The Allanté was Cadillac's first venture into the ultra-luxury roadster market. The vehicle was sold from 1987 until 1993, with roughly 21,000 models built over its 7-year production run. The Allanté's production was planned at 6,000 units per year; sales figures, however, show that Cadillac only built about half as many.
Development and production
Originally designed under the code name "Callisto", the Allanté was intended to restore Cadillac to its position as a premium luxury automobile builder. Allanté's direct competitor was the very successful Mercedes-Benz SL, and to a smaller degree, the Jaguar XJS. Allanté's 4.1 liter V8 was shared with other Cadillacs across the line, but when specified to the Allanté, several changes were made. Unlike Buick's Reatta, which shared powertrain and underpinnings from the Riviera and the Oldsmobile Toronado, Cadillac borrowed very little from the Eldorado and Seville for Allanté.
The body of the Allanté was designed and built in Italy by Pininfarina (of Ferrari fame). The completed bodies were shipped 3,300 miles (5,300 km) from Italy in specially equipped Boeing 747s, 56 at a time,to Cadillac's Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant. The bodies were then mated to the chassis. This led to a few interesting nicknames, such as "The Flying Italian Cadillac" and "The world's longest assembly line."
The car's front-wheel drive (FWD) powertrain was unique in its class, and brought the car in for serious criticism. FWD is rare among high-priced sports and touring cars, as the configuration may understeer in heavy cornering, torque steer under heavy acceleration, and requires a front-heavy weight distribution for good traction. The Mercedes 560SL — along with the rest of the Allanté's competitors — was rear-wheel drive. Many car magazines and auto enthusiasts argued that no sports car, let alone one at the Allanté's price, should have been FWD. Early reviews cited Pininfarina and not Cadillac as the source of this decision, saying they felt it would make the car more versatile. Additionally, poor power-to-weight ratio in the early years also made the car perform sedately. This led the target market to conclude that by offering an underpowered car for US$54,700 (far costlier than contemporary Cadillac models) with no engine upgrade option, Cadillac was not serious in competing in the performance roadster market. This initial impression gave the Allanté an image ("all show, no go") from which it never recovered.
The 1987 Allanté, with its removable aluminum hardtop and the industry's first power retractable AM/FM/Cellular Telephone antenna, debuted as sold to fleets and mail companies, with a multi-port fuel injected version of GM's aluminum 4.1 L HT-Cadillac 4100 V8, along with roller valve lifters, high-flow cylinder heads, and a tuned intake manifold. The new roadster also showcased an independent strut-based suspension system front and rear. Bosch ABS III four-wheel disc brakes were also standard. Unique to Allanté was a complex lamp-out module that substituted a burned-out bulb in the exterior lighting system with an adjacent lamp until the problem is corrected. The Delco-GM/Bose Symphony Sound System - a $905 option on other Cadillacs - was standard on Allanté. The only option was the available cellular telephone, installed in a lockable center console.
For 1988, minimal changes were seen - including revised front seat head rests, and a power decklid pulldown as standard equipment. Analog instruments, in place of the standard digital dash cluster, were also now available as a no-charge option. The base price was raised slightly to $56,533, with the cellular telephone still being the only extra-cost option.
In 1989, the price rose to $57,183. Allanté's engine, the new 212.0 in (5,385 mm) 4.5 L V8, produced 200 horsepower, and with 270 lb·ft (366 N·m), it provided the most torque from any front-wheel-drive automobile in the world. Unlocking the trunk also unlocked the side doors – similar to Mercedes-Benz and BMW. As a theft-deterrent, Allanté added GM's Pass Key (Personal Automotive Security System), utilizing a resistor pellet within the ignition key that has the ability to render the fuel system and starter inoperative if an incorrect ignition key is used. Allanté also received a new speed-sensitive damper system called Speed Dependent Damping Control, or SD²C. This system firmed up the suspension at 25 mph (40 km/h) and again at 60 mph (97 km/h). The firmest setting was also used when starting from a standstill until 5 mph (8.0 km/h). Another change was a variable-assist steering system.