The LaSalle was named for Rene Robert Cavelier de la Salle, who claimed Louisiana for France in 1682. Although LaSalles were originally powered by a 303 cu. in., 75 hp, V-8, figures gradually increased to 340 cu. in. and 125 hp. Through the years the LaSalle shared many Cadillac features, including Synchro-Mesh transmission, dual independent braking systems and Knee-Action suspension.
The LaSalle would also make important contributions to Cadillac's engineering history. It was one of three GM companion cars; the others being Buick's Marquette and Oldsmobile's Viking. Unabashedly advertised as "the blood brother to Cadillac" and of "Cadillac calibre", it was a high performer. It covered 951.9 miles, averaging 95.3 mph for 10 hours - an uncanny feat considering that the 1927 Indianapolis 500 was won by a 160 hp Duesenberg going only 2 mph faster for half the distance.
LaSalle's acceptance obliged Cadillac to build nearly 21,000 more cars that year than it had ever built for a model year. In the first three years almost 54,000 custom-bodied LaSalles carrying the reputation of Cadillac were sold. Continuing to benefit from Cadillac's sponsorship, reaping its engineering and styling advances, the LaSalles by 1937 and through 1940 were all Cadillacs mechanically, notwithstanding their superb, individualistic styling which caused a major marketing problem of distinctly defining the LaSalle's separateness.
The 1927 LaSalle, produced by Cadillac, was the first professionally styled automobile to achieve success in mass production and was designed by Harley Earl, creator of GM's Art and Colour Section. Looking longer and lower with smooth hood lines and a handsome radiator, it would set the trend for the American car toward the fleetness and grace of the Classic Era.
It was back in May 1972 that I first laid eyes on this 1938 LaSalle in Albie Frost's workshop. Albie had it as a 'parts' car for the 1939 Cadillac 60S which he then owned. After looking it over, I decided it would be possible to restore it with a lot of work, luck and spare parts and so after negotiation the car was mine. Next hurdle was to break the news to Lorna, so the following day I took her to the garage, stood back and said 'have a look at what I just bought' to which she replied, "What! That rust heap... you trying to be funny?" Then she turned and walked away.
Inspired with such enthusiasm, I decided to carry on anyway. Close inspection showed some major problems, front cross member rusted out by radiator overflow, several teeth missing off the diff. and the pinion nut welded on. No gear box, rusted body panels in some places and multiple coats of paint in others.
After much preparation, the body was painted in black Dulon Acrylic Lacquer. It looks good if you wash it twice a day! Early model Holden inside door and window handles were used. The fuel tank had so many holes in the top, it was as much trouble to keep water out as to keep fuel in! The tank had been repaired underneath with copper so another sheet of copper was hand former for the top and then sweated onto the old repair and a six volt Holden tank sender unit fitted for the gauge.
The car was last registered in South Australia in October 1962 and was purchased by me in May 1972. It had its first run on Club plates to Cherry Park, Kurrajong in March 1974 and has been to every Club run held since then. Some of the longest runs include the 1975 Alpine Assault to Cooma and district when we covered over 700 miles at an average of 15 1/2 mpg, a trip to Melbourne and the National CLC Rally to Echuca in 1997. I've put 25,000 miles on the clock..
The motor fitted to the car at present is an ex Army (No. 3F4805) Cadillac of 346 cubic inch displacement and no doubt performs better and uses more fuel than the original LaSalle V8 of 322 cu.inch. The difference being an increase from 3 3/8 inch to 3 1/2 inch in the bore size.
It is interesting to note that of a total Cadillac factory production of approximately 25,000 cars for the 1938 model year, about 15,500 were LaSalles and were common on Australian roads at that time and were fitted with Holden built bodies.
Prior to joining the Cadillac LaSalle Club, I had been on several Club runs as a guest and thoroughly enjoyed myself. But it was not until restoration on this car had started that I realised just what clubmanship was all about. The helpful advice, drawn from experience and generous giving of time and parts overcame the problems I encountered. I must say a big thank you to all the members who helped so willingly. For without them, my car would not be on the road today. It is a pleasure to be part of such a terrific Club.