By on September 16, 2010

In 1977, GM offered the above two vehicles for sale. Squint a bit; can you see a certain fundamental similarity? Yes, their exterior skin and styling were somewhat different, but once you peel back the vinyl top and other superficialities, you’d find a lot in common, as is obvious from their basic shared architecture. They both rode on the same basic platform/suspension, although the bottom one did have its rear wheels extended three inches for a touch more leg room. They both sported GM’s fine 350 (5.7 L) V8 engines, the top one with 170 hp, the bottom with 180 hp. The Chevy Nova (top), with more than a hint of BMW in its styling, was perhaps the best handling American sedan of its time, given that it also shared its underpinnings with the Camaro. The Nova’s  price started at $3500 ($12k adjusted). The Seville (bottom), was aimed at the Mercedes S Class, and went out the door for about $14k ($48k adjusted), or four times as much. Can you tell where this is going?

Admittedly, the Seville had certain charms, mainly in the eyes of affluent middle-aged women, who had been hankering for an easier-to-park smaller Caddy for years. And lest you protest the Seville’s DS categorization, keep in mind that the Cimarron, the universally-acclaimed all-time GM DS turkey, cost less than twice as much as its donor Cavalier. Yes, the Nova- based Seville might have been one of GM’s most profitable vehicles it ever made, but at what a price. The Seville  most perfectly marks the beginning of the long decline of Cadillac. So let’s also call it Cadillac’s Tombstone Car.

The Seville owes its existence to Mercedes, whose (then) superbly-crafted and relatively compact sedans began to make serious inroads in the luxury market in the late sixties and early seventies. The Big Three’s luxury cars had long been evolving on a more dubious model: cancer. Terminal unchecked growth has its limitations,  especially considering  that there was rarely more than one or two persons aboard. Car-pooling and flashing one’s wealth aren’t typically overlapping activities.

Women, who tend to be a bit less obsessed with exaggerated length then men, had let it be know to Cadillac for some time that they were interested in a smaller version. But then, women weren’t exactly making any of the decisions back then, especially at GM. So the 1971 Cadillacs were over-the-top big, and none the better for it. Quality was down, they looked and felt like a tarted up Chevy Caprice,  and Mercedes sales were booming. The Cadillac formula was broken. But it would take decades for Cadillac to figure out what the new paradigm in luxury cars really was.

To Cadillac, the Seville was the first step in what seemed like the right direction. And its big success for the first few years only sent GM the wrong signals, and accelerated the demise. That was the bitter-sweet aspect of cars like the Seville: they helped propel GM sales to an all-time high of 9.66 million and a 46% market share in 1978. When women are tearing overpriced Novas out of your hands, it takes a while for that flush of flattery and pride to dissipate…say, about a quarter of a century or so. Pride goeth before the fall.

Could GM have done things differently? They could have looked to Germany, where Opel built their Kapitan-Admiral-Diplomat luxury sedans designed to compete against the Mercedes S-Class. The latest version, dating to 1969, had handsome lines (that influenced the Seville, undoubtedly), featured a DeDion semi-independent rear suspension, and precision construction. It would have been a logical starting point. Blame the GM bean counters, who said it would be cheaper to cobble up a Nova-based S-Class fighter. Or was it just the old prevailing attitude that the Detroiters knew best what Americans wanted, or deserved?

Deservedly, or not, Americans got a tarted up Nova. But this was no “budget” Caddy; the Seville was positioned and priced above the big cars, even the Eldorado and the Fleetwood Brougham. Yes, the option list was blessedly shorter, but still there: leather and cruise control were extra. Space wasn’t: obviously, the Seville wasn’t going to be roomy like the big cars. But the Nova’s architecture meant interior quarters that would seem downright claustrophobic for today’s standards. Mercedes weren’t just about the star on the radiator: they were designed from the inside out, and the S-Class’ vastly better space utilization was just one of many obvious huge differences.

The Seville did mark a break in GM styling, and it was a breath of fresh air…until it became stale. It represented the new tight and boxy paradigm for GM, and it was the standard bearer of the switch from GM’s obese seventies’ bulge-mobile look to that crisp and very boxy future. Unfortunately, it was one that was shared almost identically across the whole GM line, most of all the intermediates. The Seville’s rather bracing effect when it arrived in 1975 was short-lived; within a few years, everything GM looked like a Seville. No wonder the gen2 Seville was so desperate.

OK, the Seville wasn’t exactly a Nova with a squared off roof and a gaudy interior. GM’s prodigious engineering talent worked feverishly to give it the quietness and soft ride that was to be expected in a Caddy. Typical for American luxury cars of the time, the ride was just that, as long as the pavement stayed smooth and the curves gentle. But the one thousand pounds (!) of weight the Seville gained in its transformation from the Nova also hampered performance. The average of two contemporary road tests was 13.2 seconds for the amble to sixty, and 18.3 seconds for the quarter mile. Mileage: mediocre mid teens. And this despite the proud trumpeting of GM’s new (Bendix) Electronic Fuel Injection!  The Nova could run rings around the Seville. But did luxury car buyers care about these details? Yes and no.

Certainly not the buyers of  Mercedes diesels. But they were after something else, and they sure as hell didn’t find it in the disastrous diesel version of the Seville that appeared in 1978. Buyers of Mercedes were looking for two things: superb quality and/or the prestige that came along with it, even if it was a poky 240D.  The Seville sold well enough, but not at the expense of Mercedes. Especially in California, the Seville’s size and the buyers’ affluence just made it the Caddy for those late to the MB/BMW party. Most likely, their last one too.

Cadillac was clueless about the rise of Mercedes and BMW, and one good place to confirm that was the instrument panel. Let’s not waste time analyzing them. But which one pointed to the future was obvious. But Cadillac was determined that it still had something unique or distinctly American to say in the design of the luxury car interior and IP, until it finally caved in and used a very MB-inspired look in the gen4 Seville.

There is one good thing to be said about the gen1 Seville: it only went downhill from where it started. Its wretched  successors will have their deadly day of reckoning here eventually. And of course, the Seville spawned a whole generation of imitators (Lincoln Versailles, Chrysler Fifth Avenue) that flooded our streets with their garish and kitschy faux-luxury padded roofs, crests, and hood ornaments for at least a decade and a half.

Yes, the Seville was a real pioneering car all right: it helped to launchd the whole bad taste era of American cars. Or is that giving it too much credit? Perhaps we need to come up with a new category for them: Beyond the Valley of the Deadly Sins. Suggestions?

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102 Comments on “Curbside Classic: GM’s Deadly Sin #11 – 1977 Cadillac Seville...”


  • avatar
    Toyondai92

    The sad(?) part is Cadillac still does this today with the Deville/DTS. The nearest Caddy dealer (without prison-grade fencing) doesn’t even sell any without the vinyl tops, or under $55,000…

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    Paul, I would agree with you that the Seville was outstandingly cynical in execution, but M-B’s decision to price the 240D where they did in the United States was just as cynical. And the Seville of the day ran better and performed better than the thermal-reactor Germans.

    • 0 avatar
      john.fritz

      Are they (240D) not sold as taxis in the Fatherland? Much like a stripped Crown Vic would be here?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Jack, All Mercedes were priced high in the US going back since WWII. It was a fairly brilliant strategy, and one that saved their asses when the dollar tanked in the early seventies. I suppose you could call that cynical.
      The 450 SE would handily outrun the Seville on the straight line. Never mind on a rough curvy road. In terms of braking, handling, and rough-road ride,  they weren’t even on the same planet. Not to mention build and material quality. There’s dozens of old Mercedes on the road here, and probably will be for decades to come; they’re built like tanks. This is the only gen1 Seville I’ve seen in years; I was getting anxious about finding one. And the Seville’s fuel injection system turned out to be unreliable; many owners swapped out carbs on theirs.
      I truly wish I could feel better about the the Seville, and I’ve tried, but…

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Paul, I was going to give you a hard time for posting the ugliest Seville you could find–emerald green with a padded roof?–but I guess ya work with what ya got.  You’re right, you sure don’t see many of these around any more.  I liked the look back in the day, but had no idea they were so expensive.  Deadly sin indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      So Mercedes charging a premium for what was basically a thinly tarted up taxi cab was brilliant but Cadillac charging a premium for what was basically a tarted up Nova was a deadly sin?

      Hmm…

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Jimal, Yeah, the Krauts had excellent taste and high standards when it came to their taxicabs.

    • 0 avatar
      RentalCarGuy

      @Paul Niedermeyer: Had and still have. The E-class is probably the most common taxicab in this country.

    • 0 avatar
      Audi-Inni

      I love (not really) articles that say what the people “should” have wanted rather than what they did want. GM has been criticized for building cars nobody wants and here they built a car that people absolutely wanted – and you criticize them for that, too.  The Seville Gen 1 was a fine car in the then current American tradition of luxury cars. A friend’s family had one, dark blue and white leather interior, and it was terrific – smooth, comfortable and quiet. Lincoln answered with the Versailles – not even close. To suggest that an Opel should have been a donor car ignores the absolute fact that the idea of German luxury back then was heritage, leather and a star. MB’s were stark and barely ahead of VWs in interior pizzazz. Like it or not, this was the era of tufted seats and plushness and the Seville Gen 1 answered the call with some sport to boot. Not until Lexus came along did MB or BMW begin to make their interiors with more creature comforts and eye candy. Platform and drivetrain sharing continues today, whether it’s a Benz, a Bentley or a “lowly” Hyundai. Get over it. This was the first “compact” full-on luxury American car made and, to me, showed GM still had it.

  • avatar
    john.fritz

    It hurts my brain just thinking about that Lincoln Versailles. There was no washing the Granada off that thing. Remember the grill? And that TRUNK. OMFG…

  • avatar

    I actually think that this is one of the most successful examples of platform sharing.  By successful I mean that the Seville buyer was not even remotely aware that they were buying a Nova.  Just like the current Lexus ES buyer has no clue that they are buying a Camry.  The interesting fact to me is the huge price disparity b/w the two cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Sugarbrie

      Oh Please stop with the Lexus ES / Camry comparisons.  The ES is only 10% to 15% more than an XLE V6 Camry, versus double the price for the Caddy over the Nova.

      The ES/Camry both share the same basic car platform and V6 engine block.  That is about it. The ES has much better build quality, much better materials quality throughout the entire car, superior refinement, quietness,  you name it. Japan Lexus versus U.S. Camry factory.

      The real question is why anyone in their right mind would buy an XLE V6 Camry when the ES is just a few bucks more.  Plus you get treated like royalty by the Lexus dealer, instead of like a yahoo by the Toyota dealer.

      By that measure, the Ford Focus, Mazda 3/Speed3, and Volvo S30/S40/V50 are also the same car.

      Those MB 240D taxi cabs regularly lasted 500K to 1 Million miles. Slight difference.

  • avatar
    Littlecarrot

    If they offered a Nova like that today for $12K, I might actually consider one. 

    • 0 avatar
      moedaman

      My father had a 1976 Nova sedan. It was really not a bad car at all. He had a 3 speed manual tranny (on the floor) and the base six. It had no air and no power anything (maybe it had power steering, I don’t remember), so that may have made it more reliable. I always felt that this car was the ideal size for a vehicle. And looking at the dimensions, manufacturers must agree. It is roughly the same size as today’s mid-size cars.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    My recollection is Cadillac sold a boatload of Gen 1 and 2 Sevilles. The bustle-back Gen 2 was particularly sought after. Abysmal engineering and even worse quality control sunk them.

    http://www.libertysoftware.be/cml/trivia/sevillehist/81sevil.jpg
     
     

  • avatar
    PartsUnknown

    That Nova is actually a pretty good looking car.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I don’t want an Opel Cadillac any more than I want a Chevrolet Cadillac.

    I also don’t think that the ’92-’04 versions of the Seville were all that bad.

  • avatar
    benzaholic

    Anybody that’s lived with a 70s or 80s Benz knows that some serious thought went into nearly every aspect of those cars (except the climate control, which only got crazy thoughts).
    None of the domestics ever seemed interested in taking that approach.
    To be fair, even Benz themselves have lost that approach, but I still blame the competition from Lexus for triggering the downfall of MB.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Strangelove

      As far as competition goes, BMW was probably more significant than Lexus. But Mercedes themselves are mostly to blame, particularly their megalomaniac CEOs Reuter and Schrempp.
       
      Dr Z would make a perfectly serviceable CEO for an untroubled company, but whether he can fix Daimler remains to be seen.

    • 0 avatar
      sportsuburbangt

      That MB climate control system was bought from Chrysler, it’s the autotemo 2 system.  The majority of the electrical and vacuum parts will swap out out with a 71-73 imperial, newyorker, newport with the the Autotemp 2 system.

    • 0 avatar
      RogerB34

      I have an MB 83 300 CDT and am mystified why it commanded $36k.
      The transmission is poorly engineered. Ford did it better and that isn’t saying much.
      I suspect buyers tired of the diesel response, vibration at idle, unusual noise and unloaded after a few years.
      It has the image and is built to last 50 years given parts.
      Ok for a DIY that likes diesels.

  • avatar
    Loser

    I thought the 5.7 in the Caddy was a Caddy or Old’s engine, not the Chevy. Then again this was built during GM’s days of “guess what GM division engine you have”.

    To GM’s credit they did a much better job at this than Fords Lincoln/Granada and the Chrysler Diplomat-Fury.

  • avatar
    catbert430

    Cadillac certainly went to great and expensive lengths to disguise the Seville’s relationship to the Nova/Ventura/Omega/Skylark.

    I remember it as actually being a pretty decent smaller luxury sedan.

    The same cannot be said for the Cimarron’s blatant clone of the Cavalier/J2000/Firenza/Skyhawk.

    The Versailles was also completely transparent as a Granada/Monarch in drag.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    So GM should have imported an Opel and badged it as a Cadillac?

    I wonder how that would have worked out…

  • avatar
    geeber

    Another great article. I have always liked this car and its style, but now I won’t look at it in the same way again! As Paul notes, by 1979 GM was applying it to virtually everything in the line-up, diluting its impact.

    Still, the Seville made an initial impact, primarily because GM did a good job of hiding the Nova skeleton, at least on first impression. And the Lincoln Versailles made the first-generation Seville look like a stroke of genius.

    One minor quibble – can the Seville really be blamed for the spread of padded vinyl roofs, hood ornaments and other symbols of faux-luxury to everything from Chevrolet Malibu Classics to AMC Concords during the dear, departed 1970s?

    I would place the blame for that on the 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV. I always thought that it was the Lincoln that got this particular ball rolling.

    Also, the Seville engine was based on the Olds 350 V-8. At that time, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile were still using their own V-8s. GM was thus offering several V-8 engines with the same displacement that were not identical. There was not a “corporate” 350 V-8 in 1975.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      There was a refreshing aspect to the Seville’s styling when it came out, and I appreciated it for that. It was both very American, yet in a more international size context.
      I didn’t mean to place all the blame for padded roofs on the Seville; it does go back further. But it did spawn a host of mid-sized sedan wanna-bes.
      And, yes, I didn’t directly imply the Nova and Seville had the same 350 engine. Just functionally similar.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      I believe that the second-generation made this Seville look better. It was way over the top, much like the 1959 Cadillac. Only problem was that by 1980, Mercedes was right there with the S-Class and E-Class. People had more choices by that time.

      By 1980, Cadillac was selling a whole lot of sizzle without too much steak. There just wasn’t the thought and care put into the design, engineering, and build quality of a Cadillac as compared to a Mercedes, and it was painfully apparent.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      And the 80 no longer had the good old Oldsmobile 350, IIRC.  Wasn’t the 80 stuck with the HT4100 or the diesel or some such other crap engine?

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The 1980 model offered the Oldsmobile Diesel as standard equipment. Models with the gasoline engine used the standard Cadillac V-8 – downsized to 368 cubic inches for that year. The 1981 model did as well, but fitted with GM’s disastrous variable displacement technology. It was in 1982 that GM switched to the woefully underpowered HT 4100 engine as the V-8 for all Cadillacs.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      Ahhh yes – the V8-6-4 (3-2-1-Class Action)

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Hey at least the V8-6-4 could have it’s cylinder deactivation technology easily defeated and then you could still have by god Big Block Cadillac!

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Build quality aside, that Seville is one of the most beautiful and distinctive Cadillas ever made. No, I’m not joking. Nothing they have made since come close to it, and it forms a coherent whole that hadn’t even been seen before. That gentle bow the swage line takes from front to back, or the way the rear lights seem to be carved out from solid steel, like the car was milled in one piece and then chiseled out. It has a certain pose, in a matter of fact, it poses the exact same kind of “waftability” that Rolls-Royce tried with the latest Phantom. it looks like it’s accelerating and ready to go already standing still. Above all, it’s a complete design, eveything is made to fit, it forms a rarely seen wholeness.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      I agree.  Especially for its time, it stood out as an extremely handsome car, and clearly influenced all of the GM intermediate and large cars for the next decade–including the Caprice so recently lauded here.

      And I chuckled at the alleged design influence of the Opel Diplomat. I can’t decide if the Chevy II or the Buick Riviera DNA is more dominant there.

      One of our neighbors bought one of these and I rode in it frequently. It was just as quiet, comfortable, and smooth as the larger Caddys with which I was familiar. It did not, however, yaw and pitch like its predecessors.  Given that the same engine propelled a multitude of larger cars, it wasn’t particularly slow for its time, either.  I don’t doubt that many saw some value in its higher sticker price.

      I have no trouble seeing the second-gen Seville as a deadly sin, but this car pointed Cadillac down the path it would eventually have to take.  It was much more of an unfulfilled promise than a failure.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Though, I have a question for the b&b. I was always under the impression that such small differences in hp ratings was just a marketing ploy. Like the Corvette just had to have the biggest ratings, no matter that it shared engines with the Camaro, and so on and so forth. Can you really feel the difference between 170 and  180 hp? Or is it just bogus?

  • avatar
    relton

    I have to disagree with both a couple of Paul’s facts and his conclusion.

    The Seville had a longer wheelbase, but all of it was ahead of the windshield. The length of the interior compartment was exactly the same as the Nova. The Cad appeared more spacious because of the more vertical rear window, and the higher rear seating position it allowed.

    The Seville had an Olds 350 engine with vuel injection. The Nova used a Chevrolet 350. The Seville had a THM 400, the Nova a THM 350 or, in some cases, a THM 200.

    Seville had a completely re-arranged rear suspension. It was still leaf springs, but teh mounts were different, and the saway bar mounting was changed to reduce transmitted noise. The Nova should have copied that arrangement, but they didn’t.

    The Nova used 11 in front brakes. The 78-79 versions of hte Seville used the larger 12 in discs, and rear discs. The Nova stuck with rear drums.

    I would argue that the money spent to upgrade the Seville was money well spent. The average, non-gearhead could never tell that this car was based on a Nova. The upgrades of both the exterior and the interior made the car look much more like a quality car. It sold well, even at really high prices, because lots of people liked  it, and thought they were getting a smaller Cadillac. It certainly wasn’t a cheaper Cad: only the Fleetwood limos cost more.

    Where Cad and GM screwed up was the abysmal quality, especially the electrical problems, that plagued these cars. In that sense, I guess, it was a mistake for Cad, but I don’t know how the product plannerws could have anticipated the poor build quality.

    Sure, it wasn’t a Mercedes, but the people who bought these cars weren’t really looking for a Mercedes, just a smaller Cad than the DeVille in their driveway.

    Bob

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Bob,
      From where do you get your assertion that the Seville’s extra 3″ of wheelbase was tacked to the front? If it’s from other articles out there, I take exception to them.
      I could never see that from looking at it, so I took measurements of both the Nova and the Seville from the picture of them at the top. Do it yourself: you’ll find that I’m right: the extra length is at the rear, not the front. My eyes weren’t deceiving me. And regurgitating that “fact” from other articles won’t make it so.
      You may have a point about the TMH; but are you sure that’s the case if one ordered the 170hp 350 in the Nova?
      If you think spending four times as much to get bigger brakes and a few other doohickies is money well spent, ok. Your welcome to your opinion on that.

    • 0 avatar

      Bob,
      Paul is correct. The extra wheelbase (3.3 inches/84 mm) produced a modest increase in rear legroom, and required the Seville to have different rear doors than the four-door Nova. Irv Rybicki had to talk Ed Cole into it, because Cole was concerned about the extra cost.

    • 0 avatar
      relton

      Paul,

      I don’t know what anyone else has written about these cars.

      I base my asseertions about the frame length on measuurements I took when I was building Seville hot rods. At one point I had a Nova abnd a Seville subframe laying on the floor next to each other, and I took measuremetns. Used a Sears Craftsman tape measure, so I know they’re accurate.

      I also researched the part numbers for the rear floor stampings, reinforcing rails, and lots of other parts in the rear underbody. All the parts you can’t see ar the same between Nova and Seville. So is the distance from the spring eye to axle centerline. The Seville gives the feeling of more rear seat room because the seat is higher off the floor pan, and farther back because of the steeper rear window.

      The Nova subframes never had provisions for a THM 400. the 400 is longer, and the Seville subframe has a different mounting scheme for the transmission.

      There were other differnces and refinements as well.The Seville had extra dampers between the subrame and the body, as well as CV joints in the driveshaft. And, the first digitally tuned radio. So there.

      As soemone else says, the Seville was no Mercedes, but it was a nice smaller deVille.

      Bob

      ps . I have a nice Seville subframe free to a good home.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    I worked with a fellow in the late 80s who was driving an early Seville he had purchased from his father.  I recall that it was not really a bad car.  It was relatively powerful for an american car of that era.  And after spending time in those miserable 71-76 big Cadillacs, this Seville seemed tight and substantial.  But the car fell down inside.  While the seat leather seemed of high quality, everything else in the interior was GM parts bin plastic.
    I also consider this one of the best jobs of platform disguise ever to come out of GM (Ford and Chrysler’s efforts were not even close.)  IIRC, the 68-7? Nova platform was one of the last really solid bodies to come out of GM, so the Seville could have been based on worse.
    But I have to agree that as good as the car was in certain respects, it was no proper Cadillac.  It would have made a really nice Olds or Buick, though.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Does anyone remember the Ford Granada that was relabeled as a Lincoln Versailles?
     
    GM wasn’t the only US manufacturer chasing the German three pointed star and a Mercedes-like stand-up hood ornament was a must have feature.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    If the 77 Chevy Nova’s what they thought a BMW was, then they were f-cking delusional..  I had a 77 nova.  It would stall in left-hand turns.  The spare tire took up at least 40% of the trunk.  It had the stupid-ass GM keys: 2 different ones and each was one-sided.  Heater was crap.  Went thru 3 alternators.
    I’m sure it made for a nice racer after I sold it, but it definitely made an impression on a young man about American cars.  As did the Chevette Scooter.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      Good ol’ GM plastic keys (which actually saved my life), made 10 sets, didn’t mix them, if you had them you had a 1 in 10 chance of opening and starting any GM car from this time frame (72-87 I believe)

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I’d forgotten about the GM 2-key tango.  How could the world’s largest car company not figure out how to use the same key for the doors and ignition?  Unbelievable.  The fact that they expected their customers to  suck it up and live it with speaks volumes.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      My 89 Ford truck has separate door and ignition keys too. At least they’re two-sided. It’s clearly a feature, not a bug. I’m just mystified as to what they thought it accomplished.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Nowadays we accomplish the same thing with valet keys and lockout switches, but that was simply a way to let somebody drive the car without having access to the trunk, or vice versa.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Maybe my memory is starting to go, but if I try to recall putting the key in the door and then the ignition of any of my parent’s 1970′s-era GM cars (72 & 74 Kingswood, ’76 Cutlass Supreme), I keep recalling (in my mind’s eye) that one had to use the round key to open the door, and the square key to unlock the column and start the car (If I think of our Ford vehicles, I think I recall that the round key was only good for the trunk and the glovebox) … (p.s. our 1980 Fiesta’s were the first cars in our household with a single key – and the stupid black grip had the propensity to crack and break away from the blade of the key, leaving a stub … this was a safety feature so that the keys wouldn’t wreck your knee in a crash, but the frangible part of the key was not too durable!).

      While we are on keys:
      GM had two (round and square), asymetrical blade, teeth inserted downward,
      Ford had two (round and square), two-part symmetry, blade inserted upward or downward,
      Chrysler had? with an asymetrical blade, teeth inserted upward (so water coming into lock did not run into pin tracks and freeze lock)

      And I was amazed how GM’s and Chrysler’s keys would “shave” off the plating, and get down into the base metal … and reduce themselves to fragile things…

      Anyhow… So, I went to the net, and while I was not able to confirm the above, I did find the following interesting piece:

      http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/g/gm-keys.htm

      And I love the quote found within (ask youself after reading … if the problem did not bubble up, then why did GM go to the effort of making an “unnecessary change” … typical PR dumb-ass…):

      A Chevy corporate representative told us the key problem “is not an issue that’s bubbled up with them” but it’s possible given that there are a finite number of key combinations for any given model year. He claims GM has “made improvements to the locks in model years 2007 and newer, which more than doubles the number of key combinations.”

      Another good site is:

      http://www.key-men.com/cars/manufacturers.html

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      My high school economics teacher’s dad had been the president of pontiac in the 70′s (lane I believe his name was), that’s were the information was obtained, not something they would ever admit too I imagine (but some of the production employees were I work, who lived somewhat shady lives in the old days, knew exactly what I was talking about.)

      Yes round and square, If my mind is correct (and I was 4 or 5 at the time), our buick station wagon had a third key that was required to make the back window go up and down (this is the key that I was inserting into the power outlet when my mom walked in, as I said lucky it was plastic)

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      Here is what I recall about the 2 key scheme, from all three.

      In essence, Ford and GM both used the same key for doors and trunks/lift/tailgates and the more rectangular (GM) and more squarish (Ford)keys were ignition only, I think Chrysler used the pentastar key for both the doors and ignition and a separate key for the trunk etc and I don’t know about AMC, but they also had the 2 key scheme too, that much I know and and having test driven a Yugo back in the late 80′s, they also had 2 keys, one to get in and the other for starting if memory serves and thus it may have been a FIAT feature until more recent years where a single key is used for pretty much everything.

      How do I know this? I owned 2 Chevy Novas, one a ’74, the other a ’78 and they were metal keys as I had the plastic covers on the spares for my ’78 and I’ve owned 2 Fords, a ’78 Fairmont and currently own a ’92 Ford Ranger truck with the same old 2 key setup and my father owned several Mopars over the years, mostly 70′s era Plymouths and i had a ’68 Chrysler with the pentastar ignition key and a second key for all others although I “think” they used the ignition as also the door entry key however IIRC, it’s been a LONG while since I had that car and since the 1990′s, Chrysler redid their keys and went with a single key system as my parents for 3 years or so had a ’95 Chrysler Concord and my Mom owns an ’04 Dodge Stratus with a totally different key design and a totally different ignition switch design as well and it eliminates the large metal flange used to help turn the key.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      In the late 1990s/early 2000s, my little brother’s 1988 (?) Ford Taurus had such worn tumblers that the ignition lock barely held on to the key.  He used to take great amusement in removing the ignition key and throwing it at his passengers at any or no particular time (on the highway, in heavy traffic, in the driveway…) while feigning panic.
       
      Heheh, good times.

    • 0 avatar
      Don

      Key hijinks aren’t only to be found among cars- there were several different types of airplanes (that shared the same designer, Ted Smith, but were manufactured by several different companies over 40 years’ time) that all used the exact same key to open the door…must have been a couple thousand of ‘em.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    If you really want to see the car that stole the Seville’s styling you need a G-Body Cutlas Sedan.  http://www.co.midland.mi.us/coldcases/images/2c_full.jpg  I owned one for about 5 or 6 years.
     
    I actually like the Seville but that has more to do with the 350 Oldsmobile fuel injected V8 and the less barouqe than the Versailles styling.  And your right it was down hill from here for the Seville.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    While we’re on this particular beastie, why do these cars always look like the front end is tilted about 3-4 inches higher than the rear? Sagging rear springs, diesel-gas engine swaps, or did GM simply build them that way?

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      That was how they came from the factory. It still doesn’t look right to me and didn’t then. I’d rather have the Nova. A much better styled car.

      Unlike others I always found the front and rear end belonged on different cars with a front end that was totally un imaginitive and predestrian [read Chevy] and having a beautifully detailed and unrelated rear end. Like Dan said: the Olds using the same theme was a better riff on the design.

      Paul: I don’t think reworking an Opel with a 66-67 Nova front end would have helped GM’s credibility [but it\'s still prettier than the one they came up with. And more cohesive. It just looks like an entry level economy car].

  • avatar
    Wagen

    The one redeeming thing I can say is that it didn’t have the huge front overhang that seems so rampant today.

    I was carted around as a kid in an Oldsmobile Omega of similar vintage (the Olds version of the Nova) and can say even when I was much smaller, I remember the back seat being a lot less than spacious for a car that seemed large on the outside and had what seemed to be a huge engine compartment and trunk.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Same effect as with the Saturn ION. And about an identical amount of rear seat legroom as that generation Nova. 33.4″ vs 34. something in the Novum.
      Another indicator that GM learned nothing about people packaging after that billion dollar down sizing effort of the late 70s

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    “Perhaps we need to come up with a new category for them: Beyond the Valley of the Deadly Sins. Suggestions?”

    How about Clueless Classics?

  • avatar

    A De Dion suspension actually combines a frame-mounted differential with a beam, so it’s not really an independent suspension. Instead it’s a non-independent suspension without the unsprung weight penalty of a live axle.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “the Seville wasn’t going to be roomy like the big cars.”
    My father owned a 1972 Eldorado. The car was duce and a quarter long, and it did have a roomy front seat. However, when the front seat was fully extended, there was no leg room in the back. None.
    Hard to park? It took two passes to get up the ramp at the garage at my father’s office.
    He let the lease expire and bought a M-B 280SEL 4.5, which he drove for 12 years.

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    Small point, but this Seville is either a ’78 or ’79 based on the revised steering wheel and seat-pleat patterns compared to the ’77 model.

    Also pretty strongly disagree with this as a ‘deadly sin’…a somewhat cynical re-engineering and moderate price gouge, OK, that I’ll grant….(like the Germans never price gouge, HA!)…but most reviews of the time credited the Seville with maintaining the traditional smooth ride and handling American luxury car buyers DEMANDED, but with a much more manageable and maneuverable size…it was a fairly extensive upgrade of the plebian Nova platform, and for first the first time in decades (or ever?), it presented “smaller” as a virtue worth paying extra for in the American luxury market.

    The crisp, formal and sleek styling was elegant and looked upmarket..and helped to set American design trends for more than a decade….as usual, the initial execution (Seville) was the best and more visually pleasing than the many sharp-edged formal cars that followed from all 3 domestic manufacturers. The fuel injected 350 also offered decent power and economy by late seventies standards (0*60 in 13.2 is one of the slowest figures I’ve seen quoted, more often like 10.5-11.5 seconds), and similarly priced Benz’s were even slower 6cyls (which didn’t offer great fuel economy either) or bog-slow diesels…and GM’s Hydramatic was also as good, if not better, than any auto offered by Benz or BMW.

    Did it have the handling/roadholding to match a Benz/BMW?  Not by a long shot…but it was a major leap forward in roadability when compared to the 5000+lb full-size barges offered previously…and lets not forget the cabins of most Benz’s/BMWs at that time would make a taxi seem luxurious…the Seville offered softer pleated seats, plush carpet, and all of the (sometimes cheesy) disco-era luxury touches that American luxury buyers expected at that time. Most American luxury car buyers at the time didn’t want small sedans with spartan interiors, or else the Mercedes 240D would have outsold the Sedan deVille…that didn’t happen.

    Long story short, I think you’re too hard on the first gen Seville…it was an important “transitional” American luxury car and bridged the gap between the old dinosaurs and the smaller, downsized luxury cars which were to follow due to CAFE standards and various oil crises. As good as an S-Class? hardly…but it ain’t no Cimmaron, that’s for sure….now the 1986 Seville, that’s a deadly sin.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      You made some of the same points I made to myself when I was trying to decide whether to call this a DS or not. I wavered. Then I thought some more: the Seville may have symbolically encompassed some good things (reduced size, etc.), but it just didn’t deserve to be considered an Uber-Caddy, given its pricing. It still had too many of the Nova’s shortcomings: cramped, narrow interior, pathetic trunk space, very modest performance (those 0-60 are the average of two postings I found on line), cheap materials, poor build quality, etc…..

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      You are right on one thing, Paul.  Wasn’t the Seville one of the most expensive Cadillacs you could buy that year?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Dan, THE most expensive, except for the limo. That’s a key part of the whole story here. If the Seville had been positioned a bit differently, perhaps I might be a bit more forgiving of its over-reach.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      While the Mercedes was growing in popularity during the late 1960s and 1970s, there were still plenty of Americans who equated “small” with “cheap” (or at least, “less expensive”). And, let’s face it, plenty of them worked at GM!

      GM probably wanted to dispell any notions that the Seville was a cheaper Cadillac; hence, the price that was higher than that of any other Cadillac, save the limousines. If the hardware and build quality had supported the much higher price, this car wouldn’t be classified as a “deadly sin.”

      Looking at it now, I wonder if it would have made more sense as an “Oldsmobile Holiday,” priced several thousands of dollars lower. It’s not a bad car, in and of itself. The main problem is the price compared to the hardware underneath, and how well everything was – or was not – screwed together.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d agree with sfdennis about the 1986 Seville: that was a range topping Cadillac that didn’t deserve its throne.
      I always thought the GEN I Seville was a happy place for American land yachts that obviously needed a diet.  It was the best of the both worlds.  From the styling and interior plushness, not from a performance standpoint. This car created a segment that was needed within the brand (smaller, nicer, more expensive and therefore more exclusive)…and it turned out that Lincoln needed it too, but did a truly awful job. Cadillac won. Sort of.
      And GM’s second version was even more true to that newly created segment, amazing styling that’s both retro and modern (CLS four door coupe, anyone?) and a fully independent suspension.  Yes, that totally discounts the awful reliability of these cars, but did we know that back in 1980?  (seriously, tell me because I don’t know).
      The first two generations of the Seville are what we all remember, the STS’s (especially the first one with four passenger seating and amber signal lights) were the start of this brand’s downfall.  Just on name alone, call it a Touring Sedan, not a TS!
      Thanks for covering this car, Paul…it lets me vent.
       
       

  • avatar

    Additional history of the Seville (including the plans to base it on the Opel Diplomat):
    http://ateupwithmotor.com/luxury-and-personal-luxury-cars/210-cadillac-seville.html

  • avatar
    love2drive

    Just for kicks, I checked eBay Motors to see how many of these might be on there given Paul’s comment about how he never sees them. There’s a bunch of first gen Sevilles, all reasonably priced and in nice shape. I think it might qualify as an affordable classic daily driver..

  • avatar
    npbheights

    Does anybody else remember the scene in Saturday Night Fever where they are outside in front of a disco and there is a first gen Seville parked in the street?  I am pretty sure one of the characters in the movie makes a comment about the car and that someday he is going to have one.

  • avatar
    srogers

    What’s with that signal light hole?
    Were you supposed to put a kitten in there? I don’t know about GM sometimes.

  • avatar
    skor

    The first gen Seville was actually a pretty good car in its day, and a step in the right direction for GM, evidenced by the fact that the car was a runaway sales success.  Unfortunately, the suits at GM drew all the wrong conclusions from their winner and it all ended in a spectacular fail known as the Cimarron.

    BTW, the Versialles wasn’t really that bad of a car, as Granadas go.  It came with a 351C, 9 inch rear and 4 wheel disc.  The suspension produced a decent ride, the car underwent rigorous QC so they were fairly reliable for their time.  It was also the first American car to get clear coat paint as standard.  Unfortunately, Ford didn’t have the money for new body panels so they went the JC Whitney route.   Really unfortunate.

  • avatar
    jplane

    Wasn’t this one of Lee Iacocca’s favorite cars?  Didn’t he think GM made a big mistake not continuing them?

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    On the subject of Mercedes and BMW price gouging in the US vs. Europe in that era – I don’t think so. The US only ever got the relatively loaded versions, yes, even including the 240D. Unlike in the US where a taxi-spec Caprice was a cheap fleet special, those diesel Benz cabs were pretty expensive even as basic as possible (200D 4spd stick no a/c). But they were expected to go 1M km, and they did, regularly and with ease. Even in Europe, once you started piling on the optional equipement the cars got really expensive, really fast. Still the same way today.

    GM thinking this thing was an S-class competitor is simply ludicrous.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I vaguely remember the excitement when these and the new Ford Granada (styled as a downsized LTD) came out at the same time – dealers couldn’t keep either on the lot for quite a while.
    Looking back, obviously things could have been done much better.  But overall a very well designed smaller Caddy no doubt.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    the ‘box’ Seville was a really pretty car for its day.Too bad the example pic wasn’t of a nice one.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    It has always been my opinion that the first Seville was priced as it was because the best defense is a good offense. It was a Nova with an Oldsmobile engine. Had GM priced it at $7K, people would have asked how an Olds engined Nova could carry the Cadillac name. Price it at $14K though, and people would be too confused to risk pointing out its composition. If GM considered it to be worth more than a Fleetwood, maybe people shouldn’t admit that they didn’t see what made it special.

  • avatar
    caljn

    I have a recollection of seeing many of these cars, both Seville and Nova, tracking down the road slightly sideways.  Additionally, something about their stance always seemed off, as though the front wheels were wider apart then the rear wheels.

    i recall the Seville being quite appealing when launched, but could not imagine paying an adjusted $42k for it.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      One problem was that the front right (or was it left) subframe mount was integral with the fender support and battery tray. So they often rotted out that subframe mount and then had loosy-goosy suspension.  I know this since my cousin inherited my grandmother’s ’79-4dr nova (bought brand new) in 1992 that had this issue- he welded in replacement plate and brackets. I also got him a 2dr ’78 free from a friend with the same issue but he ended up junking that while keeping its motor/trans for something else.  We had to bungy the battery into the engine compartment since the subframe mount was up through the body/frame panel and into the battery tray.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    Rutger Hauer drove one in “Wanted Dead or Alive”. That’s good enough for me.

  • avatar
    res

    Bonus points for the Zany Afternoons reference!

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Given a choice between this gen Seville or a 240D clatterbucket with that austere tan and black interior I would go for the Caddy ever time. A simple switch over to a Quadrajet on the proven Olds 350 bolted up to a 350 trans made for a decent long lasting powertrain. The Caddy was also good handler in it’s day and right sized for the times and it looked good and was comfortable to drive. Yes the fuel injection system sucked but that is easily fixed. Yes this car was based on a Nova but at least GM have it completely different body panals and stretched it and gave it a much nicer interior. A much better deadly sin would be the 86 downsized version which was the size of Grand Am with a 3-4 times higher price.

    • 0 avatar

      I beg to differ.  The first time I saw the 240D interior, I was actually shocked at how “fresh” it looked, even for a 30-something year old clatterbucket.  True, the 240D’s acceleration can be measured with hourglasses, but at least I can live with the interior.
      The Seville’s interior reminds me of my 1988 Brougham.  Fake wood trim, fake “chrome” paint that constantly flaked off the plastic trim it was attached to.  Not a genuinely bad car, but not good in any way other than the size and sheer pimp factor.  Needless to say, I’m not a big fan of GM cars, let alone interiors, of the 70s and 80s.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I recall seeing these Sevilles all over the place back in the day and I think I still see them around from time to time since they just don’t rust out here like they do in many parts of the country, that said, I never knew until very recently when I read it right here that the Sevilles were based on the venerable Chevy Nova of the same period.
     
    I had 2 70′s era Novas, a ’74 and a ’78 and while they had I think the same transmission but the ’74 was a basic 4door with the 250CID inline 6, the ’78 was a pedestrian 2 door coupe w/ the craptastic 305 CID V8 and of course, much the same chassis, both had different bodies as the ’74 was from the ’68-74 generation, the ’78 being the more squared off ’75-79 bodies, of which I have always liked as GM cars went back then.
     
    I was pleasantly surprised at how well they handled for what they were, bread and butter cars the masses, sold at a decent price for the times. I think my 2 examples had the posi rear end and found out just how well the 78 Nova did during a major snow storm and I had to drive home in the white powdery stuff that by the time I got home, the snow was almost up to the underbelly of the beast and it STILL tracked nicely in the snow and I’m sure whatever I had in the way of tires on that thing helped.
     
    Other than the so, so performance of the V8 and other issues that were NOT all the car’s fault as I kinda trashed the ’78 while driving for Domino’s Pizza in the mid 80′s. I had bought the ’78 used in 1985, bought the ’74 from my sister and her first hubby who got it from my parents to replace their rusted out Vega and my parents bought it from the Gov’t fleet auction in ’79.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    In Saturday Night Fever, Double J points to a Seville and says, “my cousin, he got one of those, and a Mercedes too. You know how he did it? He had to screw over his business partner.”

  • avatar
    skor

    The Opel looks like a stretched ’69 Ford Falcon.

  • avatar
    Sedge

    If any of you have ever taken a cab ride in Germany, you’d know it seems as if you’re in a luxury limo. A cab in almost any city in the US feels like your in your college room mate’s beater.

  • avatar
    hachee

    I was a kid, around 10, when these came out, and I remember how unbelievably shocking it was, in terms of looks.  Just so completely different than any other then-current or past Cadillac and just very fresh.  Even then, I appreciated and was into cars like Mercedes, but I still liked Cadillacs and appreciated them, maybe more though, for what they mostly were, years before. 

    My parents bought a new one in 1979, after trading in a ’77 de Ville.  So I was a passenger in these and only drove the Seville after I got my license a few years later.  While I liked the car’s looks, the interior was nothing special.   While a contemporary Benz might have been austere, the higher quality was obvious the second you shut the car door.  IMO, it looked a lot better and seemed more luxurious, even to a kid.  Once I got my license, I drove it, and I remember it being pretty decent – quiet, smooth, and handled well, even if it had liquid steering.  I had no idea of the Nova connection until maybe 5 years ago.  It certainly seemed a LOT better and nicer than one of my friend’s parents’ Nova of the same vintage.

    I disagree about it being a DS, but thanks for another great article (and entertaining and informative comments).

  • avatar
    Joss

    I still think this Seville a handsome clean-lined dude. Even if it’s just a Nova dressed with twilight sentinel & trumpet horns.

  • avatar
    bodegabob

    I think. . . .and if not I am sure to be corrected soon. . . that the Olds 350 in these was also balanced if not blueprinted from the factory. At least that was the story.
     
    Really it wasn’t such a bad car. GM seems to do this every now and then: They take a common platform that really seems unimpressive and after spending a few megabucks refining it and slapping a luxury name on the deck lid, the platform shows the essential competence within. Same happened with the late and unlamented SAAB 9-7.
     
    So although it wasn’t really a Cadillac, it was worthy as the best $42K Nova ever made.
     

  • avatar
    JimC

    The phrase “balanced and blueprinted” always makes me quietly smile to myself because to me, it implies that the normal production engines off the line are built to indifferent standards… ie. crap.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Not familiar with the concept of “produciton tolerances” I gather?

    • 0 avatar
      JimC

      It depends whose production tolerances…  A big displacement engine built to wide tolerances makes about the same power with more torque and less efficiency than a small displacement engine built to tight tolerances.  I realize that the small, better built engine usually costs more too.  Car companies have built lots of cars and made lots of money over the years using both philosophies.

  • avatar
    swilliams41

    I was a senior in high school in 1977 and one of my girlfriends dad bought a Seville. My dad had driven Sedan DeVilles since the late 60′s and I was shocked by the Seville. It was so solid, so quiet, so intimate compared to the big Devilles. Of course the early FEA used on this car made a difference. You only needed to compare this car to the same girlfriends 1977 320i on a rough road to see what real quality was, even though the Seville was plusher. No quivers or shakes in the 320i.


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