Cadillac Seville STS | The Brave Pill

Best put on sunglasses for this one…

By Mike Duff / Saturday, 4 March 2023 / Loading comments

Anyone who grew up watching Doctor Who in the days before the show gained both a proper production budget and a social conscience might be getting strong flashbacks from this week’s Pill. That’s because the dealer selling this Cadillac Seville STS has chosen to jazz up the images with a backdrop strongly reminiscent of the sort of unconvincing graphics that used to be projected behind Tom Baker or Peter Davison as as they wrestled with bubble-wrap aliens while the universe exploded. Alternatively think of a low budget early nineties rave video. 

The STS isn’t our first Cadillac – a CTS-V Coupe featured in 2021 – but it is an unlikely pioneer. Because it’s the first car to feature here with the head-scratching combination of a V8 engine and front-wheel drive. Cadillac had been using this oddball layout for its smallest Seville line since 1980, the idea being to combine V8 power with what was held to be the greater dynamic security – in the days before traction control – of using this urge to pull rather than push. 

Apologies – the use of the words ‘power’ and ‘urge’ in the previous paragraph were grossly misleading. As introduced the emissions-strangled 6.0-litre L61 engine in the ‘80s Seville managed a dizzying 145hp, with the option of an even slower 105hp diesel V8 as an alternative. Power outputs and dimensions grew throughout successive generations, and the oil-burner went, and by the time the fifth Seville was launched in 1998 it had acquired both rounded Lexus-like styling and a transverse 4.6-litre 32-valve DOHC ‘Northstar’ V8. Two versions were offered, the SLS – ‘Seville Luxury Sedan’ getting 275hp, and the STS – ‘Seville Touring Sedan’ packing 300hp, a figure that made it the most powerful front driven production car in the world at the time.

So far, so mildly interesting. But then, in an outbreak of corporate madness, GM decided it was going to use this Seville to launch the Cadillac brand in Europe. And not just the bits of Europe that drive on the wrong side of the road, but the UK as well. That meant a right-hooker was engineered at considerable expense, dealers were appointed and a pricey advertising campaign was commissioned. Actually recycled – the print ad of a heroic Seville parked in the midst of a pack of identikit German rivals was nearly identical to the one Rover had created for the launch of the 800.

To no great surprise, except perhaps that of doubtless fired optimist who had signed the whole thing off, the STS failed to set our part of the world on fire. Or even a-smouldering. Despite keen pricing and generous standard equipment, fewer than 500 of the Seville were sold here in four years. And a significant number of those had started life on the brand’s books, Cadillac’s enthusiasm for coverage proven by the fact the magazine I was working on at the time ended up with two long term examples, one being sent exclusively for the editor’s use.

Of course, as the editor lived around the corner, and was never short of more interesting cars to drive, I spent plenty of time in his STS. This included a return trip from London to Scotland where my pulse barely rose above rest for the entire journey out and back. The Seville was big, comfy and quiet but for the fine efforts of its BOSE audio system. Also, it was about as exciting to drive as automotive Mogadon. 

Before this feels too much like a knifing, the Seville has certainly gained some novelty value as the years have passed – and must surely have got over the line to modest bravery. How many left reckons that there are fewer than 70 on the road, plus another 130 on SORN. Given the Northstar V8 is pretty much unkillable – designed to be able to run for up to 50 miles at 50mph with no coolant, alternating between each cylinder bank to reduce temperatures – the survivors could well last forever. But non-mechanical bits will certainly be hard to source on this side of the Atlantic, plus there is the courage required to pull off this one’s fetching shade of what should probably be called Ron Burgundy. 

It’s being offered for a chunky £9,250 – that being more than the only other STS currently listed in the Classifieds, a later rear-driven V6 from 2006. But this one definitely has rarity value on its side, and with its odometer having barely passed 28,000 miles it really does qualify to the over-used ‘barely run-in’ description. The MOT history shows that the last ticket ran out in September 2020, although the London-based dealer selling it promises to put on a new one. And as most of the company’s stock is being pushed on the basis of the ULEZ compliance that the Caddy lacks, there could well be some enthusiasm for a deal to get it shifted.

In short it’s the sort of car that could easily survive another quarter century. Does that sound more like a promise or a threat? 

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