Junkyard Find: 1990 Cadillac Allante

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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.”

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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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.

  • ToolGuy I am slashing my food budget by 1%.
  • ToolGuy TG grows skeptical about his government protecting him from bad decisions.
  • Calrson Fan Jeff - Agree with what you said. I think currently an EV pick-up could work in a commercial/fleet application. As someone on this site stated, w/current tech. battery vehicles just do not scale well. EBFlex - No one wanted to hate the Cyber Truck more than me but I can't ignore all the new technology and innovative thinking that went into it. There is a lot I like about it. GM, Ford & Ram should incorporate some it's design cues into their ICE trucks.
  • Michael S6 Very confusing if the move is permanent or temporary.
  • Jrhurren Worked in Detroit 18 years, live 20 minutes away. Ren Cen is a gem, but a very terrible design inside. I’m surprised GM stuck it out as long as they did there.