After World War II until about 1980, Cadillac was the standard of the world when it came to luxury cars. No other automaker did it better or sold more luxury cars than Cadillac. Even Lincoln, which had its share of top-notch luxury cars during this era, always played second fiddle to Cadillac. Cadillac released more innovations, provided more luxury, and offered more sheer excess than its competitors. This formula was a winner for Cadillac – making it the undisputed top dog in the luxury car segment. Unfortunately as most of these stories go, the rug usually gets pulled out and the great tumble occurs. For Cadillac, the 1973 Oil Crises was the big punch in the gut – it was a defining moment for the automaker that provided excess. It was a sign that Cadillac was going to have to change.
For 1973 Cadillac sold the biggest, widest, and longest cars in the business, which happened to be powered by Cadillac’s monster displacement V8s – the 472 and 500 CID V8s. Both of these motors were the largest displacement passenger car motors at the time. The 500 CID V8 held the record as the largest displacement passenger car motor ever produced until the Dodge Viper’s V10 grew to 8.3 liter (505 CID) for 2003.
Not only was the higher price of fuel putting a crimp on Cadillac, a new array of modern European luxury cars were invading upon its territory. Cadillac once the car of choice of the elite and celebrities was starting to lose its allure by the mid-1970s. Cadillac did see its predicament and reacted in a timely fashion with an all-new Cadillac. The new Cadillac was released in mid-1975 as the 1976 Seville and it would be one of automobile history’s greatest successes.
The 1976 Cadillac Seville was like no other Cadillac before it. It was at least 1,000 lbs. lighter than all the other cars in Cadillac’s 1975-1976 fleet. With a length of 204 inches, width of 72 inches, and wheelbase of 114.3 inches the new Seville could not even be considered a mid-sized vehicle by 1975-1976 standards; it was quite clearly a small car by these standards. As a comparison the 1975-1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham had a length of 234 inches, width of 80 inches, and a wheelbase of 133 inches. The Seville looked like a munchkin compared to the behemoth Fleetwood Brougham.
Contrary to modern belief the Cadillac Seville was not a rebadged and slightly modified bodied Chevrolet Nova. The Seville was a new car from the ground up. Cadillac engineers took the GM X-body platform which the Nova used and modified it to create a new platform called the K-body. From the K-body platform a new car was built with unique styling and engineering. Cadillac spared no expense and refused to cut corners in any way with the Seville.
Styling alone would have made the Seville a sales success. Even though the Seville was a small car, it looked the part of a Cadillac. It had the classic upscale look of a Cadillac with an ornate front grille and hood ornament along with modern quad square headlamps that were standard on all the other 1975-1976 Cadillacs. The Seville for its size had a wide stance, long hood, and short decklid, which made its styling more than very easy on the eye – it was downright breathtaking for a luxury car. Other automakers would soon copy the Seville’s square angles and overall boxy styling in multitude. The Seville’s styling was a foreshadowing of GM’s basic design theme for many of its future cars.
Powering the Seville was not Cadillac’s monster 500 CID V8 but a fuel efficient Oldsmobile 350 CID V8. Cadillac could have just grabbed the 350 from the Oldsmobile division in standard 4 bbl carbureted form and dropped it under the hood of the new Seville. However it decided instead to add a new sophisticated electronic port fuel injection system to the Olds 350, giving the Seville good power and excellent fuel efficiency. Fuel economy was around 21 mpg highway which made the Seville one of the most efficient luxury cars in the world at the time.
The fuel injection topology was a Bendix system that incorporated two fuel rails (one for each side of the V8) and a fuel injector per cylinder (eight total). Horsepower on the fuel injected 350 was a more than adequate 180 and torque a very respectable 275 lbs/feet. In comparison Cadillac’s 500 V8 for 1975 made 210 horsepower and 380 lbs/feet of torque. The Seville went 0-60 mph in about 13 seconds, which today would seem slow but back in 1975-1976, it was not bad for a 4232 lbs. luxury car like the Seville. However the performance figures did not do the Seville justice, the 350 V8 had enough low-end torque to pull the Seville effortlessly from stop light to stop light. And among luxury buyers in the 1970s, this was what they wanted from a motor – a smooth torquey V8.
The smooth V8 was backed by a hefty GM TH375 three-speed automatic transmission. It was a dependable silky smooth shifting transmission. A less beefy transmission like the TH350 could have done the job with ease, but Cadillac by making standard in the Seville the TH375 proved yet again its commitment to providing its customers the very best.
Logic would have it that a smaller Cadillac would cost less. For the Seville that was not the case. Cadillac had spent greatly on development and technical gizmos with the Seville, which explained the high pricetag of $12,479 (of a base 1976 Seville) that was higher than any other Cadillac model at the time, even more than the pricey Eldorado convertible. The high price did not hamper sales, Cadillac dealers were selling the Seville in large numbers. Total production of the 1976 Seville was 76,101 units (36,826 for 1975 and 39,275 for 1976 calender years). The real surprise with these sales figures was that about one-third of all Sevilles sold went to California buyers. California luxury buyers (even back in the 1970s) tended to be more European biased when it came to buying luxury cars. It seemed the smaller more nimble Seville won over some of the Mercedes Benz, BMW, Jaguar, etc. buyers in California. This was exactly the market that Cadillac had aimed the Seville at and sales feedback like this was proof that Cadillac had hit a homerun with this strategy.
Entering into the interior of the Seville gave anyone a feeling of plush luxury. Loaded with amenities and power options, there could be no mistaking the Seville was a Cadillac. Where other luxury cars at the time focused only on luxury, the Seville was different in that its interior was the most functional of anything on the market at the time. All the buttons were easily accessible while all gauges and dials were easily readable. Most of the power option buttons were located in the door arm rests which included even the front power seat controls (located on driver and side passenger arm rests), this gave most of the occupants easy access to the interior controls for their respective areas.
The Seville, even with its overall smaller size, fit six full-size adults very comfortably. Seating was comfortable no matter what seating pattern or surface (from the base cloth to the most upscale leather interior available) a buyer picked.
Visually the interior with its wood trim gave the occupants a feeling of being in a plush limousine especially the back passengers who had optional overhead reading lights along with a center armrest at their disposal.
One of the Seville’s best traits was its ride, which made even the roughest of roads seem as smooth as glass to its occupants. Handling was more European inspired, the Seville marked the first time a Cadillac felt at home in tight road curves. Braking was also good for a luxury car even with the rear drums (it would not be until the 1978 model year that the Seville would get four wheel disc brakes).
The first generation Seville continued on with slight improvements and sales remained very good. Then in 1980, Cadillac released a new Seville on the second generation K-body platform that was front-wheel drive. Luxury remained better than its competition, but the chopped rear “Bentley trunk” styling had most people divided – they either loved the car or hated it. By 1986 a new drastically shrunken front-wheel drive K-body (third generation) Seville, had ensured that the momentum of the original Seville was dead. This was the start of hard times for Cadillac. A new (fourth generation) bigger front-wheel drive (K-body) Seville arrived on the scene in 1992 and once again had the praise of the auto press and critics, eventually the Seville name would die after the 2004 model year when the new rear-wheel drive STS replaced the Seville name.
The 1976 Seville was testament to how Cadillac was king of the hill of the luxury market in its heyday. The Seville was one of the most successful luxury cars every produced, Cadillac had read the changing market correctly (during a very difficult time, I might add) and offered the public one very fine automobile to fill the niche.
Cadillac has turned itself around in recent years and has regained some of its former glory with the success of the CTS and few of its other offerings. Let the Seville be a lesson to Cadillac that it must not rest on its laurels or put its guard down in the future, for even a great car like the Seville was thrown to the wolves due to Cadillac’s foray into a dismal period of aloofness. And history could easily repeat itself if Cadillac is not careful.
Written contents in this article – © 2009 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved