When did Cadillac start becoming BMW – or trying to?
This can be pinpointed with some precision. It was 1976, the year of the Seville. This was Cadillac’s first small car – for Cadillac. It was conceived as a Cadillac for people who were leaning toward the smaller luxury-sport sedans made – and being sold, successfully – by European brands, especially BMW but also Mercedes-Benz. These were carving slices of what had been Cadillac’s (and Lincoln’s) domination of the American luxury car market.
Part of this was changing demographics – and changing times. The people in the market for a new luxury car in the mid-‘70s were the people who had been in the market for sporty cars like the Mustang in the ‘60s. They were no longer the youth market but they weren’t old yet, either. And it was mostly older people who were buying up traditional Cadillacs.
Sedan deVilles and Eldorados.
Don Draper was getting gray around the temples by the time Jimmy Carter became president.
He might buy a new DeVille. But it might be his last new Cadillac.
Enter the Seville. In theory.
It was meant to appeal to the same youngish prospect who was old enough to be able to afford a new BMW or Benz but not old enough to be considering a move to Boca just yet. It was about the same size as a Chevy Nova – which made sense because it was built on the same underlying chassis, which featured a partial unibody with the engine and front suspension mounted to a bolt-on subframe.
At just 204 inches long overall, it could easily hide in the shadow cast by a Sedan DeVille, which spanned 230 inches, more than two feet longer. And almost a foot wider. A ’76 Sedan deVille was just shy of 80 inches side to side; the ’76 Seville just 71.8 inches.
Under the hood of the first Seville was the smallest V8 Cadillac made. And Cadillac didn’t even make it. The 5.7 liter V8 was made by Oldsmobile, which eventually got Cadillac into trouble with customers when word got out. Not that there was anything wrong, per se, with the Oldsmobile-sourced 350 cubic inch V8 that powered the first Seville. But it wasn’t a Cadillac V8 and people who paid Cadillac dollars weren’t happy when they found out that they’d bought an Oldsmobile V8.
The little V8 developed a respectable (for 1976) 180 horsepower and was fuel-injected, making the ’76 Seville the first mass-produced American car to come with it standard (EFI was offered as an option on a few earlier American specialty cars, such as the “fuelie” Chevy Bel Air of the mid-1950s, same-era Corvettes and a handful of others but it was always optional and these systems were also mechanical; the Seville’s system was a Bendix-Bosch-designed electronic injection system).
Still, it was quite a step down – in cubic inches and exclusivity – from the 7.7 liter and 8.2 liter Cadillac V8s that came in deVilles and Eldorados. These may have sucked oceans of gasoline but that was just the point. An economical Cadillac was kind of like a flat-chested Miss America.
Another step down was in the gravitas department.
A ’76 Sedan deVille had a curb weight just shy of 5,000 pounds – why is why it needed a minimum of 7.7 liters of V8 to move it in Cadillac style. But the Seville weighed about 800 pounds less (around 4,230 pounds) and so could get away with a Chevy-sized (and Olds-made) 5.7 liter V8, which delivered as much as 23 MPG on the highway – a shameful thing, almost, for a Cadillac.
Cadillac moved 43,772 Sevilles off the showroom floor that inaugural (and Bicentennial) year. The first 2,000 of these were all Georgian Silver and carried the highest sticker price – $12,479 – of any Cadillac except the Series 75 Fleetwood limousine, despite being the smallest Cadillac on the showroom floor.
Unfortunately for Cadillac, the Seville’s primary appeal, as it turned out, was to older women – who were attracted to the car’s easier-to-manage dimensions. So an attempt was made to offer another attraction:
The ’77 Seville became the first Cadillac to come standard with four wheel disc brakes and the first American car – other than Corvette – to offer them at all. In ’78, a digital instrument cluster – the Tripmaster – became available. It could estimate how long it would take to arrive at your programmed-in destination as well as miles-to-empty and miles-per-gallon.
Interestingly, another high-tech item, air bags – which had been offered as optional equipment in big Cadillacs as far back as ’74 – were not offered in the newest, smallest Cadillac.
Sales upticked slightly to a high (for the first-generation model) of 53,487 sold in 1979. However, this was still a drop in the bucket relative to sales of the big Cadillacs, which still accounted for the lion’s share (300,000-plus) of Cadillac’s total sales volume.
Apparently, size did matter – to Cadillac buyers.
So another tack was tried – by changing the Seville’s looks and the way it drove. The look was as radical as the size of the ’76 Seville had been when it was introduced. A “bustleback” trunk that angled sharply downward defined the 1980 model. Like many of designer Bill Mitchell’s conceptions, you either liked it a lot or you didn’t like it – at all. However you liked it, there was no disputing the originality of the look as nothing else on the road looked like it – which was what Mitchell intended with his “statement” styling.
A less obvious but no less radical change was under the hood. Or rather, where the power flowed from what was under the hood. The brand-new second-generation 1980 Seville was a front-wheel-drive car now and would remain so for the rest of its production life. It was not the first front-drive Cadillac car, of course. The Eldorado was that – but the layout served the same purpose, only more so – which was to increase the space inside this smaller Cadillac by getting rid of the drivetrain hump that would otherwise divide the floorpans down the middle.
There was, however, a lot less under the hood. The carryover Olds-sourced 5.7 liter V8 was still around but the new standard engine was the catastrophic diesel V8, also sourced from Oldsmobile. It summoned 105 horsepower from the same 5.7 liters and delivered decidedly un-Cadillac acceleration and vibrations. A small Cadillac that sounded – and smoked – like a big rig resulted in sales falling to less than half what they were in ’76 by 1982, when just under 20,000 new Sevilles were purchased.
Cadillac made a bad situation much worse by adding cylinder deactivation technology – the infamous V8-6-4 system – to the gas engine. This not-ready-for-prime-time technology was discontinued after 1982 but created a tsunami of warranty claims and unhappy customers. The only way to avoid the partially running/misfiring V8 was to buy the new V6 – made by Buick, this time – as a “credit option.”
It was downhill from this point onward, for the Seville specifically and Cadillac generally.
In 1985, an all-new Seville made its debut. This car was even smaller – its length abbreviated by almost another foot – relative to the original ’76 Seville. It also came with a new “High Technology” (HT) aluminum-block (and iron head) V8, which was at least a Cadillac V8. But it was also a tiny V8, displacing just 4.1 liters at first. It was also a problem-prone V8, in part because of head gasket and intake manifold sealing problems.
On the upside, there was a new-design overdrive automatic and that plus even lower curb weight resulted in nearly 30 MPG on the highway. But that didn’t persuade nearly as many people as Cadillac had hoped. Especially given that the car’s price had increased by almost 20 percent over the previous – larger – Seville. The price increase wasn’t so much Cadillac’s fault as the Fed’s – inflation being rampant at this time. But it was no less harmful in its consequences for Cadillac.
The new car sold just barely better than the old car.
A final Hail Mary effort was made (in ’88) to take the old out of the car by re-marketing the Seville as the STS, the acronym standing for Seville Touring Sedan. It was meant in the same way that KFC is meant nowadays:
We don’t say Kentucky Fried Chicken anymore.
The 1992 STS was the most Un-Cadillac Cadillac yet. Not merely small, it was overtly sporty, with a 15.6:1 steering box, rear sway bar and aluminum wheels with Goodyear Eagle GT blackwall performance tires mounted. A new 4.9 liter Northstar DOHC V8 was under the hood and made almost 300 horsepower.
These cars were also fitted with anti-lock brakes and body-colored mirrors and dual exhaust (later models). They look good and they performed better than any previous Cadillac. It was by far the quickest Cadillac ever, capable of getting to 60 in about half the time it took a ’76 Seville to make the same run.
But they were no longer Cadillacs.
Despite being named Car of the Year by Motor Trend in ’92, sales of the final generation Seville (whoops, STS) never exceeded the numbers posted by the first Seville, peaking at 46,713 in 1996.
And none ever came close to the numbers posted by the great dreadnought Cadillacs the came before and which made Cadillac the standard of the world. Perhaps not in terms of quality but certainly in terms of impact.
The Seville never quite filled the bill. Perhaps because this Cadillac was trying to fit another standard; to be something else – and that rarely succeeds when someone else is already doing it – and did it first. The more Cadillac tried to be a kind of American-brand BMW, the less difference there was between a Cadillac and a BMW (and a Benz and and Audi) and so less reason to buy a Cadillac over those brands, which also did it better.
. . .
Cadillac Seville Trivia:
- Seville production began in early summer 1975 and some 2,653 Sevilles were produced in Iran – under the auspices of Pars Khodro, an Iranian car manufacturer that also produced JP CJs and Wagoneers under license from AMC.
- Legendary GM stylist Bill Mitchell worked on both the first and second generation Sevilles; Mitchell is also credited with styling the first generation (1967-’69) Chevrolet Camaro, the Buick Riviera and the StingRay Corvette of the early ’60s. The “bustleback” 1980 Seville was his last design for GM.
- The Seville was originally going to be called LaSalle, in honor of the GM brand associated with Cadillac in the years prior to World War II. But the decision was made to go with Seville out of concern over buyers having difficulty correctly pronouncing “LaSalle.”
- By today’s standards, the original ’76 Seville is a full-sized car; a 2021 BMW 7 Series sedan is just three inches longer and has a smaller trunk as well as a smaller engine.
- A first-year Seville with the standard 5.7 liter Oldsmobile-sourced V8 was capable of getting to 60 MPH in just under 12 seconds, just slightly behind the pace of a new Prius hybrid.
- A handful of custom-built iterations of the Seville were made, including a two-seater convertible, a pick-up and a more subtle version of the sedan, with an extended-length hood.
- The Seville – the name – was produced through the 2004 model year on a slightly longer wheelbase but the car was actually smaller overall than before (201 inches). GM continued to sell the STS through the 2011 model year.
- Current Cadillac V8s are made by Chevrolet and the best-selling Cadillac is the biggest Cadillac, the Escalade SUV.
Excerpted from the forthcoming (eventually) book, Doomed.
. . . .
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The Chevrolet Nova and clones were on the GM X-body platform. The first Seville should have been called the X-Special because it was based on the X platform, but with differences. Instead, that Seville platform was designated K. Just some trivia.
These days few remember the letter designations for the 1960s–1980s GM platforms, but they are useful to know.
The self destruction of GM is a sad story. I remember back in the 1970s when they had something like 58 percent market share and the Olds Cutlass sold about a million copies a year (1977 I believe).
My parents owned a 1978 Seville. Dad and I chose it for its smaller dimensions and crisp styling. He hated large American cars, but being a WW2 vet was no fan of buying Mercedes or BMW as they came from Germany. To date it remains my favorite styled Cadillac and its platform should have served Cadillac well into the 1980s instead of making that FWD monstrosity that followed.
In some ways, the Cadillac was fun to drive. It was quiet and came with a very muted V8 rumble. With its 2.56:1 axle, you had to crank the wheel all the way and stomp on the gas to get a burnout. You had to wait about 14 seconds to reach 70 mph. This car was a loser in the handling department and had cheap but functional interior bits. Switchgear was sloppy but functional.
The Seville had a functional interior layout with simple instrumentation. A horizontal 85 mph (100 mph on 1976 models), and a fuel gauge is what you got. An array of idiot lights across the dashboard warned you about seat belts, wiper fluid and fuel economy.
Most Sevilles came with leather that wore out pretty badly. after about 3 years.
Although the Seville didn’t excel in any category, it was an elegant car for the times. Properly maintained, reliability was above average.
I wish I could find a decent one. It would be nice to put TH200-4 transmission to give that Overdrive and some stiff sway bars and front springs to tighten things up a little. Cadillac could have been the standard of the world had they spent a little money on this car
All traditional American cars – not just Cadillacs – were devastated by the combination punch of federal emissions regulations in the early 70s and (of course) the artificially induced gas shortages and inflation that followed. The former greatly reduced power, smoothness and drivability while the latter made you pay more for it. The imports benefitted greatly from both as they were already smaller and their drivetrains weren’t as negatively affected by the regs; the Japanese especially were given a huge and artificial competitive advantage; they were able to sell their cars without having to re-engineer their cars.
Americans didn’t get tired of traditional American cars like the Cadillacs of once-upon-a-time. America’s government simply took them off the road by its actions.
While i agree that the two punches were there, there was a third.
The Japanese and other manufacturers did not have to deal with poor quality which included engineering prowess, materials and assembly quality.
If these had been present at the American companies, the re-engineering would have been much easier.
Why do i know? I am early Gen X so grew up at this time. My family and those like us were working class people. Guess what many of us were doing before, during and after the fuel crisis. We were driving ten to twenty year old cars to avoid the garbage of the seventies. Kind of like smart and working class people are doing now to avoid contemporary cars that will cost them insanely after warranty expiration if they even last that long. Note that sadly some of the Japanese brands once known for extremely high quality are no more.
I also know personally engineers and executives from that wonderful time at Garbage Motors, their term. They did things like purposely installed less durable transmissions because the much better units that although they provided the same fuel economy and driving experience were costing them future sales. The cars lasted too long.
Here is another personal experience. The fuel costs of the time, even at their worst, were not what bothered working class people as much. It used to be hard to buy a car. Financing was expensive and American cars cost more than the competition.
Working class people could treat something very well and it would still have major problems after it was paid off if not before, sometimes from new.
Another thing of the time is that working class included people like engineers, scientists, medical personnel, trades people, the kind of people who knew machines. When one worked on an American car and then the Japanese competition of the time, it was instantly apparent the lack of quality, materials, innovation, even things like bolts and fasteners on the American brand.
Yes, there is an argument to be made for simplicity and such being in existence long before the fuel and emissions crisis, however simply must also include quality which it did not in the American offerings. Even the more engineered Japanese cars were known for their overall efficiency of design while at the same time impressing people with how well they were made. And, to add insult to injury, their greater complexity where present seemed to last and last well into their later years of being near antiques.
Mechanics that i knew at the time, old guys then, were vastly impressed with the quality and were quite depressed at what it said about what we could build.
Fuel costs were only an issue for the burgeoning long distance commuter class. Working class people wanted nothing to do with seventies and eighties cars as they cost them in big matters. Things that cost them much more than fuel.
Oh yea, people seem to leave out that these same Japanese cars were also required to meet our emissions regulations too. There were too many examples to see each and every day of them with hundreds of thousands of miles, even city miles, with the same catalytic converter, running fine, able to pass emissions tests easily in their high mileage state including the dyno tests which would come in some dense traffic markets.
The pathetic attempts at emissions equipment at the American brands had very little to do with fuel economy as they had more to do with internal competency, discipline and quality.
Every person who was pro-American cars of their worst time 70-80s, when one listens to them, one hears how they traded it in every three to five years.
Ever been broke, middle class or working class, struggling as cost of living shot up, first major era of layoffs and corporate restructuring, loss of industry and trade jobs?
It seriously got our attention that one could buy a cheaper vehicle that cost less to own, easier to service, required much less in repairs, was made better, did not turn to shit in five years and could be kept in the family as a second car or handed down to children. The average American saw a choice between driving sixties cars or Japanese.
Note that in my family we drove sixties American cars that were just fine due to the lingering quality and simplicity as in for twenty years or more while our neighbors bought seventies cars of the same brands and had terrible experiences not due to emissions regulations or fuel economy but quality. Everything that broke on them had nothing to do with either. The emissions equipment failures were merely something to make them miserable each year’s test and add to the overall terrible ownership experience.
I should know because my family did two stupids because we wanted to help our own.
Figuring that the growing pains were over for the American auto companies and that there were times when one supported one’s own, we bought two new GM offerings. Figured we owed the workers of all levels there something after driving two of their cars for about twenty years and much mileage.
1979 Cutless Shitpreme, helped my father pay for it. We even ordered heavy duty suspension and cooling. One could do that years ago.
It had the supposed perfect life. Family who would service it with factory parts and driving use. It would be all smooth highway in a temperate climate. It would get started, driven three miles local (for proper warm up) to the highway and then for about an hour at speed with near zero traffic slowdowns. Should have been immortal.
If the dealer said it was scheduled maintenance, we did it.
Transmission failed at 37,000, no warranty. Engine done at 60,000, no warranty. Replaced with an in-box engine from the dealer, installed by said. Done after about the same mileage. Note that there was no chance of the dealer screwing up basics as my father and i did them, such as changing the oil. Next transmission failed 45,000 miles later. The engines were noted for wrecking their cams, plastic timing gear, leaking valves, the Chevy 305 corporate V8 as they called it. Funny how none of this involved the emissions controls. That fun got good as the catalytic converter would fail at 150,000, note that highway miles are supposed to be better. Let’s not even mention the horrible brakes and servicing them. The rear drums would fill with rust which one got to experience when adjusting them. Numerous body stuff failed in the first year of ownership and of course after any warranty was over. Electric items failed like cruise control, wiper motors. One was always replacing something.
Stupid here bought a brand new, once again new and American, Grand AM for his mother in 85. Nice rolling mess that leaked oil, had no heat in winter befuddling even a GM technical rep at the dealer who basically admitted that they all had this problem. Skid prone car known to oversteer. Will give it this, the transmission and nature of the front wheel drive did not give the problems that people warned would be an issue. The world’s most uncomfortable seats. Horrible to do even basic service. Engine ran terribly, oh yea must have been the emissions equipment. Did not dare drive it through even the slightest puddle as the distributor cap was upsidedown under the engine, close to the ground. the oil filter under the power steering pump was another joy as was the removal of the alternator to remove a spark plug. Shocks and struts were done, front and rear, at 35,000 miles driven on smooth roads. shall i go on.
I bought a Japanese car which was already seven years old with 120,000 miles on it and sported all of its major components. Drove it city driving a lot and it still had original parts at 400,000 miles such as struts and shocks. Never had a major component fail. It was a pleasure to work on. The interior of the brake drums looked new when one pulled them. This was in a community where they used road salt. It was a pleasure to work on. Bolts, nuts and clips did not rust to hell and then break or strip like on the aforementioned “new” cars that we bought. Engineering types, including my pro-America brand, combat veteran father, who knew machines being in later life an engineer was majorly impressed with the quality of the machine, its design, material and assembly quality. He said it reminded him of the pre-war American cars where fittings were well made just for the sake of it. Had he lived, he had his eye on a Honda Accord after commenting on the Mercedes-Benz build quality.
60s American cars kept a lot of simplicity and overall good materials in terms of durability, however the manufacturers played a game of doing something to catch people’s attention like offering a strong engine. Anything can be built strong and bigger. They stopped having core competency and tried the stunts of luxury which is one of the cheapest things to add to a vehicle.
I would later purchase a 1991 Honda Accord new. Drove it for about twenty years, selling it to the guy who is still driving it with over 400,000 miles still looks just about as good as when i bought it. All major components are still in place, city driving. No major repairs ever needed. Did most of the service myself, including the valve adjustments that they require. Yes, it needed a radiator when it was eighteen years old. No need to change to hoses, they were fine. Ever see radiator hoses last that long on an American car? It still has them.
Lots of people had the same story as us and learned the hard way
Fuel and Emissions merely put the final bullet in the head of many a company that got lazy.
First mistake of this country was that the Fuel and Emissions excuse (i thought that Libertarians do not do excuses.) was used to bailout Chrysler. Had it been allowed to fail and totally decompose, the market would have delivered a message. Build crap and you go out of business. The others would have noticed including their white collar class and their unions.
Instead the working people in the free market got to pay for it, numerous times, as every other large corporate entity comes hat in hand when they cannot meet the challenge or basic business or do a lot of stuff wrong.
What you do not start, you do not finish.
BTW, the ancient Japanese car that i bought. My father loved to steal it from me to drive. It was a five speed Prelude. He could not believe how smooth it rode and the smoothness of the engine. He was pro V8 for the smoothness and rear drive for the same reasons. His 79’s V8 used to “glug”. His words. Yea, i know some person here will say that he should he changed the cam, put a Holly carb on it, deleted the converter, whatever. Hey making mods or optimizing should be on top of a good basis.
Oh yea, working people when they buy something new, should not have to re-engineer it. My Honda was all original and out accelerated a V8 car. Who is stupid here?
BTW, my father commented how the interior plastic and assembly blew away every American car, the seven year old car at the time. Engineer friends at Garbage Motors and Chrysler said the same thing.
People who drive short highway and town do not care so much about fuel economy, look at the SUVs and large trucks so popular. Thus, the large American cars died for another reason, not fuel crisis, they were junk.
About 15 years ago, I had a
1968 Oldsmobile Delta 88.
One of my buddies had a 1973 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. The difference in just five years was striking: My Olds had a metal grille while his Caddy had a plastic grille, for one thing. Unbelievable!
Chris, everything you say is true, but I believe you’re missing the big picture. What really changed was the culture- once the smog/safety nazis started dictating, the management culture chose to take the easy way out with everything. Need to make it lighter? Use more plastic and thinner metal. Costing too much to add Cats? Skimp on the undercoating and plating. Need to cut emissions? Drop compression and change to a really bad cam grind, then jigger the carb so it’s “tamper resistant”.
I had the same experiences- the 70’s and early 80’s American cars were shockingly bad. During high school I fixed up and sold at a profit lots of air cooled VW’s, Ford Couriers (Mazda), early Honda Civics (really amazing little hatchback- quick, quiet, smooth, cheap to run). I avoided American stuff made after the late 60’s- Dad educated me and it was amazing the difference between his 67 F150 (Really great truck, in contention for the best pickup ever) and his 72 F150 (cheap aluminum grille and a NP 4 speed which crapped out after 30k miles of light service).
None of the above refutes what you say- but my point is that we can most assuredly make the best stuff in the world here, but the culture of HR GRRLZ running things for a bunch of business major frat boys in upper management have made us uncompetitive especially as these things are at the hands of government/academics.
We got a little bit socialist in the 60’s, which is very much like getting a little bit pregnant.
Things have been going badly for a very long time, they are finally coming to a head- the trend that cannot continue will not. Incompetence and cronyism will eventually be rewarded by ruin. They should have already ended in bankruptcy and rebirth, but the aforementioned frat boys take care of their own and robbed the treasury and mortgaged the future over and over to make sure their scam continued.
Your long post was very good, but don’t ever think we can’t do better. It’s just time for the good guys to stand up and be counted.
And I thought that I tended to “diarrhea of the keyboard”!
Automatic Transmissions: By about 1960, American automakers fairly well had them matured in development. Gone (mostly) were the early abominations like Powerglide (actually VERY reliable, but TWO speeds…c’mon…), Dyanflow (Buick’s “slushbox”, which gave the Nailhead V8s more reason to guzzle gas), and Chrysler’s various hybrid monstrosities like “Fluid Drive” and Vac-O-Matic”. The Ford C-6, GM Turbo-Hydramatics, and Chrysler Torqueflites were BULLETPROOF, so transmission shops, especially the notorious Aamco chain had to get creative to sell gullible customer transmission rebuilds. FWIW, it actually COST GM money to develop the lesser Turbo’s like the TH-200s that were installed in Chevy Vegas, Novas, and their badge-engineering cousins, rather than just use a TH-350, but the reason was that those cars were deemed “entry-level”, i.e., 5 or 6 years and 75,000 miles, they were DONE, and the sucker, er, I meant, “CUSTOMER”, would spring for a bigger, more expensive, and more PROFITABLE ride. The bean-counters were making engineering decisions in Detroit, and the way they saw it, a better made car cut into FUTURE sales.
Yes, the Jap rides had to meet emissions standards too…and you gotta admire how HONDA handled the “Cat” problem…their innovative 3-valve per cylinder CVCC engine was “clean” enough to not require a “Cat”! Chrysler actually could have scored a major coup in the late 70s with the “Lean Burn”, b/c it was great…WHEN it worked. The trouble was, to work with those Carter carbs, especially the infamous Thermoquad, you had to get the settings j-u-u-u-s-t right, there was very little margin for error. Someone didn’t push the needed quality control with Carter (if anything, Chrysler, themselves pinched for cash, was squeezing its suppliers dry), and the factory, at war with the UAW, never a way to ensure high quality, just pushed those cars out the factory gates, figuring they’d foist the needed tuning on the dealers. However, not only was Chrysler slow to get the necessary training and special test equipment to its dealers, in order to keep them happy (many were either going “tits up” anyway or were dropping their Mopar lines), no information was released to mechanics outside the dealer network, on pain of franchise revocation or a lawsuit or both. So no one knew how to tune these beasts, and many a computer (the LB “brain” being one of the first in mass production) was blamed by a befuddled mechanic and needlessly replaced, further emptying its poor sap of an owner’s wallet.
Again, it was letting the bean-counters have the say over product design and engineering that nearly killed the American car industry in the 70s, hence why it’s often called the “malaise” era. Not only ridiculous badge-engineered products that were an insult to the buyer’s intelligence (really, why spend MORE for a Pontiac Astre, an Olds Omega, or a Buick Apollo when they’re all the same Chevy Nova with a different front clip and trim?), but squashing ANY meaningful innovation. Fuel injection might not have been ready for “prime time” when it was introduced on several makes in the late 50s, but at least it was an attempt! Other things like ALUMINUM engines (admitted, the casting technology still needed work), of which we saw some Mopar Slant Sixes and Buick 215 V8 small-blocks, for example, independent rear suspensions (Corvair, of course, but also Pontiac Tempest, Buick Skylark, and Olds F-85, this was a key plot element that helped Joe Pesci as a smart-assed recent law school graduate win his first case in “My Cousin Vinny”), and the one I liked best, where Pontiac took the basis Chevy Six block, added on a jackside side casting, an OHC head, and a cogged rubber timing belt, and some of these hopped-up Sixes had four-barrel carbs, so the Tempest with a Six was no slouch! Why, after four wonderful years, did GM corporate kill it, after the late John DeLorean put a lot to develop it? He was promoted to head up Chevrolet, GM’s largest division (nearly 40% of all GM sales, even though it was the lowest-priced for almost all categories), and the “suit” that took over nixed the OHC Six the very day he took over PMD.
So, as much as the new obsession with S-a-a-a-a-a-a-f-t-e-e-e (in reality, a nebbish bozo like Ralph Nader was backed by what Eric terms the “Insurance Mafia”, which always looked for ways to cut payouts, and, of course, ambulance-chasing trial lawyers), and “smog”, which, again, Richard Nixon’s attempt to appease those eco-morons by creating the EPA in 1970 only created a regulatory and bureaucratic monstrosity that plagues this nation half a century later, the performance market was GONE, just like that! Cars become TAME, homogenized, and pretty Gott-damned BORING. About the only things noteworthy were the “personal luxury” models, at least they had some style and definitely great on the comfort, but usually wallowed around the curves and had the “pep” of Corrado “Junior” Soprano after he’d eaten a whole block of cheese! Give both the Japs and the Krauts credit…their little four-banger rides were fairly developed, reliable, and though they were usually “winded” at USA freeways speeds, as, save for the German Autobahn (and if you hauled ass from Frankfurt, you’d be at the DDR border in about 90 minutes, so what was the point?), there was little place in their native lands to get much above 90 “clicks” (about 55 mph), they were already ideally designed for American city and SUBURBAN commuting…which THEIR market, “Boomers” just out of college or off that hitch in the military, mostly used! And the “imports” didn’t skimp on quality, even if it hurt their bottom line in the short run, b/c they were out to CAPTURE the American consumer, which they DID. By the time those “Boomers” hit 35 to 40 years of age, they weren’t interested in those still poorly-built, recently “downsized”, boxy, and UGLY US makes, they stuck with the now LARGER Toyotas, Hondas, Nissans, Mazdas, Audis (related to VW), and for those with a bit more dough, BMWs and Mercedes. They saw enough of Mom and/or Dad get frustrated with their 1983 Ford LTD or 1986 Buick Century and said, “no thanks”. By the time the bigwigs at GM, Ford, and Chrysler figured it out, they’d lost a GENERATION, and had no one to blame but THEMSELVES.
American stuff wasn’t all junk in the 70s, just most of it.
My dad decided to buy a new shop truck. The best and cheapest was a Ford F-350 “Super Cam,per Special”. Plain jane interior that lasted 20 years. 460 cid with a good automatic. The thing had oversize rear tires and two batteries for the bigger camper hauling guys.
The beast was faster off the line than the Corvette, but stunningly bad mileage. It had very little maintenance problems. Exhausts were very long lived at the time, although a hanger broke.
We put in up to 5200# on the bed with no squirrely handling, although one had to drive extremely conservatively (like a clover).
Oh, the price paid at the Max Fear point of the gas crisis—–$4400.00 new.. They couldn’t give them away. Tough truck that got no wash in the endless salted streets winters. It took more than 15 years to start showing rust, and another three to perforate.
Translation: After 18 years, the truck was just barely broken in.
Sure, that 460 and C-6 weren’t meant to sip fuel; they were meant to WORK. In both the ’73-’74 and ’79-80′ “Gas Crunches”, where prices of gasoline just about doubled, and then AGAIN, folks were in shock. While part of it was the inevitable price adjustments once the market is deregulated, it also reflected the severe inflation that America went through in it’s “malaise” era, with “Stagflation”. No matter how the politicians and the Fed try to mask it, in terms of Petro-Dollars, it’s actually fairly constant over time, as dollars just printed w/o either gold, silver, or produced goods to back them up. If you examine how much things like hamburger, the average 3 bedrrom, 2 bath house, or a pair of jeans cost, it turns out that in most areas, the actual cost of things as compared to average incomes is just about constant. Where it’s gotten skewed is in areas under heavy Government control of the real estate market, with undue restrictions on building and/or zoning, with resulting artificially induced shortage and price rises. And who does that hurt? Why, mostly the “working poor” these libtard morons profess to “help”! As the late Ronald Reagan, i.e., “Dutch” once put it, you could more readily afford a home IAW your needs w/o your Government’s help, save that what prevents that IS the Government trying to “help”!
Another piece of Seville trivia:
The “Four Fourier Analysis” which almost everyone now uses to remove harshness and vibrations from a car’s chassis/platform, was pioneered by GM when developing the Seville.
Fast Fourier analysis.. interesting. It examines things in the frequency domain and removes the audible portion. At least that’s what I think it is without hitting the google button. The Seville was indeed a pretty quiet car. I miss my parents car.
There’s a guy with a sky blue ’77 with a white vinyl top that has obviously been breathed on (the exhaust is way too throaty to be stock) and other than the typical GM plastic fillers deteriorating, this thing is perfect (from 15 feet at least). I always stop and stare as it drives past.
The 4.1 litre; what great memories. I did service work for a Cadillac dealership and there were 2 techs I got to know pretty well. Their job was to replace 4.1 liter motors with the redesigned 4.5 liter. Day in and day out, 5 days a week…changing out motors. I always wondered who they pissed off.
Then my sister in law came home with a deal on a car she couldn’t pass up. A Sedan with a 4.1. Damn.
The worst part was the 4.5 had almost as many problems.
Thanks for the trip down nightmare lane
My pleasure, Curtis!
I wish I’d been around to test-drive and review these things when they were new… no gin needed to gin up something to say about them!
Years of plenty! Went to a Caddy dealer in Bakersfield, drove a pretty new Seville diesel on a test drive. Signed up; drove back home, hit the Tehachapi Grade and heavy trucks passed us. Turned around at the next exit and so back to the dealer.
A minor point of correction: The 1974-75 Chrysler Imperials had 4-wheel disc brakes.
Speaking of which, the Seville led to such creations as the Chrysler Cordoba, LeBaron, and Fifth Avenue, along with the Lincoln Versailles.
The 2nd gen Seville was one of those hokey designs that I can’t help but love.
I think it telling that the most popular and only aspirational Cadillac today is the Escalade. It’s the only vehicle (since its actually a truck) that is close to the big cars of the glory years. It’s big, brash, comfy and has a big V8. It’s long tall tail lights are the closest thing to tail fins today. It also has a name instead of some confusing nonsense acronym too. People are even willing to pay upwards of a $100k for one too. So there is a market for big Cadillacs even today.
Cadillacs shouldn’t come with any engine smaller than a V8. They just shouldn’t. They should be developing engines even bigger than a V8. Any ol’ new car has a turbo four, it’s not special, even if it packs 300 horsepower. Even Kia does that. Stop chasing the other brands, and be Cadillac!
Going to all electric will finish off Cadillac for good. No one aspires to own an electric car.
GM is good (or was) at building large cars and trucks. It only exists at the moment due to trucks.
The problem with small cars at GM is they want to do them cheap. So they earned the reputation of lousy small cars because they are. They always have for the most part. So its the circle of hell.
Even the ones they want premium or luxury prices they do on the cheap. Building the Seville didn’t stop them from building the even more stupid Cimarron a decade later. The Chevy Cavalier wasn’t that great to begin with, so trying to remodel it into a Cadillac was a lost cause.
There shouldn’t be an small or “entry” level Cadillac. That is what the other brands of GM were once for. And what it should be again. If there aren’t going to be lots of Cadillacs anymore, at least make them awesome. The ones today certainly aren’t. They may even be good, but they aren’t awesome by any standard.
There should be Cadillacs (and Lincoln’s for that matter) that should compete against cars like Rolls or Bentley. Those are the closest things to what Cadillacs once were. Big, brash, comfy and big engined.
the Escalade is built on a GMC/Chevy truck and is also known for having more mechanical and body fittings and electronics problems than those vehicles.
If Cadillac wants to be a luxury car maker or GM wants this, it must be an exclusive in-house design of even the chassis, engine and body shell. Does it still have a beam rear axle like a pick-up truck. I plead ignorance here, never bothered to look.
If a person can get an LS engine in a Suburban with the attached lousy GM transmission, why buy a Cadillac just to have more problems.
I grew up in those early days, and we all still said “like a Cadillac” referring to luxury/quality. I was a mechanic apprentice back then and the German brands were not good. Broke down worse and were mega bucks to fix. The Japanese brands is what took over. We then started saying “like a Lexus”.
I still have a soft spot for the land yachts Caddy made. Wish they still made them. I was surprised when their latest attempt, the CT6, was canceled. I think it could have made it if they packaged it better, they didn’t (4cyl, V6, bwaaaahaaahaaa, AWD only, etc…). It still turns my head when I see one.
And probably why a large amount of us now drive ‘land yacht’ 4-door pick-ups with v8’s. Hell, my new ram rides better than everything I’ve owned except probably the caddy land yachts which I never owned.
That ’92 STS was pretty nicely styled. Accelerated well too, for its time.
I might have been tempted to buy one…But by then, my ‘NEVER, EVER buy another GM product” philosophy was etched in stone. And that’s a policy I have never deviated from. And I’m glad. 🙂
My ex father-in-law had one with the Northstar V8. That thing drank oil like no other engine I’ve ever personally dealt with and the amazing thing was it hardly smoked. But once a month, it needed another quart! The upside was not having to change the oil – just the filter every now and then…
What always eventually kills a business or company is quality. Quality has as its successor the ability to respond to challenges and innovate in other ways.
Let’s admit the bad ideas in terms of marketing, design, direction of the division and even sales that Eric rightfully discusses above. They are all accurate. Additionally accurate are all of the things that the political climate did to handicap the manufacturers. Here is where we depart.
Quality is a result of discipline which itself means core competency.
If the leaders of the company screwed up and released a bad idea, but one that was made very well, at least two things would emerge. The market would know that even if it was not for them after some even bought it, they were not ripped off. Second, there would be a brain trust and culture which could respond in functional ways to competitors, fuel economy and emissions regulations and safety and changing consumer needs and wants. In the fuel and emissions area, the solutions were poorly designed and indicative of lack of ability. Other manufacturers had no problems, but we blame the regulations, not the producer.
it seemed as if the American manufacturers were just throwing something out there and hoping that it would stick. Oops, is not a valid business excuse. Basically, they did not know how to and did not have the character to work at something leaving the market with something that they did not want but was also a piece of shit. Cobbling something together from the parts bin is an example of this. They did not select an engine from their corporate gallery for its strengths but that it was there, big difference, bad result. Then they try to tack on things that were not part of a unified design. One understands outside suppliers with great products, but was the engine totally designed with this in mind or “just got it to work.” I’ll vote for the later as verified by engineers that worked there and told me.
The company got used to people buying a car every five years, brand loyalty, and various booms. When the consumer who had his back to the wall needed a car that did not fail majorly after even ten years, GM offered no such security. Remember that if one purchased a competing luxury car from the Germans at that time, there was a good chance of using it for close to twenty years without major problems, timeless styling, much better performance and a feeling of quality. Yes, the Germans had issues, no doubt, but Cadillac’s luxury often had a feeling of being a put-on or cheap. Yes, it rode soft and could be pretty, but a beam axle in their cars for all of those years? If it is based upon the same chassis as a Chevy and Chevy Pickup suspension, it can only be so good, world class V8 or not. More often not.
American cars prior to the late fifties were known in Europe for being as well made as they were pretty and at times extravagant. We lost the former and kept the latter. After a while people figured that a heavily padded seat, fake wood trim and chrome dash details were on a rolling pile of garbage and got sick of their intelligence being insulted. I know many buyers of both these and German brands at this time, and they say the same thing. Educated, doctors, lawyers, business people tell me of the time that they expected the people designing their luxury purchase to meet the same standards to which they held themselves. It was not that they looked down on the brand. They simply could “see” and feel engineering slop. They felt that Cadillac marketed itself to morons with a little money. They called the cars of the time described here the Guinellac.
A company among others that should have been allowed to go out of business a few times over.
Don’t blame fuel economy or emissions. Blame lack of ability to meet challenges.
That is the libertarian thing, is it not?
A “Goiman” (German) or other European that can afford to buy a ‘Benz will typically be scrupulous with its maintenance. FWIW, they’re not considered necessarily “status” symbols, just a better quality automobile, though the marque has suffered in the past ten or so years. It’s not unusual to see someone like a doctor, attorney, or high official or corporate hotshot buy a decent ‘Benz and keep it for 20-25 years, and often it’s lovingly garaged both at home and at work! Even though they could, in theory, afford to trade them in every five years or so, to such types, that’d be a WASTE, as they generally don’t give a damn about impressing others.
1) I owned a 1976 Coupe de Ville. GM stated curb weight was 5,200 lbs.
2) I owned a 1981 Cadillac Eldorado. The standard engine was the 368 CID Cadillac V8. Per a poster at a Cadillac forum:
Clarification: 1980: 368 4 bbl standard in RWD models; 368 w/FI in Eldorado and Seville.
Diesel was standard in Seville, 368 was credit option. Eldorado & Seville destined for California would have 350 Olds w/FI when ordered with gasoline V8.
Thanks, Mack –
And, it’s Eric – not Peter!
No worries! That happens fairly often; not sure why!
Cadillac tried to escape a niche market, but all those spaces were already filled. With better cars. The expectation of continuous growth was its downfall. If it had remained faithful to its niche, it might have remained highly successful, but not growing exponentially. It didn’t. Such is what happens when accountants take over management.
The malaise! It burns!
Thank god for the mid 90’s finally killing off these hideous pseudo-luxury grampa squares. How american car design universally descended from the beautiful shapes of the 50s and 60s to these bricks confounds me. It’s no wonder trans ams and imports became so popular during this period. The alternative was various FordGmChrysler flavors of this sevilles turd styling.
‘these hideous pseudo-luxury grampa squares’ — anon
What — are you unmoved by the sensuous blue vinyl roof of the Seville (top photo) parked under the palm trees in Malibu?
You’d think there would be DIY vinyl roof kits: sorta like bed liner, but in fashionable neutral colors for that ever-tasteful faux cabriolet look.
‘These may have sucked oceans of gasoline but that was just the point. An economical Cadillac was kind of like a flat-chested Miss America.’ — EP
Muu wa ha ha … that’s as funny as ‘V8-6-4.’
The late Paul Fussell, in Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, made several assertions pertaining to cars.
One was that well-heeled buyers preferred large over small cars, seemingly using a unwritten guideline of getting the best price per pound. Land yachts met that criterion, par excellence.
Fussell also claimed that the rich tend be erratic drivers, hogging the middle of the road under the assumption that the highway belongs to them, and others should scuttle out of the way.
Most pertinent to Eric’s quip above is Fussell’s concept of futility. He observed that the English aristocracy held with gravel driveways, long after paved driveways objectively offered superior performance.
The wonderful allure of gravel driveways was sending out the groundskeepers to futilely rake them, season after season. Then one could rut them up all over again in the shooting brake or the closed saloon or the land yacht. Sic transit gloria mundi, etc.
My uncle had one of those V8-6-4 Cadillacs. It had a blue LED display on the dash that showed an 8, 6, or 4 depending on how many cylinders were firing. I don’t remember how it drove. He did not have it long…
70s front end with a 30’s rear is what that 80 version always seemed like to me.
Cadillac seemed to be a brand in search of a demo customer when I was a kid.
It didn’t have the prestige by then it once did & was more popular as a reference than something you would actually buy
Guessing the Escalade saved the company, & the CT’s gave them some modern cred & they do look good, but are they a lux brand anymore?
The Escalade has always impressed me (poorly) as the vehicle for the “ghetto rich”. When the original owner finally gets tired of it, it gets handed down to someone that puts “spinners” and/or “22s” on it, spending at times more than the purchase price, but somehow never has the money or time to get the oil changed!
My dad had one of the 80s hunchbacks. Worst car we ever had. Butt ugly and about as fun to drive. It broke down constantly. Followed that with a volvo turbo wagon. Best family car growing up. Well designed and fun to drive. The seville killed domestics in my family.
I HATED the 1980 Seville! My dad said it looked as if the back end had been chopped off. Talk about a hideous car. I wonder why Caddy went away from making the big luxobarges that had been their bread & butter?
Because people were freaked out about the cost and available of gasoline, when $1/gallon seemed outrageous. Never mind that ca. 1980, you saw geezers trading in something like a ’74 Sedan De Ville, loaded to the gills, garaged an in showroom condition, with less than 30K miles on it, and getting screwed on the trade-in, to buy a new Seville or other “down-sized” luxury car. All b/c the old land yacht got 8 mph around town and a whopping 10 on the highway, but, when you factored in trading away useful life on the old Caddy, gas could have gone to $3/gallon and they’d still have been ahead! Fear…that was the motivator.
Got even worse when Cadillac got the bright idea of badge-engineering a Chevy Cavalier, making it a tad more plush, and adding a few gadgets, and christening the “Cimmaron”, but the public wasn’t fooled. And by then, GM had gotten into the bad habit of badge-engineering each platform; this went back to when there were Chevrolet Novas everywhere, so GM got the bright idea that Pontiac should have one (Ventura), then Oldsmobile (Omega), and finally Buick (Apollo). The differences were trim and upholstery, at the time, each division had its 350 V8, but if you got the basic 250 cube six, it was a Chevy engine, period. I’m not sure if each badge-engineered “Nova” had its maker’s V8 or not. Anyway, with the Cimmaron, it was still a Chevy with a Cadillac hood ornament, but if you wanted a nicer version of that car, Pontiac also had it as the J2000, and you could get fairly much the same options if you wanted your Pontiac all “decked out”, and still spend a chunk less!
The real problem is that the old land barges were products of a bygone era. Once, IF you had money and wanted a comfy ride that had some “status” to it, you bought a Cadillac. Who cared that each car needed its own refinery? You rode in comfort and STYLE. But today’s Geezers have been inculcated with liberal propaganda from since they were in school, and heard it all from the likes of Ralph Nader et al. They’ve bought into the “less is more” crap, and also, “USA ‘bad’ !”, so buying something from the countries that we once DEFEATED, i.e. Germany and Japan, as Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of Preston Tucker, giving his own closing argument, postulates as being ridiculous, they’re alright with.
I used to go to cruise nights in Somerville, NJ. There was a guy who had a late 40s Caddy; it was similar to the one Clemenza had in “The Godfather”, but it was a different color. The thing had a SOFA for a back seat! IIRC, the owner said it got 8 mpg-on the highway. Talk about needing a refinery… 🙂