I n the 1970s, Cadillac was still considered the “Standard of the World.” It was the foremost automotive symbol of success and the undisputed king of the luxury car market. Lincoln had fallen behind Cadillac, though it was still extremely popular, while the Chrysler brand focused more on building excellent cars for the upper-medium and entry-level luxury range.
The separate Imperial line — a worthy competitor for Cadillac — was sold only during the first half of the decade, though the nameplate would return again in the 1980s. Probably Cadillac’s largest potential challenger for the hearts and minds of luxury car buyers was Mercedes-Benz. Daimler-Benz’s line-up of Mercedes automobiles had long appealed to sophisticated upper-class buyers. But although Mercedes-Benz dominated the import luxury market, its sales volume paled in comparison to Cadillac, whose image and reputation among the vast majority of Americans was still “the best.” Cadillac was the gold standard of luxury cars.
Eldorado was Cadillac’s sporty personal coupe. The Biarritz model is shown.
One look at the 1978 Cadillac model line-up shows why that was true. GM’s top-line division offered a range of automobiles designed to appeal to just about every segment or niche of the luxury car market. They were big and handsome — they were great automobiles.
The line-up was strong. Cadillac offered seven regular models for 1977 along with two special editions. Although not all-new, each model received important upgrades and a dash of subtle exterior refinements.
As usual, Cadillac’s volume seller for 1978 was the deVille series, available in a Coupe deVille base priced at $10,584 and Sedan deVille priced from $10,924. Both models rode a sizeable 121.5-inch wheelbase and stretched out 221.2 inches in length. With width of a generous 76.4 inches, there was plenty of comfortable room for six large passengers. To provide a fresher appearance, a new rear bumper for 1978 had integrated tail lamps and side-marker lights.
Also new this year were optional locking wire wheel covers and a new Elk Grain padded vinyl roof with custom trimmed backlight featuring a tucked effect. Cadillac called its Coupe deVille “America’s Most Popular Luxury Car,” and rightly so — Cadillac produced nearly 118,000 units for 1978. The Sedan deVille was also popular, with more than 88,000 built that model year. These two models alone accounted for the sale of more than 200,000 Cadillacs.
Platinum-and-black Cadillac Seville Elegante was a visual knock-out, a beautiful machine.
Up the price ladder from deVille was the Eldorado, Cadillac’s big personal luxury coupe, with a base price of $12,401. Like its corporate cousin the Oldsmobile Toronado, Eldorado featured front-wheel-drive, still relatively unique in that era. Eldorado stretched out on an expansive 126.3-inch wheelbase. With a very long hood and relatively short rear deck, the Eldo’s rear seat room was a trifle skimpy; a result of its sport coupe proportions and lower roof. However, front seat room was ample and plush.
The upscale Biarritz option — one of the two specialty models mentioned at the beginning of this article — added a uniquely styled vinyl roof, special chrome moldings and accent stripes, fancy color-matched wheel covers, opera lamps and a host of distinctive interior styling touches. It was a tremendously popular option group, and had been ordered on nearly 25 percent of the 1977 Eldorados. Cadillac predicted that for 1978 anywhere from 35-40 percent of Eldo buyers would opt for the Biarritz treatment, which was offered in five color selections. Being a specialty luxo-coupe, Eldorado’s sales couldn’t hope to approach deVille’s level, but more than 46,000 were produced that year, quite an accomplishment when one considers its base price of more than $12,000. For comparison, a Ford Fairmont Futura coupe started around $4,100.
Coupe deVille was called “America’s Most Popular Luxury car.”
A small step up in price from the Eldo was the elegant Fleetwood Brougham, with a base price of $12,842. Fleetwood Brougham’s role was as a more elegant interpretation of the traditional Cadillac four-door sedan. Although essentially a better trimmed version of the Sedan deVille, the Fleetwood Brougham’s more plush interior, color-coordinated wheel covers, opera lamps and unique vinyl roof with tapered center pillar, along with numerous thoughtful small touches made it worth it higher price tag. Fleetwood Brougham offered four-wheel disc brakes and an electronic load-leveling system as standard equipment.
The “small” Cadillac, the jazzy Seville, was also the highest priced of the regular (non-limousine) Cadillacs, with a base price of $14,710. Seville was considered to be Cadillac’s “import-fighter,” and in that regard, it did pretty well. Many Cadillac owners who were perhaps curious to see what the Mercedes-Benz products were like decided instead to stay in the Cadillac family, buying the more compact Seville instead.
Regal elegance was the theme of the 1978 Fleetwood Brougham
Seville had acquired a rather nice reputation for elegance and taste, and this year it was showcased in the new Seville Elegante — the second of the two specialty models mentioned above. The international-sized Seville Elegante was available in two color choices: a very elegant and attractive two-toned brown or a breathtaking platinum-and-black two-tone. Highlights of the exterior were a painted metal roof, chrome accent moldings, wire wheels and Elegante nameplates in bright script. The interior featured very tasteful leather and vinyl door and seat rim, a center console with fold-down armrest, pen and writing table, plus provisions for a tape storage cabinet or telephone. The steering wheel was trimmed in color-coordinated leather. Cadillac announced plans to produce just 5,000 of the gorgeous Elegantes.
Also in the Cadillac line-up that year were two Fleetwood limousine models: an eight-passenger limo and a Formal seven-passenger model, both on a regal 144.5-inch wheelbase. Unlisted in the regular sales books but available nonetheless was a commercial chassis on a 157.5-inch wheelbase, meant for custom coach and ambulance builders. Naturally, production of these specialized models was low.
Good-looking Sedan deVille was a popular model for 1978.
The standard engine on most Cadillacs was a creamy-smooth 425-cubic-inch (7.0 liter) V-8, which for 1978 produced 180 bhp at 4,000 rpm and 320 lbs.-ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm. Power was delivered through a Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission; a 25.3-gallon fuel tank provided engine fodder for the big V-8. Sevilles had a fuel-injected 350-cid V-8 that produced 170 bhp at 4,200 rpm, and 270 lbs.-ft. of torque.
For 1978, Cadillac offered 21 exterior color selection, 15 of them regular colors and 6 in its acclaimed Firemist paint. Of this broad array of colors, 17 were new for 1978 and 15 were exclusive to Cadillac. deVilles featured a bolder horizontal crosshatch-grille motif, along with new rear bumper outers that included integrated vertical taillamps with a three-dimensional crest insignia. An AM/FM signal-seeking stereo radio was made standard equipment.
Cadillac had a good year in 1978, with almost 350,000 cars produced. Competition grew heavier in later years, and by the mid 1990s, the division’s sales had sunk quite a bit from the heyday of the 1970s. However, the good news is that today’s Cadillacs are probably the best cars GM has ever made, and their combination of unique styling and potent power trains is making buyers sit up and take notice. Cadillac today has polished its image, competing with renewed confidence and world-class products.