For most of its existence, Cadillac was considered the ultimate in luxury cars. But around the 1980s, something happened that disturbed Cadillac: Other manufacturers started producing luxury models to challenge their position. Especially troublesome in the late 80s was Mercedes. In 1988, Mercedes introduced its luxury roadster, the Mercedes-Benz 560SL… Cadillac knew they had to respond. And respond they did – in a big way – with the Cadillac Allante.
The Allante was an impressive two seater roadster convertible designed to be a Mercedes-killer. It was Cadillac’s first two-seater since 1941, and the auto maker made a great fuss over its front-drive chassis borrowed from their own sister automobile, the Eldorado.
The Allante’s wheelbase was a crisp 99.4 in. And Cadillac made sure they didn’t skimp on performance. The Allante came equipped with the company’s mainstay 4.1 liter V8 engine, with a sufficient 170 horse-power. The engine also featured roller-valve lifters, high flow cylinder heads and intake manifold.
There was a lot more than just the engine to recommend the Cadillac Allante, however. It also came standard with a lift-off hard-top, and offered an option for an installed cell phone. The upholstery was quite luxurious and in no way second-best to the Mercedes 560SL.
Still, for some reason, the car did not sell as well as Cadillac had hoped. There are several possibilities as to why. It might have been cost. At $57,000, it was Cadillac’s most expensive vehicle. Some people also accused the Allente of having a poor power-to-weight ratio, thus causing the car to perform sluggishly. Or it could just be that people who wanted a Mercedes got a Mercedes. Regardless, the sales were not quite up to what Cadillac had anticipated.
They set an initial goal of 4,000 cars sold in 1987, but only managed 3,065. As a result, Cadillac had to use rebates to get rid of several hundred cars. The “Automotive News” publication added insult to injury by naming the Cadillac Allante the 1987 “Flop of the Year.” Today, in retrospect, many car critics believe that the publication may have overstated the case, as sales were never quite disastrous – just not what had been hoped. And certainly not enough to make Mercedes tremble.
Still, Cadillac was not to be swayed. They made some modifications that they hoped would lift sales for the 1989 model. They introduced a new 4.5 litre 4.5 V8 engine. This amped the car up to animpressive 200 horse power at 4300 rpm. Also in the 1989 model was a speed sensitive damper system known as SD2C (“Speed Dependent Damping Control”). The result was that the suspension firmed up at 25 mph and again at 60 mph.
Sales picked up on the Allante – but just barely. The car didn’t change much over the next couple of years, until 1993. In that year, however, Cadillac decided to try to save the model one last time by introducing a number of significant alterations:
1. There was a redesigned Allante convertible
2. Cadillac placed their new Northstar V-8 engine in the cars, replacing the old 4.5 litre V8 engines
3. This engine was paired with the 4T80e electronically-controlled 4-speed automatic transmission
4. Another significant engine modification was its dual-stream injector “Fluid Induction System.” The Fluid Induction System cooled the vehicle’s fuel during operation, thus improving its performance
5. The transmission had a dual-lubricating system which provided the correct lubrication in all operating conditions
6. Cadillac added a road-sensing suspension to the Allante, as well as speed-sensitive steering
7. On the outside, the Allante had a headlamp washing system and new outer electric-heated rear-view mirrors
8. The new orthopedically-designed bucket seats were designed to give maximum support to car occupants
9. The console also had improvements, including a transmission-shift selector offset 20 degrees in the driver’s direction to make it easier to shift
10. And finally, standard on the new Allante was the new Pass Key 2 antitheft system.
For all of the changes – and they were many – those in the automotive press were not impressed. Although reviewers did like the new engine, they didn’t like the way the car handled. This was largely due to the car’s front wheel drive layout. However, the biggest problem for the Allante was a problem that had plagued it since it was introduced in the 1980s: price.
By this time, it was listing at $64,843. Although this seemed to Cadillac a bargain compared to the similar $72,000 Jaguar or the $90,000 Mercedes, the price was too high for many who did not want to invest that much on a vehicle that had been so roundly criticized in prior incarnations. As a result, the 1993 was the last model of the would-be “Mercedes killer”.
An interesting point of trivia: The Allante was a hodgepodge of production parts, stretching all the way from Michigan to Italy. The chassis was assembled in Detroit, but it was then flown to Italy. There, it was mounted to the chassis. The assembled vehicles were then flown once more back to Michigan, to have the final touches put on them. Indeed, the high cost of the Allante was in part due to this long assembly process. Also because of the multi-step assembling process, only about 21,000 of the cars were ever built.
While the Cadillac Allante never enjoyed runaway success, and therefore did not enjoy a long lifespan, even most critics will acknowledge it was one of the most luxurious roadsters ever built. For that reason, among car fans and collectors, it holds a special place in their hearts.