Monday, April 10, 2017

1940 LaSalle 1940 5027 2-door coupe

As early as 1923 General Motors (GM) President Alfred P. Sloan developed the concept of the GM Companion Make Program to fill gaps he perceived in the General Motors product portfolio. General Motors sales executives referred to what Sloan created as “The Ladder of Success.” As a man (or woman) became more financially successful, they would work their way up the ladder to the pinnacle for GM, the purchase of a Cadillac.

In general, the “companion make” was built and marketed alongside the parent brand but was priced lower than the parent automobiles (except in one case). Chevrolet was designated as the entry level product line for GM, followed in ascending order followed by the new-for-1926 companion make, Pontiac, then its parent brand, Oakland which had been part of General Motors since 1909.   

Next on the GM hierarchal parade came Oldsmobile then its higher priced companion Viking  which was officially sold for two model years 1929 and 1930, although 353 1931 Vikings were built with leftover 1930 parts. The next step up for the GM buyer was the revived Marquette nameplate (dead since 1912) which sold from 1929-1931 as the lower cost companion to Buick. Above the Buick was the Cadillac “companion make” LaSalle which was sold from 1927 to 1940, and ultimately, the Cadillac. Topping the General Motors universe of makes was

LaSalle took its name from the French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle who explored from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico beginning in 1673 and claimed the entire Mississippi River basin as “Louisiana” for the King of France before his men mutinied and killed him in 1687.
The 1927 LaSalle Pacemaker is shown in this photo
from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
in the Center for Digital Studies in the IUPUI University Library

LaSalle was selected to provide the “Pacemaker” for Indianapolis 500-mile race on three occasions. In 1927 the LaSalle V-8 Series 303 roadster was driven by former race car driver Willard “Big Boy” Rader who had appeared in two of the first four Indianapolis 500-mile races as a relief driver.  

Willard "Big Boy" Rader seated in the Lasalle Official Pacemaker 
courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway  
 A month after the ‘500,’ Rader drove a similar stripped-down LaSalle 303 roadster on a timed test at the nearly 4-mile concrete oval at the GM Milford test track. The car fitted with an optional high-compression cylinder head was completely stock stripped of its headlights, running boards, windshield and fenders covered 952 miles in ten hours before a broken oil line stopped the run. 
The 1934 LaSalle Pacemaker is shown in this photo
from the Indianapolis  Motor Speedway Collection
in the Center for Digital Studies in the IUPUI University Library
Ralph DePalma is shown in the 1934 LaSalle Pacemaker in this photo
from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
in the Center for Digital Studies in the IUPUI University Library

In 1934 the new LaSalle straight eight-powered Model 350 convertible styled by Harley Earl and driven by Rader (who had driven the 1931 Cadillac Pacemaker) was the Official Pacemaker for the Indianapolis 500-mile race.  In 1937 a LaSalle Series 37-50 convertible coupe served as the Official Pacemaker piloted by the recently retired Raffaele “Ralph” DePalma the 1915 Indianapolis 500 mile race winner.

Over time the General Motors companion make strategy was abandoned mainly due to the automotive sales slump created by the Great Depression. As mentioned above, the Viking and Marquette makes were short-lived and the Oakland nameplate was killed in 1931 but its companion make Pontiac lived on until 2010.

LaSalle built some outstanding automobiles, but sales were never brisk. After a peak number of 22,691 cars were sold during the 1929 sales year, three years later sales dropped to a low of 3,290 cars. The strikingly restyled 1937 LaSalle broke all previous sales records with 32,000 units sold through the model year.  Following a dip in 1938 model year sales to just 15,501 units, the LaSalle was restyled again for 1939 and sales rebounded to 23,032. 

For 1940, the LaSalle was redesigned for the second year in a row, this time by William Mitchell head of the Cadillac Studio. LaSalle sold two distinct models in 1940 - the series 50 and the series 52, which was referred to in Cadillac sales literature as “the Special.”  Both the series 50 and 52 LaSalle rode on a 123-inch wheelbase chassis with a 59-inch track and 7 x 16-inch wheels  powered by an L-head, cast iron block V-8 engine that displaced 322 cubic inches and fitted with twin Carter carburetors developed 130 horsepower.
The 50 series featured an Art Deco hood ornament, streamlined headlamps integrated into the fenders, three side hood louvers and a split front windshield.   The Series 52 had a wider, 45-degree sloping windshield, a larger curved rear window, no belt-line molding, a rounder, smoother line down the rear of body and was 3-3/4 inches longer overall.  To show how automotive design was changing during this period, running boards were a offered as a “no cost” option. A 1940 LaSalle came standard equipped with three chromes strips at the bottom of the body which added to the sleeker lower look.

For the 1940 model year Cadillac and LaSalle offered seven models with a total of 51 distinctly different cars with pricing that began at $1000 and topped out with the magnificent Cadillac Sixteen of which only fifty were built at a price of over $6000.  LaSalles came standard with “Hi-Test Safety Plate Glass” advertised as providing a clearer view than laminated glass and Cadillac “Controlled Action Ride” with improved knee-action suspension which when combined with thick foam rubber padded cushions on the seats made them “America’s finest riding cars.”  

All 1940 LaSalle bodies featured a one-piece solid steel “turret top” reinforced with steel roof bows and roof rails welded to the inner steel body framework. LaSalle advertised that the fully-welded bodies were “insulated at every point for quietness and comfort;” the top, door panels and floor were insulated with thick asphalt impregnated felt while the dash and cowling area was covered with heavy jute matting and Celotex ™ board (asbestos impregnated fiberboard). 

Heavy rubber pads surrounded the body bolts to “eliminate body rumbling inherent with cars with single unit frames” and were effectively weather sealed to “prevent the entry of dust water and drafts.” Steel drip moldings, a long-lost feature on modern cars, were furnished to “prevent annoying water from dripping on passengers entering or leaving the car.”

This car, a model 5027 2-4 Coupe owned by Marshall Krause was on display at the 2017 Sacramento Autorama. With an original list price of $1180 there were 1,525 LaSalle 5027 2-4 coupes sold during the 1940 model year. This car which has been completely restored is powered by a non-original engine which was bored out to a displacement of 346 cubic inches using period-correct Cadillac rebuild specifications by Top of The Hill Performance Center in Livermore, California.

The car as shown is equipped with optional amber lenses fog lights  which sold for $14.50 in 1940 for the pair installed, a rear view mirror ($4.50 installed), a grille guard ($10.00 installed) and chrome wheel  trim rings which sold for $1.50 each installed. This example recently was offered for sale at the end of January 2017 on the internet auction site but was a no-sale as the highest offer of $35,000 did not meet the seller’s reserve. Perhaps serious LaSalle enthusiasts held back on bidding since the car is finished in a PPG Paints Tan, a color which was not offered on the standard 17-color LaSalle palette for 1940.

1940 Series 50 model year sales ended with 10,382 cars sold and with Series 52 production factored in, LaSalle was 15th overall in US auto sales with a total of 24,133 cars sold for 1940.  Although 1940 was Lassalle’s second highest sales year ever, it wasn’t enough as the marque was killed by General Motors in the summer of 1940 although there were three possible new 1941 designs in the midst of development.

The LaSalle nameplate was briefly resurrected in 1955 for the General Motors Motorama shows with two LaSalle II concept cars. Both used fiberglass bodies; the first design was a small four-door hardtop sedan while the other was a truncated two-seat convertible roadster. Both cars which were non-running examples with V-6 aluminum engines castings under their hoods, shared the same vertical grille opening design reminiscent of the 1940 LaSalle.

Color photos by the author.

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