Junkyard Find: 1990 Cadillac Allante

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1990 cadillac allante

Yes, from the Volaré to the Troféo, Detroit marketers of the 1970s and 1980s knew that an accent in the car’s name meant “no need to buy one-a-them fancy imports with no pushrods in the engine, we got your class right here!” to American car shoppers. Unfortunately for General Motors, the Cadillac Allanté cost much more to make than those other accented cars, what with flying the bodies (on customized Boeing 747s) between the Pininfarina shop in Italy and the Hamtramck assembly plant in Michigan, and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class-grade price tag on the Allanté scared off most buyers.

That makes this car one of those Holy Grail Junkyard Finds, so it’s a stop-the-presses moment when I find one. Here’s a snazzy gold ’90 I spotted over the winter in a Denver yard.

The Allanté’s biggest weakness was the 4.5-liter HT4100 pushrod V8 engine beneath the hood. This wasn’t a bad engine, really (though it suffered from some well-known reliability problems), but an old-fashioned pushrod V8 driving the front wheels wasn’t going to steal many buyers away from high-end European statusmobiles. The Allanté got this cool-looking tubular intake that boosted horsepower up to 200.

The Allanté’s second-biggest weakness was the lack of a manual transmission option. Instead, all Allanté buyers got the same 4-speed automatic used in the Buick Riviera.

On the plus side, the Allanté was a very good-looking car with its Pininfarina body and hand-stitched leather interior. However, the $57,183 price tag (about $104,000 in inflation-adjusted 2016 dollars) put it in direct competition with cars such as the $62,500 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL, the $53,000 BMW 735iL, the $47,450 Audi V8 Quattro, the $52,975 Maserati Biturbo, and the $57,000 Jaguar XJS. With the (rear-wheel drive, overhead cam, V8-equipped) Lexus LS400 and Infiniti Q45 debuting in model year 1990 with sub-$40,000 sticker prices, luxury-car shoppers that year had two more good reasons — on top of the many good reasons they already had — to walk right by that shiny new Allanté in the Cadillac showroom.

The Allanté had a reasonably futuristic digital instrument cluster. I thought about pulling this one, but I already have one from this ’89 that I found in Oakland last year.

That’s right, Cadillac took home the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for 1990.

“Designed and handcrafted in Europe, by the designer of Ferraris and Rolls-Royce.”

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  • Superdessucke Superdessucke on Apr 21, 2016

    Yea, if we could fire up a time machine to 1990 and approach the poor leisure suited sap drooling over this thing's shiny gold paint, dazzling dashboard, and shit-ton of buttons, we'd tell him to buy: 1) an E30 M3; 2) an early air cooled 911; 3) a Supra Turbo (but tell him to wait 3 years for the A80 because the A70 would become worthless and unwanted junk); or, 4) if he wanted to be really smart, and keep his toupee from rattling off his head, a good mutual fund and a Geo Metro to get from Point A to Point B. Beyond those, I don't see any cars he could have bought which would have even approached being good investments. That's why I laugh when I see things like a 1998 Indy Pace Car Corvette with like 7 miles on it for $29,999 BIN on e-bay. We've had enough time to learn that cars are to be enjoyed, not mothballed.

    • Porschespeed Porschespeed on Apr 21, 2016

      I'd tell him to go buy a 2 year old 560SL. As long as he kept it clean, it's still be worth $10K+. And could be driven today with pride. As much as 911s bore me, that's the easy money shot, though unlike the Benz, your maint bill will be atrocious. More of a driveable piggy bank. There's several others, but save for something really rare, a Caddy is never a good bet.

  • Hifi Hifi on Apr 23, 2016

    The lack of an automatic transmission was no big deal. But being FWD was a huge disadvantage compared to the Germans. It just screamed "Soooo close, but clearly GM doesn't quite know what they're doing." And the absurd manufacturing process that included them to be partially built in Italy, then flown over in specially configured 747s and finished in the US, ensured that every one was sold at a loss.

  • Arthur Dailey Is most of your driving in stop and go urban traffic?Do you have kids, who you have to drive to and from their activities? Sometimes with their friends/teammates.Do you have pets? Do you have some mobility issues?Can you perform maintenance yourself?Do you have a discretionary fund for unforeseen repairs?Do you have another car, so that you only need to use this on weekends or rural/highway trips?Check your answers to the above. They may tell you that as nice as this car is, you might be better off with a new, boring but more practical SUV.
  • DungBeetle62 Before everyone dumps on California and their tax structure and Gavin's hairstyle, my recent road trip (which didn't get to California) was as follows when tanking up Super Unleaded.Texas - Fort Worth area Costco : $3.36Texas - Amarillo Sam's - $3.46New Mexico - Albuquerque Costco - $3.75Arizona - Flagstaff Sam's - $4.25Nevada - Henderson Costco- $4.72Oil is oil is oil is oil. State taxes vary, transporting the refined product varies, but a friggin BUCK AND A HALF more a gallon (and we're talking Costco to Costco here) ain't passing the smell test as you get out west. No, count me in with thinking someone out west is going for a bigger bite of the apple and figuring people will blame Newsom.
  • Tassos Whoever pays $23,000 for this 15 year old unreliable car will regret it. I would not pay half that.Go get an excellent E55 AMG, also 2008, and pretty close HP-wise, with far higher Torque, and a proper luxury interior..
  • VoGhost Why would anyone want to save a car dealer? No really - what actual value do they provide?
  • FreedMike Really nice example, but these are LEGENDARY for being money pits.