While Jaguar and MG are among my most vivid recollections of my early exposure to fast cars, the first car I ever rode in went much further back, and it was quite a stately automobile.
The house we lived in Sydney from 1945-1953 had a garage, which was empty as we could not afford to own a car, so my father agreed that our next door neighbour, who ran an engineering business, could park his 1928 La Salle Phaeton in our garage. It was a handsome open car, with high quality leather seats and a V8 engine.
|My first ride - 1928 La Salle Phaeton|
About every three months my young friend next door, Bruce, would harass his father to take us across town to a huge model railway exhibit which was set out in the back yard of a house, owned by a railway enthusiast.
We would sit in the back seat with the roof raised, but no side curtains and I was always very impressed with how quiet the car was, how powerful it was, and the comfort of the ride. Which leads nicely into the history of this little known brand.
As Alfred P. Sloan was putting together the General Motors company, and the catalogue of brands and models, he had pitched Cadillac at the top end, but felt that he could sell more cars if each brand had a ‘companion’ marque – and he chose La Salle to be Cadillac’s companion marque.
The first model, in 1927 was designed by a young Harley Earl, who agreed with Sloan to make the La Salle smaller and lighter, but still using the Cadillac V8 engine, a design inspired by the Hispano Suizas. Sloan and Earl wanted the La Salle to be more sprightly, and to handle in a more sporty manner.
|1929 La Salle models - Fisher-bodied sedan and roadster|
Its big sales year was 1929, selling 22,691 cars, which were mostly sedans, but that dropped to just over 3200 by 1932. In fact La Salles consistently outsold Cadillacs from 1933, but the introduction in 1935 of the cheaper Packard One Twenty, and the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr spelled the death of La Salle. Following the Wall Street crash, La Salle sales had begun a steady downward trend. There was a promising surge in 1936 to around 32,000, but it never recovered from the sharp downward sales spiral which had begun in 1937.
|1927 Phaeton (top left); 1932 Sedan (top right); 1936 Roadster (centre); 1938 Sedan (bottom left); 1939 Sedan (bottom right)|
The brand went through several design evolutions, until 1940 when GM decided to quietly drop the La Salle brand and fold it into Cadillac.
Harley Earl already had concept models built for the 1941 model year, but they went to the scrapheap, marking the end of an interesting marketing experiment.