Cadillac Allante – 1987

It was to be the finest ultra-luxury coupe the world had ever seen. Cadillac’s first two-seat roadster since 1941 would combine ‘European elan’ with ‘American muscle’, and ‘grandpa’ General Motors would accept no compromise to its offspring’s tour de force. Witnesses to the Cadillac Allante’s unveiling in 1986 acclaimed its sleek, dramatic lines, and basked in the aura of rarified luxury emanating from the ten-way, power Recaro sport bucket seats trimmed in the same hand-stitched saddle leather that framed the dazzling electronic displays on the dashboard.

It even smelled of freshly-harvested wads of $100 bills. Freed from conventional budgetary restraints, Sergio Pininfarina was thrilled to be commissioned, and designed an aerodynamic wedge of minimal drag and surpassing elegance. Its apparent simplicity belied the technical innovation it incorporated.

The Allante was so beautifully balanced it appeared to be poised in mid-flight. To be certain it stayed that way, Pininfarina built it as well. General Motors had a fleet of Boeing 747s fitted out as ‘air bridges’ to carry fully-assembled and painted Allante body shells, 56 at a time, to Hamtramck, Michigan, to be fitted with their engines, transmissions and mechanicals, and for final testing.

Wags called it the world’s longest assembly line’. The joke turned sour when, inevitably, divided responsibilities diminished quality controls. The Allante only justified its price if it remained as perfect as it left the showroom. It didn’t. Trivial faults were magnified by ebbing consumer confidence, until not even discounting could shift the backlog. By the time the Allante was reliably restored to its glamorous perfection, its moment had passed. In 1993 it sold more than in any previous year, but General Motors had itself given up the Allante’s ghost. But it was no lemon. It was, in the end, a luxury contender with no purpose.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA

FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1987 (until 1993)

ENGINE: 4.0 I (249 cid) V8

PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 125 mph (201 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 9.5 secs

YOU SHOULD KNOW: When Cadillac finally changed the Allante’s engine to the 279 cid DOHC Northstar V8, the car realized the super-sensational GT potential it had always promised, with a top speed just under 150 mph (241 km/h), and 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.5 secs.

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