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Friday, May 30, 2014

The Confusing Story of the Cadillac Allante


@ BOLD RIDE                              


Here’s a bit of auto trivia for you: what does the term “Allante” mean in Italian? Answer: nothing. The word was created randomly by a GM computer as a way of concealing any details about the Cadillac by the same name. However to many of those who worked feverishly to bring the luxury car to these shores, the word might as well have meant, “pain in the a**.” That’s a good metaphor to sum up the trouble and expense the project entailed.

Flash back to the early 1980s. The domestic car industry is struggling to recover from the Decade of Malaise. The suits at Cadillac want a vehicle that can hold its own with Europe’s finest. They put in a call to Sergio Pininfarina in Turin. He agrees to help build the new car, which will fit on a chopped-off El Dorado frame.


First challenge is getting the frames to Italy. GM had three 747s modified for the task of flying them across the Atlantic. The shipments included the divided chassis, electronics, AC, and steering column. The crew in Italy welded the chassis components into one piece, installed their own bodies and interiors, and topped everything off with a paint job.

Then came the first major snag. The Italians realized that the soft-top roofs would leak unless they were redone. They wanted some extra time to iron out the bugs. But, when they told the news to the suits at Cadillac, the Americans said, “no way! We want those babies to hit the street September of ’86! Ship ‘em back as-is!” So the semi-finished vehicles were returned to Detroit, where Cadillac installed the sub-frames, drive train, fuel tanks, and wheels. 18-wheelers with special covers shipped the new vehicles to dealers across the country.


They sold like hotcakes. Then, as soon as it rained, they came right back, with furious owners screaming about water-soaked interiors; surprise, surprise! Cadillac spent a fortune trying to fix the issues, but the 87-88 Allante releases are still notorious for leaking.
By 1989 the roof problems were solved, and Cadillac added a 4.5-liter 200 hp engine, 16” wheels, and electronic suspension.

 By this point the Allante was actually a decent car, but sales still sucked because GM’s prior rush to market killed its reputation. Then, when the 1990 models come out, Mercedes released the 500SL with a one-button automated power top. This made GM look bad, because they were using the Allante to compete with the 500 and it had no such top.


Enter 1991. Bosch, the company which makes the Allante’s ABS units, contacts GM with a heads-up. They’re concerned that the brakes might fail and ask the automaker to send them back to their facility for testing and retooling. GM says, “thanks but no thanks; we’ll handle it.” And “handle it” they did, to the tune of several thousand dollars for every car. Then, to top it off, a defect in the Bose sound system’s circuit board lead to weird snapping sounds over the speakers. Once more, Allante owners returned their cars to the dealers for expensive service.

When 1993 rolled around Cadillac once more had a reinvented Allante. But by that time the car had an atrocious reputation. Plus, the world economy was taking a nose-dive, killing the market for luxury autos. GM skipped model year 1994 altogether, intending to release a ’95 model. By that time, however, the suits figured it was time to cut their losses. The Allante became just another example of how poor management can kill even the best-laid plans.