, press the button once and you’ll figure it out and you’ll remember in future. It’s not an insurmountable obstacle.
Apparently Cadillac’s current BMW chasing attempts aren’t really working out very well with year over year sales drops on the ATS and CTS. Ambitious pricing isn’t helping either. The new CT6 is off to a slow start too even behind the new Continental which is rather ignoring the BMW formula and going with a more traditional comfort oriented approach.
Thinking Cadillacs have a nice ride means youve never driven anything better but of course you cant now Citroen left the US market but they do have a better ride than the German efforts and corner faster should you want to.
Switch gear is simple and now is marked internationally like road signs.
Agreed. I also hate the concept that if you are “more educated” you automatically HAVE to prefer an import. B.S. Plenty of educated and intelligent people preferred a Cadillac over an MB (they may been drawn to styling or ride quality, whatever) and likewise many uneducated folk will by an import because “everyone Says you should”) and verse visa. I always think back to the smug VW Bug buyers for being such smart superior folk ,when in reality it was actually (by the 60s when they were “in”) a fairly crappy car. Of course THEY were way to educated to buy a Corvair……
VW Beetles in the 60s were beautifully made, very reliable (although they had short maintenance intervals), economical to operate, and significantly less expensive to buy than American economy cars.
Pablum. They were priced the same as severel (vastly superior) American compacts…off the top of my head, the Rambler American. By 1960, the VW had exactly one redeeming feature: “cute”. It is the worst car ever sold im the country and should have been euthanized fifteen years before it finally was.
Rambler American, Corvair,Studebaker Lark…. Hell, I would take any of those first. I guess “cute” may have been a factor, OTOH if “cute” had been my bag in 1960, I’d have bought an AMC Rambler Metropolitan. But if I lusted for the whole rear engine 6 poor boy “heir” to a Porche, Corvair was the winner. But, buying a VW as a “statement”…… “I’m cool, I have an import!” On the cheap. (If you’re actually
cool you’d do an MG or if REALLY cool an Alfa…? ) The most ironic and funny part is that VW played up the fact that the “bug” did’nt change much over the years. But now we hear how “bad” American cars were thrn because didnt keep up with changes. Ha Ha Ha! How many changes did the GM “A” bodies go through from 1938-1971!?! In 1971 (peak year for Beetle production) a 1951 Chevrolet was STILL “newer” ,LOL (as the “kids” say).
Right James. But it is typical of the anti American car bias, rags like Car and Driver or Road and Track are famous for. “Oh, you prefer an American car? Well you must be a big twit”, or “Wow, look at this European car, isn’t it just wonderful?” fawning that makes me sick! It has gone on for years and years and years……I would not bother picking up either of those 2 rags again, even if I were bored out of my mind at the dentists office. Better Homes and Gardens would be more entertaining.
Those fancy European cars generally were better than American cars in every way that was important to the buff book readers (as they should have been, given the extra cost).
I get C&D, but mainly because I don’t take my laptop with me in the bathroom. The actual magazine works better there. However, I have noticed that the writing in the magazine seems to be composed of what I have been dropping off. If it is a manual diesel wagon, they go all fanboy, same with the BMW and Mercedes. They spray DNA when speaking of Ferraris and Porsches. Sad to think if they were not automotive journalists, the only way that they would be able to drive these cars would be to work as a valet.
As much as I miss and love the TRUE Cadillacs of yore…
Owned three: 1973 Coupe de Ville, 1975 Sedan de Ville, and 76 Coupe de Ville.
I do hate when the real turning point, was in 1985, the full sizers were shrunk to BMW 3 series and Mercedes 190 sizes, but the real Deadly Sin was changing to FWD.
If they were trying to copy BMW and Mercedes who stayed RWD, why wouldn’t Caddy? Exceptions being the already FWD Eldorado, and newly changed FWD Seville in 1980.
There’s no way Caddy would stay competitive with the modern world if they had ungainly long proportions and soft suspensions, akin to a pirate ship in a bad storm.
Like the De Ville and Fleetwood had back in the 70’s and early 80’s.
Like William said, you haven’t obviously driven a new breed of Cadillac, starting with the 2003 Cadillac CTS…My mom owned one. They drive and corner a lot better than you would expect.
Other than the cheap plastic dashboard and door panel tops…The car handled more like a BMW or Audi, than an Oldsmobile Regency 98
Which really surprised me, because I didn’t think Cadillac had the gusto to build a good handling road car…Since they failed with the Cimarron, Allante and Catera.
Face it, like the smaller mammals and reptiles…Cadillac had to evolve with the changing world, or face extinction like the dinosaurs.
I hate little cars and harsh ride and heavy steering. If big cars are so bad why are half the people driving trucks??
The 1985 FWD C-bodies were significantly bigger and heavier than the W124 E-Class (my family had both), not nearly comparable to the 190.
Pricing the Seville higher than any other Cadillac (and by extension any other GM car) bar the limo was a bold, and successful, move. The fear for many years was that a smaller Caddy that was also cheaper would be seen as an almost-Cadillac, whie the Seville sold well at its’ high price and continued to sell well even after the Deville got smaller for ’77.
Warren I couldn’t disagree with u more. I’m with the author on this one. The Seville looked nice in comparison to the barges b4 it, but looks are in the eye of the beholder. Workmanship, quality of materials, handling and feedback of the road was all Mercedes. The Seville was lost to the Mercedes. However what the Mercedes did was force Cadillac to get better, even if it still wasn’t – it was an improvement from pas Cadillacs.
In the long term, I think my biggest disappointment in the Seville was that it appeared to strongly affect GM styling for well beyond the next decade. That tired Seville faux luxury formal roof was bastardized across various GM car lines for far too long. While alternately, Ford was taking an industry leading role, with a much fresher and assertive approach to their design in the 80s. Creating dynamic cars like the ’83 Thunderbird and ’86 Taurus, that still look great today. Even if it was due to more desperate and different business circumstances. GM showed questionable corporate leadership, when they needed to show their industry leadership the most, as their reputation was slipping. GM could and should have, acted much more progressively as their market position was ready to drop significantly. Shortsighted. The ’80 Seville was an even further drift into the 50+ demographic, than trying to get back to addressing Mercedes/BMW, etc.
Though the Seville design looked interesting in 1975, IMO it should never have remained a foundation of GM styling over 10 years later. Styling sells cars. For me, the ’75 Seville’s design became a symbol of where GM got lazy and started to take their customers for granted. A very weak way of addressing the imports and the future.
I always thought the Seville bland, generic and undistinguished. The boxy design certainly did not say “Cadillac” to me to any degree. Just a boring sedan, in my eyes.
1975 Seville, which was priced near the top of Cadillac’s line in 1975, and the base 1982 Malibu. It says a lot…
The Monte Carlos and Eldorados also looked a lot alike (second gen Eldo’s and probably first gen montes).
Well, technically that’s a Malibu Classic. Because that’s the only trim level offered in ’82. But it was a very, very similar look, also because the six-window roofline with sloping backlight had been replaced by a very Seville-esque 4-window formal roof for ’81.
(Also that’s my old car…must still be one of the higher results on Google Image Search…LOL)
This Seville might have looked generic and undistinguished later, when all of GM’s cars looked like it, but when released it sure was different. It’s a shame the look got devalued by being overused; it would have made for a nice big-Cadillac design.
The Seville, in 1975, stood out as much as the Ford Taurus in 1986.
So true, so true! You only know this if you were around back then.
I was a very young 6 years old when the first Seville came out. It was very different from what Chrysler and Lincoln were pumping out at the time and caused quite the stir. I remember being in a Cadillac showroom when this car first debuted. There were a lot of people in that showroom checking out this very same car. My dad was negotiating on buying his used 1974 Chevelle and the brown Seville was causing a huge amount of attention as I patiently waited in the background. I have never seen the same level of attention as this to any Cadillac since.
@ Old Pete @Hardboiled Eggs and Nuts @ calibrick
No question, the Seville was a fresh and attractive design in 1975 and influential on GM design for over a decade. Once GM started using Seville design elements across various lower car lines, it appeared GM was conceding they either thought it was the ultimate in design, or they gave up trying to hide that bastardization and homogenization among their car lines was not a concern for them. The Taurus helped validate the practical advantage of aerodynamics in improving the mileage and quietness of cars. And that it could be sold successfully to a wide audience.
The Seville succeeded in showing that a smaller Cadillac could be popular. However, it wasn’t successful in its goal of stemming the flow of business to Mercedes, BMW, etc. And it didn’t lower the average age of Cadillac buyers significantly.
The ’80 Seville going further in the wrong direction.
IMO, hanging on to a very formal design theme for so long, and using it on so many car lines beyond saturation cheapened and tired the design significantly. Especially into the 80s, when aerodynamics was becoming so influential in car design and marketing. GMs design approach was predictable to the point of being exhausted.
Aside from the roofline, GM put the Seville’s lower body to use on all of its A/B/C cars in 1977 and 1978.
The 1977 Deville is a Seville stretched to C body dimensions. The extra width and length allows more of the traditional Cadillac details like a significantly raised hood center and blade/fin rear fenders.
The 1977 C-body looks more sedate because it doesn’t have the ridiculously long hood and short roof proportions of the Seville. By comparison, the Seville has dragster proportions.
I seem to recall, then hinged, “door pull handles” were quick to come off.
I thought the roof line looked pretty good (and the 1980-84 “C” body sedan interpretation even better.) But GM killed any exclusivity it had by applying it to just about everything but the Chevette in a couple of years. It would have been better to have it only on the top luxury sedans. The “regular” sedans (and esp. all coupes) look better with a “faster” roofline.
Agreed James. It looked good first time around, but they over used the design. Take a look at these spy photos from the January 1985 issue of Popular Science. A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking the Seville, Buick Somerset Regal, and the Riviera were all members of the same division and model line. The roof lines and overall formal design each inspired by the decade old ’75 Seville.
Oh, I remember the 86 Seville and Eldorado fiasco. I actually thought at the time anyone thinking of buying a Seville should just get the Somerset and pocket the savings. The neighbors won’t be able to tell the difference!
The Formal bit should have stayed with Cadillac Fleetwoods and “C” body Buick and Oldsmobile sedans. (In ’80 they applied the upright backlight on the coupes, I wish they’d have kept the 77-79 roofs on those!).
It almost seems cynical to think GM thought having traditional push type door handles on the Seville compared to the pull type handles on the Somerset, would make a difference and look more elegant? When much of the remainder of the exteriors look so similar.
I definitely like the ’78-80 Chevy-Pontiac roofline better for the A bodies than the “formal roof”. I get the sense that they spent the money on a crash program on that for Buick-Olds for 1980 and then, realizing they only have two more years of RWD A sedans left to amortize it, spread it to all divisions for ’81. (I suppose nobody in 1980 would imagine the RWD Cutlass Supreme sedan lasting until 1987).
The formal squared off rear roofline was even copied by Chrysler in the late 80’s and during the 90’s in the Stretched K-car New Yorker/Imperial and Salon series sedans. They looked like budget grade Gm luxury sedans at the time.
Paul, notice the article mentioned the 450SE as 5000 1975 dollars more than the Seville. The Seville list price is estimated at $12,500. Maybe GM could have picked another MB model for a more apple-to-apples comparison?
They perhaps should have picked a more price comparable model, But with Ford (with a straight face..) comparing a reskinned 15 year old Falcon to a $20,000.00 Mercedes in that era, I guess logic was lacking in the middle 70s! ?
The actual price of the M-B is academic from GM’s perspective. What matters to GM is that potential Cadillac customers desired and purchased that car, whatever its price, instead of a Cadillac.
If you weren’t informed or read that the 1975 Seville was based off the 1975 Nova, you wouldn’t even know.
Sure the A pillar and front door and frontal roofline cry Nova/Skylark/Ventura/Phoenix/Omega…But the longer front fenders, rear formal roofline and swept down tapered, elegant trunk scream Cadillac.
At least, the Seville had more effort put into hiding it’s GM Xbody roots than the sad, late to market 77 Lincoln Versailles.
A Granada/Monarch with a pimped out grille and Continental trunk lid treatment, looks like a Rolls Royce kit for a VW Bug, you could order from a JC Whitney catalog. 🙁
True enough but, Ford only spent around $12.00 on developing the Versailles, So every one must have been profitable!
I like Sevilles and Versailles. Always have.
Maybe sales would have been better if the Versailles had a 3-4 inch longer wheelbase and more Lincoln roof styling other than the grille and decklid. Also, if a Lincoln interior was developed instead of plushing the Granada instrument panel. Interesting thought would be what if in 1979 a longer wheelbase model with the new roof was offered as the luxury version and the smaller original Versailles was also offered as a sporty model? Throw in a 2-door coupe for fun.
Road & Track published their so-so first takes in May and June, before sales started, and thought that would be it. But a funny thing happened. Despite what R&T wrote the public loved the Seville and it sold like crazy. Caught with egg on their face R&T decided they needed to do a full road test asap and asked for a press car. But Cadillac wasn’t having any of that. They told R&T “sorry, no cars available” (press cars were always available for the big three buff books) so the lads had to borrow one from a dealer. And gee, what a surprise, that review was pretty damn good making the May and June pieces seem a bit like fake news. The car didn’t change in five months.
The magazines had a massive bias against the Big 3. They hated cars like the Mustang II, Granada and Seville. The more successful those became the madder the magazines got. They were trying to mold the products coming out of Detroit to their liking, not the public’s liking. R&T wasn’t going to get a press car from Cadillac just like Jim Acosta wasn’t going to get called on at that first press conference.
As for the marketing guys wanting a Mercedes 450SE reference vehicle at the event, that’s what promotional departments do. That doesn’t mean the guys who designed and developed the car thought they were going to end up with something that could go head-to-head with the two times more expensive S-Class.
It was classic sales-talk designed to get some attention and not to be taken literally. Same as when Ford said in their ads that the 1965 LTD rode better and quieter than the Rolls-Royce. Did that help sales? Yes. Did it mean Ford was trying to rip people out of their Rolls-Royces? No.
Cadillac should have stayed the course and done the Gen 2 Seville off of the Gen 3 Camaro platform. The only problem folks had (and still have) with the IROC-Z was fit/finish quality. That would not have been an issue in a Cadillac sedan version.
The automotive media was a powerful force back then. The Big 3 finally caved and went FWD crazy just like the buff books wanted, even on the Seville. When that didn’t work out so well they went back to RWD and benchmarked the media darling, BMW. Today everything drives great, just like a BMW, and car sales are pretty much in the toilet. Trucks are doing better than ever and there’s a lesson there. Automotive isn’t a mature industry as much as it is one that was overly manipulated by the press and lost its way. Sad!
You obviously didn’t read the article, and you’re still stuck on your anti-car magazine rantings. Why don’t you just call them out for printing “fake news” or “alternative facts”?
They gave their honest assessment of the Seville’s strengths and weaknesses. And most importantly, they ended the article with this statement:
Perhaps to Cadillac’s credit, the Seville copies European practice neither in style or engineering; its size is its strongest resemblance to the continental cars. Cadillac can build about 60,000 Sevilles a year at its west coast assembly plants…and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if there’s a ready market for at least that many.
Would you please re-read that? And then tell me how that squares with your “alternative facts” version?
I’ve told you this before: I expect better of you. When it come to certain topics like the Olds 307 or this, your become blinded by your emotions, warped memoryn and lose objectivity.
You’re right Paul I didn’t read the whole thing but do remember the jist of it. Will take a closer look later today and admit if I was wrong about anything.
I read those two articles Paul. The second one was extremely comprehensive and very interesting to me as a Cadillac fan. I had forgotten that the Seville was the first US car with rear shoulder belts and that it had a limited slip diff. Also had forgotten how GM worked hard to push the dash as far forward as possible. I loved the look of that short dash it was so fresh at the time. GM went on to apply that to the downsized B/C bodies in ’77 with great success.
Very interesting that they added 2 degrees of positive caster to the steering to improve feel. I took my Brougham up to 4.5 with its last alignment and it’s fantastic. They should have gone further like on the Monte Carlo.
Also interesting how the FI meant they could forgo the heated manifold for the carb. As I said the other day in a post about the 307 those heating ports can get clogged and that can lead to a stuck choke on the 307. They said the non-heated manifold saved 20 horsepower? I do not understand how a heated manifold can cost any HP.
They said the Seville was the first Cadillac with auto leveling rear suspension but I don’t think that is correct.
While R&T did an impressive job covering the engineering efforts they should not have written about the performance issues with the prototype cars. I’m sure GM was not happy about that, at all. You do not publish 14 sec. 0-60 for the prototype when the production car was much, much faster than that. That drag race with the other editor was dickish and completely unprofessional.
There were other, rather indisputable, biases that come through loud and clear. i did not want to be right about that but here they are…
They said about the catalytic converter, which I believe was a GM invention: “The converter, whatever its problems may eventually turn out to be…”
Um the catalytic converter practically saved the auto industry. I guess they were awestruck by some of the imports that didn’t need one.
The very worst example of bias was this, though: “…full wheel cutouts lead to an extremely clean and crisp rear end which disappoints only in not havng segmented tail-stoplights and amber turn signals.”
See, they were disappointed the taillamps didn’t have amber like the imports even though the clean rear end styling would have been totally ruined by something like that. They just didn’t get it.
The less said about the first article the better. I won’t even dignify the first paragraph with a comment. And the author’s musings about Cadillac adding “something” under the unibody to strengthen it, like maybe a “perimeter frame”, is simply uninformed.
I’m not going to bother with the rest of your nit-picking, but please note that the first article was from 3 months earlier, and was based on whatever intelligence and leaks they got form only one source: GM.
When you’re speculating on what a new car will be like with very limited info, it’s bound to be wrong to some degree or another.
Regarding the heated manifold reduction of horsepower: Cold air will be denser than heated air, which means that without a heated intake more air and fuel can be burned. Also, without the need for heating the air, the air flow into the engine may be less restricted. But 20 HP seems a bit high relative to the engine’s rating of about 180 HP.
Road and Track’s primary interest has always been sports cars, not luxury sedans. The Seville was not really R&T’s kind of car until the RWD STS on the Sigma platform. I think their assessment at the end of the second article is correct. The first generation Seville probably interested Cadillac owners who might have looked at smaller European imports if the Seville had not been an alternative.
If there were Mercedes/BMW/Audi dealers nearby I might own one of them. As it is those dealer are 350 miles away, which seems like a bad idea for service. My GM cars have been quite reliable.
Thanks for saving me the time to have to explain it to him. Heated manifolds were done strictly for one reason: to improve vaporization when the engine was cold, to improve driveability. Fuel injection totally took away the need for that. It’s also why exhaust manifolds have heat riser valves, to shut off the heat once the engine has warmed up.
The cooler the intake air, the better, once a carb engine is warmed up. Hod scoops did have a purpose.
I understand about the heated intake making for a less dense charge but I still don’t think there is going to be much difference between throttle-body injection and a carb after the engine is warm and assuming the TBI manifold is not a heated one. There is no appreciable difference in HP between a TBI car and a 4-bbl. carbed car, right?
Perhaps the 20HP difference the GM engineer mentioned was including the difference in manifold design for MPI on the Seville. Non heated and a difference shape.
It’s impossible to make apples-to-apples comparisons, or very difficult. Commonly when GM went to TBI, they also made other changes that improved output. And yes, when GM went to MPI, it was again a whole new ball game. Invariably, engines with MPI type systems had higher outputs, but again, it may be difficult to pin down exactly what percentage as a result of that or other changes.
HP outputs started rising all through the 80s, as the manufacturers got a handle on the ways to make engines breathe better as well as run cleaner. 3 way feed-back catalysts were the final breakthrough, allowing engines to be set up to breather much better, with new heads, camshafts, etc.
Trying to pin it down to one isolated component is difficult if impossible, unless the changes are done to the otherwise same engine in a dyno room.
The fuel injection may have allowed the valve timing to change so that the torque and horsepower peaks are at higher engine speeds. Engine tuning has an effect on emissions, so with FI higher performance tuning is possible because the air/fuel mixture is better controlled. Moving the peak horsepower up from 4000 RPM’s to 4400 RPMs with the same torque will bump the horsepower 10%.
“Suburban Anglo-Saxon majority” – yikes.
Yikes is right! We have come a long way. If you watch some of the early episodes of Motorweek at YouTube, you will occasionally hear host John Davis refer to Japanese cars as ‘Oriental’ imports. It wasn’t uncommon.
I don’t think the first-gen Seville was a deadly sin. Rather, I think GM’s application of it’s styling themes to every other GM vehicles in the next 10 yrs + was the real sin here. I was, however, surprised to learn that the Seville first came with disc/drum brakes as I thought it had 4-wheel discs from the start. Maybe not for the first-year models?
While I wouldn’t say the original Seville was a deadly sin, I will say that I was never fond of them. I think that Cadillac didn’t want to alienate its customer base to some degree, so they played it safe by essentially trying to offer a shrunken version of the DeVille. While this may have been a smart move initially, the deadly sin came in with the 1980 model. Now that Cadillac had some of its customers adjusted to a smaller car, the next step should have been to go more toward the European idiom that they were hoping to gain sales from. Instead, they went entirely the other way and added excess bloat, horrid styling and mediocre mechanicals. Interesting to read the Seville took 18 months to get from idea to production. If memory serves me correctly, the original 1962 X body Chevy II took about the same amount of time to get to production. Although I like the first generation Seville better than those that followed, I still think they weren’t all that attractive. Maybe it’s my bias, since I’ve owned a 68 Nova SS since 1977, or that my Dad owned a 75 Nova Coupe for many years, but I find the 75 Nova LN to be a far more attractive car, both inside and out, than the Seville.
I think R&T’s initial impression was probably not far off the mark. Why Cadillac started with the Nova body is not clear to me, why not start with the intermediate size, unless they wanted a unibody. They were going for a European style Cadillac I think or perhaps a Cadillac style European car (these are not the same thing).
I still think the first generation Seville is a good effort by Cadillac. I like the styling. But the second generation shows that Cadillac was not really serious about the Seville, whatever it was supposed to be. The ’80 Seville was probably a better body, the styling was off. The front end did not work with the bustle back. Hopper bodied bustle backs had front fenders to make the overall look consistent. But fenders got merged into the whole body during the ’50’s, so bustle backs don’t really work. See this LINK for what a real bustle back should look like.
All in all, I think the Seville concept sort of drifts off the original plan. The 1992 Seville kind of gets back on track, but the FWD makes turning it into a sports sedan difficult.
I think the problem with the Seville wasn’t the intention behind it. Cadillac immediately saw what they (rightly) perceived to be a threat and tried to respond with their own effort. Also, there’s nothing wrong with a smaller Cadillac, even though that wasn’t what GM entailed. Even if it wasn’t a Mercedes fighter, the fact that Cadillac offered a smaller car is pretty smart. Not everybody would’ve had the luxury of living somewhere to accommodate the tugboat sized models.
The main problem that I think the American car makers didn’t get, was something that never would’ve been easy to fix. The generational gap between who would’ve bought Mercedes versus who would’ve bought a Cadillac. Most of the people who bought these Benz’s were Baby Boomers, people who were diametrically opposed to everything their parents stood for. To them, a Cadillac was what their parents would’ve wanted, and as many a person here can attest, most people don’t wish to follow in their parent’s footsteps. A Mercedes was just a different sort of car, partly because the badge seemed exotic, but more importantly, it wasn’t what their parents aspired to. The American automakers, especially GM, were missing the forest for the trees when it came to the success of the Europeans, and eventually, the Japanese. They were so focused on the size of the cars, they seemed convinced the people that liked these cars liked them because they were small. But, as the shrunken 85 GM lineup proved, that wasn’t anywhere near the case. They liked them, because they were different, because they weren’t mom and dad.
As easy as it may seem to criticize Ford during this period for not answering Mercedes head on, I think they were actually the smart ones. Ford recognized that the people who bought a Mercedes 240D weren’t the same people who were going to look at a Mark IV and vice versa. It was just two diametrically opposed visions and sets of priorities, so why cater to a customer base that isn’t interested in your wares? Cadillac understood that Mercedes was a problem, but they never understood why it was popular. They just focused on the size and that was it, but as the old saying goes, size doesn’t matter.
Of course, even if there were people who weren’t of the Greatest Generation, who really did consider a domestic car manufacturer a viable option, the shoddy quality control and poor workmanship (Especially during the 80s) would’ve turned customers away too. Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t.
I agree with your demographic observation. I think the older part of my cohort (I’m at the tail end of the Boomers) wanted nothing to do with what our parents considered symbols of “success”. Oddly, as time went on, more of them decided to take on more of those symbols of success.
And the other observation about poor quality is also prescient, even if they did want one of these cars, the cluster that was the owner experience would have turned them off.
The 70s S-Class wasn’t just image. By any standard except maybe being chauffered limousine-style, it was the best car in the world regardless of price. Nothing had a comparable combination of luxury (both comfort and apparent quality), performance, and safety (both active and passive).
The rest of the world has caught up to M-B, but that was a moment in time when one luxury car was at least a full generation ahead of everyone else.
I was in high school when the original Seville went on sale. My thoughts at the time were that the size was a step in the right direction, that the styling was clean but nothing special, and that the interior was just as “old fashioned” – and cheap looking – as any other Caddy. It was underwhelming and disappointing, and it struck me as a typically cynical and half-assed Detroit effort to be relevant to younger buyers. It could have been so much more and so much better. They were too worried about keeping their existing customer base to mount a credible attempt to expand it.
I agree with Jim – I have never thought of the first Seville itself as a deadly sin…. it was a step in the right direction. Yes it failed in its role as a Mercedes fighter but that is not a big deal in itself. It was a transitional model – a step away from the old “Luxury means more of everything” thinking. Cadillac had,sadly, just become the biggest plate at a cheap all-you-can-eat buffet; simply an assemblage of handy corporate bits into a big pile. The Seville, I thought pointed the way forward: smaller cars where the money was to be spent on quality parts instead of sheet metal. Since the first Seville was a ‘rush job’ it could arguably be forgiven for being an assemblage of handy corporate bits put into an improved package.
However, Cadillac obviously failed to grasp the lesson of why people preferred Mercedes, and to me this makes the second Seville a deadly sin. They had plenty of time to develop that car…..and didn’t.
Note: I must concede that Wikipedia agrees with Paul,
While the first-generation Seville had proved quite successful, it failed in its primary mission of winning over younger import buyers. Marketing research indicated that the car was most popular with older women who wanted a Cadillac in a smaller, more maneuverable size.
The problem with GM is they didn’t use their brands very strategically from the 1970s on. A Nova based Seville should have been a Buick – traditional American luxury – cushy seat cushions and springs and lots of sound deadening to cover the lack of sophisticated engineering and still offer a smooth quiet ride (on good roads). As Paul suggested with his deadly sin nomination, Cadillac should have aimed higher and put together a Seville that was real Mercedes fighter – perhaps based on a top-line-Opel of the time. Yes it would have cost more, but they could have also charged more since the MB was even more expensive. GM instead had all their brands head towards the sweet middle of the market with upscale Chevs and Pontiacs, and downscale Buicks and Cadillacs. No doubt it was profitable for a while, but ended up ruining all the brand equity Sloan had built up over several decades.
You’re right about that. GM certainly ran down the upper brands. I can’t perceive the Skyhawk as a “Buick” for example. The Seville as a Buick makes sense as a “halo” like the original Riviera. Letting Cadillac persue the MB market. Consider this too: Would the final version of the Cimmaron be considered a “joke” if that exact car was sold as an Oldsmobile? ?
It would have to have been priced as an Oldsmobile. Then maybe.
Even as equipped, It could have been Oldsmobile (or perhaps Buick) priced. The sizable penalty was surely above what the upgrades to the basic “J” car to justify it as a “Cadillac”.
The exposed top of the B pillar screams 1950’s Studebaker to me. 4dr sedans look so much better with them hidden like my ’63 Rambler.
The ’75 Seville was a styling landmark. It still looks good today. Small wonder it influenced US car design for a decade or more. It was that good.
I remember in the ’80s and ’90s they were without question the most common American car one saw in Europe. Which suggests Cadillac hit its mark better than the US automotive press wanted to concede.
Even costing £20000 in the day they were a popular alternative to Jaguar XJ6 in the UK amongst rich Londeners>
What puzzles me about the original Seville is that it gets denigrated for the K body being derived from the then contemporary X body. IIRC, the X body and it’s F body cousin were considered to be quite decent handlers with the right equipment. I don’t have a lot of seat time in K body Sevilles, but I do have in mid to late 70’s X bodies and I think that GM gave the Seville a good starting point.
WRT the styling, I was a kid when this car was released, but as others have noted, there was nothing quite like it. I’d dare to say that it was even more striking than the 1986 Taurus, as Henry’s Bull aped some aspects of the Audi 5000. While the Taurus was something of a shocker at first, there had been some “aero” cars by that time. Tom Halter’s Chrysler LeBaron GTS sedan beat the Taurus to market by 18 months or so. The first gen Seville telegraphed the styling regime for GM’s cars well into the 1980’s. I can see a linkage to the Art & Science styling that is still being used today.
Sadly, the “formal” look was applied to everything bigger than J body. On one hand I can understand why, trading off of the style and reputation of the original Seville. Additionally, as cars got smaller here in the States in the wake of the 1979 fuel crisis, the formal three box design gave buyers an actual trunk with a truly separate passenger compartment. Even in the early to mid 1980’s, hatchbacks were losing their popularity. I don’t know if it was some sort of reaction to changing times or (most likely) the fact that trunk-ed cars are quieter and more secure. But once that happened, the original Seville and then the G body cars that were the closest clones lost all of their prestige. Like someone further up noted, who would have imagined that these cars would have been with us until 1987?
IMO, the most egregious mistake that Cadillac released was the 1980-1985 Seville with the Daimler Princess styling. I’m sorry if that offends some folks here, but that car was not at all what was anticipated after the original Seville. GM and Cadillac tried too much at once on that car, with the V8-6-4 and diesel motors, the switch to FWD and that unique styling. Seriously, of all of the dumpster fires that were imposed on Cadillac, during 1980-1990, I think this is the worst.
I thought the 80 Seville was cool when I first saw one. However, as I saw more of them on the streets, I gradually came to see that the front styling did not fit with the bustle back rear end. Even the bustle back’s look seemed off to me. One has to look at the pre WW2 Rolls Royces to see the way it should be. Even post war Rolls are much better See this for example (link)
The 14 second 0-60 times was obviously on the slow side and not accurate to what production examples could do of the first generation Seville. Heck a properly running 1982-85 Seville with the HT 4100 was quicker than that as seen by Motor weeks 1984 Eldorado Touring coupe test of 13 seconds in that run. And this was an engine that was making only 135 HP and 200 torque compared to the Olds Rocket 350 180/275 figures. http://www.automobile-catalog.com shows this generation of Seville as 11.5 second 0-60 capable which seems pretty close from what I have personally observed. I think another magazine got 12.2 seconds but would have to verify that.
There is a good write-up about the Seville here-
I repeatedly have to point out that the numbers from automobile-catalog.com are NOT actual test numbers, but just calculated projections based on stats, like weight, hp, axle ratio, etc.. They are not accurate.
R&T did a full test on the Seville in the Oct. ’75 issue, which I will repost sometime soon. Their 0-60 time was……13.3 seconds. Which is what I remember other magazine tests of the time being too. The Seville was heavy; 4345 lbs curb weight; 4675 lbs as tested.
I’m sure the 2.56 axle didn’t help, either.
Car and Driver in 1975 claimed 0-60 in 11.5 seconds, the quarter in 18.7 seconds @ 78.3 mph, and an observed top speed of 110 mph. Road & Track reported 13.3 seconds 0-60, the quarter in 19.0 seconds @ 78 mph, and 109 mph. Motor Trend in 1977 did 0-60 in 13.7 seconds, but the quarter in 18.19 seconds @ 76.92 mph (no top speed reported), while CAR got 0-60 in 12.2 seconds and 105 mph (no quarter mile ET reported). Take your pick…
Very well presented arguments, as always.
It’s possible we are perhaps making the wrong assumption that GM executives at the time really cared about future long term growth, and sustainability, for the corporation.
Maybe they just wanted to maximize their profits, while compromising investment for the future, with the primary purpose of lining their own pockets right now. Building a car, still very much a Cadillac, in image and purpose. Not taking the necessary chances, they needed to take. With a truly competitive car to Mercedes.
I’m not convinced it was exclusively hubris, ignorance, or stupidity, that led to GM’s failures. The Seville may have failed in its mission to stem the flow of sales to Mercedes and BMW. With the success of the Granada and Seville, GM at least was assured, the 1977 B-Body downsizing would be a safe, very profitable venture. Not the big risk, magazines implied. The Seville was a trial balloon for the full-sized car downsizing program. Probably most important to the bean counters at the time.
And why the full-sized cars followed the Seville formula. Once again, not to copy the formula of leading European car makers. Until the next several generations of GM management, engineers and designers, had it placed in their laps.
As we repeatedly see, how often are major investments made to secure the future? Too often, short term profit, fully drives the agenda.
Although the Seville was not nearly as space-efficient as the downsized ’77 cars, and suffered the same short placebo rear seats as the Nova sedan.
GM really needed someone to figure out how to transplant the Corvette rear suspension into the Seville. Then it would have had a chance. It weighed too much, but that was a function of the sound insulation Cadillac felt they needed. Maybe figure out how to delete some of that and sell a sport version too.
Maybe the Seville as it was should have been sold, with maybe some styling mods to differentiate, as a Buick, as someone said.
There’s a Car and Driver article from 1977 that was posted here a while ago (https://www.curbsideclassic.com/vintage-reviews/vintage-review-1976-cadillac-seville-cd-seville-gt-how-to-build-a-mercedes-killer/) in which they upgraded the suspension and steering of the Seville with some Trans Am pieces, a rear anti-roll bar they had custom-made, a wheel/tire upgrade (with absurdly expensive wire wheels), and Bilstein gas shocks. They also hacked up the bumpers, had the front springs heat-treated to even out the ride height, and went to a lot of trouble to move the battery to the trunk.
The editors were very impressed with the results, but it seemed to me a dubious enterprise: The wheels were visibly too wide for the front wheel wells and rubbed in tight turns, the Bilstein shocks made for what they admitted was a “kidney-killer” ride on choppy concrete, and they completely compromised the integrity of the 5 mph bumpers for a very modest weight reduction. For all that, it could only manage 0.72g on the skidpad and 42.4 mph on the slalom (up from 0.67g and 37.1 mph stock). Plus, they added an awful sport steering wheel and floor mats, plus $146 of Cibié lights that were then technically illegal in the U.S.
Also, by the time that article came out, one could have ordered the newly downsized Buick LeSabre Sports Coupe, a roomier and more dynamically competent car that cost literally half as much.
As I read the article and read the comments, I was looking for one word. Experimental. When I purchased several of these early Sevilles, my car buddies and myself agreed that the Seville was an “experimental” car that Cadillac built, to explore whether a smaller Cadillac would even sell. As it turns out, the Seville was a good seller, and priced above the standard Cadillacs, turned a decent profit for GM. The decent sales established the market for a smaller Cadillac and hence made the case for the investment for the completely new second generation Seville. I would argue that the first gen Seville was a success, and certainly not a “deadly sin”.
I really think that the definitive analysis of the original 1975 1/2 Seville and its place in history is the one by commenter, “Ate Up With Motor.” on his own site. Here’s the link:
If you carefully read the article it is accurate, but actually praises the first generation Seville much more than is negative about it. Thanks for posting it, an article that I’d never seen before.