Cadillac seems resigned to selling the Allante as a halfway decent car built in bits and piecemeal.

Introduced in 1987, the luxury roadster with the voluptuous Italian body by Pininfarina earned low and loving whistles as one of the most handsome domestic cars ever to stalk an open road. But the engine was a slug, and sales equally sluggish.

For 1993, Cadillac has equipped the Allante with its 32-valve Northstar V8 that delivers 290 horsepower and transforms this luxury two-seater into a locomotive. Now it's a beautiful car with hefty performance.

But the car's interior is still crazy after all these years; an abomination of marginal conveniences, minimal comforts and big-time irritations attached to just about every manual function required by the motoring process.

And even Perot's Patriots and their Buy American lobby would cringe at paying $64,000--which includes $4,600 in luxury and gas-guzzler taxes--for a car that in five years probably hasn't diverted one roadster buff from the targeted competition: Mercedes 500SL and Jaguar XJS.

"After that first year, our customers told us: 'Don't spend any more money on the exterior, put it in technology,' " says Cadillac spokesman Bill O'Neill. "So we have with the Northstar engine.

"But there probably are some things in the interior where I wouldn't disagree (with change)."

Some is an understated adjective.

After driving 600 miles across three counties in a cranberry Allante convertible, our jottings became a terse volume: "Tiny, au contraire arrows for turn signals, which can't be seen in sunlight and point both ways at the same time. . . . Pity the passenger's face, no air bag on that side. . . . Power window switches get warm to the touch and maybe something's arcing in there. .. . If the dashboard looks like vinyl, feels like vinyl and smells like vinyl, chances are it probably isn't leather."

The car has a CD player, but just a basic, single-disc version. Bass and treble are the only phrasing controls for the entire sound system, so with the top down, even at legal freeway speeds, the radio and tape deck are distorted sickos in search of an audio doctor.

Nowswitch off the ignition, shut down that radio and park the car. By the time you're back from Nordstrom, the dumb radio has countermanded all instructions, departed the station of choice, and pumped down the volume to dead silence. Such self-canceling begs self-destruction.

Every control on the instrument panel--radio, air conditioning and heating, trip computer, windshield washers and lights--is a flat black button similar in size, feel and symbols to its neighbors. There are 52 in all. Trying to figure out which does what is a groping horror of squinting down while praying you don't enter somebody's trunk with your grille.

Other elements left unanswered by the $64,000 question: Seats are big and leathery, but stingy in adjustment range and not as comfortable as they could be; a squared-off instrument hood is a jarring contrast to the Rubenesque curves of the exterior; raising and lowering the top is best considered a two-person operation--one reads from the owner's manual, the other performs the awkward labor and mutters cusswords.

The only defense for such shortcomings is that Allante has always been a limited-interest car designed to elevate Cadillac's image away from Leisure World and grand parental sedans. Further, it was a shot, albeit unsuccessful, at twisting the tails of Jaguar and der Mercedes.

Cadillac obviously is staying with its Allante investment, using the 290-horsepower Northstar engine to intrigue new buyers, and probably will continue to use the roadster as a test bench for evolving technology.

Such as Allante's computerized suspension that senses road surfaces and vehicle motions and adjusts the ride accordingly. Also power steering that automatically adjusts turning resistance to the speed of the car; a f our-speed automatic with shift points smoothed electronically, and a new rear suspension for better high-speed balance and stability.

Cadillac also has gone to an advanced traction control that responds to wheel slip by gently applying brakes and sequentially cutting off cylinders to a maximum of five.

Then there's that 4.6-liter Northstar engine, Cadillac's first new power plant since 1982 and a muscular brute of a thing that under duress snorts and roars like a fire truck. Or like another new burst of thunder among the two-seaters, the Dodge Viper.

The die-cast aluminum engine breathes through 32 valves orchestrated by four camshafts for optimum compression and exhaust functions. Assists are earned by platinum-tipped spark plugs good for 100,000 miles, a four-coil direct ignition system, and better engine efficiency via computer managed fuel induction. The roller chain drive and tensioners running that big family of valves are said to be maintenance-free.

The result is 290 pounds of torque--quite enough to nail anything at the stop lights. Top speed is 150 m.p.h., with the engine note marred only by the thirsty slurp of incoming fuel (14 miles per gallon in the city, 21 on the road).

So the Allante is undisputed good looks with enough mechanical authority to command respect and conquer any grade.

What Cadillac should now research is some way to lift the magnificent interior of the 1993 Seville STS and adapt its elegant, flowing lines to the Allante.

Then the Allante would be a decent car with three qualities that are the legacy of any expensive roadster that ever pulled into the driveway of a five-star hotel: looks, lusty power and an elegant interior one leaves with a backward glance.

1993 Cadillac Allante

The Good Italian body beautiful by Pininfarina. New, meaty V-8 engine.

The Bad Priced beyond reason. No passenger air bag for that price. Hodgepodge interior. Gas guzzler.

The Ugly Button overdose on dashboard.

Cost Base: $59,975 As tested, $64,575 (including luxury and gas guzzler taxes, leather seats, CD sound system, power seats and windows, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, driver's side air bag.)

Engine 32-valve, 4.6-liter V-8 developing 290 horsepower.

Type Front-drive, front-engine, two-seat luxury roadster.

Performance 0-60, as tested, with automatic, 8.1 seconds. Top speed, manufacturer's estimate, 150 m.p.h. Fuel economy, EPA city and highway, 14 and 21 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 3,765 pounds.