About the 1934 LaSalle

In the 1920’s, General Motors (GM) competed against Ford’s “one size fits all” approach by building “a car for every purse and purpose.” GM’s Cadillac had become the market leader in both prestige and price. The LaSalle, first designed in 1927 by the talented Harley Earl, was the model to fit between the Cadillac and Oldsmobile brands. Following the success of the early LaSalle, Alfred P. Sloan, head of GM, promoted Earl to head a new design office: GM’s “Art and Color Section.” However, success began to wane as the Great Depression wreaked havoc on LaSalle sales.

In 1933 the LaSalle was scheduled for termination. Earl spotted an aircraft-inspired design on the drawing board of Jules Agramonte, a member of the Art and Color team. Immediately motivated, Earl and his team redesigned the LaSalle with new Art Deco features such as the tall, narrow front grill, pontoon fenders, biplane bumpers, portholes, chevrons, and chrome accents. Earl had a full-scale mockup built, and presented it to GM executives, proclaiming, “Gentlemen, if you decide to discontinue the LaSalle, this is the car you are not going to build.” GM quickly agreed to manufacture the beautiful new LaSalle, convinced it would revive sales and add excitement to their product line.

The 1934 LaSalle shared many aspects of its build with the Oldsmobile including, straight-8 engine components, frame, and transmission. Both cars also featured new, hydraulic brakes and a revolutionary independent front suspension, which Cadillac did not yet have. The LaSalle team was tasked with reducing production costs by 1/3 — a feat they achieved by sharing parts across model lines. The LaSalle was a design masterpiece, advertised as “the newest car in the world,” and was the pace car for the 1934 Indianapolis 500. LaSalle sales doubled for 1934 and continued to grow through 1936; however, as the US began to rise from the depths of the Depression, consumer demand trended away from such cars, toward smaller, less expensive brand models. By 1940, GM had finally conceded, cancelling production of the LaSalle.