In the era of Reaganomics and a nationwide sense of optimism, the Cadillac Allanté was born to revitalize the aging GM brand and compete with some of Europe's finest GTs.
By the mid-1980s, Cadillac, historically celebrated as “the standard of the world,” urgently needed a rejuvenation.
This period, defined by Ronald Reagan's presidency, bold shoulder pads, and a prevailing belief in limitless possibilities, saw the General Motors subsidiary still clinging to a dated formula. This included large chrome accents, expansive V8 engines, plush suspension, comfortable seating, and a handling experience comparable to maneuvering a shopping trolley downhill using a broom for direction.
To illustrate Cadillac’s inefficiency in power, consider the 1985 Seville with its 4.1-litre V8 engine, producing a mere 135bhp. This is akin to Connor McGregor entering a match, delivering a feeble punch, declaring a lack of enthusiasm, and then retreating to a pub indefinitely.
As discussed, Cadillac's antiquated styling and technology were alienating a significant segment of their home market, particularly younger, affluent buyers.
Cadillac was aware that change was imperative to avoid becoming obsolete. Without innovation, they risked being relegated to the "Blue Rinse" demographic, joining the ranks of other GM brands like Buick and Oldsmobile, which were favored by older generations for their nostalgic appeal.
Conceived in Italy and Assembled in Detroit, the Cadillac Allanté Emerged as a Unique Experiment
Seeking a competitive edge, Cadillac collaborated with Pininfarina to craft the Allanté, positioning it as GM’s contender against the likes of the Mercedes-Benz SL and Jaguar XJS, both of which were popular among the affluent youth in Reagan-era America.
This partnership with the Turin-based firm was not unprecedented for Detroit's Cadillac. Their association with Pininfarina can be traced back to 1931, highlighted by the Italian firm's craftsmanship on the V16-powered Cadillac 452A roadster.
In 1959, Pininfarina was also behind the design and construction of the Cadillac Brougham, a hallmark of American luxury in the post-war period. With this rich legacy, Cadillac renewed its collaboration with the renowned coachbuilder for the Cadillac Allanté.
Pininfarina was responsible for the Allanté's design, constructing the bodies, painting them, and fitting them with convertible tops and interior trim supplied by GM.
After completion, these car bodies were transported via a modified Boeing 747 from Turin to Detroit. In Detroit, the vehicles were equipped with their engines, transaxles, and most mechanical components.
This unique production approach was dubbed “the world’s longest assembly line”. Moreover, the task of naming the car involved choosing from a list of 1,700 randomly computer-generated terms.
The Cadillac Allanté's Global Manufacturing Drove Up Costs and Its Performance Lagged Until the Final Year
The overall manufacturing process for the Allanté was notably costly.
Launched in mid-1986 as a 1987 model, the Allanté had an initial price tag of $54,700, equivalent to more than $120,000 (£88,000) in current currency.
Similar to the Seville, the Allanté was powered by a 4.1L V8 engine producing 170bhp. However, this power was directed to the front wheels, and the vehicle was exclusively available with automatic transmissions.
This configuration, combined with its exorbitant price, made the Allanté less appealing to those seeking high performance, especially given its intent to rival Europe's top GT cars.
Despite Cadillac's initial sales projection of 6,000 units per year, actual sales averaged about half that number annually.
Variations in engines and transmissions were explored, but it wasn't until 1993, the final model year, that the Allanté saw a significant power increase. This was thanks to Cadillac's 4.6L Northstar V8 engine, which produced 295bhp with its four overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. This boost in power led to a spike in sales, with 4,670 units sold in 1993 - the highest annual sales for the Allanté.
However, the introduction of the Northstar engine was too late to prevent the discontinuation of the model. Over its seven-year lifespan, only 21,430 Allantés were produced, a number significantly lower than Cadillac's typical production figures. For context, in 1987 alone, over 65,000 Broughams were sold. Despite being a niche model not expected to match the sales of Cadillac’s domestically-produced vehicles, the Allanté still fell considerably short of the company's expectations.
Could 2024 Mark the Turning Point for the Cadillac Allanté as a Collector's Item?
In 2024, despite its rarity, finding well-preserved examples of the Allanté is still relatively easy. This availability is largely due to the behavior of its owners, many of whom stored their vehicles away for years, hoping for an increase in value.
However, this expectation has not been met, as the Allanté's market value did not see the anticipated rise, with prices dropping before eventually stabilizing, but only recently.
I often liken the Allanté to the Beanie Babies of the 90s - those small, slightly underfilled plush toys. Many people collected them in large numbers, storing them away with the misplaced hope that they would someday become valuable collectibles, a sentiment similarly echoed by Allanté owners.
It's important to acknowledge that despite significant depreciation, the contentious Allanté retained its value better than other Cadillac models from the same period.
In the current climate, influenced by the Radwood movement and growing fascination with vehicles from the 80s and 90s, the Allanté may be on the cusp of achieving the long-anticipated status of a bona fide collector's car.
From a personal standpoint, I recommend steering clear of the Northstar-equipped models, as these engines have a reputation for being remarkably unstable.
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Meanwhile, for those eager to acquire a piece of Radwood Americana, explore the range of Cadillac Allantés featured on Dyler.com by clicking on these four yellow words.
1987 Cadillac Allante Commercial