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The (new) Cadillac Database©

La Salle
Cadillac's Companion Car

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The (New) Cadillac Database© Index Page
or go back to the La Salle index page
or select preferred year, below


Fr_flag.jpg (801 bytes)
(le résumé en français se trouve en bas de page)


1927 1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 1933
1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940

This Web page was prepared by Norm Nicholson, USA and subsequently modified by Yann Saunders

Nota: Since these pages were prepared, in 1996, the definitive book on LaSalle
automobiles has been published; it is entitled La Salle - Cadillac's Companion Car
[ISBN #1-56311-519-0]. Thoroughly researched and written and by my friends
Ron Van Gelderen and Matt Larson, I strongly recommend you to refer to that
book for more precise facts and figures, plus lots of photos of these beautiful cars


First some History about the man, La Salle

Of all the notable explorers and adventurers who left their name on an American automobile (e.g.
De Soto, Marquette, Cadillac, et al) René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle is the most tragic figure in the history of Mississippi exploration.

He had the greatest vision ...combined with the worst luck. La Salle dreamed of a French "empire" on the American continent stretching from Quebec to New Orleans, to the Appalachians east and to the Rockies west, encompassing the entire basin of the Mississippi, Ohio and  Missouri rivers. At the time, most Canadians believed that La Salle suffered from delusions of grandeur or was gone mad from a solitary life in the forests.



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Portraits of a young René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (left)
who turned into the older,  more distinguished nobleman (center)
...and inspired this dapper adventurer on a La Salle catalog for 1933

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La Salle, the explorer
A time of Jesuit priests, coureur des bois [scouts] and indians



Born November 22, 1643, the son of a wealthy wholesale merchant of Rouen, in NE France, he was given the noble title de La Salle, after an estate owned by the Cavelier family. Educated by Jesuit priests, La Salle was a restless spirit. He sailed for Canada in 1666 in search of adventure and a new life in the French colony. He arrived there seventeen years earlier than Antoine Laumet, aka De Lamothe-Cadillac, who did not sail to these shores before 1683.

Braving savage Iroquois Indians, betrayed by his Canadian friends, the time of La Salle's revenge had come. He tried to rally to his cause Indians of all tribes like the Illinois, Miamis, Shawnees, Outagamies, Potawatamies, Abenaki and Mohican against the Iroquois. He headed south in December 1681, grabbing village after village for the French crown, in the presence of ignorant but applauding natives. In April 1682 the reached the Gulf of Mexico. He was the first white man to have journeyed from the St Lawrence to the Gulf through the very heart of the American continent.  A column was erected bearing the inscription "Louis le Grand, Roy de France et Navarre, Règne; le Neuvième d'Avril 1682" [Louis the Great, King of France and Navarre, rules; April 9, 1682]. 

La Salle then made the legal proclamation that gave King Louis and his successors "possession of this country of Louisiana, the seas, harbors, ports, bays, adjacent straits, and all the nations, peoples, provinces, cities, towns, villages, mines, minerals, fisheries, streams and rivers, within the extent of the said Louisiana, from the mouth of the great river ... and the rivers which discharge themselves thereinto, from its source beyond the country of the Nadouessioux [i.e. the Sioux Indians] ... and as far as its mouth at the sea, or the Gulf of Mexico..."

With these few words, La Salle offered his King the heart of a continent, an area many times the whole of France.

La Salle's ruin was his basic ignorance of the geography of the southwest. With the blessing of the French crown, four ships set sail from La Rochelle in France on July 24, 1684. Despite repeated set-backs the colonizers reached Santo Domingo. There, La Salle fell prey to fever and his band began deserting him. On December 28 they came in sight of the continent but lost their way. La Salle gave the unfortunate order to land at the mouth of Matagorda Bay, nearly three weeks travel on foot away from the Mississippi. Unfriendly seas hampered landing operations. The supply ship Aimable ran aground; buffeted by a storm, she was destroyed. His men were dying at the rate of six a day, from disease, bad food and water. Soon the colony was down to forty souls, less than a quarter of the number who had been foolish enough to disembark.

A last desperate band of twenty of the fittest set out on January 7, 1687 to try to join up with French colonists upstream of the mouth of the Mississippi delta. But the men quarreled among themselves, tempers frayed and snapped. LaSalle himself was a broken reed.

Out of sight of the main group, three conspirators among the bedraggled band who had gone to hunt for food killed three of their companions. Worried about the non-return of one of them (his nephew, in fact), La Salle went off to look for him on the morning of March 18.

In chapter V of his book entitled "Explorers of the Mississippi" La Salle's final moments are dramatically related by author-historian Timothy Severin1".... When La Salle had moved into point-blank range, two shots rang out in quick succession. La Salle pitched forward, dead before he hit the Texas soil, a musket ball through his brain. The dead captain's body was stripped by his murderers and dragged into a thicket where it was left to the wolves and birds of carrion."

In the words of Scots poet-laureate, Rabbie Burns. "The best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley..." [a man's best laid plans often may go wrong].


For more La Salle history: http://www.civilization.ca/vmnf/explor/lasal_e2.html#top


The La Salle Coat of Arms


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Armorial bearings of the La Salle family



The coat of arms displayed on the radiator grille of La Salle automobiles is that of the French adventurer. It was granted to him in 1710. The black shield  features a leaping, silver greyhound surmounted by a golden, 8-pointed star.

Though I'm no expert on heraldry, the little research I have done into the make-up of the Cadillac and La Salle coats of arms suggest that this one might be described in French heraldry thus :

   De sable, un levrier d'argent salient surmonté d'une étoile d'or
[ Sable a greyhound salient argent surmounted by a star or ]

The hound or leverer (from the French lévrier = greyhound) is one of the oldest heraldic devices or "charges".  The star is a symbol of dreams and secrets.

A modified version of the La Salle family crest is incorporated also on the arms of the town of La Salle, MI, that was founded by the French explorer.


LAS_ARMS.JPG (5063 bytes)



1  Tim Severin is the nephew of my wife's late step-father, Colonel Ivan St. Quentin Severin


And some history of the car that bears the La Salle name

The La Salle Automobile was announced, inter alia, in General Motors World, Vol. VI, No. 3, in March 1927, a journal published in New York by General Motors Export, 224 West 57th Street, for GM exporters everywhere (copy on file). It was officially introduced on 5 March 1927 at the Cadillac Spring Salon and was received with a tremendous wave of enthusiasm, unmistakable confirmation of the fact that this was a car, a demand for which had existed for a long period in motoring circles.

It was not just a "little" Cadillac but an entirely new car for a new purpose to fill a new field of usefulness. The La Salle was powered, like the Cadillac, with a ninety-degree V-type eight-cylinder engine.

It was described as "a beautiful new car of brilliant performance, designed by Cadillac engineers and built by the Cadillac Motor Car Company entirely with in its own plant as a companion car to Cadillac."

No prices were announced at introduction time. Initially, only five models were listed as being available: (1) a 2-passenger roadster with rumble seat, (2) a 5-passenger phaeton [of which the hood and cowl panels were finished in dark green, with lighter green used for the body panels and a broad cream colored belt stripe around the body, starting from the cowl], (3) a 2-passenger coupe with rumble seat, (4) a 4-passenger Victoria and (5) a 5-passenger sedan.

The La Salle was the first production automobile to be designed, as to its general shape and all its features, entirely by an automobile stylist (Harley J. Earl) rather than by draftsmen and mechanical engineers. Its immediate success and popularity created a new breed of automobile executive: the car stylist. Earl became the Director of GM's new Art & Color Section created the following year under the impetus of Alfred P. Sloan.

The 90° V engine was identical in principle to the Cadillac engine but different in power and size and the standard car weighed in around 3900 lbs. The engineering differed from that of the Cadillac engine in that it used side-by-side connecting-rod attachments on the crankshaft journals, eliminating the former fork and blade connecting rods. The rated SAE horsepower was 31.25. Cadillac moved to the lighter, equally responsive V8 engine the following year when it introduced the new Series 341.

The La Salle cars were assembled in a plant located at Ford Road and Wyoming in Detroit in what had once been a plant owned by the Saxon Motor Car Company. That plant had been taken over by Chrysler Motors and formerly used to assemble DeSotos.

La Salle cars were designed, engineered and built by Cadillac craftsmen to Cadillac's high standards of quality.

The American monthly Motor for March 1927 carried a 4-page feature on the new La Salle (pp. 52-53, 174, 178). It said, inter alia, "When the writer first laid eyes on these new models lined up in a row stretching down one side of the exhibition room at the Cadillac factory his first impression was that here was just about the most beautiful line of cars he had ever seen. But a moment later he discovered that on the other side of the room was a line of Cadillacs and he realized that the Cadillacs were just as attractive. The two lines of cars are quite distinct in their appearance characteristics and yet there is a definite resemblance.

The word 'European' has become a popular term to apply to new models, and while Cadillac officials did not use this term in talking of the La Salle line, nevertheless the instant the writer saw these new cars he was impressed with their foreign air. They have all the smartness of the leading foreign cars coupled with a neatness that is characteristic of American cars (...) Still more interesting is the color distribution on the new jobs. Hood and cowl are finished in a darker color than the body."

Just as the Cadillac was named after the French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, founder of Detroit, the new La Salle bore the name of another famous French explorer, Robert Cavelier de La Salle (1643-1687).


Testing the new La Salle

In the Spring of 2002, I was fortunate to be contacted by "Chris", the great-grandson of the late Gus Bell who, like Willard "Big Bill" Rader, was a mechanic and a test driver for the Cadillac factory, before his untimely death, in July 1930 while driving a 1930 V-16 roadster at high speed on GM's Proving Ground at Milford, MI.

"Chris" was kind enough to supply a number of rare and interesting sepia photos relating to that accident, as well as others (reproduced here in B&W) that concern the initial testing of the new La Salle models.

The in-house magazine, Clearing House for June 30, 1927 ("CH" was a Co-operative Bulletin of the Cadillac Organization), related the amazing performance of a near-stock La Salle roadster that ran 951 miles (that is 252 laps around GM's Proving Ground at Milford, MI) at an average speed of 95.2 mph, on Thursday, June 20, 1927.

The car ran almost ten consecutive hours, with (mainly) Willard "Big Bill" Rader at the wheel (117 miles of the total trip were done by Gus Bell, another Cadillac test driver).

The car was a near production roadster with windshield, lamps, fenders and running boards removed and some minor mechanical adjustments for sustained high speeds. No mechanical adjustments of any kind were made during the run which, regrettably, was interrupted after 252 laps owing to the failure of a copper oil suction pipe.

The feat was supervised by a team of 22 engineers, technicians and mechanics in the pits. The car made nine pit stops totaling 7 min. 24.7 secs. There were four tire changes in all.

After the feat, a dinner was staged at the now defunct Book Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit.


27tstb.jpg (7125 bytes)    27tstc.jpg (9128 bytes)
(Left) Jess Nall (left) and Gus Bell (right), experimental drivers of
the B-18 team,  photographed at the GM Proving Ground in Milford, MI
(Right) Willard "Big Bill" Rader at the wheel; mechanic Gus Bell in the passenger seat

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    27tstd.jpg (12160 bytes)
(Left) inside the "bowl", or "concrete saucer", at the Milford Proving Ground
(Right) Summary of test results; amazing for the time !

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Hectic activity in the pits, adding water oil and gasoline in under half a minute !

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(Left)  Pit crew member holds up large placard indicating speed during last lap
(Right) Bill Rader, face still covered with road grime,  chats after the run, with
Lynn McNaughton, Vice-President of the Cadillac Motor Car Company

27tsti.jpg (3044 bytes)
Test drivers with the La Salle
at Milford Proving Grounds, MI




for all La Salle aficionados

"La Salle - a Classic Source Book" by Robert C. Ackerson, © 1986]

"La Salle - Cadillac's Companion Car"
by Ron Van Gelderen and Matt Larson, © 2000]


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(résumé en français)

On sait que la Cadillac tient son nom de l'explorateur-aventurier Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac, fondateur de la ville de Detroit en 1701.  L'automobile La Salle est aussi "d'origine française" puisqu'elle porte le nom d'un autre explorateur francais, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, né à Rouen en 1643.   Le blason de la famille La Salle orne par ailleurs le capot des voitures de la marque. Il annexa la Louisiane pour son roi Louis XVI mais fut assassiné par des mutins parmi ses propres hommes de troupe le 18 mars 1697, soit 230 années presque jour pour jour avant la sortie des premiers modèles des automobiles qui allaient porter son illustre nom.  

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A la fin des années vingt on pouvait trouver chez des accessoiristes automobile,  pour orner la capot des La Salle, une petite figurine à l'effigie de l'explorateur.

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Il faut bien distinguer entre Cadillac et La Salle; ce sont deux marques distinctes,  La seconde fut une sous-marque de la première, fabriquée de 1927 à 1940.  Il ne s'agit pas d'un modèle Cadillac tel que "Coupe de Ville", "Sixty Special", "Eldorado" ou autre "Seville"; on ne doit pas parler d'une Cadillac, modèle "La Salle", de la même façon qu'on ne peut pas parler non plus d'une Ford, modèle "Lincoln" ou d'une Chrysler, modèle "Plymouth".

L'automobile La Salle fut dessinée par Harley Earl dès son arrivée à la GM en janvier 1926. Par la suite, en 1928, Alfred P. Sloan, grand patron de la GM lui confia la direction de la nouvelle "Art & Color Section".  Earl avait été très inspiré par l'esthétique des modèles Hispano,  Isotta Fraschini et autres Delage qu'il avait pu admirer à l'occasion d'un périple en Europe.

La nouvelle marque fut lancée par la GM le 3 mars 1927 et presentée au grand public deux jours plus tard à l'occasion du salon de printemps de la firme Cadillac, le 5 mars 1927.  Elle fut reçue avec enthousiasme dans les milieux automobiles. C'était la première automobile de série conçue entièrement par un styliste et non plus par des ingénieurs et autres dessinateurs techniques.

Comme la Cadillac elle étatit mue par un huit cylindres en V; celui-ci était plus léger, néanmoins, et avait plus de répondant (d'ailleurs, Cadillac devait l'adopter,  l'année suivante pour ses nouveaux modèles type "341").  Cinq modèles étaient proposés en tout et pour tout:  (1) le spider, (2) le torpédo, (3) le coupé 2 places, (4) le coupé "Victoria" 4 places et enfin (5) la berline 5 places.



Some interesting articles on LaSalle automobiles:

-  Car Collector, 7/68 article on a 1930 roadster
-  Car Collector,  8/76 article on the La Salle models from 1927-1940
-  Car Collector,  8/78, article entitled Why La Salle couldn't survive
-  Car Collector,  4/88, article on a 1938 La Salle funeral coach
-  Car Collector,  7/88 article on a 1940 special La Salle series 52 convertible sedan
Torque, May-June 1979 (p.10):  photo of Harley Earl at wheel of roadster
    (Larry Fisher standing)


Return to The (New) Cadillac Database© Index Page
or go back to the La Salle index page
or select preferred year, below


1927 1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 1933
1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940

© 1996, Yann Saunders and the Cadillac-LaSalle Club, Inc.
[Background image:  La Salle emblem]