1977 Cadillac Seville: GM’s Smash Hit!

Here we go, ladies and germs, the original Cadillac Seville! Well, original in that this variant of the Cadillac Seville, introduced in May 1975 as an early ’76 model, was its own model and not a hardtop variant of the Eldorado.

The first Seville was the Eldorado Seville, sibling to the topless Eldorado Biarritz. It was available from 1956 to 1960. Starting in 1961, the Eldorado reverted to a convertible only model once again, returning to the convertible-only model it had been from 1953-55. But I digress!

One of the dumbest and most frequently cited ‘facts’ about the 1976-79 Cadillac Seville is that it was just a tarted up Nova. Um…no. Not at all. Anyone who thinks that doesn’t know what they are talking about. Or they know damn well that it’s bull, but persist in saying it because they hate the car and General Motors so much. Why? Who knows. Maybe they weren’t hugged a lot as a kid. Folks of that persuasion tend to be sad, angry people. I feel sorry for them.

Yes, the Seville’s basic hard points did originate vis-a-vis that middle-America favorite, the Chevrolet Nova. But that was just what they started with. Once Cadillac had gotten the Seville to the point they wanted it at, it was so heavily revised and stretched that it was basically a new car.

It was, indeed, so substantially changed that GM designated the 1976 Seville as the K-body, not the X-body that the Nova, Ventura, Omega and Apollo were using. It didn’t hurt that it was a beautiful car, either.

Cadillac certainly changed a lot between, say, 1960 and 1970. Heck, times were changing! Another trick certain bloggers like to pull is the old ‘stupid cheap GM’ schtick. Now it is true that trim and upholstery started seeing some cost cutting in the late Sixties and Seventies. It began around 1969-1970.

Interiors lost the aluminum and real wood trim, dashes became less ornate and had more plastic and/or padded foam. But most of this was safety regulations. It was far preferable to bounce one’s head off of a padded instrument panel or door panel than bonking said head off a leather covered metal trim piece. To Cadillac’s traditional well-heeled customers, many of these changes was cause for dismay, but in my opinion the bones were still solid through ’70.

The 1971 Cadillacs were all-new, from the Calais coupe to the top-trim Fleetwood Sixty Special Brougham. But Broughamage was creeping in on the less-prestigious GM lines. Caprice, Grand Ville, Delta 88 Royale and Centurion all added more and more Broughamy touches to the middle-priced full-sizers. And this made the Cadillac seem somewhat less prestigious, less fancy.

The 1971-76s were also gigantic, keeping in Cadillac tradition. In fact, they were the biggest Cadillacs ever produced, with the Series Seventy-Five limousines the absolute biggest. Not too long after the ’71 B- and C-bodies debuted, General Motors realized this, and made plans to shrink their biggest offerings, starting with the next generation.

But what to do prior to the ’77s debut? I can imagine the brain trust in Detroit, hashing things out over martinis. “Well, people are paying more money than a Cadillac for those little Mercedes-Benzes! How about that? They’re smaller too. The seats aren’t cushy, they still have wind up windows, the air conditioning hangs down below the dash like a secondhand 1963 Chevy II, and people are paying through the nose for them!”

“Well Bob, we could do something like that. We have the money. We have the technology, and we have some of the best people in the business working for us? So why not give it a shot?”

Yes, starting in the early ’70s, well-to-do folks nationwide were starting to see the merits of a certain European manufacturer with a three-pointed-star. And Cadillacs were getting relatively cheaper than their 1960s forebears (in order to chase more sales volume; Cadillac set a production record in 1973). The wreath and crest was perhaps not as special as it once had been to certain upper-crust clientele. And folks who still loyally bought Cadillacs were harping about how big some of their models had been getting. What to do?

Solution: offer a smaller Cadillac. Customers had been asking for a smaller, more manageable Cadillac for a while.

Well before the M-B started elbowing Cadillac, Lincoln and Imperial towards stage left, as a matter of fact. There had been a short-deck Cadillac in 1961, partly in response to wealthy Cadillac owners whose mansions had somewhat short 1920s-era garages for their mansions.

original US car brochure scan

It lasted through the 1963 model year, but never sold in significant amounts. But by the mid-’70s, the time was right to give it another try. And this wouldn’t be a standard Cadillac with a shorter trunk! Not this time.

It was thought (correctly, as it turned out) that a smaller version would be popular with not only women, who were not particularly enamored of parallel-parking a Nimitz-Class Fleetwood Brougham or Sedan de Ville, but also as a way of offering a more Mercedes-like Cadillac.

Thus, the Seville came onto the scene in 1975 as an early ’76. It proved popular, and Cadillac made money on every one, as it was priced at the top of the range–including the venerable Fleetwood Brougham. Only the Series Seventy-Fives were pricier. I have to tell you, I think it was a beautiful car. Always have and always will. It was readily identifiable as a Cadillac, yet had a hint of Mercedes-Benz and Rolls Silver Shadow as well.

And it sold well. Remarkably well, despite (or perhaps because of) its price. These cars were well made, comfortable, and solid. It had rather advanced engineering for a Cadillac too, with Bendix fuel injection–a feature which, sadly, was trouble. Otherwise, these were every inch a Cadillac, despite the X-body starting point.

Were they fast? No not really. You want fast, get a Ferrari. Were they heavy? You bet! A plush ride and absolute silence when under way were important to Cadillac customers. If they had utilized less sound insulation, today you’d be hearing about how noisy and rattly they were, not how their 0-60 mph times stunk. We could talk all day about how most post-1974 U.S. cars were slugs–at least when compared to their ’60s forebears.

A ’76 Seville would hit 60 in about 13 seconds–not great, but consider all the then-primitive emissions devices on the things, not to mention the 4179-lb. shipping weight. It was still about 800 pounds less than a ’78 Eldo, and 140 less than a downsized ’78 Fleetwood Brougham.

The 1976-79 Seville also ushered in Bill Mitchell’s “sheer look,” with cliff-face nose, tail and roofline. This styling would take the GM lineup by storm, being added to our beloved B-body and C-body GMs in 1977. It would soon become a bit of a cliche, appearing on the mini-Seville 1980-up A/G-body sedans as well, but that was later. In ’76, it was fresh, new and attractive.

So, the Seville was a success. Its new, tidier dimensions and sheer-faced style was a preview of what was to come on future Cadillacs, it sold well, it was well made, and it started a nameplate that lasted all the way to 2004. Or 2011, if you count the succeeding 2005+ STS, since said acronym originally was short for Seville Touring Sedan.

Was it perfect? No. But it was the 1970s. New federal regulations were coming one wave after the other. Safety, emissions, the whole nine yards. And it showed in everything, from shoddily assembled LTDs to rust-prone Honda Civics to cracker-box Datsun 510 Honeybees.

The Bendix fuel injection system on the Seville’s Oldsmobile 350 CID V8 was problematic. Despite being touted as ‘international sized’ it still had a bench seat and column shifted Turbo Hydra-Matic.

Now, many Cadillac owners, and even Seville buyers, probably liked the bench seat and column shifter, but it still would have been nice to have an optional bucket-seat-and-console-shift option. Not that it hurt sales any!

Perhaps handling to match contemporary Mercedes-Benz S-Classes and the big BMW sedans could have been a boon. But again, most folks plunking down serious cash on a new Seville just wanted a contemporary, classy, smaller Cadillac. And in that the Seville delivered.

Today’s featured example, a 1977 Seville, is finished in heavenly Naples Yellow with matching yellow Sierra grain leather and padded vinyl roof.

It was duly spotted by my friend Jayson Coombes at the recent Cadillac-LaSalle club Grand National meet, held in San Marcos, Texas. This is the same event that the 1958 Sixty Special and 1961 Eldorado Biarritz posts written by yours truly were bivouacked.

Jayson knows very well that I am infatuated with the 1976-79 Seville. And I also love yellow Cadillacs. So you can imagine my reaction when he posted a couple of pictures of this fine automobile on my Facebook page several weeks ago. I believe the term, ‘Klockau bait’ was bandied about.

When I saw this sensational Seville, I was simply smitten. Triple yellow (paint, top and leather interior, natch) factory wire wheels, and an Astroroof?! I immediately messaged him and kind of ordered him to please please please take more pictures. And the man delivered! God bless him.

Simply put, the original Cadillac Seville was the right car at the right time, and GM had a hit. A profitable hit. And anyone who bitches, pisses and moans about them either had to deal with their fuel injection systems, or Bob Hope ran over their foot while driving one through LA while said complainant was wandering about stoned. Har!

1976 Seville

26 Replies to “1977 Cadillac Seville: GM’s Smash Hit!”

  1. arbuckle

    I get what you’re saying and hindsight and all that, but man, they were so close to absolute greatness with this one. If they had just given the Seville a little bit more of that old-time Cadillac power and craftsmanship.

  2. CJinSD

    “One of the dumbest and most frequently cited ‘facts’ about the 1976-79 Cadillac Seville is that it was just a tarted up Nova. Um…no. Not at all. Anyone who thinks that doesn’t know what they are talking about. Or they know damn well that it’s bull, but persist in saying it because they hate the car and General Motors so much. Why? Who knows. Maybe they weren’t hugged a lot as a kid. Folks of that persuasion tend to be sad, angry people. I feel sorry for them.”

    People who deny this fact probably spend a disproportionate amount of their time wondering why Cadillac is a joke today. In my opinion, the first generation Seville’s success sealed Cadillac’s fate. It was a tarted up Nova, and it was a huge success. Why should GM bother investing(squandering) serious money on making good cars?

    • Carmine

      The fact that you know its not a tartedup Nova, but keep insisting that it is when its clearly not shows that you might have other deep standing issues that you should seek help for……

      • John C.

        It can be very important to be able to dismiss the Seville. Remember the arguments before the Seville. American cars are just too big, if only they did something international size we eat that up. Well of course the problem really wasn’t the size but rather the place of origin. So when the Seville appeared, smelling Nova is all they could think of. Lucky there were still enough big money buyers who saw through the import buyers alleged sophistication and knew a good car when they saw it. As the ad above said, it outsold the import competition.

      • CJinSD

        I’m pretty comfortable with the assertion that the Seville is a close relative of the Nova. Curbside Classic had an article with some project cars that proved it conclusively. Throwing a bunch of ballast and sound deadening material into an economy car doesn’t make it worth four times as much without marketing genius and expending brand equity that will never come back. The Seville was a Veblen good that stopped being fashionable.

        The second generation Seville was a misguided effort to make the Seville everything it should have been in the first place. It had a sophisticated chassis, a unique look, and, wait for it, a Cadillac engine. Unfortunately, the unique look was polarizing in a lopsided way and the Cadillac engines that went into the second generation car got worse almost every year.

        • Thatguy

          To assert that anything “published” at Curbside Classic proved anything conclusively is laughable at best and deserved to be deleted with extreme prejudice. The upcoming VW Polo will share the same platform as the Audi TT and Audi RS3, does that make them lesser cars also?

          Your ignorant statements and sources are painfully obvious along with the bias you bring with them.


    • Arbuckle

      Contemporary reviews were fairly positive on the Seville’s chassis so I don’t think the X/F-body hybrid platform was really an issue.

      The biggest criticisms tend to relate to poor ergonomics and down market materials for the price.

      • Carmine

        Having read and still owning most of the articles written about the 1976 Sevilles from all 3 publications at the time, I can hardly find any complaints about ergonomics or materials in those articles……..

        • John C.

          Think CC might be at work for this criticism as well. Remember the old trope of photographing the interior of an American car ready for the junkyard and the German factory fresh and not pointing out the missing features.

  3. JustPassinThru

    I think the big mistake Cadillac, more-likely GM, made here, was not trying to understand why people paid more for smaller, more elemental, models such as M-B, and later Volvo and Saab. They had equated price with size so long, they couldn’t see any other way to measure it. SURE, a traditional Cadillac buyer would balk at paying the same price for a smaller model – that was the market they always hit.

    And as it turned out, with the “Caddy that zigs,” even when they finally accepted the market, they either couldn’t hit it or had so discredited themselves, with “corporate” engines and Vega THM transmissions in bigger, pricier cars, that M-B buyers would never consider the brand.

    What happened here, is a complex question. No denying that the General had its hands full meeting the new emissions and safety laws. Also no denying that at the top levels, some of their people were getting very, very comfortable with the cost-cutting and compromises…the Vega and the later Xs demonstrating it. I wonder if it was truly necessary to start with the Nova platform, or if that point, which couldn’t have saved very-much money in the end, was – like so many bad ideas of the time – rammed down from the top of the food chain.

    • John C.

      What if the reason they bought the MB wasn’t any handling improvement but rather that it wasn’t domestic. That it was being fussed over by white coated German technicians instead of the UAW. That the profits were going to prop up a Socialist economic miracle instead of corrupt American big business. What better way to give the finger to the previous generation than getting their cars from precisely the places that the previous generation had to sacrifice their youth to defeat. Notice Mercedes had some pretty neat styling and tech features in the 1930s but they were nowhere in America. Proof in my mind that it was generational politics at work.

      Further proof of that is PN at the other site constantly going on that the Seville should have just been a badge engineered Opel. In other words German. Of course Cadillac eventually tried that with the Catera and it of course failed. Because of the real underlying problem. Even if that is what we want, we don’t want it from you Cadillac.

      • safe as milk

        what you are claiming might have been true, if the american products worked. anyone who grew up in that era knows that the ameican car dealers were thieves and all of our families had been burned by them. the brand equity was long gone and the public was ripe to try something new.

        • CJinSD

          My family bought UAW cars long after it made any sense. I can look at competitive imports for their last three domestic car purchases and lament what could have been. Then, my mother bought a new Porsche and it was eighteen years of German cars until reunification made them even worse than Detroit cars in terms of quality and engineering.

          • John C.

            What model Porsche did you find that had fewer troubles than a tarted up Nova, what were those called Apollo, no sorry Concours?

          • Carmine

            No VW parts in any of those old Porsches or Audis either….and no engine or platform sharing, why Paul Needledick that runs Curbside Re-runs….er Plagerism….something or other… each German car is hand carved out of a single block of steel and the each component of said German car is crafted by hand for that very car and in no way would you find the same ugly cheap german plastic parts in a Beetle that you would in a Porsche or Audi…….

          • John C.

            Remember though that by the 70s the import buyer wasn’t getting what he paid for either. Lots of Turkish delight being served in the Mercedes lunchroom by then.

  4. safe as milk

    when i was in high school, middle class folks were transitioning to japanese. the folks on the hill were going german. if your mom dropped you off in a caddy, it was embarrassing. one of my friends’ father had been driving jaguars since we were little. in ’77, he got a seville. it raised eyebrows but i liked the way it looked. when i got a ride in it, i was impressed. still, it didn’t stop me from nagging my mom to buy a volvo.

  5. Carmine

    Its nice to see folks wander over from “the other place”…..sometimes you just get bored of reading the same article you read in 2013…..and 14……and 15……

  6. ArBee

    Sweet little Seville. Back when these cars were new, this Seville’s triple yellow twin resided just a few blocks away from me. The Sheer Look styling combined with that luscious color combination was just irresistible. For those who claim that this car was a Nova in a tailored suit, I can say that I drove them both in period, and no, the Seville was not a Nova.

    John C., your comment about “generational politics at work” is very insightful and right on the money.

  7. Hank_M

    I had a 78 and I still regret selling it. The bells and whistles were great – automatic leveling, auto trunk pulldown, fiber optics and superb leather. Only issue I had was getting sensors for the fuel injection system.

    People might have thought it was a tarted up Nova but once they rode in it, that quickly changed.

  8. Dean Edwards

    Great article and write-up, but I would be telling a fib if I were to say that I’d prefer a Seville over that lovely ’70 Fleetwood!

  9. ScottS

    This makes me realize how much I miss those rectangular headlights. I wish we could standardize a few generic headlights that could be purchased inexpensively in any parts store. No matter the condition these cars are seen in today, they never look like they are suffering from advanced cataracts.

  10. Joe

    I always liked the 77 Cadillac Seville, never considered it a nova, it was the right size, it was good looking and it handled well! The firebird Trans-Am is a cousin to the nova, subframe is almost the same as far as I know, these cars handled great considering their origins, would love to own one of these!

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