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1951 General Motors LeSabre

1951 General Motors LeSabre Instrument Panel

The 1951 General Motors LeSabre's interior was definitely not ordinary. Harley Earl didn't want a conventional rear-view mirror hanging down from the windshield header; he thought it ruined the effect of the continuous chrome framing.

Designer Charlie Chayne came up with a prismatic mirror set flush into the center of the dash sill. The LeSabre's cowl mirror is made up of small reflective sections, each about an inch by a quarter-inch in size. It works best with the top up, because the rear glass helps concentrate images on the mirror surfaces.

1951 General Motors LeSabre interior
Bright trim gleams around the bevy of gauges
and controls packed into the interior of the 1951
General Motors LeSabre.

The LeSabre's key cockpit elements borrowed from aircraft include the central altimeter/compass/clock arrangement, the floor console (one of the first in the industry), bucket seats, hang-down switches, and three separate gauge clusters. There's one set of gauges surrounding the base of the steering column, another in the center of the dashboard, and a third on the console.

Chayne also included a moisture monitor on the console. When it sensed a drop of rain, the sensor would automatically raise the top. Earl Liked to leave the LeSabre parked with its top down. When a rainstorm threatened and the first few sprinkles hit the moisture monitor, the people who'd inevitably gathered around the LeSabre found themselves watching the car raise its own top. They'd all stand there agog for a moment and then they'd head for cover just as the inevitable Michigan squall pelted them.

The LeSabre's speedometer is digital, its numbers lit by an internal source that the driver can adjust with a rheostat. Grouped around the steering column are the ammeter plus gauges for oil pressure, oil temperature, and water temperature.

Controls for the radio stand in the console, and both bucket seats are individually electrically heated as in modern cars, with temperature adjustment accomplished by another rheostat. (The seats in Chayne's XP-9 even had pneumatic lumbar bladders that he could pump up with squeeze bulbs from a blood-pressure cuff.)

Harley Earl loved his LeSabre so much he offered it as a pace car. Read on to find out how the LeSabre fared at a race in New York.

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