A lot of razzing comes our way over our love for LaSalles, mostly from people hiding their jealousy. Some uneducated nerds sometimes refer to LaSalles as “Baby Cadillacs” or “Poor Man’s Cadillac.”
The LaSalle was designed by Harley Earl and quickly became a “High Performance Cadillac” and the sweetheart car of GM. In June of 1927, on the GM Proving Ground, a LaSalle roadster averaged a speed of 98.8 mph for 250 laps. The Indy 500 winner that year averaged 97.5 mph for 500 miles (200 laps.)
I first fell in love with LaSalles in the late ’30s when I lived across the street from the local Cadillac dealership in downtown Denver. That love affair has never dimmed. I have become a “student” of LaSalles ever since.
There are a few interesting facts that I have found during research and some personal experiences that I would like to share with you.
In 1950, Phyllis and I bought our first 1940 LaSalle. It was a beauty with low miles—but that car is a story of its own for a later date. We have either owned or desired to own them ever since.
In 1953, while in the Army in Japan, we bought a set of encyclopedias which included 20 “research coupons.” Must of these coupons were used in LaSalle research. Unfortunately, most of these research papers have been lost over the years, but many of these facts I remember very well.
In 1953, over 75 percent of all 205,000 LaSalles ever built were registered and still in use. At that time, the average life of a car was seven years. Take into consideration that at that time, the newest LaSalle on the road was almost twice that age.
One of the main reasons that so many LaSalles failed to survive to the present was the fact that so many LaSalle parts were in demand for use in race cars and other various forms of custom cars and “hot rods,” particularly the transmissions and engines. Many used LaSalles were purchased from car lots and scrapped just to get the parts.
During the years the LaSalles were built, 1927–1940, many gangsters preferred these cars because of their dependability, high performance and stability at high speeds.
During these years, the times were tough and there was a stigma of sorts to being affluent. To own a Caddy at that time was basically a symbol of affluence and caused unwanted resentment. Therefore, many people who wanted the quality of a Cadillac but not the “stigma,” would buy a LaSalle. Many owners of chauffeur-driven Cadillacs would also have a LaSalle to drive themselves so as not to flaunt their wealth.
The LaSalle was advertised as a less expensive car. In fact, the price between the two was very small. However, according to factory workers at the time, quality control for LaSalles was even stiffer than for its sister cars. Also, there was virtually no difference in the cost to produce. Cadillac was always the Standard of the World and therefore, the marketing people wanted the public to get used to high quality cars. In order to get the volume up, they used the LaSalle.
By 1937, the LaSalle was outselling Cadillac to the point GM officials began to worry that LaSalle would put Cadillac out of business.
GM DROPS LaSALLE
In 1938, it was decided that 1941 would be the last LaSalle and the ’41 model would basically be a more expensive Buick—after all, Buick was losing more sales to LaSalle than GM had expected. GM even considered moving LaSalle production from Cadillac to Buick. GM was very happy that LaSalle was stealing sales from Packard, but not pleased about the effect on Buick and Cadillac sales.
Plans were made to make two series of LaSalles…the old standby 50 Series and the new 52 Series. The 52 Series was to be a more streamlined “torpedo” style. By mid-1939, the prototype of the ’41 LaSalle had been made up. It was to be a modernized 52 Series and the 50 Series would be dropped.
In the meantime, the LaSalle sales zoomed, posing even more threats to both Buick and Cadillac. The decision was made to move up the discontinuance and make 1940 the last year for LaSalle. Instead, Cadillac would add a new line designated as the “61 Series.” This was advertised as the LaSalle with the Cadillac name.
This decision proved to be a great boost to both Buick and Cadillac. Although the 61 Series did not sell as well as the LaSalle had, it did move many buyers back to Cadillac, making 1941 the best sales year ever. This also applied to Buick.
WWII CHANGES EVERYTHING
By this time, World War II was changing the world and all automakers were getting into war production. The 1942 production was just getting into high gear when Pearl Harbor hit. All auto companies converted to 100 percent war production.
During the war years, it was next to impossible to find a LaSalle on a used car lot. People who owned them loved the low maintenance cost and dependability. Gas rationing (as well as the draft) caused many cars of all makes to be stored during the war.
When new cars became available after the war, finally some LaSalles started showing up on used car lots, but they always sold quickly. The LaSalle kept a higher value for a longer time than all other car makes. By the early ’50s, as new cars became plentiful, all the pre-war cars began to disappear.
The hot rod craze was in full swing so consequently, LaSalle parts were in greater demand than the cars themselves.
LaSALLES IN GREAT DEMAND TODAY
Unfortunately, many LaSalles left this world for that reason. Those LaSalles that survived have become very treasured by their owners. If you doubt this, just check out our hobby publications like Hemmings and Old Cars Weekly. See how few LaSalles are for sale in comparison to other makes.
It never ceases to amaze Phyllis and me when we show our LaSalle or go on a tour, how many people remember in detail about some LaSalle in their past, particularly those people over 50.
It seems as though everyone had a relative or friend that had a LaSalle and how it was such a great car. They seem to forget about other cars, but always remember their LaSalle experience.
As I’ve always said, “LaSalles are Forever.”