Car History Year 1937
Date: Sunday, September 26 @ 23:25:45 UTC
Disasters in the air were major news in 1937. After a successful transatlantic crossing, the massive German airship Hindenburg exploded while coming into land on May 6 with great loss of life. Out over the Pacific, pioneer aviatrix Amelia Earhart disappeared and no trace of her, her companion or her airplane was ever found. While ostensibly she was on a record-breaking flight, it was rumored that she was working for the government and spying on the Japanese, who shot her down. Whether or not this is true, no one will ever know, but it is far more likely that the weather, machine problems or simply fatigue caused her to crash and be swallowed up in the vastness of the ocean.
In the world of international auto racing, Americans faced a disappointing result in the Vanderbilt Cup at Roosevelt Raceway. The first three machines across the finish line were all from Europe. In the lead was Bernd Rosemeyer, whose Auto Union averaged 82.5mph to win; in second and third places respectively were Dick Seaman (Mercedes) and the American, Rex Mays (Alfa Romeo).
In Detroit, the United Auto Workers union had settled a running dispute with GM. However, there were riots following labor disputes at Ford and US Steel.
But there were triumphs too in 1937, among them being the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge across San Francisco Bay. With its soaring towers, this stately suspension bridge was a masterpiece of engineering that remains as impressive today as it was 60 years ago.
While many buyers of automobiles that year would have marveled at the Golden Gate Bridge, a significant number of them were also impressed by the new LaSalle. With a longer wheelbase and a V8 engine, the car was snapped up and production rose to a record level. Total Cad iliac production that year was 46,000 cars, and LaSalle accounted for 32,000 of them.
Interestingly, the styling of the '37 LaSalle could be traced back to 1934, when it had definitely been ahead of its time. The car received a completely new look in 1934, following a poor showing in the early part of the decade. While the car had originally been conceived to fill the gap between the bottom-of-the-range Cadillacs and the top-of-the-range Buicks, by the beginning of the Thirties, there was not much to choose between it and the less expensive Cadillacs. Although the difference in price was about $500 (a substantial sum in those days), the Cadillacs actually seemed to provide better value for money, and their production outstripped LaSalle.
Rather than drop the LaSalle line altogether, GM executives decided to give it a more positive identity so that it was no longer perceived as simply a cheap Cadillac and, therefore, would appeal to a wider audience, other than the traditional buyers of luxury cars. LaSaile could trade on the prestige of being associated with Cadillac and the upmarket body builders Fleetwood, but there would be no doubt that it was not a Cadillac. Moreover, this was emphasized by the $1000 price difference between the LaSalle and the bottom-of-the-line Caddy.
The new streamlined body style had many features that would not be found on other automobiles until later in the decade. Among these were airfoil-shaped fenders that were full and low at the front, blending into the radiator shell and concealing the frame rails. The teardrop-shaped headlights were supported on the radiator shell and the grille was tall, narrow and oval. The hood sides featured a line of oval ports rather than the normal louvers. The windshield was raked to match the sloping grille and the doors were all of the suicide type, hinged at the rear.
Body styles comprised 4-door sedan, club sedan and convertible sedan, and 2-door coupe and convertible coupe. These were all mounted on a new X-frame chassis with a wheelbase of 119 inches. GM's new "Knee-Action" coil-sprung independent front suspension was adopted, while semi-elliptic leaf springs supported the rear Hotchkiss drive, which replaced Cadillac's more traditional torque-tube arrangement. Double-action shock absorbers were fitted all round, while a rear stabilizer bar was also incorporated to improve ride and handling. Unlike Cadillacs that year, the LaSalles benefited from Bendix hydraulic brakes.
During the early Thirties, LaSalles had been given Cadillac's 353 cu.in. V8, but the new model had Oldsmobile's 240.3 cu.in. flathead straight-eight with aluminum pistons and five main bearings, it produced 95 horsepower (10 less than the V8) at 3700rpm and was backed by a three-speed manual transmission, also-of Oldsmobile design. At the time, however, Cadillac were keen to conceal the source of the engine and other driveline parts, stating that they were built at the Cadillac factory, and they were prepared to allow potential customers to visit the factory to see for themselves. Of course, the individual parts may have actually been made by Oldsmobile and simply assembled by Cadillac.
The cars continued in this basic form for 1935 and 1936 with minor changes to styling and mechanical components. For example, the wheelbase was increased to 120 inches and all cars received a two-piece, V-shaped windshield. The engine was also bored out to give a capacity of 248 cu.in. and produce 105 horsepower at 3600rpm. The bodies were no longer built by Fleetwood, as production had been transferred to Fisher, who produced a new all-steel turret roof for closed cars.
Again, for 1937, styling changes were minimal, although the wheelbase had been stretched to 124 inches and the bodies were all-steel rather than of composite wood-and-steel construction. Changes included revisions to the front fenders, lowering of the head lights, a new "egg-crate" grille and a windshield with a deeper V-shape. The hood side ports had also been dropped in favor of a line of deep rectangular louvers with horizontal moldings running through them.
A choice of five body styles was offered: 2-and 4-door sedans, a convertible sedan, a convertible coupe and a sport coupe.
The big news that year, however, was the return of a V8 engine. This 322 cu.in. flathead produced 125 horsepower at 3400rpm and had been used in the previous year's Cadillac Series 60. The three-speed manual transmission remained, but the Hotchkiss drive was replaced by a hypoid unit. A stabilizer was also added to the front suspension.
The improvements transformed the car, and sales took off. Sadly, a minor recession in 1938 would cause them to fall again. Minor changes had been made to the cars for that year, including mounting the headlights on the tops of the fenders, but they were hung off the radiator shell again in 1939. LaSalles received several other changes that year, too, including increased glass area, a new narrower grille, and a steel sunroof, known as the "Sunshine Turret Top," for sedans. Running boards were optional. The wheelbase that year was back to 120 inches but, even so, sales remained uninspiring.
By 1940, the Buick range had expanded upward, catering for the market originally conceived for LaSalle. Despite new elegant body styling and a wider range of models than before, this competition, together with the fact that LaSalle was being pressed hard by Lincoln and lagging well behind Packard, meant that 1940 would be the last year for LaSalles. The name would appear again briefly in the mid-Fifties on a couple of GM concept cars but, other than that, it would be consigned to history. However, LaSalles would always be remembered as distinctive and refined automobiles.
90 degree V8 - cast iron block
322 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3 3/8 x 4 1/2ins.
Coupe; Sedan; Convertible sedan; 2 and 4 door touring sedans
No. of seats
3,735 Ibs-3,830 Ibs
CORD 812 SUPERCHARGED
Cast iron - 8 cylinders in line
288.6 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3 1/2 x 3 3/4ins.
< 190 (supercharged)
2 sedans; Sports; Phaeton; Custom Beverly sedan; Custom Berline
No. of seats
3,765 Ibs-4,170 Ibs
$2,860 - 3,575
Cast iron - 6 cylinders in line
228,1 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3 3/8 x 4 1/4ins.
Business coupe; Rumble-seat coupe; Convertible coupe; Fastback brougham
No. of seats
3-6 (7 in long wheelbase form)
3,038 Ibs-3,441 Ibs
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