Where does one land when combining a long history of Italian flare with good ol’ American engineering? Sometimes you’ll land on a masterpiece like the De Tomaso Mangusta or Bizzarrini Strada. Occasionally you conjure up a gem like the Nash-Healey. Even more rare are the shockingly beautiful mid-20th-century concepts from Chrysler and Ghia.
In other, stranger times like the go-go-let’s-get-some-blow 1980s, you come up with the Cadillac Allante.
It was kind of a neat idea. Get Pininfarina to design the body, and then get a classic American nameplate – albeit one that was by this point losing the luxury game to the Europeans (and later to the Japanese) – to drop in some anvil-simple hardware. Because we, General Motors, don’t seem to have any place to actually build the bodies, we’ll just have them made in Italy and then airlifted to our Hamtramck, Michigan, assembly plant on bespoke 747s. Throw some very au courant electronics at the interior, some chassis trickery under the sheets, and you have a can’t-lose proposition, right?
Cadillac was clearly looking for a Mercedes-Benz R107 SL competitor. Never mind Mercedes had been building and refining that car since 1971, not including development time. And never mind the Mercedes R129 SL engineers were already doing the full-tilt boogie on their next-generation car by the time GM dropped the Allante like it was hot.
And boy was it hot! Despite being initially underpowered with its 4.1-liter transversely-mounted V8, the crisp Italian styling combined with GM’s “more buttons is more better” approach to ergonomics – complemented by a fully digital gauge cluster and an upright cassette player, just like your home Akai or Nakamichi deck – certainly bestowed a European handsomeness on an otherwise milquetoast-as-performance-art platform.
Did the new Allante compare with an R107, or the upcoming R129? It’s price surely did. In 1987, the Mercedes-Benz 560SL stickered at $55,300 (almost $125,000 today), while the Allante launched at $54,700 (about $123,500 today). Was that $600 in 1987 enough to sway buyers to swing American (via Italy)? Not really. Just 21,000 or so Allantes found homes or rental fleets over the car’s seven-year production run. During the 560SL’s shorter run from 1986-1989, Mercedes shifted close to 50,000 examples. Even J.R. Ewing rocking an Allante on “Dallas” couldn’t rustle up any real excitement there, pardner.
Fast-forward 33 years, and feast your eyes on this first-year Cadillac Allante available in posh (citation needed) Haverhill, Massachusetts. It hasn’t covered a lot of miles, and looks great in classic metallic silver on red leather with a black convertible top. It includes a matching aluminum hardtop, standard equipment from new. Everything is said to work – so many buttons! – minus the power windows and the ABS portion of the braking system.
Without doing a lick of research on common Allante fail points, I will definitely say the windows are probably a fuse and the ABS system is just Bosch stuff, with bits attainable from better salvage yards across the country. There are also small matters regarding a tired center arm rest as well as some unintended massaging of the passenger-side sheetmetal. But neither of those things keep this from being a daily driver.
In fact, back when I officed out of an actual office in downtown Minneapolis – and back when I took public transportation to said office – while waiting for the bus I would to see a guy daily-driving an Allante during all four of our very different seasons. Three of those seasons he’d leave the hardtop at home, keeping open the option of immediate top-down gratification. From a distance of 30 yards as he passed at 30 miles per hour, his gold-ish Allante looked great, almost contemporary. That guy could be you!
As my Totally That Stupid cohort pointed out, today you couldn’t even ship the completed body from Pininfarina in Italy to Detroit for this car’s $2,000 asking price. Being able to rationalize anything, we think that simple fact alone makes this Allante a certified bargain, and thus a fantastic Cheap Heap of the Week.