Design Notes: 1975 Cadillac Seville
The downsized Cadillac project gained much acceptance and momentum in winter 1970-71. By fall of 1971, Cadillac’s Design Staff was given the green light to start producing conceptual ideas. However, because, at the time, there was no precise direction as to what they were creating or how it would be translated to production, the ideas made a veritable smorgasbord.
A coupe model was not only a part of the wish list but actually the original direction marketers wanted to take the car. That is because the designers and marketers felt any new, high-profile model needed the “pizazz” that a two-door design could offer. That idea was shot down by GM’s top management, not because they felt it would conflict with Eldorado (which was a goliath at the time) but because they felt that sedans were at the heart of the import luxury car trend, hence, the parameters for their car.
Over a year later, by January of 1973, Cadillac’s new chief engineer, Bob Templin, described the project as yet being in the “will-it-fly stage.” Considerations still included: body frame integral and full separate frame designs, front-wheel- and rear-wheel-drive configurations, and even setups with rotary engine capabilities (which, at the time, appeared a plausible direction in which engine development could proceed and was bolstered by Mr. Templin’s former position working with Wankel engines for GM).
Project engineers and designers considered using the body of their corporate intermediate vehicles to base the unnamed car off of, but it was too heavy and had undesirable proportions for their goals. GM’s corporate compact body was apparently also considered, before quickly being dropped. Also contemplated were the Holden Statesman and Opel Diplomat (even having imported multiple Diplomats and reworking their body panels to study production feasibility). However, between the currency exchange rates, shipping costs, and time required to adapt to the differences in international build standards, importation was deemed infeasible. Pininfarina, the Italian auto design and coach-building company that Cadillac had worked with before, was also considered for the car’s design.
Mr. Templin, stated in an early 1975 interview, “Our objective all the way through was to create a car without compromise. The one thing this car had to just ooze was luxury.” Ultimately, influenced by the sheer importance of the product and despite considerable costs involved, the division’s executives decided the engineering and design work would be best carried out entirely in-house.
Despite not knowing what would underpin or drive the vehicle, the first full-size fiberglass design proposals had been completed by fall of 1972. These included models for both front- and rear-wheel-drive layouts, and some that could accommodate a rotary engine. After showing the mockups to GM’s board of directors, in summer of 1973, quick modifications were made.
In July of 1973, Cadillac took their models, along with competitors’ cars, to Anaheim, California to present at a product clinic. The process involved over 700 luxury car owners that were put through a two-and-a-half-hour evaluation. Afterward, a portion of that group was run through yet another hour’s worth of surveys. Overall, the car’s general acceptance level was considered excellent, even by several Cadillac executives that were present at the event to take it in first-hand.
That particular clinic also helped to settle one of the most controversial design issues. The concepts had incorporated two distinct rear window styles: notchbacks and fastbacks. GM Design, where the car was being styled in the Advanced Cadillac Studio, was pushing hard for a fastback design. It was argued against as conflicting with Cadillac’s aspirations for an “exquisite” look instead of flash. In describing the conflicts, Mr. Templin stated, “The battles that were fought over this car are legendary. We had shouting sessions four hours long!”
Those arguing for the notchback obviously won out. Cadillac’s marketing director, Gordon Horsburgh, said he ultimately chose the production car’s notchback design based on the strong reactions observed in the Anaheim clinic’s participants.
Personally, I’d have to agree with Mr. Horsburgh. I think the notchback design appears more exquisite than a fastback would have. Although, in the fastback design, above, there is an undeniable essence of 1980 Seville (a design which I’m fond of and feel was under appreciated).