1989 Cadillac Allante

The Allante was Cadillac's first serious attempt at taking on the Mercedes SL.

After decades of European automakers seemingly trumping America's premier luxury brand, General Motors needed a car that could look and perform with the best of the best. Their answer was the Allante.

The first step to ensuring that goal was hiring an outside designer to craft the body. American auto design in the 1980s was at a crisis point. After the whimsical tail fins of the 1950s, big muscular shapes of the 60s and 70s, they were all but out of ideas by the dawn of the Reagan Bush Era. So they continued to adopt hard edges and angles that were clean and efficient to pump out of a factory stamp but largely uninspiring. At the worst, they were downright ugly.

The designer that GM eventually contracted was the very established and renowned Italian design house Pininfarina. Supposedly, the outsourcing so infuriated GM's in-house designers that they developed the Reatta for Buick to show what could have been. Unfortunately for those designers, the Reatta didn't go so well.

Giving styling duties over to Pininfarina did pay off, however. Their interpretation of Cadillac themes is brilliant. Interestingly, one of my favorite designers, the legendary Bruno Sacco of Mercedes, is quoted as not liking the Allante very much. Perhaps because it debuted in 1987, beating the much-needed R107 replacement, the R129, by a couple of years. Were they genuinely threatened that America had finally caught up?

The design is really good looking though. It's deceptively simple but infinitely pleasing to the eye. The front end wears these handsome flush rectangular headlamps with a wide stretched trademark Cadillac gridded grille and logo. There are no hood tacky emblems, thankfully. The sides are simply streamlined with horizontal lines. The rear wears large, broad taillights that feature what could be the first production use of the frosted "iceberg" look.

The Allante had several major problems, however. The first was production. The bodies were made in Italy, then flown here for remaining assembly, a costly and inefficient process. This was handed down to the consumer with an inflated list price. Secondly, they were front-wheel drive. Since powering the front wheels balances the car least, it is not considered ideal for sporty driving. But since the cars looked sporty, they ran a high risk of seeming like another all-show, no-go kind of car. And for the first few years of production, the Allante was offered with a small and poorly performing V8 engine. Thankfully in 1989 a new 4.5-litre V8 arrived. The stigma of FWD remained, however.

Fortunately, this is a 4.5L model. The seller says the car is mechanically sound, and wears the original paint. Furthermore, they state the digital instrument cluster is working fine and the leather seats have no rips. They state the odometer reads 108, 325. Since the engine and transmission were sourced from GM, parts are plentiful and the cars aren't known for having many mechanical issues. This could be good for another 100k miles.

I would love to bomb around in one of these. Take it to the beach, cruise with the top down at night, goof around with friends. It's not a collector car that people take remotely seriously, but it is fast and good looking. Prices are dropping hard for them. I selected this one because it looks good in black/black (too many are in red) and is really cheap. For under $5k, you can have a interesting and entertaining footnote in Cadillac and Pininfarina history. Only 21, 430 were ever made, with production ending in 1993.

Find it here on ebay with a buy it now of $4,600.

1 comment:

  1. The Allante was certainly an interesting car, but this one has an interesting mileage and ownership history as well. AutoCheck score of 10 (not good) with 8 previous owners. Almost 60K miles in the first 3 years, the first 105K miles were in NYC (also, not good). Less than 2K miles in the last 11 years, and only 760 miles in the last 7 years...wow.

    As an SL competitor, it didn't do very well. Maybe it was the inferior quality, maybe it was the unimpressive interior design, maybe it was the lack of design character, maybe it was the SL-like price, maybe it was the FWD, maybe it was because Cadillac had a very poor image at the time, maybe it was because no one under 60 was willing to be seen in one, maybe it was...

    "It's not a collector car that people take remotely seriously." True that.