Curbside Classic: 1987 Cadillac Allante – Apple Pie In An Italian Suit

Everyone has different theories.  My theory is the creation of the Allante goes something like this….

…One day back in the early to mid-1980’s, Somebody in Charge at Cadillac awoke with a hangover.  Too much rum and dancing with foxy brunettes while dancing to Donna Summer can have bad consequences.

“Criminy”, he thought.  “We used to be The Standard of the World.  Cadillac stood for something.  You knew somebody was successful when they bought a Cadillac.  They had arrived.  It’s what everybody strove for.  You did not walk down the street and see more than one Cadillac, unless you were in a Mafia stronghold.  Hell, Cadillacs were exclusive!  Cadillac helped run Packard and Pierce-Arrow out of business for crying out loud with great cars like the V16 in the 1930s.  We had luxury down to a science!”

“Now what the hell do we have?  We have Sedan de Villes that are the same size as a Ford Fairmont, only uglier.  Geez, we even have that insipid Cimarron.  That thing is living proof you can’t put lipstick on a pig.  Each of those blasted cars is a dagger into the heart of our reputation!”

“I better not even start to think of engineering…we put the first electric starter ever on a production vehicle.  Now, we have the V8-6-4 and HT4100.  That’s real progress.”

“And what about our customer base?  It’s the senior citizen crowd.  Only the old folks still want a Cadillac; they love Broughams.  Everybody under 60 wants a damn Mercedes!”

“We can still build a fine car, but what the hell have we been thinking?  Man, my head hurts.  I need a drink to help me think…”

So Somebody In Charge sat down with a Schlitz in his overstuffed leather recliner and turned on the television.  “How appropriate”, he thought.  “Days of Our Lives in on.  There’s always somebody in a world of crap on that show.”

Somebody in Charge forgot that inspiration can often strike with quite profound force at the most bewildering of times.  As soon as the commercial hit, an advertisement for the next episode of Miami Vice appeared.

“That’s it!”, exclaimed Somebody in Charge.  “That is exactly what we need.  Why didn’t I think of that sooner!  Where’s the phone???”

Almost spilling his Schlitz, Somebody in Charge called Product Planner.  Somebody in Charge was excited.  Product Planner was uncertain.

“Hey, Product Planner, grab a pen.  I have an idea.  Do you know how these Italian cars are all the rage?  Yeah, you know, those Ferraris and Lamborghinis, stuff like that?  I have an idea.  What if we took a modified Cadillac chassis and had some Italian coachbuilder, say Pininfarina, put a body on it?  We could have all sorts of new accessories on it, like a cell phone antenna and speed sensitive suspensions.  Stuff we’ll roll out to the other cars in a year or two.  Oh, and it needs to be a convertible.  Hell, make it a convertible with a removable hardtop, kinda like Ford offered on the original Thunderbird.  And, let’s give it some exotic sounding name.  What do you think?”

Somebody in Charge grew excited as Product Planner now shared his enthusiasm.  Little did Somebody in Charge realize that Product Planner looked forward to having a car that wouldn’t be mimicked by those pesky copycats at Oldsmobile.  Product Planner was still ticked about the Cutlass Supreme Sedan looking way too much like his beloved ’75 Seville.  And about the rumors of the impending N-cars doing the same thing.  Loss of exclusivity, twice over.

Two weeks later, Somebody in Charge and Product Planner went to the GM product committee to sell their idea.  Their idea of creating a flagship Cadillac was welcomed with open arms.  The word “promotion” was bandied about during their meeting.  Somebody in Charge and Product Planner were really excited…

…Or maybe it didn’t really happen that way and your author is full of hot air.  It is just a theory, after all.

Whatever the genesis, Cadillac did indeed create a much needed flagship with the Allante.  Pininfarina built the bodies and trimmed the interiors in Italy.  The painted and trimmed bodies were then flown back to the United States where engine, transmission and suspension components were added. Special 747s were used to ship the bodies from Italy to Detroit.  During production of the Allante, it was referred to by critics as the world’s longest assembly line.

Reviews of the cars were mixed the first few years after their 1987 introduction.  Cadillac had opted to use their existing 4.1 liter V8 and front-wheel drive.  This combination of choices for a car aimed to compete with the Mercedes 450SL was seen as underwhelming by the automotive press.  Cadillac was also blasted for the $53,000 sticker price, an amount higher than any Cadillac to date. Another critique was the lack of a power convertible top on such an expensive car. A manual top, on a Cadillac?

Improvements to the car were made annually, with the pinnacle model being the swan song 1993 model.  After years of criticism on the initial 4.1 liter, and later 4.5 liter, V8’s, Cadillac placed the 4.6 liter 32 valve Northstar V8 in the Allante that last year.  Sales were up dramatically to 4,670, its highest sales year, from the 1992 model year total of 1,931.  Previous years had ranged in production from 2,500 to 3,300.  Cadillac had initially hoped for around 6,000 sales per year.

This Allante was found in Hannibal, Missouri.  For having a population of 17,000, odds would seem against it, but I have discovered two Allantes floating around town.  The white one featured is an ’89 or older model, as it has no airbag and airbags came about in 1990 for the Allante.  I saw this Allante periodically for the five years I lived in Hannibal and it likely has many miles on it.  It is also used frequently and is not babied, as evidenced by the exterior grime and empty Diet Coke cans on the floorboard.  When these pictures were taken during a recent trip there it was the first time I had ever seen it sitting.  The owner is well into his 80’s and still drives the copper ’78 Pontiac Formula he purchased new (it is rumored to have around 300,000 miles) as well as an early ’80’s Cadillac Seville.

The other Allante was discovered about two years ago when I spoke to the owner about a different vehicle he had for sale.  His was a ’93 that he had purchased new and was ultra-low mileage.  However, he had fallen upon hard times and it was soon to be his primary vehicle.  I haven’t seen it since.

Cadillac made a very wise move by building this fine automobile.  All the cheekiness of my theory aside, it appears that many people missed the point of the Allante.  Cadillac was seeking to recapture a degree of product exclusivity by crafting a product that quietly and tastefully conveyed its mission.  The intent was not to build a Corvette or Mercedes fighter but rather a fine and comfortable cruiser the owner could be proud to own and be seen in.  Isn’t that what Cadillac used to be about?