Car Collector Corner: LaSalle history
Q: Hi Greg: I enjoy your very educational articles in the Spokesman Review in Spokane, WA. I'd like to know about the LaSalle automobile. My dad had a 1936 (I believe it was) 4-door sedan, purchased in 1943 and traded in for new 1950 Pontiac.
We never see or even hear of this car; can you give some background on the car, when and where it was manufactured and by whom? Also any statistics regarding engine size and horsepower would be appreciated. Thanks. Steve Marque, Washington.
A: Glad to Steve. LaSalle was a General Motors division that began in 1927 to fit between Buick and Cadillac. LaSalle enjoyed a 14-year run in this luxury position, and when discontinued in 1941, it took Buick up until 1960 to pick up the LaSalle name as a Buick model.
Always highly regarded by GM, LaSalle is also noted as thrusting GM's "Godfather of Automotive Design," Harley Earl, into prominence. Specifically, the very first LaSalle in 1927 was designed by Harley Earl in his first ever effort.
Known as Cadillac's less expensive choice, the LaSalle was built on a shorter wheelbase than big daddy Cadillac, and its popularity was instant. As for engines, LaSalle utilized the big V8 engines for most of its run, including Cadillac's 353-inch V8 during the depression years. For many years and according to plan, LaSalle outsold Cadillac, which is the way the Buick-LaSalle-Cadillac pyramid theory was to work. However, when Cadillac sales outnumbered LaSalle in 1931, GM took another look at the brand in how to better the results.
By 1934, LaSalle was using Oldsmobile's inline-eight engines and assembled on shorter wheelbases than Cadillac. However, things did not improve, and by 1937 LaSalle was back using the Cadillac 60 Series V8 engines and again stretching the wheelbase. The car was again a hit, and sales moved upward over 32,000 units.
In 1938, however, sales were again down.
In its final two years of 1939 and 1940, LaSalle was still a most respected car by consumers, but better sales by Packard and Lincoln spelled its doom. In 1941, LaSalle was dropped and Cadillac introduced its new "Sixty One" series, which officially replaced the LaSalle division, bringing LaSalle consumers to Cadillac showrooms. As for pricing, the entry level LaSalle in 1939 was $1,280 all the way up to the most expensive $1,800 convertible. The Sixty One Series Cadillac was priced at $1,445 in 1941, which explains why Cadillac sales improved.
The engines used the in the final two years were 322 inch V8s putting out 130 horsepower. Wheelbases were 120-inches in 1939 and then 123 inches the final year.
Hope this all helps, and thanks for your question.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions on auto nostalgia, collector cars and old-time racing at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org).