1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante: Hooper Coachworks Hits Detroit

Jayson Coombes

The 1980-85 Cadillac Seville was one of the last overtly styled cars General Motors ever made. Oh sure, there would be other interesting cars in the future, but the 1980 Seville was arguably the last car designed simply for the look, and not for any practical considerations. It was also the last car GM Vice-President of Design Bill Mitchell signed off on before retirement.

That’s not a coincidence.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante side profile
Jayson Coombes

Mitchell had some pretty big shoes to fill, after Harley Earl retired. But he did a great job, and unlike Earl, who loved gobs of chrome and fins, Mitchell was more restrained. Cars he had a major hand in include the ’63 split-window Chevrolet Corvette and ’63 Buick Riviera. But the last new GM product he signed off on was this one.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante front three quarter
Jayson Coombes

The Seville itself had given Cadillac a new arena to compete in. Folks who bought luxury cars but weren’t overly enthused about Nimitz-class land yachts found the all new K-body 1976 Seville to be a revelation.

1976 Seville at the 2015 CLC Grand National show in Brookfield, Wisconsin
1976 Seville at the 2015 CLC Grand National show in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Thomas Klockau

I detailed all of this in my 1978 Seville writeup, but long story short, sales of the new Seville from May ’75 to April ’76 totaled 44,475. During that same period, 45,353 Mercedes-Benzes (of all types) were retailed. As one would expect, GM was extremely pleased with this.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante rear three quarter side
Jayson Coombes

The 1976-79 Seville was smaller but still sufficiently roomy, extremely luxurious, and very appealing. While clearly identifiable as a Cadillac, it was more restrained and not quite so over the top as the Fleetwood Talismans and Coupe de Ville d’Elegances it shared showrooms with. And naturally it was much easier to park.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante side mirror
Jayson Coombes

But 1980 would usher in the new bustleback Seville, now based on the front-wheel-drive E-body GM coupes—the Eldorado, Oldsmobile Toronado and Buick Riviera. And unlike the original Seville, it was now arguably the most baroque, over-the-top looking vehicle in the lineup.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante interior seats
Jayson Coombes

Bill Mitchell loved cars, all kinds really. He had a soft spot for the prewar classics, both from the U.S. and Europe. And that’s where the ’80 Seville came from. It was a nod to the pre-war classic cars he loved, but especially towards the Rolls-Royces and Bentleys that had been re-bodied in the bustleback style by the British coachbuilder Hooper & Company.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante interior rear seats
Jayson Coombes

Of course, when a really unique design comes onto the scene, it is not going to be uniformly loved by the motoring public. I’m sure there were people who loved their 1976-’79 Seville, with its elegant yet restrained styling, who took one look at the ’80, and either kept their earlier Seville or perhaps went for a Sedan de Ville or Lincoln Continental instead. Or maybe a Mercedes.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante rear
Jayson Coombes

But I’m sure some folks who weren’t too fond of the earlier model saw this one and fell in love. Love it or hate it, you really couldn’t mistake it for anything else on the road—at least, until the Chrysler Imperial reappeared with its own bustleback styling in 1981, followed by the Fox-bodied Continental in ’82.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante interior seats
Jayson Coombes

As before, the 1980 Seville was the most expensive Cadillac, except for the Cadillac factory limousines. The Seville had a base price of $19,662. If you wanted the extra-luxurious Elegante package, as seen on our featured car (spied by my friend Jayson Coombes at the CLC Grand National show in Albuquerque), it was an extra $2934.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante emblems
Jayson Coombes

Special features included a chromed French curve separating the two-tone paint (later this would become an option on non-Elegante Sevilles), leather-wrapped steering wheel, special upholstery with a 40/40 divided front seat and center storage console, Elegante badging on the sail panels, and other refinements.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante interior rear seats
Jayson Coombes

For comparison, the 1980 Eldorado based at $15,509 ($2494 extra for the Biarritz package with cloth; a Biarritz with leather was an added $466 on top of that). Least expensive 1980 Cadillac was the Coupe de Ville, at $12,401.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante front three quarter sundown
Jayson Coombes

Oh, and just for fun, the aforementioned Fleetwood limousine was $22,586. The Formal Limousine was $23,388, the primary difference being the divider between the front seat and the rear compartment. Other popular options for all Cadillacs included cruise control ($147), tilt/telescope steering wheel ($142), an electric rear window defogger ($170) and a theft deterrent system ($153).

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante rear three quarter sundown
Jayson Coombes

The 1980 Seville was also touted as the first American car with a standard diesel engine. Of course, if you wanted the gas-fed 368-cubic-inch V-8, it was available as a no-cost option. California-destined Sevilles were the exception; they had a 350-cubic-inch V-8 due to its lower emissions.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante rear sundown
Jayson Coombes

And while the Seville was very different looking from the ’79 version, it was close in size to its predecessor, with a 114-inch wheelbase and a length just shy of 205 inches. Of course, it was now newly front wheel drive, same as its Eldorado cousin, with the corresponding flat floor.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante rear three quarter sundown
Jayson Coombes

Seville sales were down a bit in its inaugural year with the new body, with 39,344 sold in total, compared to 53,487 in ’79. Part of that may have been due to the 1979 gas crisis. Eldorado sales were also down: 67,436 were sold in 1979 and 52,683 were sold in 1980, despite the car being virtually identical except for a revised grille.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante emblem closeup
Jayson Coombes

But sales continued to drop for the Cadillac Seville: 28,631 in 1981 and 19,998 for ’82. But in 1983 a funny thing happened: Sales got a healthy bump to 30,430 and again in ’84 to three shy of 40,000 units. It could be that it was becoming more familiar now that a few years had passed, and the Imperial and Continental, with their own versions of the Hooper/English coachbuilt bustleback, made it less polarizing.

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante front three quarter
Jayson Coombes

The last year for this body style was 1985, and starting in 1986 the Seville would get downsized, perhaps too downsized, but it was the end of the bustle. The ’86 model had a normal three-box silhouette, with a conventional trunk lid. The Imperial lasted to 1983 and the Continental until 1987. Starting in 1988, the bustleback fad that had begun with this car ended. 

1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante grille script lettering detail
Jayson Coombes

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Comments

    The car of choice for real estate agents nationwide as they traded up from their Sedan deVilles and Town Cars (the first generation Seville was considered too small for transporting clients).

    Begging to be a Ridler-level custom, as the front clip could be reimagined multiple ways and work, and the rear is already done wild for you. They always clean up the bumpers on Ridler cars too which is a clashing element in the design to me.

    My understanding is there is some regional love of these is certain style genres (lowriders, donks, and whatever the one is called with the spear-you wheels…)

    As a kid I thought they looked strange and every adult I knew said they were ugly. I kind of like these now.

    There was one of these circulating the neighborhood for awhile. It was originally Neighbor A’s father’s, then went to Neighbor A when his father passed. He gave it to his brother-in-law who did nothing to it and let it sit so long the motor locked up. It then went to Neighbor B, and I got involved in the post-mortem on the motor and concluded it would never run again. This resulted in a search for a replacement 4.1, which is very rare. I discovered that 3.8 Buick V6s are externally identical, and that was what ended up in the car. I got it running but spent a lot of time messing with the computer-controlled Qjet which I never quite got straightened out. There just aren’t enough of them out there to learn ’em. I recommended a standard Qjet (which I have plenty of) but by this point Neighbor B lost interest and sold it. Neighbor B has a historically short attention span when it comes to car projects. I briefly considered taking the car on, but if it ended up as mine, it would have gotten a 425 dropped in it.

    This was an acquired taste car, that was obviously and uniquely a Cadillac from a mile away. It always looked better in the Elegante trim with the cast aluminium wheels or as a single color preferably darker to bring out its lines, as it aged it got a little tacky with the fru fru embellishments. The interior on the surface was impressive until u really looked and then saw everything was a facade of quality. A missed opportunity by GM and Cadillac to make a truly unique American Carriage type automobile. This and the Eldorado though the cream of the Cadillac line, should have been made to compete with European Prestige cars the way Cadillac did in the late 50s and 60s. GM got too spoiled making Cadillac a volume brand and lost the quality aspect which sealed Cadillac’s fate forever. I always liked them even though I knew they were kinda Baroque for the times. If the quality would’ve backed up the looks Cadillac would still be perceived the quality luxury mark it was and Mercedes would’ve never got the foothold it has in the luxury Prestige car market. American luxury marks were always perceived as the best before because of their brashness in style, quality, and engineering excellence while also taking ease of manufacturing into account; Dusenberg, Cord, Packard, Pierce Arrow all were admired and influenced worldwide luxury car designs. European cars were always rare and peculiar with an acquired taste for their foilibles. Unfortunately things turned out differently for Cadillac and GM numerous reboots and restructure later and Cadillac continues to struggle overall, I always wish they could win 🏆, but those who run the company have forgotten the Essence of what it stands for. There have been quite few notable models but overall never a truly cohesive brand message or lineup. Here’s hoping maybe Electrification maybe is the charm, but at the moment the message is mixed.

    My Neighbor growing who was a Jeweler always had Large Lincoln’s that he Traded in every 2 Years, But in 1981 had the Seville in his Driveway & my Memory most was the Flat Floor Due to Front Wheel Drive.. My Neighbor had 3 Seville,s When 1987 Rolled around He Disliked the New Body Seville & He also Retired & Went Back to Ford Products But No Longer needed Hi-End Cars & had Parked in His Driveway a 1987 Ford LTD Crown Victoria

    I get what the hump back were trying to relate but all three Cadillac, Lincoln and Chrysler just never could catch the original feel for the entire car.

    After the failed Cutlass humpback it just did not translate as well as it did back in era it is from.

    I always felt like that design was unbalanced. The hood was so long, and there was basically no rear. It always looked like someone sawzalled the trunk off at a wonky angle.

    I never knew these came standard with a Diesel! Wonder if that was only the US, as I don’t recall any around my Vancouver hometown. Like the 76-79 better now than then, and although never a fan of this ‘bustle’ style, it was distinctive and a better styling job than the Lincoln (family had one) and Imperial.

    The previous designers at GM, had a real feel for what they thought would appeal to the buying public, unlike the present day designers who are one trick ponnies, the cars are superfast, but they are all like getting in a corvette, while there is and never been anything wrong with the corvette, not everyone wants one.

    John Gator had one he had did everything to it ragtop fifth wheel grill voge tires and tru wire wheels it really was a pimps dream RIP John Gator a real O.G

    The prior generation was ( and remains) a beautiful design with perfect proportions and details. Tough to follow that.

    May seem weird but I would have loved to have seen a photo of the trunk open. With the rearend bobbed off like that I always wondered what impact that had on the trunk space.

    The bustleback is not my favorite design thing. This thing also had a Diesel? Doubly cursed.

    One of the most beautiful cars ever made. I am the owner of an ’80 with the 368 engine and it’s heaven on the road. Pretty quick too after the catalytic converter was hollowed out. From the show stopping rear end to the ultra plush interior, it really is first class all the way. The only negative are the tape drive window regulators, with the fronts having no new replacements. There was a certain ritzy quality to luxury cars in the 80s and the Seville is at the top of that category. If you don’t have one yet, they’re only getting more expensive..

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