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1951 General Motors LeSabre

1951 General Motors LeSabre as a Pace Car

Harley Earl loved motor racing and sometimes offered the LeSabre as a pace car. On one such occasion, he had the LeSabre trailered to Watkins Glen, New York.

Chaperoning the car, as on all such occasions, were GM Styling's two resident mechanics, Leonard McLay and his assistant, Art Carpenter. It was McLay's responsibility to keep the LeSabre running perfectly, which was no easy task.

On the day before the race. Earl took the LeSabre out for a spin. He slowed for a grade crossing, whereupon the engine flooded and died. Earl cranked and cranked the starter, all to no avail. Finally, he let the engine cool -- it suffered from overheating problems in the beginning -- all the while becoming more and more angry.

When Earl next tried the starter, the engine roared to life, and he held the accelerator to the floor. Without lifting his foot, he dropped the transmission selector into "Drive," whereupon the sudden burst of torque -- thanks to the supercharger and the activation of the methanol carburetor -- twisted the drive-shaft like an aluminum beer can. Earl limped back to Watkins Glen clunking and swearing the whole way.

Because Earl and the LeSabre were scheduled to pace the race the next day, McLay and Carpenter worked all that night to weld a new section into the driveshaft and true it up, which they did just in the nick of time.

That incident aside, the LeSabre was Harley Earl's all-time favorite car, according to his son, Jim. He drove the LeSabre from the day it became roadworthy -- probably in mid 1951 -- until he retired in December 1958. In those seven years, he put something like 45,000 miles on it.

In the next section, get a detailed description of the 1951 LeSabre's bounty of unique gadgets.

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