Over the years, some cars have been somewhat misjudged. The Corvette-based Cadillac XLR, which Thomas wrote about a little while back, is certainly one of them. However, there are others where the media and so-called car “experts” have gone out of their way to flat out lambast, and they’re quite undeserving of such vitriol. I think that the XLR’s predecessor, the Allanté, certainly qualifies for some clemency.
source:Bring A Trailer
Let’s look at some automotive history. Jason Torchinsky once wrote about “ghost cars” that have disappeared, but there are actually entire genres of cars that are now gone. From the late eighties through the early 2000s, there was a surprising number of relatively large, expensive, strictly two seat cars with very limited sporting pretensions available from manufacturers across the globe. I call them Fake SLs.
The real SL, of course, started out as a very sporting convertible version of the Gullwing 300SL Mercedes, and over the years ultimately grew to become something that seemed a bit silly to still bear the initials that stand for “Super Light.” The later generations of Benz SL were boulevardiers driven by mature ladies with boldly branded purses or grey-haired guys with hairy forearms and metal wristband watches. Appearance of the SL on trash TV shows like Dallas and Hart to Hart made it an aspirational car of eighties-era people everywhere.
source: Wikipedia/Hydro and Wikipedia/Granada
For this reason, it seemed like every manufacturer HAD to have a “halo” car in its lineup that followed the SL specification, though none could repeat the success of the Benz (or even come close). Fake SL entries included the TV-screen-dash Buick Reatta coupe and convertible, the Chrysler TC by Maserati, and arguably the Maserati Biturbo Spyder.
sources: Wikipedia/Mesatrooper and Mecum (car for sale)
Later, we had the Lexus SC430 (a surprising flop from a company that aced the ripoff of the S-Class sedan) and the revived retro T-Bird (the original 1955-57 Thunderbird was almost the template for the soft Mercedes SL).
sources: Mecum (car for sale) and Wikipedia/IFCAR
These attempts ranged from pointless to embarrassing, especially from today’s perspective. The Cadillac Allanté, however, seemed to have what it took to unseat the SL, at least in terms of looks and pedigree when introduced in 1988. Pininfarina created a crisp and angular shape that made the concurrent Mercedes R107 SL look like the near-twenty-year-old car it was then. It’s also, at least in my opinion, visually lighter than the heavy-looking R129 replacement that Benz introduced for 1990.
Of course, things fell apart with the execution of the project. Pininfarina built the bodies themselves at great cost and shipped them to Michigan with special Boeing 747s at even greater cost.
source: General Motors via West Coast Shipping
This now-near-SL-priced body was then mated to Eldorado mechanicals at a GM plant which was still reportedly suffering from teething issues. According to Comeback: The Fall & Rise of the American Automobile Industry (Ingrassia and White), the heavily automated factory had just opened in 1985, and this ‘most advanced car factory in the world was not really ready for prime time. Robots apparently would end up painting each other, paint drying booths could melt taillights, and robots would try to put Eldorado bumpers onto the Oldsmobile Toronados or Buick Rivieras coming down the same production line. This doesn’t sound like a place you would want your $70,000 car built. The Allanté was improved over the years (including adding the 32 valve Northstar V8), then followed in the fix-it-too-late-then-kill-it footsteps of other GM products like the Corvair and Fiero to the grave in 1993.
Still, the resulting car was presentable and pleasant, more than capable of the drive-to-the-country-club duty it was designed for. Certainly it doesn’t seem to belong on those trite ‘worst cars of all time’ lists made by people that regurgitate click bait. The Allanté’s design shouldn’t be pissed upon, and possibly even revered.
Let’s say that Pininfarina never sold this thing as a Cadillac. What if they hadn’t put these bodies on the special 747s to transport them to Detroit, and instead finished the car in Italy? What would that look like, and how would that have been received? In my opinion, the design would have been lauded by the pundits in this alternate reality.
source: Pedigree Motorcars
Instead of GM mechanicals, this fictitious car would be underpinned by a ‘Type 4’ chassis which was used on the SAAB 9000, Fiat Chroma, Lancia Thema and Alfa 164. However, on the outside my fake car is virtually unchanged. I went ahead and un-Cadillac-ed an Allanté by photoshopping on nothing more than a Lancia grille, Lancia badges and Thema-based taillights to turn it into what I might name a ‘Lancia Zeta Spyder’. The Zeta could feature the Lancia V6 or maybe even a Ferrari V8 as was installed on the rare Thema 8-3.2 (so still a front wheel drive V8 like the Detroit-completed car).
While the driving experience might be improved, as a boulevardier I doubt buyers would care. Also, as a product of 1980s FIAT I believe that the quality and reliability would likely have been no better than the GM car (maybe worse). However, I would be willing to bet that car snobs would be falling all over themselves to praise the styling of the Zeta and be weeping in the presence of a classic Pininfarina design, which it is. At the very least, it would never see a Worst Car List, regardless of how badly the Italian electrical system acted up. That’s really not fair.
If nothing else, I certainly think that conceptually the Allanté was arguably the best Fake SL ever built, a dubious honor in a genre that is now essentially gone. Even the actual Mercedes SL seems to barely be hanging on now, with older ladies preferring to plop their Hermes bags in white Porsche SUVs and G-Wagons.
Come on, people. Let’s finally cut the Allanté some slack.
Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines Corvette Sedan And Wagon In 1978 – The Autopian
The Cadillac XLR Was More Than Just A Neutered Corvette – The Autopian
A Daydreaming Designer Looks At How Rebadging Might Have Saved Some Automotive Failures – The Autopian
Our Daydreaming Designer Solves Cadillac’s Problem From 40 Years Ago – The Autopian
The Type 4 platform was a winner…once SAAB added enough high strength steel to make it one of the safest cars ever built. As I understand it, when the Thema based units arrived at SAAB with assurances it was safe, the SAAB engineers where not very impressed. And apparently they were not surprised either.
As for the Northstar V8, the earlier version head bolts tended to stretch and to install them in the firewall side of the transverse engine it had to be removed. If you missed the time periods on the service bulletins, it became a very expensive procedure.
Hmmm I wonder if there is a decent body available to combine with an LS engine? Now that might be interesting.
I got all excited when I saw “Type 4,” then realized you’re talking about the WRONG TYPE 4.
I say double-down on the flop. Plop this bad boy on the platform of the least loved VW of all time.
The front plate is too big. Italian front plates are comically tiny.
The problem with the Allante, in my mind, was that it was fancy without being luxurious: luxury should be effortless – the car should be a magic carpet ride where things just happen with minimal input from the occupants.
Stealing a quote from a Hagerty review:
” It simply wasn’t user-friendly, with 54 switches on the dash and push-buttons you couldn’t read without taking your eyes off the road. I called it an interesting mix of quality materials and bonehead logic. There were five switches for headlights, three for washers/wipers, 12 for climate control, eight for driver’s service center, 18 for the stereo, and eight for the CD player.”
Then there was the manual convertible top. The Cadillacs of the early 60’s had power tops.Mercedes had power tops. Chevys had power tops. In the Allante putting up the top was a 7 step process.
Finally, of course there was the reliability problem(s). The digital dashes were notorious – the Northstar engines were notorious. The nits and bits of the car that weren’t bespoke were GM parts bin quality.
The driving experience was mediocre, and here is where The Bishop’s premise of rebadging the car as a Lancia fails. Italian cars (and especially Lancia) are forgiven their failing because of the pleasure they provide in between repairs. The Allante provides none of that pleasure. It is just a big (handsome) boat.
About 12 years ago I in advertently became a Cadillac person. Since then I have owned 3 Cadillacs and had I the scratch, the Alliante would have been a 4th. I’m particularly happy with my latest, a 2019 CT6 3.0 liter twin turbo. The performance is exhilerating and the comfort beyond reproach. My previous 2 didn’t have it’s performance but were still very fine automobiles that gave exemplary service. So, bottom line? I would be proud to own an Alliante!
If I ever find myself with too much money it will be hard to resist a Hot V Blackwing.
Yeah well, it’s quite a big barge for being a Lancia really.
But given the SAAB/Lancia friendship it could have been fun to have an elegant and good looking version of the lumpy big-assed SAAB 9-3 or NG or whatsitcalled cabriolet.
(The old swedish low trunk 900 Cabriolet is beautiful. I do love that one!)
What’s with the flying back and forth, was there a particular rush like you specified it and then didn’t want to wait for the RoRo Carrier to arrive or just to raise eyebrows? Wonder how many more miles you could travel (per Allante) with the fuel from those flights.
> The later generations of Benz SL were boulevardiers driven by mature ladies with boldly branded purses or grey-haired guys with hairy forearms and metal wristband watches. Appearance of the SL on trash TV shows like Dallas and Hart to Hart made it an aspirational car of eighties-era people everywhere.
I’m in this article and I don’t like it.
For the record I have a full head of brown hair, normal forearm pilosity, no watches of any kind, and murses in boring colors because evidently colors are for the wimmin.
> The Allanté’s design shouldn’t be pissed upon, and possibly even revered.
Revered? When the R107 exists? That’s a bridge too far. The Allante (and the Reatta, which IMO looks more inspired) are boring. And they’re both missing a crucial part of the R107’s design appeal, which is the unbroken arrow-straight line from nose to tail. The hood, top of doors, and trunk lid are all on the same level. The GMs have a little jog where the retractable top is stowed and a tall butt. That’s weak. And the R107’s face, especially with the dual sealed beam headlights we got in the US, is unmatched perfection. Geiger at MB caught lightning in a bottle more than once at MB and the R107 is perfection.
Fantastic piece, Bishop!
Stephen- thank you! I figured that as a champion of unloved cars you’d be down with showing some appreciation to an often-dumped-upon machine!
Agreed, it’s a solid improvement over the GM. The butt you added looks more like an Audi 200 of the same era.
Figure I may as well chuck my two cents in, as a few people down here have mentioned it. The Allante is a really, really handsome car. And having driven one, it doesn’t drive badly either, as long as you keep in mind it’s not a sports car.
But as ever with GM, the idea was bad and the execution a grade A balls up.
it was done at Roger Smith’s behest, because he wanted to get into that SL market (and remember the SL was an old car when the Allante came out). He didn’t realise people paid a lot of money for Mercedes and Jaguars BECAUSE they were not from Detroit, and no amount of Pininfarina styling was going to change that. Making it FWD and not having an electric hood were other blunders, aside from the approximate build quality (although the later ones were a LOT better).
Bill Mitchell hated it, not because of the design (he was very much a Europhile) but because Irv Rybicki had basically let the 14th floor do what they wanted without input from the Tech Center. A Cadillac designed in Europe was unthinkable to Mitchell.
Adrian, your arcane, insider design knowledge always impresses. Cheers, mate!
There’s literally no beginning to my talents.
“The Zeta could feature the Lancia V6 or maybe even a Ferrari V8 as was installed on the rare Thema 8-3.2 (so still a front wheel drive V8 like the Detroit-completed car).”
Well if we are talking about an imaginary car, then that car should have the Saab V8 that was cancelled in the real world:
At the risk of heresy or lese-majeste Cadillac should had Fisher build the bodies and used a Buick 3800 V6. Even with a supercharger these were stone reliable, unlike the HT4100 and Northstar. The concept was fine but as with so many GM “better ideas” the execution was flawed and doomed the car
Slow Joe- certainly that would have put the price point far lower. I think the V8 was a bit of a non-negotiable for Cadillac, but if the body were made domestically and the sticker brought down to below $50,000 or so I think it could have been more successful.
See my comment above. Smith thought they could get away with SL pricing without understanding why people paid it.
it was definitely too expensive for what it was.
I recently got a ’88 SL with the original Monroney in the paperwork and it was shocking. I knew it was pricey back in the day but lord almighty that was a $120k car in today’s money. It certainly turns heads and it amuses me that it cost me far less than a newer Civic.
Actually, Cadillac Allanté was officially sold in Europe for a few years. I have seen a couple in the Switzerland and Italy with ECE headlamps, taillamps with amber turn signal indicators, side turn signal repeaters (Italy only), headlamp washers, wider numberplate bezel in the rear.
(I wish I could post the photos of the export version of Allanté here!)
The ECE headlamps from Allanté were used on the export version of Eldorado (Mk 11) and Seville (Mk 3). They don’t fit in the housing very well with noticeable gaps.
(I wish I could post more photos of the Allanté’s ECE headlamps here!)
I wonder if they got a second 747 ride back to Europe after completion, or if they had to take the boat.
My best friend has had one for twenty years, and literally yesterday just had a bad accident in it in torrential rain.
it’s probably going to be a write off.
I would call this Lancia a worthy successor to the Pininfarina Azzurra (AKA Fiat Spider 2000) on Pininfarina’s assembly line.
Widgetsltd- funny you should say that. According to Malcolm Bricklin, GM did not want to have a low cost Pininfarina car in the market at the same time as the Allante, so Malcolm (who sold the Azzura here in the US) was told that production of the Spider was over. This forced Bricklin to look for another car to sell, which turned out to be the Yugo.
I have owned Fiat 124 Spiders (two 1973 and a 1974) and a Yugo GV. It turned out that my rusty Spiders were not a wise choice for a college student in late-80’s Ohio. The Yugo was capable, but boring and led to the purchase of my ’74 Spider. I also had a ’76 Lancia Beta Coupe after the first ’73 Spider. I traded the Lancia in for the Yugo in 1989. The Yugo was cheap, thanks to the Balkan war…
I’m curious what the metal watch bracelet comment is about. I know I’m getting old so I likely don’t get it.
I’ve always appreciated the Allante’s design. At least the exterior.
Probably a Rolex Oyster Perpetual. In the gold and silver finish combination. Nothing wrong with that watch, but it just seemed to be the watch of choice for rich mature dudes driving Allantes. He’s typically not a TAG Heuer Monaco dude.
I get ya, 2 tone Rolex and a hair shirt, haha.
I have a friend who bought one of these when it first came out. I think it’s still the only one I have actually ever seen on the road. He had so many issues with it that he kept a swear jar in it.
I shudder to think how much worse it would have been with Lancia mechanicals and build quality of that era.
andyindividual- as I recall, they had compound issues especially on the first ones. For example, supposedly the top leaked on early ones, and as water got into the instrument panel the electronic gauges fried out. I also know that top was hard to pull shut and I’ve heard stories of people breaking the rear window trying to get the back to seal. I could be wrong about these but I know there were many problems. Of course, as I stated in the article, a lot of these problems were fixed by the time sales were in the toilet thanks to the issues of the earlier cars.
Yes, he did have an early model and as I recall top issues were the most common. I think even the removable hardtop never fit quite right. He also had engine issues and I remember being surprised by how many interior trim parts were falling off.
He had multiple cars and called this one his ‘parade’ car for nice days, so it was low mileage but it still disintegrated in a few years and he moved on.
The ABS had issues, too, very sensitive to fluid age, and I believe the audio system had a lot of problems, possibly related to moisture getting into the speakers
Ranwhenparked- the Bose speakers die out relatively quickly in that era. I had the system in a Nissan Z32 and had to solder on new capacitors to get them working again,
“Let’s say that Pininfarina never sold this thing as a Cadillac.”
I’ve said this about the Black Album since it came out. If it hadn’t said “Metallica,” it would have been everybody’s favorite.
Based on sales numbers, it is everybody’s favorite, grumpy old Master of Puppets diehards notwithstanding.
BTW 72 Seasons slaps.
Man, that CD never left my auto hanger back in the day. What an album.
I think the Allante got all of the respect it was due during its production run, which is not much. It was a “meh” car during a “meh” automotive age that didn’t ring bells for many outside of the white shoes and belts crowd. But, I’m also a guy who doesn’t think Cadillac has produced a car worth buying since the ‘58 Eldorado Biarritz.
Canopysaurus- well, shit. If you like a car with magnetic silver drink tumblers in the glove box then NOTHING is gonna live up to that, is it?
Just saw this one yesterday. Has the HT, which I’d prefer over the Northstar.
mber- also, early Northstars had, uh, issues from what I remember.
Well, only if you consider head bolt thread failure an issue. On an engine that requires removal in order to remove the heads. Which might end up being warped.
It’s the usual GM rule, don’t buy the new stuff, buy the old stuff.
I agree! Something strange has happened to me of late where I look Allante’s up every so often. I actually dig the design. This class of cars is one I am a huge fan of. No, it’s not sporty driving enthusiast land, nor does it need to be. I have a 380SL and I love it, drove it cross country, and have just used the heck out of it as a pleasant place to be and a car that makes ordinary transportation something pleasant and enjoyable. When you go somewhere in a convertible, no matter where it is or what you’re doing, I’d the weather is nice you’re having a better time than those driving around you. There’s something to be said about achieving pleasantness in that way
Protodite- I think if many buyers were honest with themselves, they would agree. I know of a number of older well-to-do men that bought automatic convertible 911s or similar sports cars and flat out never drive them since they realize that they are, well, sports cars and just hate to use them.
Yeah! I totally agree with that! I’m big on different cars for different uses, not a one stop machine that does everything but is too compromised to be of any interest whatsoever (i.e. performance SUVs. No, it doesn’t handle like a sports car or a coupe. No, it’s not engaging because none of them have manual transmissions and no one is ever going to use paddle shifters on the wheel because the car will be placed in Auto mode and never moved. And oh yeah it probably does all the SUV stuff less well than a dedicated counterpart.) There’s plenty of fun to be had with a car when you allow it to lean into what it’s good at! I don’t go expecting my R107 to go behaving like a Miata, nor really would I want it.
The Allante was probably the best looking new car GM introduced between 1980 and 1991 – unquestionably the best looking Cadillac (the 1985-1986 downsizing was just total meh all the way across the range)
That’s a bit like saying Tim Roth was the best-looking thief in Reservoir Dogs. When the others look like Steve Buscemi it’s not much of a compliment.
I only like convertibles as cruisers. If I lived in a climate where they made more sense, I would love one, though probably more a 4-seater. With cars being so damn big and heavy now, I wish the floating suspension would make a comeback. Almost nobody uses the cornering capability of even the most boring cars, so there’s no reason for a utility vehicle to have Nurburgring tuned suspension and no profile tires. Granted, a vehicle with such a high cg needs to be stiffer than something low, but with electrics having the batteries low, maybe that’s something that could come back even in a utility vehicle. If I can’t have a sports car, I want something that rides like a boat, preferably with some style, but that seems like way too much to demand.
Mid 60s GM convertibles are affordable to buy, difficult to park, and always start. You need one.