1927 LaSalle


The 1927 LaSalle deserves its place in automotive history because it was the first production car worldwide to have been consciously styled. The convertible coupe body style, another LaSalle first (with seven other automakers!), sold for $2,635.
The 1927 LaSalle deserves its place in automotive history because it was the first production car worldwide to have been consciously styled. The convertible coupe body style, another LaSalle first (with seven other automakers!), sold for $2,635.
©Bud Juneau

 

This is the story of how the 1927 LaSalle came to me. For years, Cadillac had been America's best-selling luxury car. But by the mid 1920's Packard began playing catch-up, and by 1925 -- largely on the strength of its price-leading six-cylinder line -- Packard was commencing to eat Cadillac alive.

It happened that in May of that year, Lawrence P. "Larry" Fisher -- third of the seven brothers of Fisher Body fame -- was appointed Cadillac's general manager. And Fisher, determined that under his leadership Cadillac would again be number one, found several major tasks awaiting him.

For one thing, the Cadillac's styling was stodgy. In fact, it always had been. Henry Martyn Leland, the division's first general manager, had known nothing about the subject and cared even less. His concerns were for precision workmanship and unimpeachable quality. Cadillac's reputation was built on these qualities, and it was a heritage that Larry Fisher was careful to preserve.

But as far as looks were concerned, the Cadillac was tall, square, old-fashioned, and ungainly -- which, of course, didn't suit Larry Fisher at all.

And that was only for openers. An even more serious problem had to do with the competition.

In September 1920, Packard had augmented its huge Twin Six series with a smaller, lighter car known as the Single Six. Intended for the owner-driver rather than for chauffeur use, it offered traditional Packard quality in a more manageable package, and it quickly developed a loyal following, especially among women drivers.

It was comparatively costly at first, but by April 1922 prices had been reduced to the point that this new Packard could be purchased for as little as $2,485. Cadillac prices, meanwhile, began at $3,100.

By 1925, prices of both cars had risen a little, but the spread between the cost of a Packard Six and that of the Cadillac remained the same: $2,585 versus $3,185, a $600 difference -- which is to say that for the price of the Cadillac, the buyer could have both a Packard and a Chevrolet, with $75 left over. Or, to put the matter another way, the Cadillac sedan cost just over twice as much as a Buick Master Six in the same body style. For the upwardly mobile Buick owner, that was simply too great a jump. Thus, as customers circumstances improved, some of them left the General Motors "family" and defected to Packard.

The solution was obvious to both Larry Fisher and General Motors President Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.: GM would have to develop an automobile to fill that gap. Of necessity, the newcomer would have to be a high-quality car, more prestigious than the Buick, but its price would have to be pegged considerably under Cadillac's cheapest offerings.

Since the new car was intended to compete against the Packard Six, logic dictated that of GM's five automaking divisions, Cadillac should be the one to produce it. Thus, since it was to be a "companion" car to the Cadillac, it was logical that Cadillac's usual engineering practices should be followed in its construction -- including the landmark L-head V-8 that Cadillac had pioneered back in 1915.

This association also suggested that the name of the new car should in some way reflect its relationship to Cadillac. And since the senior car had taken its title from Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the 17th century French explorer who founded the city of Detroit, it seemed appropriate that the new car should honor another French pioneer: René Robert Cavalier de la Salle, who in 1682 had claimed Louisiana for King Louis XIV.

On the next page, learn about the 1927 LaSalle's engine.

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1927 LaSalle Engine

A new engine was designed for the 1927 LaSalle. It was a handsome powerplant, characterized by ribbed cylinder heads. Company flacks claimed that the ribs were "for improved cooling," but the fact of the matter is that they were for looks -- they had absolutely nothing to do with dissipating heat.

In those days the Cadillac V-8 engine was comprised of two cylinder banks, separate castings set at a 90-degree angle from one another. Fork-and-blade connecting rods were employed so that the two banks could be located directly opposite each other. However, the fork-and-blade layout was an expensive way to go, so in an effort to control costs Cadillac engineers sought a more economical design.

In the end, the right cylinder bank of the LaSalle engine was located an inch and three-eighths forward of the left, permitting the rods to be fitted side-by-side on the crankpins. Happily, the new design, in addition to being more economical to build, proved to be superior in every way to the original.

With development of the new engine under way, Larry Fisher turned his attention to the field he knew best-styling. On a visit to the West Coast he had visited a custom body shop operated by Don Lee, Cadillac's California distributor. There, he had become acquainted with 31-year-old Harley J. Earl, the firm's body designer. Earl had turned out a number of stunning custom designs, many of them specifically for the Cadillac chassis. Equally impressive were some of his new techniques, such as the use of modeling clay to develop the various forms he was seeking to create.

Larry Fisher invited Harley Earl to come to Detroit on a consultant basis, in order to design the new LaSalle. Supposedly this was to be a short-term assignment, but Earl stayed on at GM until his retirement in 1958. Not only was the LaSalle the first production car worldwide to have been designed by a stylist, but it marked the beginning of General Motors' Art and Colour Section, the industry's first full-scale styling department -- headed, of course, by Harley Earl.

Earl made no bones about the source of his inspiration in creating the design of the LaSalle. In his view, the most beautiful automobile in the world at the time was the Hispano-Suiza. Thus, the new GM marque emerged with a tall, narrow radiator; sweeping clamshell fenders; plus unusual, and thoroughly pleasing, two-tone effects -- all clearly reflecting the Hisso's influence.

Nor was performance neglected. The LaSalle engine, officially rated at 75 horsepower, probably developed more; it was easily capable of propelling the car to 70 miles per hour. And even more, at least in roadster form, particularly when tall gearing was employed. At the GM proving grounds a LaSalle roadster, fitted with high-compression cylinder heads and a special camshaft, averaged 95.3 mph over a 951.8-mile run -- which said something for the car's durability as well as its speed.

On the next page, learn about the end of the 1927 LaSalle.

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The End of the 1927 LaSalle

Five body styles were offered initially, all by Fisher. They rode a 125-inch wheelbase, seven inches shorter than that of the 1927 Cadillac. Model for model, the LaSalle was about 180 pounds lighter than the Caddy, and correspondingly more nimble. Six additional Fisher bodies joined the roster at mid-year, three on the original 125-inch wheel span, and three on a longer 134-inch chassis.

In addition, four semi-custom models, featuring coachwork by Fleetwood, were introduced on the shorter chassis. The Fleetwood jobs were very costly, ranging in price from $4,275 to $4,700, compared to a range of $2,495 to $2,975 for the short-chassis Fisher-bodied cars. Yet, interestingly enough, Harley Earl's Fisher-bodied cars were far better looking.

It should perhaps be noted that although the LaSalle sold for several hundred dollars less than the Cadillac, it was still considered an expensive automobile at a time when a new Chevrolet roadster sold for $525, and a perfectly respectable Buick Standard Six sedan could be had for $1,295.

When the 1928 models went on display, the LaSalle's influence on Cadillac was readily apparent. Styling of the senior car this year was the work of Harley Earl, and the result was extremely attractive. And under the Cadillac's hood was a 341-cubic-inch version of the engine introduced by LaSalle the year before. As for the LaSalle, it was little changed, although several additional models were offered on the 134-inch chassis.

In succeeding years, the original LaSalle concept of incorporating Cadillac quality in a smaller, more maneuver-able package became lost. By 1929, only three Fisher and two Fleetwood models remained on the 125-inch wheelbase, while a total of 14 were available on the longer chassis. And by 1930 the entire line had the longer wheelbase.

Not surprisingly, the LaSalle fell upon very difficult times during the Depression, with production falling to as low as 3,290 units for the 1932 model year. A smaller, much less expensive model, borrowing most of its components from the Oldsmobile Division, brought better sales during 1934-1936, but the LaSalle didn't hit its stride again until 1937, when a new V-8 led to sales of 32,005 units -- LaSalle's all-time high.

By that time, however, there was a smaller Cadillac, the Series Sixty, priced as low as $1,445. At this time, the LaSalle was still an extremely attractive automobile and an excellent value for the money, and it boasted a loyal following. But it made no sense for Cadillac to offer two automobiles that essentially competed with each other. Thus, at the end of the 1940 model run, the curtain came down and the LaSalle was no more.

Ironically, back in 1687 René Robert Cavalier de la Salle was killed by his own men. During the summer of 1940 the same thing happened to the automobile that bore his name.

Get specifications for the 1927 LaSalle on the next page.

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1927 LaSalle Specifications

The 1927 LaSalle was an attractive, yet expensive, automobile that was short-lived. Get specifications for the 1927 LaSalle.

Specifications

Engine: 90-degree L-head V-8, 303 cid 3 1/8 × 4 15/16-in. bore × stroke), 4.8:1 compression ratio (5. 3:1 opt.), mechanical valve lifters, 3 main bearings, 75 bhp

Transmission: 3-speed selective, floor-mounted lever, 11-disc clutch, torque tube drive

Suspension, front and rear: Rigid axles (rear 3/4 floating), longitudinal semi-elliptic springs

Brakes: 4-wheel internal mechanical, 14-in. drums

Wheelbase (in.): 125.0 (most models): 134.0 (Imperial)

Overall length (in.): 185.0 (short wheelbase)

Weight (lbs): 3,755-5,100 (depending on body style)

Top speed (mph): 70+

Production: 12,000 (model year); 16,850 (calendar year)

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