The Deville is in the Detail

As a result of poking around Curbside Classics I found a photo of a car that did not deserve its Cadillac nameplate. 

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There are lots of reasons why Cadillac got into the difficulty it did. Chief among them has to be the fact many looked appalling even if they were quite nice really. This is the worst offender, supposedly launched during the Art & Science phase (which is still running): 2000-2005 DeVille (or de Ville or De Ville)

Starting at the back, a plain red lamp, seemingly painted on. There’s no chamfering or sculpting to give it depth or volume. It could be a millimetre thick.  Its rounded corners are at odds with the angles it is splathered over. The shutline for the rear door must have been decided by engineers without any hand-holding from designers only I expect someone did “design” this. The body-side is totally plain, breeze-block plain. Lancia’s Thesis had the same problem. Nothing about it says drama, elegance, speed or prestige. It says “cardboard box”. The front-drive proportions are all too clear.

Overall the car is not clearly, decisively rounded (like the lights, front a rear) or angular (like the DLO). It lacks a clear and consistently applied form language. I had an idea that the car was a re-skin of the previous Deville but it’s not. It seems they really wanted the car to look like a bad re-skin then.

For thousands of dollars more than a Camry, Cadillac wanted its customers to buy a car as bland as a Cavalier and as characterless as an Avalon. (Incidentally, the Deville name was a trim designation that became a model in its own right. Another one.)

This is the predecessor. You might not go for the style but it is consistent.

1997 Cadillac Deville:wikpedia
1997 Cadillac Deville:wikpedia


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

12 thoughts on “The Deville is in the Detail”

  1. by the turn of the century, Cadillac’s design was a disaster. I really dig the mid-1990s Seville and the XLR (a Corvette for the old) but that’s all.

    1. It all went wrong after the Seville was facelifted in the mid-90s. By 2000 it was all very poor indeed. They didn’t know if they were trying to be American or international. Is it possible this 2000 Deville was Cadillac’s attempt at Audi simplicity?

  2. The eighth generation de Ville was a nadir for Cadillac. Whilst the car still embodied many of the virtues of a Big Caddy, such as effortless, loping performance and a lounge-like interior, they were hidden behind such prosaic styling that it became difficult to recognise the car as a Cadillac. It betrayed GM’s tangible lack of faith in their offering, which is a crying shame, as the one thing a Cadillac should radiate is confidence. And you are right, Richard: the seventh generation de Ville was much nicer, which was in itself a small triumph considering what an awful device the sixth generation was.

  3. That’s a pretty harsh assessment, but Cadillac must have felt the same as the next gen returned to more traditional Cadillac stylepoints. I had a ’94 Seville STS and I felt that this gen DeVille was supposed to look like a beefier Seville. The slope of the roofline does resemble the Seville. The tail Lamps are simple affairs compared the the vertical emphasis that had been the rule. The headlamps resemble the tail lamps, just a light stuck on the corner. The grille is quite simple. maybe too simple. But I still like it. It stayed away from most of the Cadillac cliches, but the color choice is quite important. That light gold color does it no favors, in black, dark blue, silver, or even red I think that it looks much better. It doesn’t immediately look like a Cadillac, which is where the marque went in their next designs.
    Today I saw a new mid engined Vette in a parking lot. As I checked it out I thought to myself, “I should be wanting this car, but I don’t. What would I want? If Cadillac could come out with a new Coupe de Ville that really looked like a real Cadillac, I’d be seriously considering options for financing . But no, those days are past. Not much catches my attention these days.

    1. The 1994 Seville is a handsome car due to its detailing and overall homogeneity. The poor old deVille here has the same problem as the last Ford Scorpio: rounded shapes draped on a boxy architecture. It´s really remedial work and for the sake of fairness, the Ford was a better attempt at this carrt-over trick. Nothing Cadillac makes today floats my ship. The CT-5 looks like a rejected Opel or Chevrolet proposal. I bet there was a morose feeling among Roman soldiers guarding the borders of the empire around 376 AD which is echoed today in Cadillac HQ.

    2. For me, all the issues discussed here come down to the performance rendered by the person at the top of the design hierarchy. My ranking is subjective, but I can’t imagine placing Cherry or Simcoe (thus far) anywhere close to the top tier.

      Bill Mitchell
      Chuck Jordan
      Harley Earl
      Ed Wellburn
      Irv Rybicki

      Wayne Cherry
      Michael Simcoe

    3. Certainly Richard, (In defense of my opinion, I could cite several Rybicki era cars that I feel have aged nicely and are considered classics now.) I would like to know which Cherry era cars you feel were successful from a design point of view?

      Eduardo mentioned the Cadillac XLR, which I can appreciate for being almost as pathologically quirky as the late Wheeler era TVRs.

    4. Excuse me. My notion of Cherry´s cars had its foundation in his time with Opel. I withdraw my bid. Many of Rybicki’s products are much nicer (thanks in part to his support of Bill Porter at Buick). In fairness to WC, the time he worked at GM did not offer so much opportunity for decent design. It was the SUV era and the beginning of the end for passenger cars as a locus of serious effort.

    5. Hi Richard, thanks again for your always enlightening and thought provoking contributions.

      In this case I wonder whether a PLQ or Tom Gale might have been able to accomplish more than Cherry did, or would the same environment have stifled them? Although I do note a certain emotional spark seemed to have been reignited coincident with the handover from Cherry to Welburn, Bob Lutz is credited as the prime motivator behind the car depicted below (and several other quite attractive concepts from 2003 onward) which appeared just as Cherry reached GM’s mandatory retirement age.

      The Sixteen and Evoq (XLR) might have shared the “Art and Science” design language, but emotionally they are about as different as chaulk and cheese. Maybe if Lutz had arrived sooner?

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