Cadillac Seville (1975-1979)
photo via Wikimedia Creative Commons
With the news this month that the last Cadillac STS rolled off the line at the Hamtramck plant preceding the DTS in the list of discarded model names, I thought it might be interesting to get into the wayback machine to look at where it started: the 1975 Seville.
The Seville name had been used previously by Cadillac, as a model name for the Eldorado in the '50s and '60s: the convertibles were called Eldorado Biarritz and the coupes Eldorado Seville. While Biarritz was used as a special package on the Eldorado into the '80s, Seville became the chosen name for the new "baby" Cadillac.
After decades of having no real competition, Cadillac was feeling some heat in the early '70s. Not from its traditional rivals Lincoln or Chrysler; Lincoln sold well but wasn't quite in the same league and Chrysler's Imperial brand had been sadly demoted to more Buick-contender territory. Cadillac was feeling it from imports like Mercedes and Jaguar, models which were showing up in more of the parking lots of fine restaurants and country clubs than the powers-that-be at General Motors liked.
Something had to be done.
The answer turned up in the corporate X-body that underpinned the Chevy Nova. The size was about the same as the W116 Mercedes sold at the time, but in a decision Cadillac would later sadly forget with the Cimarron, there was no way they were going to slap a wreath and crest on a Nova and call it a Cadillac. So much work was done on the platform to make it worthy of the name that it was given the new designation K-body.
The sheetmetal was also quite deftly transformed from the plebeian Nova: The basic shape as handsome enough, but on the Seville a more formal roofline was added, necessitating a padded vinyl roof in the first years to hide the seams. It also featured the then-new rectangular headlamps, chiseled styling and a surprisingly delicate rear for a company that was known for its flamboyant fins. The interior was swaddled in leather and every goodie that Cadillac could throw in as befitting the then-astronomical price of over $12,000; the only more expensive Cadillac in the lineup that year was the limousine.
The car was an instant hit for Cadillac. It was luxurious, easily recognizable as a Cadillac, but two and a half feet shorter than a deVille and got better mileage. In an era when there was a Cadillac dealership in almost every town it was a viable alternative to a Mercedes where you might have to drive quite a distance for warranty service. It might not have handles the Autobahn like a 450SEL but it handled Park Avenue quite nicely and had amenities the Europeans couldn't touch, such as automatic climate control.
Seeing one on the streets today I am struck by how handsome a car it is. It's brash compared to Benz or Jag of the era with its padded top and chrome, especially in later years when the "d'Elegance" option was available or in some of the desert-community friendly, Jordan almond color combinations. But it's easy to forget how popular and influential it was: cars until the '90s featured some of its styling cues and it was light-years ahead of the competing offerings from Lincoln or Chrysler.
Rumor has it that Cadillac is once again working on a small car to fight the imports, in the form of the 2013 ATS. While I don't suggest they copy the 1975 Seville, they could take a few notes on the idea of not compromising too much.