The evolution of downsized luxury

C-Body ContemplationsGeneral Motors planned to introduce shrunken versions of its full-size cars for the 1983 model year. The decision had been made back in 1978 and the designs were all but locked in between late 1980 and early 1981.

As a result of unforeseen engineering and plant delays, the introductions were pushed back a full year, to the start of 1984. Further delays pushed the release back to spring of 1984. Ultimately, GM chose not to introduce the cars for a short 1984 model year, thus they were held off until 1985.

Have you ever wondered what other styles were being considered for the luxury cars, years before their delayed introductions? If so, I’ve gathered some here and you may just be surprised where some of the unused design elements finally showed up.

Tough crowd to please
GM’s fullsize cars represented the traditional domestic-car buyer in the late 1970s, but the market was headed in an ever smaller direction. Auto companies (those in America, in particular) were faced with big dilemmas with their big vehicles. Charles Jordan, GM’s then director of design, stated, “Designing sporty cars is much easier than a mainstream sedan, since the sporty nature of the job means there’ll be a lot of compromises made to begin with.”

The new cars’ designers had a tall order. Compared to the prior C-bodies–which were huge–they had to shrink on the outside but have no loss of space on the inside. Mr. Jordan went on to say, “The customary elegance of the C-cars dictates a thoughtful design approach. Comfort and ease of entry, and good luggage volume can’t be compromised. The buyer has to have all the things that make a luxury car a luxury car, both visible and useable.”

The resulting designs were described by the design staff as “contemporary elegance” and would be up to two feet shorter than the cars they replaced.

Cadillac’s DeVille
The image above is one of the earliest concept drawings for Cadillac’s proposed downsized DeVille. The fourth-generation Cadillac Seville model (introduced almost a decade and a half later, in 1992) can be seen in the sketch, and one could argue it looks heavily influenced by the Aston Martin Lagonda.

By the end of 1978, Cadillac had been working on several new options to represent the modern face of the luxury division. Below are several examples. The two top samples in the set, with grills located low in the bumper, were considered too extreme of a departure for traditional Cadillac buyers of the time.


Even though Cadillac seemed to have many options to choose from, the illustration to the right, also from late 1978, shows that the DeVille’s final design was fairly established. Bear in mind the image was drawn five years before the car’s intended introduction and a full seven years before its actual introduction.

At the time, it was essentially given that you could buy your fullsize luxury car in a four- or two-door configuration and the new C-bodies were no exception. Below is a March 1980 conceptual illustration of a C-body coupe that is unmistakably Cadillac; the coupe in the drawing was called Fleetwood. What’s interesting about the drawing is its striking resemblance to the 1988 refresh of the miniaturized and initially shuned 1986 Eldorado.

De Ville - 1979 drawing

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