The 1978 Cadillac Coupe de Ville was America’s favorite luxury car
The late-1970s was a different time. And I’m not talking about TV shows, then-current headlines, political drama, or clothing styles. Just looking at the cars available then, it was so dramatically different from the 2022s and ’23s that we see on dealer lots now. Style, for one thing! No crossovers. Real colors. And so on. Just looking at Cadillac alone, there’s still such a shocking divide between then and now.
In 1978, Cadillac Motor Division provided a real variety of cars, including the Fleetwood limousines, the only factory-built limos in America. The Calais series, which had been the Series 62 until 1965, was gone, leaving the Sedan de Ville and Coupe de Ville as the “entry level” Cadillac. Of course, they were anything but—these weren’t exactly taxi-grade Chevy Impalas. The de Villes had much nicer interior trim and door panels compared to the final Cadillac Calais models built in 1974–76, avoiding the Calais’ expanded vinyl and plainer decor.
Of course, the big deal came a year earlier, in 1977, when all Cadillacs lost their sheer size in place of more practical—yet still roomy—dimensions. True hardtops were gone, never to return, and the Fleetwood Brougham lost its unique, longer wheelbase, sharing its dimensions with the less-Broughamy Sedan de Ville, but adding more gingerbread and a special tapering B-pillar.
As you’d expect, 1978 was pretty similar to 1977, though all Cadillacs got the expected front and rear facelifts. The Eldorado returned with its own new grille, its last year in truly Nimitz-class size and comfort. New touting points included a Seville Elegante model with two-tone paint and genuine wire wheels; also, the 350-cubic-inch diesel engine was added to the option list. But the belle of the ball was the Coupe de Ville.
It wasn’t just hype. In 1978, Cadillac built 117,750 Coupe de Villes, more than one-third of the 349,684 Cadillacs built for the model year. Not bad for a car that had a base price of $10,399 (about $47,237 today). The personal luxury coupe era was still in full swing, and the Coupe handily outsold its Sedan de Ville sibling, which found 88,951 takers.
The Coupe de Ville was considered the Cadillac for both the young and the young at heart, frequently shown in bright colors with youthful pre-yuppie types posed near it—like the tennis-playing couple in the 1978 brochure above. These newly downsized Cadillacs found favor with younger folks, as did the Seville when it first appeared in mid-1975 as an early ’76 model.
And our featured car—spotted and photographed by my friend Jayson Coombes at the 2019 Park Cities, Texas, car show—is identical to the brochure car: Carmine Red, white Cabriolet roof, with white Sierra grain leather with red dash and carpeting. Very swank!
Technically speaking, the Coupe de Ville was the lowest-priced Cadillac, but as a Cadillac it had plenty of standard features, including the excellent 425-cu-in V-8, breathing through a four-barrel Quadrajet carburetor, TH400 three-speed automatic transmission. Fuel injection was an available option on all models except the “international-sized” Seville, where it was standard equipment.
And as a Cadillac, that $10,559 price could shoot up dramatically with a free hand towards the options list. Available features included a tilt/telescope steering wheel, power Astroroof (glass moonroof), Twilight Sentinel, the d’Elegance interior option (available on both de Villes and Fleetwood Broughams, with different sew styles), opera lamps, electric level control, factory alarm system, and extra-sparkly Firemist paint.
Cadillac had a very good year, all things considered, and 1978 production set records for the third year in a row. It was down a bit from 1977, but it was still the second highest production record for Cadillac at that time.
That would change very quickly. With the dawn of the ’80s, those pre-Yuppie types became full-fledged Yuppies, and interest veered at an even more acute angle towards BMW 320is, Volvo 760s, and Mercedes-Benz 380SEs.
But in 1978 it still meant something to own and enjoy a car such as this. As the ’78 brochure confided, “It’s the confidence in knowing you’re driving one of the world’s great cars. It’s the security in the realization that with every Cadillac goes 75 years of engineering achievement. It’s the feeling you get every time you drive your Cadillac.”