Too radical for its homeland and too antiquated for Europe, the STS took an early Transatlantic bath.
MODERN NOT CLASSIC
Classic or not… We explore old car no man’s land
Cadillac drivers were easy to please in the early 1970s. All they needed, besides a hat larger than a Hampshire village, was a car with a bonnet big enough to land a small aircraft on, a trawler-sized engine with a carburettor that could double as a straw to feed plankton to whales, and enough emissions to choke a flock of sheep.
‘THE STS WAS A BUST WITH JUST 140,000 UNITS SOLD’
Cadillac fulfilled those customer expectations with an 8.2-litre V8 producing 400bhp, 550lb-ft of torque and, on a sunny day, 8mpg. Their response to post-1973 global petrol shortages was quirky. Rather than reducing engine sizes, they reduced compression ratios. By 1976, that 8.2-litre motor was parping out a pathetic (but utterly reliable) 190bhp.
The engineering department’s final suggestion – the fitment of a Reliant Robin carb – was narrowly voted down. It was time for a whole new design, something that would really spring Cadillac forward several centuries into the middle ages.
The first ‘small’ Cadillac, the 1975 180bhp 5.7-litre Seville, did not do that. Nor did the next two models. But then, in 1992, the fourth-gen Seville Touring Sedan, or STS, came along. With a few Euro-curves added and the cackier-coloured paints removed from the spec sheet, it didn’t look too bad to a non-Texan. To see one in action, check out Silvio Dante’s ride in The Sopranos or John Cusack’s STS in the aircraft controller ‘comedy-drama’ Pushing Tin.
Although by this stage Cadillac had cautiously advanced to front-wheel drive (a scant 58 years after Citroën had shown the way), the pencil-necked 200bhp 4.9 V8 that initially powered the STS was anything but advanced. The 4.6-litre L37 Northstar V8 engine that replaced it in 1993 was a different matter – and that was its undoing. For a start, it was a sophisticated double overhead cam unit producing 300bhp at an unheard-of 6000rpm. That might seem perfectly normal to us Europeans, but it wasn’t to an American market steeped in Flintstone-tech pushrod chuggers that went on for ever if you changed the oil regularly enough – a practice branded into US culture.
Although Cadillac tried to reassure its hornswoggling home buyers by claiming 100,000-mile service intervals, the STS was viewed not so much with suspicion as with lit torches and sharpened pitchforks. In reality, that 100k mark turned out to be the time that you could expect the Northstar to cook itself. The fact that GM actually went back to OHV engines when the Northstar was discontinued in 2011 says it all.
Commercially the STS was a bust with just 140,000 units sold. Some went to British buyers who rather enjoyed its self-levelling comfort, equipment, sound system and six-second 0-60 time. These days, only around a hundred UK-registered STSs remain, and the odd one comes up for sale at Lexus LS400 money.
With the same wheelbase as a 2005 Lexus GS, they’re not that disastrous a steer, and they are front-drivers, which is handy in non-Californian weather. Plus it could have been a lot worse. Just think if GMC – affectionately known in the States as Jimmy – had chosen Seville as a model name.
As successful an American import as chlorinated chicken.