1976-1979 Cadillac Seville
The only new American car introduced in 1975 seems to have a bug that just won't go away. No, it wasn't a reskinned Chevy Nova, nor did it share its body shell with any other car. This vehicle was unique, a true masterpiece by Cadillac, and conveyed yet another "Standard of the World." It also set GM's styling theme for at least a decade to come, and showed that ingenuity at General Motors in the early 1970s was far from dead.
I've always liked sensibly-sized, four-door sporty cars. Even the Ford Granada ESS caught my eye for a while back in the day, until the reality set in that it was little more than a trim package. Sporty sedans give better-than-average handling and performance, and you can pack one up and go cross-country in comfort with friends if you wish. This Seville seemed to have everything I liked in a car at the time... in droves.
Originally, the Seville was to begin life as a modified Nova, and that's where those rumors began. But in early development, the Cadillac design team decided that the Seville's rear passenger floor area needed about three more inches of legroom than a four-door Nova body offered.
So new rear doors were crafted, the floorpan was changed, and extensive structural modifications were made. GM declared the Seville's body shell as the K-Body, though it did share parts from the Nova's X-Body and the Camaro/Firebird's F-Body.
The first-year Seville had an "eggcrate" grille, similar to the ones in all of the other Cadillacs that year. From the next year on, a more upright grille with vertical bars was fitted. That was just before the customizers found this car and, shall we kindly say... "exagerrated" it.
Shockingly priced ($12,479 in 1975) above the cost of a full-sized Cadillac (Around $5,000 for a Calais), the trim Seville gave you your money's worth. Until the Seville was introduced, "smaller" meant "cheaper," but this car turned that thinking around. Maybe this was the Seville's greatest contribution to the marketplace.
The "Sheer Look" was the term that GM used for the Seville's breakthrough design. It took its meaning from the sheer face of a cliff, as seen in the car's steep drops over the fenders, grille, and roof. And from ladies' stockings.
Also, if one steps back and looks at this car, you might notice its resemblance to other GM downsized cars, including the 1977 Chevrolet Impala, some Chevy Malibu wagons, and the 1980s X-Cars. But this Cadillac had "sheer" first.
The Seville's roof was its own story. According to How Stuff Works, "A padded vinyl roof was standard, however -- and had to be. This was because Fisher Body took the forward portion of the X-car roof stamping and simply welded on the Seville's unique sail panels and vertical backlight. There was no easy way to hide the welds except to cover them, so that's what Fisher did."
That assembly process sounds a little cobbled-up to me, especially for such an expensive car -- but that's how they did it. Initially, Fisher Body could not afford to press the roof in one piece. But starting in the second model year the roof panel was finally a stamping in its own right, and Cadillac could eliminate the vinyl coverings. The unpadded, painted roof seemed more European and less gaudy ("less is more" certainly applies here), and looked both formal and elegant.
Ford and Chrysler were caught off-guard by the introduction of the Seville, and their unabashed copies soon appeared. Lincoln rushed out the Versailles, and Chrysler introduced the 1979 New Yorker / Dodge St. Regis. However, the Seville was so properly engineered and built that it never saw much sales competition from those hastily-conceived cars.
Upscale Seville trim packages would eventually include the Biarritz, d'Elegance, Elegante, and Gucci. Wheel and wheel cover options were increased as time went on, but there were no significant body or interior styling changes during this first generation. I'm glad they left well-enough alone.
There were a few valid criticisms, of course. Even though the Seville drove easily and quick, its handling was still below par of the European cars. Many of them had rack-and-pinion steering, the Seville did not.
Only one transmission was offered, a 3-speed automatic. Rear drum brakes were used the first year. And its gauge cluster was typical GM of the time... a speedometer, fuel gauge, and idiot lights... no tachometer or other gauges, not even a proper clock. To tell the time, you looked at the radio.
Just one gasoline engine was offered, the Oldsmobile Rocket 350. It was modified for the Seville, and featured Bendix electronic fuel injection. Later a diesel option came along, and yes, this was the famed GM 350-CID V-8 diesel that won few friends.
There are diesel fans, and there are not. Diesel engines absolutely have their places, but I feel that the less smoke that comes out of the tailpipe of a Cadillac, the better.
The Seville was totally redesigned for 1980, went to front wheel drive, and was very mechanically-similar to the two-door Eldorado. Cadillac was soon to introduce its next small four-door car, and maybe the less said about that one here, the better. But this first-generation Seville made its mark on the world, and was Cadillac's last truly successful, original car for a long time.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Credits: The 1976 Seville image is from 100MegsFree4.com. The Seville rear seat photograph is from HowStuffWorks.com, as is the two-tone Seville image. The profile shot is from AutomotiveMileposts.com. The dash/gauge image is from www.CadillacForums.com .