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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

The 1976-79 Seville was Cadillac's first attempt to remake itself | Hagerty Media

"The Standard Of The World." Since the 1910s, this phrase was synonymous with Cadillac. For decades GM's luxury brand led the way in style, in comfort, and in innovation. For most of the 20th century, the idea that that its dominance in the industry would ever be seriously challenged was greeted by insiders with little more than a chuckle ...
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/the-1976-79-seville-was-cadillacs-first-attempt-to-...
26 REPLIES 26
relton
Advanced Driver

I had a 79 Seville for a number of years. I was taken with the elegant appearance, the clean sheer lines, the luxurious interior.

I was not so taken with the complete lack of assembly quality, and the countless electrical failures. It took many tries before all the shorts and electrical leakages were fixed well enough so that the battery wouldn't go dead if you left the car for a few days. Cadillac eventually published a 150 page, 11 x 14 book about solving electrical problems in these cars. I suggested to the Cadillac exec I knew that they should have provided this in the glove compartment of every car. And my car was the 4th year of production, so these glitches should have been sorted.

I wasn't too taken with the sloppy handling, either. Fortunately the chassis was shared with the Camaro and Firebird. A careful swap of suspension components made a large difference in the handling, as well as an upgrade in wheel width. Couldn't change the diameter because the wire wheel hubcaps wouldn't have fit, and you can't have a Cadillac without wire wheel wheel covers.

The Olds 350 engine was a slug. Replacing the fuel injection setup with a carb and a new distributor, and a more aggressive cam, woke it up quite a bit. I should have just swapped in a 455.

Altogether, a half hearted effort by GM to make an American Mercedes.
Reinhold_Weege
Instructor

If you were swapping out suspension components and fuel systems, one might wonder just how many other asses were in that seat before you? I mean the A/C stopped working on my '61 Imperial in 1997, but I dunno if I can trace that back to Walter P Chrysler. The good news is, European luxury cars of the 70s were well-known for their reliability and flawless electrics.
relton
Advanced Driver

Just for the record, the roof panel was not shared with other GM cars. Other GM, and others, copied the roof design on later cars, but in 76 it was unique to the Seville.
Bill
Detailer

Gorgeous car but priced like a BMW when it was only a Cadillac.
audiobycarmine
Technician

Only??
Figgy308
Intermediate Driver

Perhaps if you view Cadillac through foreign eyes it appears as "only a Cadillac". There was a long time when Cadillac was the standard of the world, but by the 1970's almost every other country looked to M-B as the standard. The same applied to Rolls Royce btw.
HHCO
Intermediate Driver

A boss of mine had one in two tone black and silver,I always like the car and liked to ride in it,was young broke kid but still think they look good.

audiobycarmine
Technician

I remember the shock and dismay from many new Cadillac owners when they first saw an engine labelled Oldsmobile. Fortunately, these were not the types to ever open the hoods themselves.
The styling WAS beautiful, (except for the bench-seat front bumpers.) I still like the look of vinyl roofs.
JK
Intermediate Driver

As I have understood it there were two problems why the Opel Diplomat could not be used as the basis for the Seville: (1) exchange rate of the Mark vs, Dollar, (2) the Germans were able to hold tolerances that could not be achieved by the American production systems.

Upon introduction of the Seville in Southern California they started to be seen all over the affluent areas. I have heard talk that the acceptance in the middle of the country was far less so as those buyers remained wedded to the traditional Cadillac line.

It might also be worth mentioning that all the initial run of Sevilles that went to the dealers for the introduction were silver with the silver vinyl roof and the light grey leather interior. This is also the color combination used for the original advertising.
Reinhold_Weege
Instructor

"could not be achieved"

Really? You buy that? Maybe you recall all those 1960s German moonshots, color TV and semiconductors. Or maybe you should have said "other factors like platform age (1969), wouldn't have offered a good return on investment." because that might actually make sense. The Opel Diplomat was kaput by 1977. Like many Opel products, it wasn't all that profitable in it's home market regardless of tolerances and there was no reason to think it would have faired any better in the US.
AG1962
Instructor

Good points. However, I think the issue was not that Americans were actually unable to achieve close tolerances on production cars, but that their facilities and methods of production were not set up to do so economically, and the fit with Opel was not obvious (including platform age). German car-buyers have been happy to pay much higher prices for their cars, pound for pound (kilo for kilo?), than Americans were ever since the German economy recovered from WWII (thanks to the Marshall Plan, largely). And many working people in Germany did not and do not even own a car, btw, esp. before the 1980s; car ownership has always had a different demographic there. American cars of the day did not need to be built like Autobahn bullets anyway... they needed to be robust and comfortable for long distances. Which they were! The relatively higher speeds on US highways today do require much higher production standards, I think, and much more highly engineered (if often less durable) cars — the BMW effect, maybe?
Bill
Detailer

The issue was the UAW which screwed everyone for 40 years, A cool book I bet most would enjoy reading is, 

 

Crash Course by Paul Ingrassia. 

JK
Intermediate Driver

The Opel Diplomat was more advanced in some technical areas than starting from the Nova platform.  De Dion rear suspension and 4 wheel disc brakes.  But, it is true that production tolerances for it were tighter on the body structure than was typical for a then American GM build.  The consideration for using the Diplomat platform is that GM could have used existing tooling to reduce development time and outlay.

 

Remember that the Diplomat's concept was to be a German competitor to Mercedes-Benz and was already engineered using the Chevy small block.

JSievers
Instructor

Another Bill Mitchell styling masterpiece that still look great today.
MrKnowItAll
Advanced Driver

Handsome Cads that didn’t become “used cars” here in SoCal for a long time.... in a culture of European auto snobbery among the movers and shakers.
Put a ‘76 Mercedes next to the Seville, and it looks like a ham-fisted truck. Mitchell had superb taste, something Mercedes buyers perhaps lacked. The Germans could engineer a good car, but sure didn’t understand styling.
Just my opinion!
Reinhold_Weege
Instructor

Part of the snob appeal of that era was having signal lamps that appeared lifted from a boat trailer. Door handles from a Craftsman toolbox. Various exposed plugs and holes for jacks and tow straps. Not only am I not wearing a tie (or driving a Cadillac), but I'm going to live in blue jeans and tennis shoes until 2020 when the nursing home insists on a gown and slippers! Down with the Establishment!
dooscoop32
Detailer

I was in my mid 20s when these Sevilles arrived. And I LOVED them. I was also a Corvette onwer at the time. So to me, the ultimate group of cars would have been a, new Corvette, a new Seville and an Eldorado Biarritz, all three in WHITE with red interiors..

And here 45 years later, I would still love to have a new Corvette, a '76 Seville and a '78 Eldorado Biarritz, all in white with red interiors.
hyperv6
Racer

GM as well as the American Auto Industry missed where the luxury car market was going. 

 

They wanted to stratal the market from where they were to where it was going and not fully commit to the Euro style that was coming in. 

 

John Delorean got hot when he was at Pontiac with his work on OHC engines, Fuel Injection, Radial tires, Composite headlamps, Rear disc brakes HEI and more but he was looked at as a heretic. 

 

So Gm takes him and puts him at Chevy over the pending Vega mess to where he was set up to fail with a program he never would have pushed for. 

 

GM could have done more here in the first Gen Seville as they could have at least put on the TA suspension under the car and made it handle This was not a car to float down the road and that is why it has always struggled. Later GM saddled it with FWD too. It was a car GM just never knew what to do with it. 

Ford was even more lost with the Lincoln Versailles. It was an even greater mess. 

 

People in the later 70's finally discovered cars are to go around corners with some level of competence and it took them a while to make them do it with out truck springs under them. GM has gotten it right decades later understanding the shocks play as much a role as the springs and that larger tires are not the only thing for grip. 

 

I loved the look of this car and always wanted to find one to put the Trans AM suspension with the Herb Adams VSE bars and shocks under this. Drop in a modern V8 and really see what could have been done. 

 

The next gen really showed how much GM product planners lost their way. The Rolls like retro trunk was a major move but in the wrong way. I know some loved it but it really did nothing to advance the brand. Add in the Olds Diesel and it really was in trouble. 

 

The down size Seville should of never been. Then finally we got a good looking car with a DOHC V8 but driven by the front wheel? 

 

The Seville is a good example of what was wrong with GM in these years.  I am a die hard GM fan but I have to call it what it was. 

 

Imagine the black and silver special edition with a proper suspension and a better engine under the hood. With seats you sat in vs on. A manual tranny? A car that really could tour not sway. 

Reinhold_Weege
Instructor

I'm not a particular Seville/GM fan, but we should be honest enough to admit that few of us were the intended first-buyers of these cars, the youngest of which would be over 75 y/o now. As such, by the time we interacted with these cars, the new was long-gone. And if you think any luxury car ages well, I'd like to sell you a 750il for $1000. I have a friend with several.

Any American product would be about as popular as a second Trump term among wealthy 70/80s yuppies. Some of this has legitimacy... Arrogance, optics, dealers (and lower officeholders) going off-script. But the core of the vehicle and message were legit. The youth/popular culture to portray them in a positive light was simply non-existent. The absence of low-margin, German "taxicab" models helped with the exclusivity. Even the crudeness of the interior trimmings gave a perception of being robust. (Which hides dirt better; black nylon seatbelts, carpet, etc. or "lilac firemist" color-keyed brocade?)

That said, at a certain point (2nd and 3rd Gen Seville in this case) a lot of American luxury makes threw in the towel. Unevenly applied CAFE standards and economy-of-scale pressures at the low end of the market helped ensure this would happen. I have no doubt they could (and do) build better luxury vehicles now, but it would be nice if they'd take the risk of doing it with something other than an SUV.
Maestro1
Technician

At the time there was a lot of conversation about how the Seville was an extended and fancy Nova.
It was a period when GM was using back and front clips as well as interiors to differentiate between car Divisions, and they were fairly successful at it. My sense is that if you park a couple of various
brand GM four door sedans in parallel together you'll be able to see the similarities.
I want one anyway. I'm negotiating for more room. I'm saving this piece, which I thank you for, so
I can contact the Dealer after hopefully a successful deal with a landlord. I am on the Left Coast and space here is precious. Another thing about Sevilles of this vintage: If I remember correctly the
Fuel Injection was terrible. Other than that the car is a Prince. And you can park it! Never mind a
computer ridden nightmare new car, which isn't a car. Drive old cars. Three times the charm and
five times the accomodation for both drivers and passengers.
Thank you for this and stay well.
AG1962
Instructor

My grandfather, a decorated veteran of WWII and Korea, was a die-hard GM man until his last GM car, a 1981 Seville bustle-back in white. He had wanted the previous generation of Seville, the good one — they are gorgeous! — but they were gone by the time he turned in his company Nova and upgraded to a Caddy (used was not an option). He drove it for only a few months, until my brothers and I visited that summer. He asked us what we thought and we foolishly told him the truth: that it looked like a “pimp-mobile”. It went back to the dealer the next day, and he never bought a GM car again. His next was a Nissan 280ZX 2+2... followed by a 300ZX twin-turbo, then a gorgeous red Audi V8 quattro wagon with a five-speed manual, and finally, a Mercedes 300TD wagon. He never drove another GM car again — hell, he wouldn’t even drive his wife’s Wagoneer unless he had to. My loyal and hard-working grandfather’s abandonment of North American cars for faster, more refined Japanese and German vehicles must have cost him a lot of soul-searching. American car-makers were indeed losing his demographic (well-off coastals born before WWI) by the time the 1981 Seville appeared. The Buick Reatta that replaced the Wagoneer was not a success either...
TimK
Detailer

Unlike the boats of the 70s, the 76-79 Seville was a really nice looking luxury car. Then in 1980, Cadillac redesigned the Seville to one of the most butt ugly things on the road. The bustle back trunk was just coyote ugly.
mkvi30
Pit Crew

I had a '76 Seville which was part of a swap when I sold my Bentley 'R' Type. Came with stock steel wheels and a set of wire-wheel covers on the side. Never liked the look of fake wire-wheel covers so sold them off. Traded the Seville for a '68 Camaro conv.
Tim
Technician

I thought the issue with these Cadillacs is that they looked like lesser, Plebeian GM vehicles, whereas buyers that flocked to Mercedes didn't have those concerns.
MOOS33
New Driver

Probably one of the best Cadillacs they Made , the Oldsmobile 350 Rocket took off like a Jet , & ? Little known fact Cadillac buyers , when discovering the Olds 350 Rocket protested , hey ! ? That's not Cadillac and wanted compensation ... All the Seville's I've owned were God sends ...
Mic5ael
New Driver

In my opinion one of the best looking Cadillacs of all time.