My Car Quest

December 3, 2020

The Cadillac Allante: Almost a Home Run and Dirt Cheap Now

by Wallace Wyss –

General Motors trusts its designers. But there are those rare moments when higher management says “Why don’t we try someone else with this new design?” When that happens there is a lot of resentment back at the GM Design Center along the lines of “What are we–chopped liver?”

I sympathize with management making these forays off the reservation so to speak. I mean Italian design houses created some interesting one offs on name brands in the past, let’s see what they can do with a Cadillac.

Going to a name brand design house would give them the right to put that little badge on the side, in this case Pininfarina. In clothing it’s done all the time, having a big name designer come in and do your jacket or boots.

Cadillac Allante

In this case the car was the Cadillac Allante. The Allante has a name which Cadillac picked out of the air. It is not an Italian word like Avanti was for the Studebaker Avanti (which means “forward” in Italian.) I always thought it sort of hinted at the mythical undersea town of Atlantis. But the car, like the fabled city, sunk beneath the waves….

The two-seater was in production from 1987 through 1993. Cadillac had seen the success of the Mercedes 450SL (introduced as the 350SL in 1971) and the Jaguar XJS and hungered for their own two seater sporty car. I say “sporty” not “sports.” There’s a difference.

Cadillac thought they could do an end run around the Mercedes by having the additional cachet of Italian styling and called upon Pininfarina, the famous design firm and coachbuilder. Actually Chuck Jordan who was VP in charge of design at the time and a super Ferrari fan, didn’t mind that Pininfarina was involved rather than GM Design as he loved popping by Pininfarina to see the latest Ferrari.

Cadillac Allante

While I was working in Detroit, I got to know Jordan. He told me the design of the Allante was supposed to be entirely by Pininfarina without Cadillac input but he couldn’t help peeking at it during one visit to Italy. One wonders if his “peek” influenced the design to look more American than it did European.

One thing’s sure—there were some Pininfarina-designed Lancias at the time—principally the 1977 Lancia Gamma that looked an awful lot like the Allante, especially around the front and side. But the bland rectangular tail lights were certainly American style.

But is it an Italian car? Concorso Italiano had a class for Allantes at their 2009 event and I think that made sense. After all, it is as much Italian as the Dual Ghia. So maybe in the long run, Allantes will attain some respectability at last….

Cadillac Allante

Cadillac put themselves into a box as far as making profits when they thought, hey, we’ll make the chassis in Detroit and then fly them to Italy and have the body put on and then fly them back. That automatically made the cars about $4,000 to $8000 more expensive to make than they would be if made in the U.S. This was unlike VW when they made the Karmann Ghia where it was designed in Italy but built in Germany still using the Italian design firm’s name.

Actually it was more like another luxury car builder, decades earlier, Eugene Casaroll, who sent Chrysler chassis to Ghia to be bodied and then finished the cars in Detroit. He lost money on every Dual Ghia built.

There was a pace car, and every time there’s a pace car at Indy, there are “pace car replicas” on showroom floors all across America. We don’t find this lettering too objectionable compared to some other pace cars (remember that godawful Barney purple Corvette?) Maybe it’s the dramatic scenery but we find this a great Italian-designed ride for the price of a five year old Corolla.

Cadillac Allante

The original Allante fell into the sporty, not sports car class because of its anemic engine choice. The original engine was a 170 hp. 4.1 liter multi port fuel injected V8 with roller valve lifters, high-flow cylinder heads.

In 1989 there was an upgrade to the 4.5 liter V8, producing 200 horsepower, and with 270 lb•ft (366 N•m), which Wikipedia says “provided the most torque from any front-wheel-drive automobile in the world.”

But the big boost in power had to wait until the last year, 1993, at which time, it got the new 4.6 liter dual overhead cam Northstar V8 rated at 295 hp. With 290- ft-lbs. of torque at 4400 rpm coupled to the four speed automatic. The handling was also improved though real performance buffs (those who liked BMWs for instance) would say what good did that do when it was still front wheel drive?

Just when you think you got a Ferrari engine on the cheap, you realize it’s hooked up to a front wheel drive car. Be forewarned, as cool as the Northstar looks, on Cadillacforums.com I found this disquieting note from a forum member: “The 4.5 engine is best for me. Northstar is nice engine sure, but here no one can repair it, when needed. No maybe, the engine in between the 4.1 and the Northstar would be more reliable. Suggest combing Cadillac websites for engine comparisons before choosing.”

The 1993 Allante also boasted upgraded disc brakes, variable assist power steering single, piece side windows, and a deep front spoiler. The car magazines finally began to praise the car but its higher price–$65,000—was digging a ditch for it. Here it had a dwindling popularity before the new model and word leaked out that ’93 was the last year so why be interested in a car that was on the way out? It was still priced lower than the Mercedes two seater and the Jaguar two seater, though.

My personal introduction to the Allante was in its first year, outside the Cadillac plant in Detroit, where I drove it around a short driving course. I noticed it plowed in the corners like the typical front drive car and wallowed a bit. I never drove the later Northstar powered version but I am sure it was more satisfying with the increased power and torque.

One styling touch that turned me off was the hard boot over the convertible top. It looked very cheap and plastic, I would have preferred an old fashioned leather boot like on the Jaguar XJ-S. Cadillac was proud when the Allante was ranked above both a Jaguar convertible and the Mercedes Benz 300SL by “Car and Driver”.

Cadillac Allante

The Allante proved to be a popular choice for many consumers because it offered power, style, and was more affordable than either the comparable Jaguar and Mercedes competitors. When you consider that the Allante retailed for about $65,000 in 1993 and the Jaguar was almost $72,000 and the Mercedes was over $90,000, it’s easy to see why the Allante was the choice of many who were looking for a luxury roadster. While the Allante lasted just six model years, it is still recognized as one of the most luxurious Cadillac roadsters that one could buy.

Cadillac made around 21,000 of the Allantes over a seven year period. Which, as a number, makes it collectible compared to say other models where there’s a million or more. The ideal collectible car production number, in this writer’s experience, is between 400 (the Mangusta and Iso Grifo) and just over 1,000 (the Ferrari Daytona coupe). Twenty times that high number makes it rare but not super-rare. But still is a lot better than 50,000. Odds are, if you go to Cadillac dealers, you will be hard put to find one on the used car lot.

One of the troubles with the Allante was the hardtop. It leaked and like all hardtops, required a hoist to lift it off the car. But since the hardtops are worth about $3,000 by themselves, it would be worth buying one with a hardtop and selling the hardtop to another Allante owner and thereby lowering your cost in the car.

This writer went on Craigslist.com and found several Allantes for sale, the lowest of which was only $5,000. But the average price was more like $6000 up to around $8000.

Another problem with Allantes was that you had to use some leather saver on the seats or they would dry out and the leather would go to seed. Few owners of Allantes knew that you could buy leather conditioners so some have ripped up leather which could cost a lot to replace—probably over $500 a seat. And the convertible top could be expensive to replace since it wasn’t made in America.

I saw a pearl white Allante the other day, with the Vogue whitewall tires and polished mags, and damned if it didn’t look just peachy. And considering you could buy one of these for between $5000 and $8000 and have a two seater bodied in Italy, I am beginning to think twice about it, but am disappointed the Northstar engine didn’t save it.

I was at the McCormick Auction in Palm Springs and spied a pink Allante with fairly low mileage. I thought ‘real men don’t drive pink cars,’ but then worried later that maybe I passed up one helluva deal. I could have scored big reselling it to a woman somewhere down the road. I researched it recently on the net and found out it was a 1988, color was Mary Kay Pink, originally delivered to Dallas Texas for personal use by Mary Kay Ash. When BJ sold it for over 10k a bit earlier, they wrote: it was painted Code “84U” Mountain Laurel Pearl, more commonly known as Mary Kay Pink. Her request was so powerful as a GM Fleet customer, that GM executives had to sit down to a 2-day meeting with Pininfarina, who refused to build “pink sports cars.” In the end we all know the outcome. Hey, Pininfarina, lighten up! It’s only a color…

The Allante has almost been forgotten after production began in 2003 of a more modern and much more high performance Cadillac two seater, the 2004 XLR. This car was built on the Corvette’s chassis so naturally was a rocket ship from the word go. It was even built in the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, KY. And of course it’s rear wheel drive, like the Allante should have been if competing against two rear wheel drive foreign roadsters.

The XLR’s first year was the 2004 model. It’s additional big plus over the Allante is that its hardtop was retractable–no need to buy a hoist to install in your garage to lift the top off, as you have to do with the Allante. Ironically the engine is the 4.6 liter Northstar, now tuned to 320 hp. From the 2007 model year it was mated to a 6-speed automatic.

Cadillac Allante

There was even a specially hot model, the XLR-V, that was 4.4 liters and supercharged rated at 443 hp. Curiously the XLR started out in its early days at about $35,000 more than the Corvette, at $76,000, and prices rose steadily each year after that. In 2009, the Cadillac XLR Platinum started at $86,200, and the hot rod XLR-V is a whopping $104,200. I don’t know if they had a mechanical flaw like the Allante but something is keeping them off the road as I never see one though I still see Allantes.

Ironically, just as with the Allante, after a few years on the market, sales plummeted, with Cadillac selling only 600-odd cars in 2009, a year Cadillac has announced will mark the end of production. The total sales looks like it will be under those of the Allante even though it was on the market for seven years. Maybe it’s the knife-edge “art and science” styling that got old fast but this writer thinks, hey, putting performance in from the start was good but maybe they should have gone back to Italy for the styling and this time tried harder to keep any GM design influence out of the mix.

So in sum. being one of the tifosi who is seducible by anything from Italy. I want that car with the Pininfarina badge. I’ll have to do another check of the Club archives to see if there’s easy fixes for the engine now. And maybe talk to an upholster about the cost of adding a leather boot over the one piece plastic one. I just saw an ad on Craigslist.com in mid-august in a leisure retirement community, and it’s got a hardtop, but by the time I get the money together it will be gone. But hey, time moves on there will be others…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is a car historian lately working on an anthology of car fiction.
 
 
 
 
 

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Summary
The Cadillac Allante: Almost a Home Run and Dirt Cheap Now
Article Name
The Cadillac Allante: Almost a Home Run and Dirt Cheap Now
Description
My personal introduction to the Cadillac Allante was in its first year, outside the Cadillac plant in Detroit, where I drove it around a short driving course. With its Pininfarina style it sure looked nice.
Author

Comments

  1. Glen Durmisevich says

    Wally,
    You failed to mention that this wasn’t the first time a Cadillac body was built by Pininfarina. The 1959 and 1960 Eldorado Broughams were designed in Detroit, by Chuck Jordan, and built by Pininfarina in Italy. Not unlike the Allante it also cost a lot more to build, with a price tag of $13,075. More than a standard Rolls Royce. These early Pininfarina built Caddy’s meet your collectibility definition with only 99 and 101 being built respectively.

  2. Wallace Wyss says

    I think Pinin Farina (two words back then) was able to finesse those ’59 and ’60 models more than Pininfarina was able to Italianize the Allante. If you park one alongside a USA made Cadillac of the me era they look so well tailored, But I think the Brougham preceding them, built in the USA, was fine quality and well styled so they didn’t need to go to Italy. The biggest problem is GM didn’t restrain their on employees from influencing it. The Corvette Rondine was a better example of an American chassis styled and bodied in Italy but GM had just rolled out their own Stingray body and didn’t want to throw it out,and the real irony is that the designer of the Rondine was American Tom Tjaarda who spent his whole design career in Italy.

  3. Richard Holmes says

    A month or so ago I saw an Allante and a TC parked next to each other–separated at birth? Of course both, had their tops off, otherwise maybe not so similar.

  4. Wallace Wyss says

    The TC was a good example of How Not to Do a Car in Italy. First the name, they didn’t find out they couldn’t call it a Maserati until the last moment. Then they promised an engine they didn’t deliver. The prototype interior looked better than the production cars. The car was too high priced. They took one of the deepest dives from original price to present day value so I think they would be a bad collector car investment.

  5. Jeffrey Garland says

    I have a 1990 red hardtop covered in my yard very little issues and very many pluses. Tools and financially strapped to get completely restored. jffrgarland@gmail.com

  6. Wallace Wyss says

    Saw one advertised today in Ft, Myers area Craigslist.com mid-October 2020 for $1,500. Pretty soon they will be cheaper than a set of used mag wheels for a Ferrari

    Posted 19 days ago

    print
    Cadillac allante – $1,500 (Fort myers)

    1991 cadillac allante
    fuel: gas
    odometer: 89000
    title status: clean
    transmission: automatic

    Red exterior has some sun fade
    Black leather interior
    89,000 miles
    Car has been sitting, theft alarm system has issue did run when last parked
    Clean title in hand

  7. Robert HOEGGERL says

    Which paint code do the Mary Kay have on the service parts identification label ?

  8. Wallace Wyss says

    Try these:
    G B Y 1991 Cadillac Cadillac Mary Kay Pink 08 C WA9760 73255, 4178 GM-9760 pearl, special order, Allante
    G B Y 1992 Cadillac Cadillac Mary Kay Pink 08 C WA9760 73255, 4178 GM-9760 Allante only, pearlcoat

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