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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