Junkyard Gem: 1989 Cadillac Allanté

After spending most of the 20th century at or near the top of the American automotive prestige pyramid, GM’s Cadillac Division found itself losing ground fast to European manufacturers in the 1970s and 1980s, with Japanese competitors clearly gearing up for their own assault in the near future. With the average age of Cadillac DeVille and Eldorado purchasers inching alarmingly higher even as younger plutocrats snapped up new Mercedes-Benz SLs and BMW 6-Series, Cadillac decided that a two-seat roadster designed by the legendary Pininfarina design house would be just the ticket to regain dominance at the top of the luxury-car food chain. That car was the Cadillac Allanté, and I found this one in a San Francisco Bay Area car graveyard awhile back.

Allanté bodies were built by Pininfarina in Turin, Italy, then flown to Hamtramck, Michigan in custom-built 747s. Once there, the bodies were attached to a shortened version of the chassis used by the Cadillac Eldorado, Oldsmobile Toronado, and Buick Riviera.

As you might have expected, this manufacturing process cost plenty, and the Allanté came with a correspondingly impressive price tag. This car had an MSRP of $57,183, which comes to about $138,020 in 2022 dollars. Meanwhile, the second-most expensive 1989 Cadillac model, the Fleetwood Sixty Special, cost just $34,230 (around $86,620 now). 

The Allanté’s sticker price placed it just below the cost of the 1989 Mercedes-Benz 560SL roadster, which could be exchanged for a suitcase containing 642 white-powder-sprinkled $100 bills ($155,030 now). BMW didn’t offer any two-seaters that year, but the devilishly fast and sleek M6 could be had for $55,950 (preferably looted from a soon-to-be-bankrupt S&L in a “dead horses for dead cows” scheme). Meanwhile, your friendly Jaguar dealer was happy to sell you a V12-powered XJ-S convertible for an even 56 grand that year. The Allanté faced some serious showroom competition, in other words.

The problem for Cadillac — aside from the front-wheel-drive rig — was that the Allanté’s running gear was pretty old-timey for the late 1980s. The engine was the 4.5-liter version of the pushrod HT4100 V8, which had an aluminum block and modern electronic fuel injection but still seemed like an antique next to the DOHC engines offered by BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The version in the Allanté made 200 horsepower, 45 more than the 4.5 used in lesser Cadillacs that year, but nearly everyone saw an ordinary Eldorado when they opened the Allanté’s hood. 

A four-speed automatic was the only transmission available on the Allanté, which was also the case with the Mercedes-Benz 560SL.

The digital dash in the Allanté was properly futuristic, though not quite as wild as what Subaru was offering in the XT at the time.

Radio, trip-computer, and HVAC controls were extremely complex, with an expanse of buttons that looked like something out of the Space Shuttle.

This car was sold new in Denver, then migrated west at some point.

It appears that a Chevrolet dealer in the Central Valley got this car as a trade-in, failed to sell it as a runner, and it ended up here. Perhaps it developed some costly mechanical problem during a test drive.

Cadillac sold the Allanté from the 1987 through 1993 model years, with the ’93s getting the modern Northstar engine. 

Polo players, helicopter riders, mobile-phone users all agreed: The only way to travel was Cadillac style.

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