The 1976–79 Seville was Cadillac’s first attempt to remake itself

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Richard Bennett

“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 … until the 1970s dawned.

While Cadillac was in the midst of introducing its largest-ever automobiles, a small but growing number of luxury car buyers started visiting Mercedes-Benz dealerships and driving away in their cars. In the eyes of Cadillac, it was baffling: People with the means to own the biggest and flashiest of automobiles were suddenly shunning flamboyance for austerity. What was it about these smaller German cars, with their minimalist and understated elegance, that was stealing Cadillac’s customers?

Richard Bennett

Obviously, Cadillac wouldn’t accept such an insult. Research discovered that many customers, particularly on the coasts, had grown tired of what they saw as a decrease in quality and loss of exclusivity. They wanted the luxury of craftsmanship and style that was restrained and timeless—in a package that didn’t need a football field to complete a U-turn. 

At first, management looked to Europe—Opel in particular—for a platform it could potentially use for a smaller Cadillac. Serious thought was given to modifying the Opel Diplomat, but the cost of bringing it up to Cadillac standards was deemed impractical.

Richard Bennett

When Cadillac’s higher-ups examined the cars in GM’s domestic lineup, the compact X car was the most likely candidate—at least, for a starting point. There was just one problem. A prestigious Cadillac, especially one that was going to be positioned at the top of the range, absolutely could not look or feel like the lowly Chevrolet Nova!

Let’s pause for a moment and remember that GM still had an excellent design and engineering team, which, when given the chance, could execute a product that, when complete, would be readily accepted as the best. Thankfully, in the quest for a more compact offering, Cadillac was able to give the team the creative freedom it needed to do the job well. After the dust settled, the changes were so extensive that GM designated the platform “K,” because it very little in common with the X. Only the rear subframe, front suspension, part of the floor and the roof were carried over unchanged. Designer Bill Mitchell used the Seville to debut what he called the “sheer look:” clean, uncluttered lines with a slight curve in the body sides and a formal roof line. The look would expand to other GM sedans and last well into the ’80s.

Richard Bennett

Initially, the Seville offered exclusively with a fuel-injected 350-cubic-inch V-8, which was an Oldsmobile engine. A couple of years later the Oldsmobile diesel V-8 became available.

The Seville debuted in the spring of 1975 as an early 1976 model. Most configurations came heavily laden with options, though customers paid dearly; Despite being the smallest Cadillac, the Seville had the highest price tag, starting at a bit over $12,000. Only the Fleetwood 75 Limousine was more expensive. Even so, the Seville proved a hit. Customers loved the smaller size, especially those who weren’t comfortable when driving large cars.

Richard Bennett
Richard Bennett

Cadillac management was particularly pleased to see that the Seville was doing well with buyers on the coasts. Perhaps it had found the key to beating the Germans and would reclaim its dominance in the luxury-car world once again. The Seville was a success, no doubt—but would its success last? Tune in next time, as we look to the second chapter of the Seville’s history.

Our featured example is a 1977 model, photographed at Duncan’s Imports, in Christiansburg, Virginia. Changes throughout this models run amounted to little more than grille changes and a different steering-wheel design. Richard Bennett
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