In Nineteen-Ninety, the approximate model year of the above car, I was a teenager and regular Billboard Magazine music chart devotee. The local newspaper, the Flint Journal, which I delivered, included the top-10 lists of four major charts on a weekly basis in its entertainment section: The Billboard 200 album chart, the Hot 100 singles chart, and the corresponding tallies for R&B/Hip-Hop songs and albums.
Once everyone in my family was done with the paper that day, I would take a scissors to it, cut out those charts, and paste them with Elmer’s glue into a spiral notebook in which I also documented my life. Both popular music and statistics have always interested me, and these music charts which tracked the numerical performance of songs and artists seemed to combine the best of both of these worlds for me.
Ft. Myers, Florida. December 2016.
A trip to one of the area malls in Flint would often involve ducking into a bookstore to search the periodicals for a copy of Billboard magazine, which I would search for my favorite artists and the rest of the chart information that wasn’t printed in the newspaper. I remember 1990 as being a year that I had started to get my sea legs in teenage social settings and really liking the person I saw myself becoming. Much of my income was spent on music around this time, and many songs from that era still bring me great joy and feel like the world is yet my proverbial oyster when I hear them today.
One of my favorite musical discoveries from 1990 was English R&B singer Lisa Stansfield, who burst onto the U.S. music scene that year with her soulful, multi-format smash hit, “All Around The World”. I have always liked, listened to, and appreciated all kinds of music, across all genres, which probably had less to do with my own multi-ethnic background than with my use of music as an escape and means of connection to my peers at my very diverse high school. My family didn’t have cable television (which made me consider us relatively “poor”, which we weren’t), so I didn’t have regular access to viewing all the latest music videos and seeing what some singers and bands, both new and old, actually looked like.
When I went to buy this cassette single and saw this alabaster-skinned caucasian woman with shortly-cropped hair and a couple of kiss curls framing her beautiful face, I thought she might be the second coming of Teena Marie (whose artistry I also love, may she rest in peace), another white, female artist with an authentically soulful voice, sound, and phrasing. Unlike Ms. Marie, though, whose initial singles in the late ’70s didn’t include a picture of her on the cover, leading many listeners to assume she was black, Ms. Stansfield’s image was front and center on the artwork for both her single and its parent album, “Affection”, the latter of which landed in the top-10 of both the Billboard 200 and R&B/Hip-Hop album charts and was certified RIAA Platinum with sales of over 1,000,000 copies, Stateside.
All three singles chosen for official U.S. release from this debut album were successful, but “All Around The World” probably remains my favorite. Around the time “AATW” peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100, No. 7 Adult Contemporary, and No. 1 on both the R&B and Dance Club charts, the Cadillac Allanté was a new, prestigious, and very expensive car.
And as the lyrics of this song went, an Allanté sitting in the plate glass-lined showroom of your local, friendly Cadillac dealer had also been basically all around the world before getting there. Before its final assembly had been completed, this car had already traveled more miles (or kilometers) than possibly everyone in some families, combined. Its beautiful, chiseled, tastefully restrained styling came from Pininfarina, which also built the bodies at a dedicated facility about twenty miles outside of Turin, Italy.
The bodies were then flown over 4,600 miles (over 7,400 kilometers) in specially-prepared Boeing 747 airplanes to Hamtramck, that city-within-a-city (Detroit) in Michigan. It was there that they were joined to their domestically designed, sourced and produced drivetrains which, for 1990, included a 200-hp 4.5L V8 and a four-speed automatic transmission. The expense involved in all of this was passed down into a really high price point of entry. The first-year ’87 models started at $54,700 (about $125,000 in 2020), which was within 1% of what Mercedes-Benz was charging for the 560SL roadster against which the Allanté was intended to compete.
Only just over 21,400 Allantés were produced over seven model years, with the final ’93 models being the high water mark for sales, with 4,670 sold that year. If the featured car is a 1990, a year I used because it is both the centermost year of production and also the year of the chart peak of the song to which I’m tying it, then it’s one of about 3,100 units sold that year – a figure which, interestingly enough, is very close to the 3,060 average the Allanté sold for each of its seven model years. By contrast, the 560SL sold an average of over 12,000 cars in each of its four model years in the U.S. between 1986 and ’89.
The Allanté has been covered previously and extensively at Curbside, with great essays on it linked both here and here with a lot of great, factual information about this model’s genesis and relatively short life that was not altogether happy. As for me, though, just seeing one of these in the metal reminds me of when they were new, and the way I had started to feel, as an optimistic, teenaged car fan, that General Motors was going to be getting back to the business of designing and building really exciting cars again.
In the aforementioned hit song by Lisa Stansfield, she begins with the chorus, “‘Been around the world, and I… I… I… I can’t find my baby.” In the Allanté’s case, it had been around the world (from birth), but couldn’t find its buyers, respect, or even its quality at the beginning, though the latter did markedly improve. Sometimes a thing represents much more than what it is on the surface, a kind of intangible feeling. For me, the Allanté will always remain a beautiful, desirable machine, much like “Affection” remains a timeless album for me. Both remind me of a time when it felt like truly great things were just around the corner… for General Motors, for popular music, and for myself.
Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Monday, March 28, 2011.