Our Cars: Roger Klein’s 1984 Cadillac Seville Elegante

1984 Cadillac Seville Elegante

Roger writes:
I probably picked up my affinity for Cadillacs from my father. He didn’t particularly care about cars mind you, but as he related to me, when he was growing up as a poor kid in Brooklyn in the 50’s, he saw a then-new Cadillac waft down his street, and as he told the story, it excited him immensely as he had never seen such an impressive car. He asked his father what kind of car it was, and his father explained to him “Son, that’s a Cadillac, that’s a car for rich people, not us.” Well fast-forward thirty some-odd years and the poor kid from Brooklyn had opened his own business and “made good” as it were, and at his first opportunity bought himself a new ’83 Sedan DeVille. I had never seen him so excited about a car, it really meant something special to him: he had “arrived.” I was reaching an age in this period where I had begun to express strong opinions about vehicles (to anyone who would listen and many who wouldn’t), gained from poring over car magazines, brochures, specifications, and anything else I could get my eager little hands on. As my father really didn’t particularly care about the specification of his vehicles (and in retrospect it probably was in reality a father-son bonding exercise), I was tasked with figuring out what the replacement vehicle for the ’83 DeVille would be in 1985.

I sent my dad out with minutely-detailed instructions about the Cadillac to buy: a two tone Seville Elegante, either silver over black or light blue over dark blue, with the Bose stereo, digital dash and the touring suspension. I had hand-written the options list as well as the dealer invoice and retail pricing as only a car-obsessed teenaged boy could (or would) do, but it was all for naught. The car he returned from the Cadillac dealer with was to my eyes a monstrosity; Dark metallic brown, with a tan button tufted leather interior, a tan fake convertible top (with a sunroof cut through it for good measure), gold real spoke rims with vogue tyres, a giant-ass aftermarket grille, gold plated ornamentation, trunk-mounted fake spare, chromed trunk straps… basically every ugly and expensive dealer add-on you could think of overlaying what was, by any measure, one of the most baroque vehicles one could buy at the time. In short it was a pimp mobile and proof positive of the old saw: “you can take the kid out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the kid.” When he pulled in the driveway I think I threw up in my mouth a little. From then on out, I always accompanied him to the dealer.

'85 Seville Elegante, lousy as a project car, excellent source of parts.

’85 Seville Elegante, lousy as a project car,
excellent source of parts.

In any case, the bustleback Seville remained one of my favorite car designs, and was perpetually featured prominently in my “daydream garage,” I obsessively monitored car sites for the particular model and option-load I had in mind, lack of appropriate storage for it be damned. In 2004 I moved out of my apartment in Brooklyn to my suburban dream house that featured an oversized two-car garage and as I only had one car (my ’89 Reatta) that needed to be protected from the elements I almost immediately bought an ’85 Seville Elegante crazy-cheap on eBay to fill the empty garage spot. In the end, it didn’t make sense to do anything with it as it had significant perforating frame rust and so I resumed looking for a more suitable vehicle to satisfy my Elegante itch.

I ended up buying my ’84 via eBay from a fella in Idaho. It was the colors I wanted, had all the options I wanted and according to the ad had a fresh paint job. Sure, it had an ugly aftermarket grille, but I already had a good factory grille attached to the ’85 languishing in my garage. I had the car shipped in and got ‘er home. As is typical it had a number of unforeseen issues in addition to the ugly grille, but having a parts car made bringing her up to snuff easy and relatively painless.

Awful aftermarket grille

Awful aftermarket grille

Chintzy aftermarket hubcap

Chintzy aftermarket hubcap


Turns out the “fresh paint job” was of the $100.00 variety, they hadn’t even bothered to remove the grille cap (un-doing 1 frickin’ bolt too much work!?!), the sail panel emblems were glued on in the wrong position while the paint had still been wet and they hadn’t applied a clear coat over the silver paint so the car’s finish was a matte-silver. Ignoring the shadow of the original paint under where the old grille cap had been, I swapped over the factory grille, as to my mind it was the significantly-lesser of two evils, and once I had pulled off any parts I could foresee needing in the future, I scrapped the ’85.

More than offsetting the par-for-the-course disappointments with the car’s condition on delivery, I discovered a receipt mixed in with the paperwork indicating that the original HT4100 motor had been replaced by Cadillac at 40K in 1988 as a goodwill warranty claim. Cadillac had finally worked all the kinks out of this unusual aluminum block/iron-headed engine by 1988, so given that, I’m one of very few owners of a Cadillac of this vintage that isn’t anxiously awaiting the dreaded “death rattle” that attends the coolant poisoning the car’s oil and destroying the engine, so I still consider myself to be way ahead on the purchase, even with the very disappointing paint.

1984 Cadillac Seville EleganteI replaced all wear and maintenance items, replaced all the mechanical bits of the A/C system and converted it to run on 134a, installed ‘T’ speed-rated whitewalls as well as fresh shocks, which transformed the ride and handling and just enjoyed the hell out of her, cleaning, polishing, fixin’ and futzin’.

In 2006, both my business and myself went bust, and the license plates were taken off the car and she sat in my garage for a couple of years while the bankruptcy played out. In the end I was able to buy back the car from the bankruptcy trustee and I was very happy that she was “mine” again. While she had been sitting in the garage unused for a long long time, I just put a fresh battery in her and she started right up, as if she had been run just the night before.

HT4100 Engine may be gutless but it sure is smoooth.

HT4100 Engine may be gutless but it sure is smoooth.

French-seamed buckets and console

French-seamed buckets and console

Changed out Spoke hubcaps in favor of less fussy discs that ape the optional alloys I crave for her.

Changed out Spoke hubcaps in favor of less fussy discs that ape the optional alloys I crave for her.

My ’84 Seville is equipped with the aforementioned HT4100 that while only producing a meager 135HP, still musters 190 Lbs/Ft of torque and runs so smoothly you don’t generally get the feel that she’s running when you’re idling at a stoplight; and while she ain’t particularly fast, if you stomp on the gas she’ll pause a beat, gather up her skirts and haul… just that that isn’t really what this generation of Seville is all about. Keep your foot out of it and she’ll return up to 25 MPG at 70 MPH, gliding along smoothly, silently, and seemingly effortlessly. The over-the-top styling that always attracted me to these cars, still does, and while out driving fellow motorists constantly give her the twice-over. The crazy-expensive Elegante package (around $4K in ’84) was conceived to appeal to very rarified tastes and ditches the (awful to my eye) standard button-tufted 60/40 split-bench seats for French-seamed leather individual buckets with a center console, crazy-plush “Tampico” carpeting and many items that were optional on the base model as standard. The Elegante-standard two-toning with the contrasting red pin-striping also makes the exterior design “pop”.

I’ve noticed that I don’t use her much because in truth, as beautiful as I find the car to be, she just isn’t that much fun to drive compared to my more modern, tightly sprung, and higher-powered vehicles. As someone who obsessively monitors cars for sale, and based on my experiences purchasing older cars I know that I automatically discount for worst-case for any items indicated to be lacking in for sale ads; as such I have been fixing every minor little thing, prepping her for sale for a going on a couple of years now, I recently had the Bose system refurbished had the silver paint properly redone, had factory-correct red pinstriping applied, as well as chasing down any new items needing attention as they come up.

I had planned on replacing her with the vanishingly rare ’86-88 Seville Elegante (another long-term fixation of mine) and had been monitoring a way-overpriced ’88 in western PA on Craigslist for about six months with the notion that I’d sell the ’84 and use the proceeds for the subsequent purchase, but then in early 2010, the ’88 I’d been obsessing over popped up on eBay with no reserve so I was forced to act or lose out on it, and as a result I now have two Seville Elegantes.

Thing is I KNOW that the moment I sell the ‘84 I’ll miss it. I truly believe that the market for this generation is on the verge of appreciation as well as having doubts about being able to find this combination of options and condition for an affordable price in the future. I fear being struck with the, common among car buffs, “car I never should have sold” syndrome.

Out and about on a car club junket

Out and about on a car club junket


The car moved with me to Arizona, and she is presently sitting in my garage, just waiting for her next outing, though with all of my other demands at the moment, it’s rare that she sees the light of day.

Anyways, she’s got about 125K on her, is a completely rust-free car that did her “daily driver” duties in Southern California prior to heading to Montana and Idaho as a special occasion car. That she sports her original bumper fillers stands as mute but compelling testimony of her pampered history.

Who knows, make me an offer and maybe you can be her next proud owner. :)
Rawja@mac.com

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