In the middle of the Roaring Twenties, the American automobile market was changing rapidly. It was the age of the flapper, the speakeasy and jazz. Closed cars became increasingly popular as bigger presses made rattle-free, all steel bodies practical and affordable. Open coachwork increasingly was sought by a younger crowd more interested in speed, style and a sporting look than in all-weather practicality.
General Motors faced two issues in responding to the changing market. The first was its body designs. The seven Fisher brothers jealously guarded their position as GM’s sole coachbuilder. As successful as they were as managers, however, they had little sense of style.
At Chevrolet and maybe Oakland, this didn’t have much effect, but at Cadillac, even with much of Cadillac’s coachwork coming from the more talented drawing boards at Fleetwood, there was little spark, style or flair to compete with designers like Dietrich and LeBaron supplying its luxury competitors.
Adding to the design issue was a huge gap in pricing between Cadillac and GM’s next step, Buick. In 1925 a Cadillac V 63 roadster cost $3,185. A Buick Master Six Sport roadster cost $1,750. The $1,435 difference was huge, a gap large enough to cover an Oldsmobile with plenty of change.
Lawrence P. Fisher moved from Fisher Body to the presidency of Cadillac in 1925 and was charged with refreshing Cadillac’s image and displacing Packard as the best-selling luxury marque. Cadillac engineering was in competent hands, but the missing element was design and a platform on which to offer it at a price point between Buick and Cadillac.
To fill it, General Motors resolved to build a lower priced “Companion Car to Cadillac.” Named LaSalle after the French explorer who discovered the mouth of Mississippi River, it would address the price gap.
The style element was resolved when Larry Fisher met Harley J. Earl in 1925 at Don Lee Cadillac, the Los Angeles distributor. Just before Christmas 1925, Fisher offered Earl a one-time assignment to submit a design for the new LaSalle.
The combination of Harley Earl and LaSalle would change history.
Introduced in March 1927, the LaSalle’s lines were generously borrowed from contemporary Hispano-Suizas. Crisp, distinctive and low, the 1927 LaSalle was enthusiastically received. Its compact design was backed up by a brand new two-plane crankshaft V8 engine with offset cylinders designed by Owen Nacker, a design that would define modern V8 layout for the next nine decades. Underslung springs and 20” wheels kept the LaSalle close to the ground. It was stunning and, better yet, a sales success story, selling over 26,000 units in 1927-28.
LaSalle production increased to nearly 23,000 in 1929 aided by a number of important improvements. Engine size increased to 328cid and 86 horsepower. It was backed up by one of Cadillac’s most important innovations, the “clash-less” shifting synchromesh transmission and even smaller 19” wheels.
The success of Harley Earl’s concept for LaSalle can be immediately seen in this beautifully restored and presented 1929 LaSalle Series 328 convertible coupe. Its convertible coupe body with rumble seat is distinctive, being built on the longer 134” wheelbase chassis. It was discovered some years ago by a Cadillac-LaSalle expert, who carefully restored it using original coupe and convertible coupe parts during a body-off-the-frame restoration that earned it “Best of Show” at the 1999 Horseless Carriage Club Meet in St. Louis, “Best LaSalle” at the 2002 Cadillac LaSalle National Meet in Detroit, an AACA “First Junior” in 2002 and “Senior National First Prize” in 2008.
It is beautifully presented in red with black body accent and fenders highlighted with a yellow coachline, set off by inviting tan leather upholstery and interior trim, and a tan cloth top. The luggage trunk is covered with matching tan cloth. Equipment includes dual sidemounted spares with mirrors, red painted wire wheels with white wall tires, a single Pilot-Ray driving light, radiator stoneguard and running board courtesy lights.
It has been meticulously and continuously maintained since the restoration was completed. It is still in gorgeous, sharp condition reflecting both the quality of the “Companion Car to Cadillac” LaSalle — built on the same high-quality assembly line and Fisher Body coachworks as Cadillacs — and the restorer’s experience, skill, care and his attention to detail and choice of materials.
Like its predecessors in 1927 and 1928, this LaSalle illustrates the epochal shift that Harley Earl’s LaSalle and the Art & Colour Department that he headed for the next three decades brought to the American automobile industry. Yet, this 1929 is better, with a bigger V8, longer wheelbase and the synchromesh transmission.
It is an important milestone in America’s automobile history.
– — By Rick Carey