9 January 2008

1929 LaSalle Model 328

Lars and Joan Anderson purchased this rare LaSalle five-passenger coupe in the flea market at Hershey in 1998. It was originally sold in California and remained there several decades, so it was a solid rust-free car. However, it had been left outside for a number of years and was used as a parts car for a small museum, leaving the roof and interior in shambles. Much of the body wood needed replacing as well. While the engine was free and turned over with a crank, it wouldn’t fire.

The Andersons did most of the off-the-frame restoration themselves, cramming the work into eight long years. Cadillac/LaSalle specialists and collectors provided most of the missing bits and pieces. Lars found that hunting for the needed parts and authenticating originality of components was an interesting diversion from the laborious mechanical work, finding that even classified ads from 15-year-old car magazines could be beneficial with parts coming from as far away as Australia and Western Canada. He found a member of a weaving club that was capable of replicating the braided door trim in the interior.

After an eight-year search to buy unbroken taillight lenses (unique to 1929), which included phone calls to every owner of a registered ’29 LaSalle, just two lenses were located. Both those owners refused to sell them, but sent them without accepting anything except a promise to help if they needed something in the future. The value of those parts is high but the experience of working with other old car hobbyists is priceless.

About the LaSalle

Harley J. Earl made a huge impact on automotive products with superior designs from General Motors’ Art & Colour Section that exploded onto the scene with the newly introduced 1927 LaSalle (arguably the most handsome car from any American production line that year), and quickly moved to Chevrolet and the rest of the divisions during the following years. Earl arrived at GM’s Detroit offices in 1927 from California where he was a Stanford-educated designer for the coachbuilding division of Don Lee Cadillac in Los Angeles. He came to the Motor City to consult on the LaSalle’s design, and ended up staying for 32 years before retiring as General Motors director of design.

Earl came by his passion for automobiles honestly. His father started Earl Carriage Works, which, with the advent of automobiles, became Earl Automobile Works. In 1919, it was that company that Don Lee merged into his successful Hollywood business, bringing with it the talented young designer.

General Motors was in the throes of adding companion cars to each of its divisions during the mid- to late-1920s in order to fill niches in the market through existing dealerships. At the top, Cadillac spawned the LaSalle, Buick gave birth to the Marquette in 1930, Oldsmobile brought out the Viking in 1929, and Oakland unveiled the Pontiac in 1926. Chevrolet was doing quite well by itself in competing for the low end of the market against Ford. Each division was in need of Earl’s approval before being given the nod to go into production. Not surprisingly, the all-but-redundant companion cars disappeared before the second World War (except for Pontiac, which attended its parent’s funeral in 1931 and took over Oakland’s position in GM’s step-up marketing strategy); the Marquette was stillborn and the Viking was axed the same year. LaSalle fared much better, lasting all the way through 1940.

When first introduced, in addition to stylish and handsome new designs, LaSalle introduced a full color palette, offering daring color combinations that totaled up to 543 options between body, fender, belt molding and pin striping colors. It wasn’t uncommon to see green and lavender, beige and blue, crimson and gold, or, as in our award-winning feature car, two shades of bright blue with beige top and wheels.

The Fisher-bodied five-passenger coupe, one of five known to exist, is built upon a relatively short 134-inch wheelbase chassis. With 2,423 built in 1929, that represented a little more than 10 percent of total production (5,000 more than Cadillac, defining the fast and wide acceptance of LaSalle in just three years). The cost was $2,625, while the equivalent Fisher-bodied Cadillac on a 140-inch wheelbase was $3,600. The LaSalle Series 328 was so designated for its 328-cubic-inch displacement. With the standard 5.3:1 high-compression cylinder heads (4.8 optional), the approximately 105 pounds of compression produced about 86hp, a 15-percent increase from the previous year. Also new for 1929 was the first use of a synchromesh transmission in an American car. In addition, safety glass was used, along with chrome plating (instead of nickel).

West Peterson is editor of Antique Automobile, the official publication of the Antique Automobile Club of America.

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