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1951 General Motors LeSabre

1951 General Motors LeSabre Chassis

As different and advanced as the 1951 General Motors LeSabrer chassis was, the LeSabre's body was even more so. Most of the body structure ended up being cast -- not in aluminum, which would have been heroic enough, but in magnesium!

The cowl, for example, consists of one big, extremely complex magnesium casting. Likewise, the lock pillars for the doors: cast magnesium. And the big one-piece hood and one-piece decklid. Both are so huge that they have ribs cast into their undersurfaces for added strength. The body is about 25-inches thick in some sections.

1951 General Motors LeSabre, rear view
Cast magnesium was used liberally throughout
the 1951 General Motors LeSabre, including the
cowl and key external body panels like the
massive decklid.

The door skins are similarly cast magnesium, as are the front-fender valances. The forms for these castings had to be dead-on accurate. In the early stages of casting, though, since adjoining panels rarely matched on the first try, the pieces were melted down, the forms modified, and the sections recast using the same material. Harley Earl insisted on perfection.

The LeSabre's cockpit and trunk floors consist of honeycomb aluminum sandwiched between aluminum sheets. This added strength to the fully boxed, chromemoly steel frame, which is one of the few components that's fairly ordinary. The front bumper sports chrome tips and the rear bumper ends contain outlets for the dual exhausts.

The close-set headlights are fixed onto the back surface of the upper "grille." This isn't actually a grille at all; the air inlet stands beneath it. When the driver flips on the headlight switch, the upper ellipse moves inward, rotates 180 degrees, then pushes outward again with the lights on.

One of the LeSabre's most shocking and influential features is the panoramic windshield. Harley Earl experimented with wraparound glass way back in 1918, when he worked for Don Lee's custom body shop in California. At that time, he tried to have a company in San Francisco bend a big pane of glass so he could install it in a custom Cadillac. The glass, however, kept breaking instead of bending, so he put in a triple-windshield arrangement, with two small curved insets at the corners.

When GM's glass suppliers showed Earl that they could bend long rectangles of safety glass, he had them make a wraparound design for his LeSabre. Aside from its lowness, the windshield stood out as one of its most striking features to most people who saw the car in 1951.

The entire car took styling cues from jet aircraft: the high central "air intake," the front-fender "wing" forms, the side sweep, the second "air inlet" at the leading edge of the rear fenders, the high tail-fins, the barrel-shaped trunk with its central "rocket exhaust" taillamp, and then the wraparound windshield and aircraftlike cockpit.

One highlight of the panoramic windshield is its narrow, chromed frame. Designer Edward Glowacke took the sweeping shape of the windshield header and used it again in the cowl sill, a theme previously seen -- minus the wrapped glass -- in roadsters of the Twenties and Thirties.

Jet aircraft styling wasn't limited to the LeSabre's exterior. In the next section, learn how this theme was extended to the LeSabre's ultramodern interior.

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