Collectible Classic: 1976-1979 Cadillac Seville
An oasis from the “Superfly” ’70s.
When the first-generation Cadillac Seville debuted, the name was borrowed from the hardtop version of the 1956-60 Cadillac Eldorado, but the new car really didn't have much in common with its forebears. In fact, it had a very direct relationship with Chevrolet's humble Nova, a frill-free compact initially launched to do battle with Ford's lowly Falcon.
The oil embargo of 1973 set off a chain of events that gravely affected the automobile business. Within a mere eight weeks of the embargo, GM brass authorized production of the first "international-size" Cadillac. Despite its comparatively modest dimensions (for the time), the Seville was never referred to as "compact" even though it was more than 2 feet shorter and a half-ton lighter than its full-size brethren. The Seville's price tag, however, was a heavyweight; apart from the limousines, it was the costliest Cadillac. The pricing strategy was part of a considered ploy to compete with the surging sales and prestige of Mercedes-Benz and other luxury imports.
The car's trim dimensions, upright stance, and lack of gratuitous adornment imparted a dignified appearance that appealed to the growing subset of the affluent for whom ostentation had become jejune in the post-Nixon world. Like today's hybrid buyers, these were the very people who could afford huge gas-guzzlers. The Seville was a means to convey a social responsibility and refined taste in contrast to the "Superfly"-style Eldorado.
It's not as if buyers were really giving up that much, apart from pointless bulk, to transition to the Seville. The 350- cubic-inch V-8 (supplied by Oldsmobile) provided performance comparable to an S-Class, and the Seville, although certainly expensive for a Cadillac, was bargain-priced compared with the big Benz.
While the Seville's underpinnings were derived from the Nova's X-body chassis, engineers did a terrific job of transforming that humble platform into something worthy of a Cadillac. Rear springs were cushioned with Teflon liners, bolts were secured with epoxy rather than washers, and additional bushings made for a vibration-free ride. Especially on smooth surfaces, the Seville feels like a much bigger vehicle. Although largely cobbled together from the corporate parts bin, the initial Seville formula—trim size, decent fuel economy, smooth power, and cosseting luxury coupled with an understated design—was a winner. First-year sales exploded even in the midst of an economic downturn, reaching almost 45,000.
The rectilinear styling extended from the roofline down to details such as the indicators on the front fenders.
Meet Dale, the 1976 Seville that belongs to Sandy Edelstein and Scott King. It's a thoroughly original example with fewer than 42,000 miles, and it has been meticulously maintained since new. It was purchased from Lynch Motor in La Grande, Oregon, at the end of 1975 by Lee Walton, whose habit was to buy a new Cadillac every other year. He got a call from the dealer suggesting he come in to see the new Seville, even though he wasn't due for a new car until the following year. He promptly fell in love with the Innsbruck Blue Metallic example and bought it as a Christmas gift for his wife, Dale, after whom this one is named. Mrs. Walton drove it only during the warm months and stored it under two protective covers during the winter. That routine continued for 32 years, when Edelstein and King acquired the car.
"Cadillac set out to compete with the Europeans," Edelstein says, "and did a very good job of it." His point is underscored by a period brochure, "The American Answer," which pits the Seville against Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar, and even Rolls-Royce. The Seville's styling was, of course, heavily inspired by Rolls-Royce's and presents almost the same rectilinear silhouette as the Silver Shadow. By Rolls standards it was a bargain: The sticker on this example was $13,847, including $275 for leather seats, an AM/FM/eight-track stereo ($93), wire wheel covers ($167), and cruise control ($104).
The car is a pleasure to drive, with the V-8's smooth power and the Turbo-Hydramatic's barely perceptible shift points. The Seville floats along quite nicely, and there's even a modicum of road feel. It doesn't wallow like its larger badge-mates, and it mostly holds it own in corners, with enough lean to keep your attention. Understatement, in every sense, is the Seville's calling card. At speed, it's eerily quiet but the factory-provided eight-track tape, titled "Cadillac Presents the Music Master … Enoch Light and the Light Brigade," breaks the silence, especially the last selection, "Sound Salute to Cadillac."
Far smaller than the standard Caddy, the Seville was billed as "international-size." The leather interior befits the Seville's position at the top of the model range. First-year cars like this '76 had a simpler eggcrate grille and a three-spoke steering wheel.
The Seville is a historical marker, reflecting an innovative solution to a desperate circumstance. The term "small Cadillac" was something of an oxymoron at the time but made sense—and big profits—immediately upon introduction. These days, it's a stately riposte to the unrelenting stream of fluted ovoid shapes seemingly shared by all makes, luxury models and economy cars alike. The Seville was an island of calm in a turbulent time.
- Number Sold 199,304
- Original Price $12,479
"It's essentially a modern car. All that's lacking are cupholders and Bluetooth," says King. As an everyday driver, the Seville is as soothing today as it was back when the price of gasoline shot up to almost 60 cents per gallon ($1.85 In today's dollars). Speaking of fuel consumption, this is no Chevy Volt. The Seville gets 16 to 19 mpg, but that's about twice as thrifty as the big Caddys of the era. The Seville was produced in large numbers, and many were babied, meaning you can still find a good one today at a reasonable price. But king warns that "finding one in Dale's condition isn't easy."
*Diesel version information is provided for the sake of accuracy. Sevilles so equipped should be avoided.