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Fresh Metal: 1979 Cadillac Seville

The international size Cadillac Seville

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The 1979 Cadillac Seville was in its fourth year of refinement. It was the new “international size” luxury sedan with attitude. With impeccable fit and finish, this precision luxury sedan was world-class in design and engineered in the formidable Cadillac manner. The Cadillac Seville was a luxury car complete. Equipped with a powerful V8 engine, high-tech electronics, and ultra-Cadillac elegance, the 1979 Seville was a shining new star…in the continuing saga of “As the Standard of the World Turns.”

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This new expression of Cadillac luxury was everything expected of the brand. Standard Electronic Level Control, Electronic Fuel Injection, four-wheel disc brakes, and Automatic Climate Control were just a few of the myriad features that made the international size Cadillac Seville on of the world’s great sedans. The 1979 Cadillac Seville was engineered for luxury and performance all packaged in a trim, contemporary size.

The Cadillac Seville was the first American car to have fully electronic instrumentation. The first generation was built from 1975 until 1979. It was Cadillac’s first small car. The Cadillac Seville was enthusiastically accepted upon its introduction. They were parked in the driveways of very affluent individuals. Automotive journalists rated the Cadillac Seville as one of the most beautifully designed cars in America.

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Americans chose Seville over any luxury import. With the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo overshadowing the late 1970s, America went to more fuel-efficient cars. The Cadillac Seville had nearly the same head and legroom as a larger car, that was one of the selling features. Model style code #6K S69 Seville sedan had a base price of $15,546 and 53,487 were built for the 1979 model year. Cadillac and GM had toyed with the idea of a smaller car for a long time. The 1963 Buick Riviera was supposed to have been a Cadillac but the brand didn’t have a dedicated assembly plant for its production. The Opel Diplomat was to be badge engineered as the new Seville but the idea was dropped.

Introduced mid 1975 as a 1976 model, it was slated as the new “international size” Cadillac. It was nearly 1,000 pounds lighter than the DeVilles which made them nimble and quick. The Cadillac Seville came with a full complement of Cadillac niceties as standard equipment. The Seville was a car complete without options. The first Sevilles were all finished in Georgian Silver and all equipped the same for quality control purposes. The Seville’s powerplant was outsourced to Oldsmobile and their 5.7 litre 350 CID V8 engine.

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The 1979 Seville had an interior of understated luxury. It had the European look that startled Americans at first. The rest of the world had no problem adjusting to its size, America was purveyor of the land yacht and that’s what we wanted: a very large Cadillac. The standard Seville interior for the 1979 model year was upholstered in luxurious fabrics called Dante & Roma as a combination available in six colors. Sierra grain leather was available in 11 colors. The Cadillac Seville was the most significant luxury vehicle introduced for the 1970s, and its interior reinforced the theory. It was classic simplicity.

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Standard features for the 1979 model year included: power windows and door locks, Automatic Climate Control, AM/FM Signal Seeking Stereo radio with electronic tuning, scanner and new slim-line automatic power antenna, Electronic Level Control, Illuminated Entry system, Tilt & Telescopic steering wheel, power steering, individual rear seat reading lamps, power seats, front and rear center folding armrests, Soft-Ray glass, fuel monitor system, dual spot map lamps, and lighted visor vanity mirrors to name just a few of the many interior amenities.

Exterior standard features included vinyl roof, power trunk release with power pull-down, Electronic Fuel Injection, Electronic Spark Selection, four-wheel disc brakes, cornering lamps, steel-belted radial whitewall tires, Twilight Sentinel, convex right-side outside rearview mirror, 80 amp generator, and trunk carpeting.

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The Seville was built on a highly modified Chevy Nova platform as body on frame construction. The same principle was used by Ford Motor Company, Lee Iacocca told stylists to “put a Rolls Royce grille on a Thunderbird” and the result was the highly successful Lincoln Continental MK III. Profit was through the roof by taking a pre-existing platform and building a luxury car. Cadillac took the platform of a $3,500 vehicle to build a car that would sell in excess of $14,000. General Motors went way too far with this theory.

It was the Cadillac Seville that ushered in the “bad-taste” decade which were the 1980s. It spawned a whole generation of clones, wretched impostors such as that awful Lincoln Versailles or the budget-badge engineered Chrysler 5th Avenue that looked as though someone’s mother just made it.

Every division at General Motors had a Seville-inspired look. They ruined the Seville’s panache sullied through repetition thus, removing Seville’s exclusivity. A luxury car buyer didn’t appreciate spending the big bucks for a Seville only to pull up to the stoplight beside a Pontiac LeMans/Bonneville with the same styling.

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The 1979 Cadillac Seville was powered by the OLDSMOBILE 5.7 litre 350 CID 16-valve V8 engine. It used a Bendix Electronic Fuel Injection system. The engine produced 170 hp @ 4,200 rpm with 366 Nm of peak torque @ 2,000 rpm. Performance was rated as 0-60 mph in 12.6 seconds, 0-100 mph in 40.6 seconds with a top speed of 114 mph. It did the ¼ mile @ 75 mph in 19.1 seconds. The engine was mated to GM’s Turbo Hydra-Matic THM-400 3-speed automatic transmission.

The 1979 Cadillac Seville had an independent coil spring front suspension, the rear suspension was a Hotchkiss leaf spring type, and it used four-wheel disc brakes as well. The system was set-up with single piston sliding calipers with ventilated discs fitted to all four wheels. Cadillac’s triple braking system was standard.

The system used a dual hydraulic master cylinder with separate fluid chambers to provide independent front and rear brake operation. It used a tandem vacuum power booster. The discs self-adjusted themselves each time the car was driven in reverse and the brakes applied. The parking brake had silent action and an automatic vacuum release. It was a true auxiliary brake since it wouldn’t lock with the engine running and car in gear.

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The Cadillac Seville was the first American car to combine international size, styling and performance all with Cadillac comfort and convenience. The 1979 Seville was world-class in design and engineering. With its standard Electronic Level Control, Automatic Climate Control, four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and a powerful 5.7 litre V8 engine, the 1979 Cadillac Seville was one of the world’s great sedans. All of this and so much more made the Cadillac Seville the most significant motorcar introduced during the 1970s. The Cadillac Seville’s international size made it at home anywhere in the world. The Seville was a stunning new performance…in the continuing saga off “As the Standard of the World Turns.”

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Thanks to Matt Garrett, MJC Classic Cars, & Fast Lane Classic Cars

One thought on “Fresh Metal: 1979 Cadillac Seville Leave a comment

  1. Well done! Concise, and accurate. Nobody ever said that ANY of the U.S. car manufacturers had a lick of sense. From the bottom: Chrysler Corporation just never “got it.” “Cheap” characterized everything they did, and the happenstance of creating the hemispherical combustion chamber with the whisp of a pen took them as far as they went. What amazes me are the numbers of buyers, today, who spend hundreds of thousands for these ill-engineered, and butt-ugly, rust buckets, which had to be completely resto-modded, stem to stern, by master fabricators, to even make them roadable.

    Ford just kept plugging, after Lee Iacocca gave up–ending his reign after forming a coalition with the cantankerous race-driver, Carroll Shelby. They had four good engines, when I worked for them; the three-fifty-two (as they named it–actually 351) manufactured in both Windsor and Cleveland, with followers, even today, who swear they can spot major differences in the two. Shelby group’s transformation of the stylish AC Bristol (for its engine–later, the Ace) became the wildly successful Cobra, which in the flat-backed form, spelled Daytona Coupe, swept Le Mans in 1965, leaving the Ferrari teams with egg-smeared faces. The next year, Shelby unleashed the GT40, for Grand Touring–its class, and 40 for its overall height to be allowed in Ford’s second trouncing of Ferrari in as many years at the 24 hours at Le Mans. The trouble with Ford engines after they grew out of the old Model A cars of the ’30s and N series farm tractors of the ’40s, they never really learned “The Square Rule” as it pertains to the “bore” or diameter of the pistons, and the “stroke” or length of travel of the piston in its bore, or sleeve. When the stroke significantly exceeds the bore in any engine, it puts unnecessarily heavy stress on all the components of the engine. Hence the problems with the “two-eighty-nine” V-8, which soon morphed into the Three-Oh -Two after its introduction in the biggest thing Mr. Iacocca did for Ford; The Mustang!

    In 1969, Mario Andretti piloted the 302-powered Lotus chassis, owned by Koshland Competition & Development, at the 12 Hours of Sebring race. George (Blank–too many years ago), lead mechanic for Shelby, and I shared Crew Chief responsibilities. The engine had a mechanical fuel pump back then, and in track testing, we discovered that it was crippled by vapor lock, because of how Ford had run the fuel lines too close to the red-hot exhaust manifold. George and I concluded that we had to somehow, offset the fuel pump about two inches, in order to reroute the fuel lines to a cooler route around the 302. In full panic, we searched all of the little town of Sebring, and its WWII bomber airfield, which was the race track. Finally, we found a foot-long hexagonal billet of aluminum alloy, drilled it out so the racing fuel could pass through it, cut a 45 degree slice in the bar, welded the pump diaphragm to the flat end, made a 90 degree turn out of the two 45s, and Ford made the 302 fuel pump out of hexagonal stock for many years thereafter. End of that story was that Mario Andretti is famous for having one throttle position…FULL! He abused that Lotus for 17 laps, while giving me a surreptitious thumbs-up at the end of the long straightaway, clocking right at 250 miles per hour, and on his number 17, he went by with his thumbs-down gesture, and the tell-tale tachometer pegged at 6,250 RPM when it puked its guts all over the track, by way of the crankshaft blasting its way out of the bottom of the shattered dry-sumped 302, Did Ford shorten the stroke? Yes, and No. Yes on the V10 390 and the 460 Lincoln we developed, but “NO’ on that 302.

    And then there was General Motors. Characterized as the Biggest, but not often the Best. The many divisions were hotly competitive, but repeatedly would bog down in political squabbling. It was literally amazing how small the GM “family” actually became. I met Cy Osborne, former GM President, here in Bath County, Virginia–surrounded by an Allison Vice President, and several other major players in the GM enclave in our wilderness.

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