Me & My Car: Oakland man’s ’92 Allanté one of Cadillac’s unique models

Two-seat roadster sold from 1987 to 1993 was designed in Italy to be ‘the Cadillac of Cadillacs’

Have you ever heard a friend say, “I just bought a major appliance, maybe a new refrigerator,” and then add, “It’s the Cadillac of refrigerators?” This means there isn’t a better refrigerator on the market, according to that friend, and they wanted you to know they spent a lot of money on it.

That was not a coincidental reference. Cadillac has been around since 1902, when Henry Ford and his investors disagreed, resulting in Ford leaving the Henry Ford Co. but keeping the company’s name unchanged. The surviving investors hired automotive engineer Henry Leland and established the Cadillac Automobile Co., named after French explorer Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac, who founded Detroit in 1701.

Cadillac automobiles have always been known for their high quality. As a result of their ability to mass-produce well-engineered interchangeable parts, the brand was awarded the very prestigious Dewar Trophy in 1908 for the most significant advancement of the year in the automobile industry.

Cadillac was acquired by General Motors in 1909. Good years followed, and despite the Great Depression, Cadillac continued to build well-engineered and innovative automobiles until and after World War II. Cadillac overtook Packard for the first time in 1950 and never looked back.

However, imports eventually became a factor, increasing the number of competitors breathing down Cadillac’s neck. Cadillac’s general manager, Bob Burger, was looking for a new model that would set the brand apart from the competition in the 1980s.

Burger desired an aspirational model and reasoned that working with a prestigious European designer and coach builder might be the answer. He was looking for a two-seat roadster, which Cadillac hadn’t made since the 1930s. So Burger sent some engineers to Italy to look for a design firm, and they chose Pininfarina, the world-famous car designer and coach builder, for the job.

This decision did not sit well with Cadillac’s 3,000 in-house designers, but Burger explained that the company “wanted a car with a designer name on it.” It’s like the Levi’s tag on the back of the jeans.”

The vehicle was designed to compete with the Mercedes-Benz SL and the Jaguar XJS. The Allanté, as it was eventually dubbed and sold beginning in 1986 for the 1987 model year, boasted impressive features such as a fully electronic dashboard that angled toward the driver and lacked any knobs or manual controls. This vehicle was to be known as “the Cadillac of Cadillacs.”

The Allanté is a front-wheel-drive vehicle powered by a transversely mounted 250-cubic-inch, 172-horsepower V8 engine. That first year, the only option was a cellular phone installed in a lockable center console. The starting price was $54,700, which equates to about $153,614 in 2023 dollars.

The production of The Allanté had to have been a nightmare. Pininfarina designed and built the bodies in Italy before shipping them to America on specially outfitted Boeing 747 planes, 56 at a time, for final assembly at Cadillac’s Hamtramck assembly plant near Detroit. It was dubbed “the world’s longest assembly line.” This model was manufactured until July 1993, totaling 21,430 units over a six-year period.

Calvin Black, an Oakland resident, has owned this issue’s 1992 Cadillac Allanté for about three years. Black’s mother-in-law purchased the vehicle brand new from Stead Cadillac in Walnut Creek. He has no idea how much she paid for the car, but by the time the 1992 models were released, the base price had risen to $57,170.

“But after a while, she couldn’t drive,” said Black. “So it sat in the garage for about 16 to 18 years.”

The car was started on occasion, and routine maintenance such as oil changes and other work was performed, but it saw very little street time. The Allanté had 60,000 miles when Black bought it, and it now has around 73,000 miles. The tires on the car are Vogue, a well-known luxury brand sold by Cadillac dealers. Vogue Tyre and Rubber Co. was founded in Chicago and invented the whitewall tire as well as the distinctive gold strip that states, “Vogue is the Cadillac of tires.”

Black isn’t particularly mechanically inclined, but I am. He went on to say, “I’ve done some upgrades myself, including the dash and seats” and went on to say “I’ve only had cars I wanted, and then I wanted them to look and be the best.”

It’s difficult to determine the worth of this classic Allanté. Many Cadillac dealers today refuse to work on the model. I believe there were too many cooks in the kitchen when the car was created, making it difficult to work on.

The unusual aspect of this car is that it is a one-owner (family) car that is completely original, and a car is only original once. While the owner adores his car and has no plans to sell it, Black recently saw an Allanté identical to his sell at the Barrett-Jackson Auction for $69,000.

Prior to the auction, he estimated that his car was worth between $25,000 and $30,000. Who knows what will happen now?

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