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 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 / Redusernab 2017. If you enjoy this kind of content, why not follow me on that Twitter thing?)