The Cadillac Seville design process -- at 14 months in all -- was cruelly and unusually short. In those days, most new-car gestations took 24 to 36 months. But incoming GM president Pete Estes insisted on having the downsized Cadillac ready to sell in no more than 14 months.
Why? According to Cadillac's chief body designer, Stanley R. Wilen, "I heard Pete Estes in the lunchroom one day; Pete said, 'I've been given 14 months by the Cadillac dealers to deliver a car that'll be smaller and that'll have decent fuel economy. Otherwise, we're going to have problems keeping our Cadillac dealers from taking on franchises for BMW and Mercedes. And if the dealers do that, we'd be giving the importers a free distribution system inside our most prestigious division. We just can't let that happen.' So that's where the 14-month deadline came from." Actually, the Seville program received official corporate approval on December 21, 1973, and assembled cars left the plant on April 22, 1975, so the entire development period took precisely 16 months and 18 days. Even so, the car was done in near-record time.
Wilen vividly recalls the Seville's birth pains. "We were looking for a [styling] theme, and we couldn't find one. [GM design vice president] Bill Mitchell was pretty testy. He was getting ready to leave for Europe, and we still didn't have a theme for this new, smaller Cadillac.
"'Goddamit, don't you guys know what to do?' asks Mitchell. So I said to him, 'Bill, I don't know how to instruct my guys. I don't know what you're looking for. I need a clue.' There was no aesthetic history for this car; nothing to base it on.
"And he said, 'If I can't smell the garlic out there in the hall when I get back, I'll know you don't have it.' So I said, 'Bill, you just told me something!'
"I went up and made a tape drawing that same morning," Wilen recalls. "It had sort of an Italian flavor, and I called the car La Scala. And when Bill came back, he liked my tape. Bill called Ed Cole over, and Cole also thought it was good.
"So that became the theme car. They started modeling the La Scala downstairs in one of the Advanced rooms, and they put it into Advanced because we were so loaded with other production projects up in our studio.
"That's when it went on the X-car body. But going to the X-body put the rear wheels in the wrong place, and the windshield didn't have enough rake. Understand that the La Scala was only a theme. The poor guys downstairs had to try to capture the essence of that tape drawing without having a body that was really appropriate for it."
On the next page, learn how the Cadillac design team turned La Scala into a working 1976 Seville.