Car History Year 1927
Date: Sunday, September 26 @ 22:19:36 UTC
Another of Alfred P. Sloan's building blocks in his program to have General Motors offering a complete range of cars arrived in 1927. The LaSalle filled the gap between the top-priced Buick 6 and the cheapest Cadillac (a difference of $1700 existed between them). It was named after a French explorer who traveled the length of the Mississippi River in 1682. The LaSalle was also to be built as a junior to the Cadillac, another marque named after a French explorer who, in 1701, established a fort that became the city of Detroit.
But it is neither the French connection nor the fact that it was a failure that makes the car significant. What the LaSalle did was to bring stylist Harley Earl to Detroit and establish the practice of first designing a car to look good, then making the engineering fit. Previously, the engineering had been dominant and the bodywork was definitely a secondary consideration, quite often produced by an outside supplier. Harley Earl and the LaSalle were to change that attitude forever.
Lawrence P. Fisher was general manager of Cadillac and had met Earl at a Cadillac dealership in Los Angeles where Earl was in charge of the custom body shop, producing special cars for celebrities. Fisher asked the young stylist to submit some design proposals for consideration. As a result, Earl came to Detroit early in 1926, as a consultant under a special contract.
Fisher outlined the project as being "that of designing a quality car of the same family as Cadillac but somewhat lower priced" - in other words, a production automobile that was as beautiful as the custom-bodied cars of the period.
Nowadays, it is hard to see how revolutionary the LaSalle was when it was launched, to great fanfare, in March 1927. Compared to other GM cars, the LaSalle was lower and longer, with deepdrawn Flying Wing fenders, better proportioned side windows and a new style of body moldings. It was a more integrated design, with few sharp corners and lines that flowed. The LaSalle was a huge sensation when it was exhibited for the very first time to the expectant, buying public at the Boston Automobile Show - as it proved impossible to get the car ready for New York, where it was planned to be unveiled.
Sloan was so impressed that he decided to employ Earl on the other GM models. In June, Earl headed a new department, called the Art and Color Section, to direct general body design and conduct research into special car designs. Fifty people made up the department at the start, ten of them designers, but it soon grew into a huge concern with hundreds of employees and it established styling as an essential part of the business.
Harley Earl had taken inspiration from the Hispano-Suiza, but the LaSalle was a car in its own right, even though it was promoted as a "Companion Car to Cadillac." It offered Cadillac qualities in a smaller package at a lower price and, with a splendid 303 cu.in. V8 engine, it could perform too. In a test at GM, a LaSalle roadster ran ten hours at an average 95.2mph - almost as fast as that year's Indy 500 winner!
The launch of the LaSalle, successful as it was, provided one sobering moment for the young Harley Earl. A photo shoot had been planned, outside the Copley Plaza Hotel. Earnie Seaholm, Cadillac's chief engineer, was to be seated behind the steering wheel, with the LaSalle factory manager, Bert Widman beside him. A platoon of General Motors dignitaries were ranged on the sidewalk behind, including L. P. Fisher and Earl himself. A brace of Boston cops were on hand to hold back the expected crowds of excited onlookers, all anxious to get a look at the glamorous new automobile. Seaholm recalled that "Lo and behold - no one stopped to give it even a passing glance! Knowing Harley, I doubt if he ever went again to Boston!"
It was a year of sensational happenings -Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic, talking pictures arrived with Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer and Babe Ruth hit three home runs as the New York Yankees won the World Series. Against those events, the LaSalle must have seemed small potatoes, but it was the starting point of an amazing age in automotive history.
90 degree V8 - Cast iron with Alloy crankcase
303 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3 1/8 x 4 15/16ins.
Numerous, by Fisher and Fleetwood
No. of seats
3,755 lbs - 5,100 lbs
ERSKINE MODEL 50
Cast iron - 6 cylinders in line
146 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3.0 x 4.0 ins.
Tourer; Sedan; Custom Coupe; Business Coupe
No. of seats
c. 2,500 lbs
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