The cars we loved.
The Allante was Cadillac’s first attempt at the lucrative ultra luxury roadster market. Like most American luxury car makers of the time, the infatuation with “European Styling” and performance meant that to make a real world-class car ,a connection with Europe was needed for legitimacy. The ideal was to compete directly with Europe (and later the emerging Japanese luxury sedans). Americans were already making the transition to European luxury sedans at the expense of the old Detroit guard.
Younger buyers were no longer interested in Cadillac, so a halo car was needed to capture the imaginations and bank accounts of this new generation. Downsizing was tough on Cadillac, resulting in smaller less distinctive cars that were… boring. An image reboot was in order.
What better way to do that than to enlist the help of Pinfinarra, the Italian firm responsible for the design of many Ferraris. The body was designed and built-in Italy while the mechanicals were all Cadillac. Once the car bodies were completed, they were shipped to America via a special 747 from Italy to Cadillacs assembly plan in Detroit. Once there the bodies were joined to the chassis and the final assembly was completed. The process added considerably to the cost, making the $55k Allante the most expensive Cadillac up to that time. Some of the high cost was justified by the use of some of GM’s most advance technology using very little of GM’s parts bin. The rest of course was the trans-Atlantic assembly process, called the “longest assembly line in the world”.
There were a few components used from the Eldorado, but for the most part only the grille and headlight cluster resembled other Cadillacs. The Allante was Cadillac’s way to showcase technology that would eventually power it’s entire lineup through the 90’s . The most important element of which was the all new Northstar V8. This power plant single handedly pushed Cadillac into the post modern era with it’s 32 valve all aluminum V8. Initially a 4.1 L multi-port fuel injected engine producing 170 hp. Later versions of the Northstar peaked at 295 hp and remained the most advance engine offered by GM well into the 90’s.
The look was very European, with crisp styling. The classic Cadillac grile was subdued with long single lens halogen headlights that had become the hallmark of other Caddies in the 90’s. The Allante came with a removable hardtop or cloth convertible configuration and were produced in limited numbers. Inside was typical of most late 80’s era GM cars: boxy kitchen counter like dashboards with a cluster of buttons all similarly sized with digital displays for engine and entertainment functions.
Much of what made the Allante so special was its engine. It’s refined appearance somehow
did not look out-of-place with the rest of Cadillac’s otherwise visually un-exciting line of downsized cars. Many of the styling cues of the Allante found their way to the new Seville STS which was launched later, using the same Northstar, but in its more potent 4.5 litre form.
The automotive press was lukewarm over the Allante at its initial launch, mostly due to its high cost and what seemed at the time an underpowered engine. Front wheel drive was unheard of in a high-priced luxury/performance car aimed at rear wheel drive competition. Quirky handling in early cars were noted by the media and Cadillac rushed to make refinements. Once displacement and power were increased in 1987 and once again in 1993, the promise of performance came closer to matching the high asking price. A compliant ride with some road feel was aided by a fully independent suspension with a road sensing active damper system. Not as fast or agile as a Corvette, but still a distinctive looking car ,Cadillac had a flagship car it could be proud of. Unfortunately, the European competition was building rear wheel drive cars that had much better overall performance (and resale value).
The Allante’s most nagging issues were resolved into the 90’s, but the market had moved on. Over across town Chrysler sold a similar car (in concept only) call the TC. Unfortunately for Chrysler, the public and press saw the TC for what it was, just a dressed up LeBaron and its sales suffered despite being much cheaper than the Allante and being associated with Maserati. Not that the Allante sold well. The TC never did a good enough job of convincing anyone that it was anything more than a fancy K car and it was scrapped in 1991. The Alante’s soldered on, but its days were numbered. Cadillac produced about 21,000 cars over the 7 years the car was produced, about half of what its initial projections. Ironically each year as the car improved, it’s sales went down until it was finally canceled in 1993. The technology and some of the style of the Allante was carried over to the new flagship Seville STS and eventually the rest of the Cadillac line.
As a collector object, the Allante holds a curious place in American automotive history in that it was part of a small and short-lived wave of modern American cars that got European design input. Kind of a reversal of the late 60’s/early 70’s when American manufacturers were often sought after to
supply engines for elegant European sports cars. In good condition, they can still command prices in the $20k range. Your chances of finding good examples is better than that of other cars from the era. The high initial price kept them out of the hands of would be tuners, but they lacked the resale value of say a Mercedes or BMW. Still an attractive car today, the Allante secures its place as part in the start of Cadillac’s modern-day renaissance.