V.I.S.I.T: A UK-spec '99 Cadillac Seville STS

I had reason to visit our local out-of-town retail park on Saturday, and the big parking lot at its core is usually home to at least something worthy of note. I was sorely disappointed at first, and my camera remained firmly enpocketed. However, when I emerged from the store and strolled back to my car, the most interesting car for miles around had chosen to park directly next to me.
All you guys across the pond to the West will wonder what all the fuss is about, but the Cadillac STS was a damned rare car in the UK when it was new. Today, it’s borderline extinct.

The not entirely reliable but good for a laugh www.howmanyleft.com reckons 23 examples of the Cadillac Seville STS are currently licensed to roam British streets, although how many are physically able to is not made clear. There are another two registered but unlicensed, and that’s it. There’s an anomaly in the data that reckons every one of them was registered in 2009, but this may simply be the date at which confirmed records begin.
This is a genuine, right-hand-drive, UK market ’99 example. Bearing in mind that, Europe-wide, Cadillac sold just 1,032 cars, these things have never been exactly thick on the ground here.

This one, if it were in the USA, would be way into beater territory, but its scarcity is presumably driving its owner to keep this one running. Running the registration number reveals that its roadworthiness certificate and road tax are valid for almost a year, although there are plenty of scrapes and grazes where its ample dimensions have been misjudged in cramped UK parking conditions.
Marketing the Seville STS in the UK seemed doomed to failure from the offset, even though it was, probably, the most Euro-compatible Cadillac yet – aside from the actually German Cadillac Catera, of course. You got a reasonable amount of car for the money, sure – it was priced at bottom-rung BMW 7 Series and Audi A8 money, and you got a 4.6-litre Northstar V8 to pull you along.

You also got front-wheel drive, though, which meant it was more Honda Legend than Lexus LS430. And, even though this didn’t matter one jot to a lot of people who weren’t in the least bit interested in the oily bits that make it go, the badge on the prow did. And, frankly, Cadillac didn’t really mean anything apart from that Boss Hog and him from Scarface drove one a long time ago.
Your friends in the golf club would readily countenance your BMW, Merc or Audi choice, would well understand you opting for a Lexus and might even give you a nod of approval on a Legend, even if it showed that you were tightening the purse strings a bit. But why would you choose a Cadillac? Sadly, the loping, cushy virtues of the car were lost in white noise. Few were brave enough to ignore the default choices, and a few years later Cadillac abandoned hope in England.
Could it have been made to work? Well, part of me wonders if the STS could have been rebadged as a Vauxhall, in the same way that Holden products would later be. It could have been marketed at those who had reached the top of the Vauxhall range and wanted to graduate from the Omega Elite, but would rather stick with the brand than move over to one of those “pretentious foreign brands”. You never know, that might have garnered a few dozen customers.

As it was, GM dealers in the UK – usually sharing premises with larger Vauxhall franchises – sold two American cars at that point. There was this, a luxury car that was a little too unwieldy for British tastes and had a badge that nobody really understood, and the Chevy Camaro – a sporty coupe that was a little too unwieldy for British tastes and had a badge that, well, you get the idea.
Me? Naturally, I love it. I’d rock an STS in a heartbeat. I find it agreeably styled and proportionally well resolved, if lacking much of the grace that European rivals (the E38 7 Series at that point) could muster. Curiously enough, I reckon the Cadillac and my Rover live in a similar “unappreciated old car” vacuum. They look great together.
(All images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2017. If you enjoy this kind of content, why not follow me @RoadworkUK on that Twitter thing?)

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.


      1. Don’t forget that RHD meant new markets in Singapore, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Japan as well. A friend had one of these here in NZ. It had hilarious torque steer on part-worn tires and our commonly wet roads. It suffered the common fate of many orphans of being quickly written off after a minor crash.
        I’ve always wondered if that FWD assembly would fit in a Rover 800.

        1. I’m waiting for someone to get one working in an MR2, I’ve seen people attempt it, but never a finished project.

          1. That was designed as a longitudinal mount. But given enough money anything is possible.

    1. I thought the one Chris found was the facelift, but couldn’t picture what the original looked like, so thanks! As is usually the case, the original design looks best.
      I don’t think they were ever sold in Australia, but there are probably a handful of grey imports here. I remember the local car magazines tested the STS when it
      was released though, I’m sure the fwd would have been mentioned as a

      1. The later one looks like they slightly melted the earlier clay before taking the tooling measurements.

    2. Beautiful cars in their day. My parents had two of them: first a medium-blue ’92 Seville (not even an SLS) with the 4.9L OHV engine, then a dark plum ’93 STS with the Northstar. I took my drivers license test in the ’92 when I was 14 and drove the ’93 for my high school’s “junior/senior banquet” (prom without dancing, forbidden due to Mennonite reasons.) Comfortable in the front row or the rear, quick enough with the 4.9 and definitely quick with the Northstar, pretty capable in winter once the traction control was disabled. The ’93 still holds my personal land speed records as both a driver and as a passenger.

  1. I remember reading a contemporary road test in the UK magazine CAR that absolutely trashed the Seville STS. The only redeeming point they found was the Northstar engine. I’m sure that didn’t help sales any.

    1. Part of every motor press approach to new foreign cars in countries with domestic manufacturers. As a kid, I found it fascinating how news stands in France consequently deemed Peugeots the winners of comparison tests, Volkswagen in Germany, Volvo in Sweden…you get the picture. In addition, if measured against “luxury” as firmly defined by the German competition, a Cadillac of the time probably had no chance to compete either. It feels like the ability to accept different priorities is only now gaining a foothold. As an automobile cubist, I’ve always loved the looks, but this being GM, I never spend any effort trying to get to know them.

      1. Or if you’re the UK press hand the win to VW/BMW/Porsche, then every so often run a sensational article claiming Jaguar/Lotus has made a BMW/Porsche beater, then wait for the Germans to do minor revisions and hand them back the gong for being a “better all rounder” or something.

          1. True, it can be hard trying to claim a Morgan is “the better all-rounder”.

  2. we had the Lincoln equivalent, a 97 Continental, which my dad bought three years used for something like half the original selling price. it was a big stupid car, a weird blend of modern and super-traditional that completely encapsulated everything that was wrong with Cadillac and Lincoln back then. it had things like adjustable power steering, adjustable four-wheel air suspension, climate control, 32v V8 engine making like 260hp, power/heated everything, memory keys, fancy holographic gauges, trip computer, diagnostic computer, JBL stereo with sub, auto-dimming mirrors, cell phone in the armrest, and all the other good shit you’d expect out of a high-tech sedan. but it had a bench seat, bobbed and dipped over every bump, didn’t handle for shit, and had steering only a geriatric could love.
    the 32v 4.6 Modular was probably a much more durable engine than the Northstar, and that car could hustle in a straight line, but it’s not hard to see why nobody really took notice of the Continental. the Seville was probably the same to drive, but its styling was at least a little more distinctive. to my eye, the only one of these cars that really seemed worth a ding dong was the first-gen Aurora, which had really unique styling that alone was enough to make me want one. but they fucked it up on the second-gen and we all know what happened to Oldsmobile.

    1. I love the Aurora – knowing the second gen was actually supposed to be the Antares (a replacement for the 88), I’d like to see what the real replacement would have been if GM hadn’t cut Oldsmobile funding.

  3. If my eyes aren’t deceiving me (I’ve had a drink or three and it’s 11 PM in my timezone) the bumpers are a little less prominent on the UK car than they are in the home market:
    (My folks had a ’98 STS from ’02 through ’11 when they traded it off for a new-old-stock 2010 CTS4. I remember it actually less well than the ’93 that I reference elsewhere in the thread, because I only drove or rode in the ’98 a few times.)

  4. Base model Audi A8s of the same era were FWD with a 2.8 V6 and none the worse for it. Is it really essential in a big luxury car?

      1. For marketing reasons perhaps, but honestly, we’re talking big old barges here and a base model first gen A8 was a surprisingly nice drive even if you decided to push on, the car could be chucked through the corners but still remained composed. Sure maybe if you put a load more power than that 2.8 you might run into the limitations of FWD and need RWD or AWD (which seems to be the new essential in the class), but it changed my perception of car size where FWD can really work. I’d thought it was something that was best left to small hatchbacks.

        1. I can’t speak for the A8, but my family has been buying Cadillacs at intervals for the last 30 years; the 4.5L and 4.9L OHV cars were OK, Northstars were excellent, but it wasn’t till my mom’s daily-driver 2010 CTS4 with the 3.6L VVT V6 that there was a non-V8 in the bunch that was as fun to drive as the Northstar cars.

          1. This is why I’ve never quite gotten the hate for the Cadillac Catera.

    1. It certainly ended up meaning the A8 lost to the other Germans in contemporary road tests – albeit for entirely unsound reasons relating to the much vaunted ‘steering feel’.

      1. Audis, like most VAG products have always veered toward being a bit on the numb and stodgy side, I’m not sure being FWD came into it. Compared to a contemporary A4 it actually felt like a more nimble and entertaining car.

  5. Originally STS was short for Seville Touring Sedan. They also had:
    SLS = Seville Luxury Sedan
    ETC = ElDorado Touring Coupe
    ESC = ElDorado Sport Coupe
    CTS = Caterra/Cimmaron Touring Sedan
    DTS = DeVille Touring Sedan

    1. I was always fascinated by how the Seville marked a sea-change (a C-change if you will) in Cadillac styling over the Fleetwood, DeVille and Eldorado models of the time. In early ’90s Cadillac dealers it must have seriously stood out.

    2. If you ordered Deville Touring Sedan and had Dolby Dedicated to Sound audio fitted, that would be confusing..

  6. “Marketing the Seville STS in the UK seemed doomed to failure from the offset, even though it was, probably, the most Euro-compatible Cadillac yet – aside from the actually German Cadillac Catera, of course.”
    You’re forgetting the jet-setting Cadillac with the body of an Italian.

  7. I always liked the look of these, but I hated that they were FWD. Burn in hell, Roger Smith!

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