For the first 94 years of its life, Cadillac’s were only ever sold officially in the United States and thus only in Left-Hand-Drive. To get yourself a Caddy here you’d have to import it, and after entering the European Union in the 1970’s, that prospect would have been a much more expensive one as since you dared to buy from beyond the shores of sunny Europe, you’d have to pay a huge tax on it, even if the Cadillac you found only cost comparative tuppence!
However, in 1998, Cadillac decided it would take a brave and bold new stride into the Right-Hand-Drive market and thus began selling its first car in the UK, the Seville STS. The idea was that this car would be an able competitor to contemporary BMW’s and Mercedes-Benz’s of the time, as well as having an edge over other American brands such as Dodge and Buick that weren’t sold here in Britain. However, in appearing on the UK market, the Seville would find every possible problem against it from the outset, be it in terms of styling, cost, performance and, most crucially, the image Europeans have of American cars.
The original Seville dated back to 1975, with the 2nd generation model being notable for its hideous rear end that made it look like it had just been given a rear-end shunt! In 1998, this generation of the Seville was updated from the previous 1992 model, being built instead on General Motor’s K-Platform. As mentioned, it was the first Cadillac launched with a European type approval number, first in the United Kingdom, then Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Finland and in other markets. All transverse engine front-wheel drive Sevilles were built in Hamtramck, Michigan. The wheelbase was extended to 112.2 inch but the overall length was down slightly to 201 in. The car looked similar to the fourth-generation model, but featured numerous suspension and drivability improvements. The Seville STS (and companion Eldorado ETC) became the most powerful front-wheel-drive cars on the market at 300hp. The top STS model carried a MSRP of $52,075. The fifth generation Seville was the first Cadillac engineered to be built in both left- and right-hand-drive form; becoming the first modern Cadillac to be officially imported and sold in South Africa along with other right-hand-drive markets such as Japan and the United Kingdom. In the past, right-hand-drive Cadillacs were built from CKD kits or special conversion kits shipped for local conversion.
As mentioned, the car was good for 300hp, derived from a Northstar 32v V8 engine, top speed being 150mph and 0-60 in less than 6 seconds. It was a highly reliable piece of kit it must be said thanks to two things. One was the fact that it would gladly run for 100,000 miles between major services which is incredibly good, and two, its clever Engine Management System allowed for selective Cylinder Head cooling in the event of hot weather as an alternative to an oil or water based cooling system. If one of the Cylinder Heads reached a certain temperature, the EMS would simply shut that one down before it warped, and run the car off Cylinders that were still cool. This, therefore, made the Seville an incredibly smart and incredibly reliable machine.
By contrast, one of the factors that put many off this car was the price. Indeed £39,000 was less than most contemporary executive saloons from Mainland Europe such as BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class, but at the same time there were many more on sale for even less than that. Base model for the Rover 75 was £16,000 and the Jaguar S-Type was £25,000, making them much cheaper to buy, but still bringing in the same style and performance.
However, as mentioned, from the outset the car was dogged by a variety of problems, chief among which was the general perception American cars have over here in Britain. In the UK, we Brits are polarized when it comes to American built autos. Those who are in favour of American cars love them for their size, their raw power, their rarity outside the US market and their style, especially on sports cars such as Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs and Vipers. Those against cite poor handling, bad build quality, expensive to buy, even more expensive to run, will chomp through fuel like there’s no tomorrow and are about as environmentally considerate as a Coal-Fired Power Station. Reviews however for this car were mixed. Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson reviewed the car upon launch, and noted to his usual style of disliking anything American that it’s interior was plastic and dull, it’s automatic gearbox caused too much power-lag, but the car did feature firm suspension and that the engine was very good when it did eventually get over its gearbox tantrum.
To summarize, the car really didn’t sell in the numbers the US had hoped, almost a repeat of when we Brits attempted to market the Sterling in America in the late 1980’s, a perfectly capable car, killed off by numerous factors way before its time. The Seville eventually met its end in May 2003, with the SLS model continuing production until 2004, being replaced by the angular Cadillac STS, the new flagship of the company. In all around 160,000 of these cars were produced in its 5 year lifespan, a smidgen when compared to the millions of comparable BMW’s, Audi’s and Mercedes’ that were sold in the same period. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find the European editions of the Seville, many being traded in for European equivalents or for its infinitely more popular replacement, the STS.
Me personally, I honestly do like the Seville, it’s a beautiful looking car with some streamlined late-90’s style that keeps that Cadillac look perfectly. It’s internally well-equipped with wood and leather, certainly putting it on par with the then UK equivalents, the Rover 800 and 75. Performance wise, aside from the niggles with the automatic gearbox, it seemed like a capable machine, especially if you’re a casual driver like me who just enjoys messing about in the countryside for a couple of hours, or is in no rush to get anywhere. But again, the biggest points of contention regarding the Seville was that it was highly expensive due to import duties from outside the European Union, and that its reputation was pretty much already tarnished before it had left the harbour in America.
We Brits sadly have a stereotype for American cars, those being gigantic Lincoln’s and Caddy’s from the 1970’s that are the size of the Exxon Valdez and cause just as much environmental harm!