Cadillac LaSalle Arriving At Your Final Destination In Style

Filed in Car Culture by on February 16, 2014 20 Comments

Cadillac La-Salle 1927

Cadillac LaSalle 1927

Remember the pretty grille I said I would tell you about at the end of my last car culture blog post? Well, allow me to introduce you to the Cadillac LaSalle!

Henry Ford supposedly said, “People can have the Model T in any color—so long as it’s black.” (Okay, so Ford never actually said that). But, the reality is that approximately 12 million of the 15 million Model Ts sold were black or very dark blue. The early car manufacturers’ primary focus was not on design but making sure the car would take you to your final destination. However, the times they were a-changin’, and Americans were bored with the basic Model T and ready for flashier cars. The Cadillac LaSalle picked up where the Model T left off, transporting you to where you wanted to go and announcing that you had arrived in style.

Alfred P. Sloan, the president of General Motors, understood that Americans wanted a large selection of cars to choose from. While Ford’s philosophy was centered on making a car for the everyman, Sloan’s plan was to offer Americans a car for every purse and purpose. He did this by creating a hierarchy of car brands. Young families just starting out were guided toward the practical and affordable Chevrolet; the newly promoted executive celebrated his success by trading up to a Pontiac or Oldsmobile; and the Cadillac was the car that announced your arrival at the pinnacle of success. Harley Earl made Sloan’s philosophy a reality.

Earl was born into the business of customizing and designing, learning first from his father, who owned Earl Carriage Works in Los Angeles, California. At the end of World War I, Don Lee Cadillac bought out Earl Carriage Works, and Harley stayed on to use his design talents to customize Cadillacs for the rich and famous. Flapper starlets, slick gangsters and cigar-chomping movie moguls all came to Earl to give their cars a distinct look. It was during this time that Earl met Sloan and the general manager of Cadillac (Lawrence Fisher), and they hired Earl to consult on the development of the Cadillac LaSalle.

Earl designed the  Cadillac LaSalle to be everything the Model T was not, showing the American people what they could expect from cars going forward. The LaSalle came in 11 different body styles; it was built with curves and a long, low stance; it came in a number or colors and it handled like a dream. While the Model T had been considered a “man’s car,” women loved to drive the LaSalle. True, it cost seven times more money than the Model T, but Americans were ready to show off their net worth by the cars they drove—and the LaSalle showed it off with Cadillac class.

Harley Earl, practicing social marketing long before the internet was even imagined, is quoted as telling his designers, “If you drive by a schoolyard and the kids don’t whistle, go back to the drawing board”—and in September of 1927, seven boys took their appreciation for the LaSalle a lot further than whistling. A central Ohio newspaper reported on the “escapades of a band of youthful miscreants” from the little town of Delaware who had stolen 25 cars over the previous five months and taken them out for joyrides. One was a Cadillac LaSalle, “which the boys told the sheriff was the ‘spiffiest’ car they had stolen and that they intended to steal the LaSalle again for another ride because the car ran so well,” the newspaper reported. These boys may have lacked good sense, but it’s hard to knock their good taste.

Indeed, the Cadillac LaSalle was the spiffiest car on the road, and she was fast. In May of 1927, a GM mechanic piloted a LaSalle around the company’s Michigan proving ground while averaging just over 95 miles per hour, qualifying the LaSalle to be the pace car in that year’s Indianapolis 500.

The LaSalle was a sensation and Harley Earl, credited with the car’s design and success, was hired to head General Motors’ newly created Art and Color department. Automobile styling had been born.

Sales of the Cadillac LaSalle were strong until the end of the 1920s, when they took a nosedive along with the stock market crash in October 1929. Earl revived the car with a redesign later in the 1930’s and the LaSalle continued on until the first part of the 1940s, when America entered into World War II and civilian car production ceased. Earl’s next adventure will be featured in the next segment of car culture when I write about one of the most powerful totems of America’s postwar era: the Corvette and its hero, Zora Arkus-Duntov.

Pop quiz: It’s interesting to note that long after it was last sold, the Cadillac LaSalle was remembered by a television sitcom theme song. Do you remember the show and the theme song? Hint: The fourth verse of the song featured the line: “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great.”

I went to the Chicago Auto Show on Saturday and munched cookies and drank coffee in the Audi owners’ lounge, and saw some spectacular cars. I’m looking forward to showing you some pictures. In the meantime, the June Bug will be my primary focus while I am off school all next week. My plan is to take the June Bug to the auto show on Monday to collect autographs. The cold won’t get the best of me, I ordered a car electric blanket from Amazon.

Thanks for coming along for the ride


Pop Quizz answer:

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Comments (20)

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  1. Jim Rust says:

    It’s hard to imagine what American’s thought when they saw the LaSalle next to the Model T. This car represented the 1920’s so well….Thanks for giving me some background information. Lots I did not know. However I have a pretty good idea the answer to your pop quiz. I was in my 30s when I enjoyed that show and a lot of it resonated with me. I’ll let a few more people take guess tho.
    Great job Cole, I look forward to hearing all about the corvette.

  2. Kristy Galabos says:

    All I the Family is the TV show! Glad you enjoyed the cookies from Audi!….smart kid!

  3. Liz says:

    I’ve been a bad blog reader but decided to catch up tonight with you. Wow you are really going great guns. You have a knack for making cars sound interesting to people (like me) who normally would not pursue the topic. Did the Great Gatsby (movie) have a LaSalle or was that a Packard? I know, big difference, but I can not remember.
    I would have failed your pop quiz. However, If Kristy is right I am a point ahead should the question ever come up in a game of trivia.
    Go Cole. The next car is one of my favorites.

  4. Mike says:

    Did you know you could order a LaSalle with a side door closet for your gold clubs. They fit perfectly and it was easy for the caddy to pull them out and put them back up again. For golfers this was a cool feature.
    Glad you had fun at the Auto show. Looking forward to hearing about the Corvette.

    Bug on.

  5. Anne says:

    Man, these cars are so big and they look really heavy. Did they even have power steering? Beautiful car tho. Love the color contrasted with the white top. I can see myself arriving at a party in my garden dress along side a man in a beautiful summer suit arriving at a party. Fun to dream but I am glad for my more practical Audi. Fun to drive and easy to park.

    Love these stories cars stories about cars from the past. And I am looking forward to a Bug update.

  6. Debbie says:

    What a stunning car! I’ll bet folks really felt “uptown” when they rode around in a LaSalle. You know, it’s funny, but when I started reading this, I didn’t make the connection with the “All in the Family” theme song — but as I kept reading, suddenly it hit me. So yes, I think I passed the pop quiz — Woot!
    Debbie recently posted…Is that feeling more than just the blues?My Profile

  7. Cole says:

    A+. A lot of people don’t make the connection. It was such an uptown car and while it was pricey it was more affordable than a higher end full size cadillac….it said you were on your way up the ladder of success and planned to arrive.

  8. Cole says:

    Yes they has power steering. I agree for the time period they were exceptional cars and made their passengers look great. The Audi is an amazing car.


  9. Cole says:

    I did not know that, i bet it was a cool feature. The auto show is always a lot of fun and this year was even more fun because of my visit to the Audi lounge. Good cookies. Next up Corvette.

  10. Cole says:

    The cars in the Great Gatsby were a Royals Royce Coupe, Bentley, Duesenberg. Good guess, tho. They were big and flashy. My goal is to make the cars interesting to people who normally would not be interested so I’m glad I’m succeeding.
    Kristy is right and now you know. Corvette is up next!

  11. Cole says:

    The cookies were great so was the coffee. It was All In The Family–Those Were The Days. Good job. A+. Thanks for going along for the ride.

  12. Cole says:

    Good point. The LaSalle compared to the Model T would have astonished people. Of-course there was the Royals Royce,, Bentley, Duesenberg but those were just dreaming cars for most Americans. The LaSalle was a good looking car within the price range of the middle class.

    The corvette is up next..

  13. Sue says:

    I did not make the connection between the LaSalle song and the tv show ,All in the Family…now I know.
    Will you be writing about Vintage Pick Ups ? It is my dream to have a restored truck from the 1950s or 1960s..

  14. Cole says:

    That would be a really cool truck to own! I plan on including Ford trucks when I talk about the 50’s!. I’ve been told that when it comes to people being attached to their vehicles the old trucks top the list. The Bug is second. Owners love their trucks for generations.

  15. Kathy says:

    Hey Cole,

    I read your mom’s blog and just wanted to stop by and say hi. I must admit to knowing NOTHING about cars, but I am SOOOOOO impressed by your art. Gosh, you rock, my friend.

    Good luck next week with car show. Who knew they even made electric blankets for cars.

    Blogging from Ecuador,
    Kathy recently posted…Valentines from Trash: A DIY Tutorial from EcuadorMy Profile

  16. irene says:

    I, too, think the color combination of the above LaSalle is spiffy. My Jeep is that shade of red.
    I bet the Chicago Auto Show was quite an event. Good luck with getting the autographs this week!

  17. Cole says:

    Thank you. I’ve been very lucky to go to a school where art is as important as any other subject and I’ve had great teachers.

    The electric blankets plugs into the cigarette lighter. It is handy as long as it does not drain my battery too much.

    Ecuador! I’ll add your name to the Bug and where you living. So far we have Australia, Sweden and Malaysia.

    Thanks for going along for the ride.

  18. Cole says:

    It’s a really pretty color. The Auto show was lots of fun. I want to post some pictures but things keep coming up. Hopefully later tonight or tomorrow.

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