By on July 24, 2017

1983 Cadillac Seville in Arizona wrecking yard, RH rear view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe first-generation Cadillac Seville was a sibling — or maybe first cousin — to the proletariat rear-wheel-drive Chevrolet Nova, selling well while also cheapening the Cadillac brand. The second-generation Seville, introduced for the 1980 model year, moved to the Eldorado’s front-wheel-drive platform and gained a bold “bustleback” rear body design.

Here’s an example of a Bustleback Seville I spotted last week in a Phoenix self-service wrecking yard.

1983 Cadillac Seville in Arizona wrecking yard, bustle back trunk lid - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars“Neoclassical” kit cars reached their pinnacle of popularity during the 1970s, and all of these cars featured mash-ups of various styling cues of the 1920-1940 era. The bustle-type trunk, along with (fake) leather hood straps and (nonfunctional) side exhaust pipes, was seen on many such vehicles.

1937-cadillac-fleetwood-brochure-pageSome Cadillacs and LaSalles had bustleback trunks through the late 1930s, so there was corporate precedent.

1980-cadillac-seville-brochure-pageCadillac shoppers weren’t enthusiastic about the look in 1980, however, and sales numbers for the 1980-1985 Seville was lower than that of its predecessor.

1983 Cadillac Seville in Arizona wrecking yard, seat upholstery - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Arizona sun has not been kind to the upholstery inside this car.

1983 Cadillac Seville in Arizona wrecking yard, HVAC controls - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Touring Suspension option made the Seville handle a bit better, and included 225/70R15 radials. The cassette deck boasted auto-reverse (a highly desirable feature in 1983, when a lot of factory cassette decks didn’t even have a rewind feature) and Dolby noise reduction.

1983 Cadillac Seville in Arizona wrecking yard, HT4100 V8 engine - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe problem-plagued V8-6-4 engine that came in the 1981 Seville was gone by 1983; this car has one of the early HT4100 V8s, rated at 135 horsepower in 1983. The HT series of Cadillac engines continued in production into 1995, finally replaced by the Northstar V8.


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62 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1983 Cadillac ‘Bustleback’ Seville...”


  • avatar
    dividebytube

    These looked weird even to my ten year old eyes. Neighbors grandparents had one of these and the proportions were just off, even compared to the 70s/early 80s broughams and non-sporty sports cars of the era.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Lots of publicity on release. Slow to appear on road. You’d spot a Seville snout then you’d look to the rear for the mew bustleback. Mostly it seemed you didn’t spot one.

    +1 for caddy moving to front drive.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    looked like a dog taking a dump, we’d say.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    My perception must have been skewed since I grew up in the Detroit ‘burbs and these seemed quite common back in the day. I suppose it was all of the GM executives’ spouses driving these.

    I always thought they looked awkward even then. They were even worse with the somewhat ubiquitous fake convertible tops that seemed popular at the time. Another trend we thankfully don’t see much anymore… except maybe in South Florida where all the guys who had these in the ’80s have retired now?

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    Our neighbour had one of these things during the time I was in school in the late 80s. In fact it was a Diesel version. As if it could be any worse. I often wonder if it worked because it was never out of it’s parking spot.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I think for a couple years the Olds diesel was the standard engine.

      think about that. Dopey styling and saddled with three of the worst engines in GM history (Olds diesel, V8-6-4, and HT4100.)

  • avatar
    rcx141

    Did the designer really lean back from his easel, lay down his pen, and say “Man! That is a sharp looking car!”

    • 0 avatar
      pdieten

      It was Wayne Kady, so I’m going to go with yes.

      One could have a long debate about his sense of taste.

    • 0 avatar

      You do not understand how it was “designed”. Designers came up with number of concepts and then upper management told them to make it more conservative like all other cars of 70s because wife of VP did not like concepts. After new more angular concepts were presented upper management choose front end from one concept, rear end from another and roof still from third. Thats how you end up with this kind of designs. It is not fault of designers.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Interesting Junk Yard : Caddy parked next to a K-Car, across from a Mercedes W123 that’s next to a ’73 ~ ’89 GM light truck…..

    Quite a mashup of vehicles .

    Brother Bill bought one of these to show his success (he’s from NYC) and discovered the engine ran mostly at 3 5 or 7 cylinders ~ boy howdy was he ever pissed off .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    tonyola

    The perfect realtor’s car from circa 1981. The car that made Cadillac a laughingstock.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    I suspect this model’s reputation and sales would have been far better if Cadillac hadn’t decided to use the world’s most awful motors during this time period. You could have the 8-6-4 motor that was a reliability nightmare, or the Olds diesel that was deadly slow, noisy, and blew up early, or the HT4100 that was deadly slow and blew up early. Yes it was a terrible era in general, but as GM’s prestige brand and the world’s top selling luxury car, Cadillac was the worst of the worst.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    It looked ugly and cheap then, and still does. This is the car that stopped my grandparents from buying their annual Cadillac.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Agreed, these have kitschy appeal to some people and perhaps genuine appeal to others. Most people I knew at the time found them gauche, however. Potential buyers started looking at Mercedes and Volvo or at the more sensibly priced and styled B-bodies and C-bodies from the other GM divisions. For example, Donald Sutherland’s character in ORDINARY PEOPLE drove an Olds 98 (and not a pimped out one). The character never would’ve driven a bustleback Sevilled.

      http://www.imcdb.org/vehicle_78243-Oldsmobile-Ninety-Eight-Regency-1980.html

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      They really were crapwagons, even when new.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Never got these cars and the styling, like 3/4 the car was missing. Saw a fair amount in my youth and my 2nd car was an ’84 Eldorado(in 1998), which was a handsome car compared to its Seville brother. A high school friend had a 79 Seville, which even though it had Nova roots, still was a decent looking car. These things were always ugly in the back. The more plebeian PT Cruiser pulled this ” bustleback” look off better thanks to being tall and a hatchback.

    The 4100 wasn’t known for reliability or longevity and it died quickly at the lead foot of the 20 year old me. My folks had it rebuilt, but it was never right again. But I enjoyed it for about a year before it was done, two years total. With only about 79k on it, it was bought with around 59k. Then I got an 89 Acura Legend, which turned me to imports mostly and I never had another GM car until my current Cruze.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The previous (first-generation) Seville was an interesting story, as told by Ate Up With Motor. It was never as good as the Mercedes-Benz against which it was benchmarked, but it was, by all measures, a success in its own right. However, it did two things that ruined Cadillac (and GM as a whole):

    1) Since it was, as you said, a thoroughly revamped version of the Nova instead of a clean-sheet design, it gave Cadillac a false sense of success. It proved that they didn’t need to try all *that* hard. It was a temporary victory, but it allowed GM to prolong the idea that it wasn’t seriously losing the luxury market to foreign newcommers. It boosted Cadillac’s sales numbers enough to ease everyone’s minds, but had it been less successful, they’d have regarded it as the stopgap that it really was. From what I hear, the executives had even wanted the Seville to use the same rear doors as the other X-body sedans—which would have made the relationship *very* obvious, since they were a distinct BMW-like shape—and Mitchell had to fight to allow the Cadillac to have its own rear door shape.

    2) The Seville’s “sheer-look”, as Bill Mitchell liked to call it, proliferated through most of the rest of GM’s lineup, resulting in weird, formal-rooflined vehicles that looked seriously awkward by the time GM managed to downsize everything in the late 80s…especially compared to Ford’s contemporary aero styling.

    This second-generation Seville is said to have been inspired by Hooper-bodied Rolls-Royces that Mitchell had seen while in England. Being a K-Body, it was a sedan counterpart to the E-Body coupes, the ’79-’85 Riviera, Eldorado and Toronado. Both the E and K-bodies were on what was the last wave of GM’s Unified Powerplant Package, a longitude-FWD arrangement in which the engine sat beside the transmission and the two were linked by a chain-and-sprocket arrangement. I think the bustleback design was a mistake. If the up-and-comers of that era found American cars to be stuffy and vulgar, this pretty much solidified that idea. It was a chance for Cadillac to come up with something truly svelte, and they flubbed it.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Thanks Kyree for a nice summary.

      I liked the looks of these when they came out but now in retrospect, the back end reminds me of nothing more than a Gremlin. A car with its back ‘cut off’.

      And a Cadillac with 135hp????????

      This is as Kyree noted, when Cadillac truly lost its way. Selling a Cadillac based on a Nova, led to a Cadillac based on a Cavalier. Focusing their marketing on ‘accent striping’ and chrome plated script and wreaths rather than engineering in some performance and/or luxury.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        I’m going to disagree with the Seville helping Cadillac lose it’s way, if only because I remember those days and the splash/impact the original Seville made. Compared to the gargantuan Caddys back then, the ’75 Seville was sharp yet sensibly-sized. I always found this generation hideous, and why both Ford and Chrysler subsequently copied it (Continental and Imperial respectively)is beyond me. That Gen 1 was based on the bones of a Nova I don’t think really mattered. The Cimarron was far more egregious!

        I do agree the original Seville did give Cadillac a false sense of security; if they had only followed up Gen 1 with Gen 3 instead of this model I think it would have shown a sense of forward not backward vision. I always liked Gen 3.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      There’s nothing stuffy about a polo match, silly.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Good points Kyree. I really liked the look of the first gen Seville, but as you say, GM applied that look to everything, with varying degrees of success. Then they had to do something to make the next gen Seville distinctive and we got….this. Add some of GM’s worst engines ever and it was a recipe for disaster.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      It looks like you’ve been doing your Ate Up with Motor homework, Kyree. :-) I agree that in an of itself, the first-gen Seville was a success.

      To your points, I’ll add a couple more: First, Cadillac started chasing volume in the ’60s, which hurt the brand’s exclusivity. Second, you can’t divorce any model from the parent company’s overall trajectory.

      The Ate Up with Motor article is pretty interesting. Given the parameters of the project, Bob Templin and his colleagues did a good job on the car. And it did indeed have meaningful upgrades versus the Nova. https://ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories/cadillac-seville/

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Indeed. That’s the very article to which I referred.

        The engineers did do a good job and and I don’t think the car itself was a bad idea. But it was a good first half to what should have been a potent one-two punch. It deserved a better follow-up. They took what was a svelte, tasteful-looking car and turned it into what was probably the most baroque and ostentatious vehicle in the entire GM lineup. The 90s model undid some of the damage, but the Seville never really recovered.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I really liked the first-gen Seville when it first launched. GM put a lot of work into differentiating it from the Nova. There are still a fair number of them around that are well cared-for. They’re nothing like a W123, but some of the owners give them that kind of attention.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      When these were introduced for the 1980 model year I could tell the styling was influenced by the Hooper-bodied Rolls-Royces. I think their mission was to build a high end luxury car with European sporting intentions but fell short until the DeVille and Seville touring models were introduced.

      As a former E-Body owner I always though the platform was one of GM’ better designs with FWD and fully independent suspension.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I always loved this body style for its outrageousness. Needs a continental kit and the whitewalls with the small gold inner stripe.

    Make mine a V8-6-4 and I’ll snip one wire and have a Cadillac big block and impossible to kill three speed auto. F(*&^ fuel economy – if you have to ask you shouldn’t have bought a Cadillac.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The V 8-6-4? Nah. Just because you’ve said you like this body-style, I think you deserve to put up with the horrid Olds 350 diesel V8, which—amid the OPEC crisis—was the base engine in this car as well as a lot of others :P

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        (Are the tech gnomes still working on the login? It’s still terrible and buggy…)

        I reject GMs premise of those years. There was a corporate edict that said (essentially): “None of our cars are going to be subject to a gas guzzler tax.”

        This caused the V8-6-4, the Olds 350s rush to market, the HT4100 fiasco, and the undersized metric THM200 4 speed trans that never lasted long because it was too small and fragile (in the name of weight savings) for the engines it was placed behind.

        If you buying certain classifications of vehicle (like Cadillac) your core customer doesn’t really care about fuel economy all that much.

        Ask Iaccoca how the profits were from the V8 M-body cars. Those were subject to a gas guzzler tax and money was still made from that program in all of it’s broughamy goodness.

        • 0 avatar
          CaddyDaddy

          ……hmmm, find one in good shape and bolt in a 92MY 4.9L. Should bolt right up if you salvage the wiring harness off the donor. IIRC a TH200 an be built right?

          That would be a sleeper

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    I just love that commercial.

    Guy finishes playing polo – probably smells like sweat, horses and manure and jumps right into his brand new Caddy!

    A manly man!!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    These cars were hideous even then, both in form and function.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    I dunno about this one. Bustle-back and a 4.1 litre motor? Showroom direct to junkyard in my thought.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Ick. Faux elegance.

  • avatar
    threeer

    My best friend’ grandmother had one of these. I remember it well. When I came to visit him in the summer of 1985 from Germany, she took us all over Nashville in it. I thought they were rich (to put things in context, my dad was an NCO in the Army, so we didn’t have a ton of money), as I was used to a steady diet of used Opel Rekords and at the time, a 1981 Toyota Corolla as our household vehicles.

    Fast forward, and one of my earlier jobs in the private sector was for a manufacturing plant in Michigan (back when the US still manufactured things…what a concept). My plant manager collected such beasts. We were going through our QS-9000 audit, and the auditor was also a big fan. As it happened, said plant manager was selling one of his Sevilles, and each time the auditor found a deficiency, the price of the Caddy went up. I’m not sure what they settled on, and I’m also quite sure it wasn’t exactly legal/ethical. But then again, I saw more than one occasion when the certification was bought.

    Interesting memories associated with this vehicle…

  • avatar
    Duaney

    As the owner of many of these cars, I regard the styling to be beautiful. Bill Mitchell, Wayne Kady, and other GM stylists had many very successful designs, their credentials as styling experts far outweigh any of us on this forum. I’ll agree that not everyone likes this design, but I give enormous credit to GM to build an innovative car that is so unique. Going on to the comments on engines, I’ve had good luck with the 4100, Cadillac recommended a radiator additive that owners neglected. The diesel is my favorite, I enjoy driving full size GM luxury cars that are fuel efficient. I hear all the negative comments, but I’ve had great luck with these engines and maybe because of all the negativity, I can buy them all for myself, cheap!

  • avatar
    skor

    I don’t agree about the first gen Seville ‘cheapening the Cadillac brand’. GM did a good job of hiding the Seville’s Chevy Nova parentage…..certainly better than Ford did with the Lincoln Versailles, a Granada that looked like it had been vomited on by a very ill J.C Whitney catalog. The original Seville was also not a cheap car by any means, and it sold fairly well. The second gen car looked like something only a fat, middle-aged, garbage hauling biz owner from Jersey would want.

    The 4100 engine was also total garbage, it was rushed into production after the total failure of the V8-6-4. Eventually the 4.1 was improved and punched out to 4.5 and was just OK. After that GM made some more improvements and stepped up the HT mill to 4.9, and it turned out to be a fairly decent engine. For an encore GM then dropped the 4.9 and replaced it with the infamous 4.6 ‘Deathstar’. How Cadillac managed to survive as a brand is beyond me.

    • 0 avatar
      Ostrich67

      “The second gen car looked like something only a fat, middle-aged, garbage hauling biz owner from Jersey would want.”

      Funny you should mention that. A kid I knew in high school back in Pittsburgh drove one of these; actually it was his father’s. His dad was “connected” as we say.

      His was magnificent. Two-tone red and white with a matching red and white leather interior. Fake convertible top and Rolls-Royce-like grille. I’m sure his dad had a matching track suit.

      I’ll bet he could tell me how many bodies the trunk held.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Best of all, it’s a 4100.

  • avatar
    genuineleather

    The problem with the first Seville was that, despite selling well, the wrong people bought it: existing Cadillac customers who wanted a smaller car, not the import intenders GM had hoped to steal. The second gen was designed as if management said, “Screw it, we’ll just lean into this tacky, baroque thing the blue hairs like.”

  • avatar
    geo

    It makes itself ugly to warn people to stay away, I’m flawed. Like an aging, mistreated woman.

  • avatar
    operagost

    DNR didn’t stand for “Dolby Noise Reduction”, but for a playback-only circuit developed by National Semiconductor that could be used in a wide range of audio applications. Some of the circuits could work pretty well to expand Dolby-encoded tapes, though, and I think Delco used one of these because I remember them sounding pretty clean with the DNR switched on.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    One of my best friends from HS parent had one of these. Light green /Dark green 2 tone ,with dark green leather. We loved tooling around (and we were a bunch of tools) in that thing listening to late 80s rap on the tape deck with that cool Dolby Noise Reduction.

  • avatar
    Safeblonde

    We knew a car collector back in those days who said someday these Caddys will be considered beautiful classics. I now take all his predictions as being wrong.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    I had a Hot Wheels version of this car as a little kid. My resident “rich guy” car, since I didn’t have a Boss Hogg Caddy. My grandma told me it was garbage though. I took her word for it.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    I’ve always thought the bustle-back Seville was a double failure. The styling was a failure and then the crappy unreliable and under-performing engines (with the exception of the 6.0 V-8 offered for 1980 only) doomed these cars.

    The Fairmont-based Lincoln Continental and Volare-based Chrysler Imperial had similar bustle-backed styling that somehow managed to look better. The bustle-backed Seville was one of the very last designs approved of by William Mitchell and he seemed to think it looked great. After all the classic designs he approved (cars like the ’63 Riviera, the ’63 Corvette Stingray Coupe, the ’66 Toronado, the ’67 Eldorado, the ’70 Camaro) this Seville was a real low note to retire on.

    I guess it was time for him to go.

  • avatar
    jmiller417

    Never liked these. The first generation was much better. (And I wouldn’t say it cheapened the brand necessarily. It was well-reviewed and the priced at the high end of the lineup.)

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I never liked this generation of Seville. I would have to disagree about the first generation of Seville (1975-79) because it had a much simpler and more elegant design–more European. The first generation would be the only one of the Seville that I like. I would say that the second generation was garish and something a pimp would drive.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      I agree, the first gen was very Euro in style. The 2nd gen was all Florida retirees and wiseguy wannabees. The 3rd gen looked like the Cimarron’s marginally smarter brother. With the 4th gen it looked as though GM finally got a clue. Nice Euro styling inside and out, unfortunately the cars suffered from poor build quality and reliability as did most early 90s GM products. This was made worse when the 4.9, the only good HT engine Cadillac produced, was replaced by the 4.6 Grenadestar.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    Even when these were relatively new I was like “what the hell are they thinking!” it was like some kit car monstrosity.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      Talking kit cars, check out the Lincoln Versailles.

      • 0 avatar

        I worked with a guy who had one. Lincoln Continental left in the dryer too long. He loved, loved his Versalles !

        GF’s family had a Seville, while I had a 73 Nova. This started my lifelong obsession with “find the matching parts”, which I was able to play later too, comparing my Mercury Mystique to a Jag X type. I can’t report on the Seville driving, as it had a bad engine or trans mount, so if you pushed it, it made bad sounds. Also, that GF didn’t like driving quickly….among her other issues.

        Steering Columns, plastic parts below the knee, seats, trunk fittings, and pop the hood. Switchgear. Always fun to see how many parts they can re use, or just assume “no one will notice”

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    Copart had one of these for sale in San Jose two years ago. Thirty-four thousand original miles, two-tone canyon yellow and brown, one owner(an attorney)and in mint condition. It sold for $3,300.

    • 0 avatar

      California Car ! Running around CA for two weeks made this salt encrusted northeastern guy cry…every single day. Volvo 240 with not a bubble ? Datsun Wagon with just a hit of sun fade ? First gen Rabbit diesel still clattering away ? Amazing !


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