Monday, February 5, 2018

General Motors' Companion Cars (4): Cadillac and LaSalle

This is the fourth in a series of posts dealing with General Motors' companion brands launched during the late 1920s.  The first post can be found here, the second here and the third here.

As I've been stating, a major factor in the rise of General Motors during the 1920s was Alfred P. Sloan's establishment of a price-prestige hierarchy for GM's various brands.  Over the 50 years from 1941 to 1991, when the Saturn brand appeared, the hierarchy, from low to high, was Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac.  But during the late 1920s so-called "companion" brands were introduced to fill what seemed to be price gaps in GM's line.  In 1930 the hierarchy was approximately (there was price overlapping in a number of cases): Chevrolet, Pontiac, Marquette, Oldsmobile, Oakland, Viking, Buick, LaSalle, and Cadillac.

Cadillac's companion brand was LaSalle, introduced for the 1927 model year.  Next to Pontiac, a companion brand that usurped its host brand (Oakland), LaSalle was the most successful companion, lasting through the 1940 model year (though it came close to being ditched in 1934).

LaSalle was highly significant in terms of styling history because it was Harley Earl's first production design for General Motors, a sales success that led to him being appointed head of styling and creating the first American automobile company styling department.

Other comparisons in this series tend to focus on 1929 and 1930, the model years when GM's companion project was at its height.  For that reason, LaSalles and Cadillacs are compared using 1929 examples and differences in styling are noted.


Here are coupes, the Cadillac above, the LaSalle below.  Aside from their grilles (discussed below), differences are few.  The Cadillac has a beltline moulding and panels on the frame sheathing above the running boards, whereas the LaSalle lacks these decorations.  Tail light placement differs.

The Cadillac Sport Phaeton in the RM Sotheby's photo (upper) and the LaSalle All-Weather Phaeton in the (lower) Hyman image feature painted grille bars, something not shared by all other '29 Cadillacs and LaSalles.  I paired them to make comparison more valid.  Phaetons were more of a custom or semi-custom proposition than the case of the coupes in the first images, so let's focus on the front ends.  And what I notice is that the cars are essentially identical aside from badges and mascots.

It wasn't until 1934 that Cadillac and LaSalle brand cues diverged significantly, along with mechanical details such as LaSalle's shift from V-8 to straight-eight motors.  Shown here are 1940 models, the Cadillac above (RM Sotheby's photo), the LaSalle below (for sale photo).  Even though they share GM "C" bodies, the cars have clearly separate brands identification features.

1 comment:

nlpnt said...

I've often wondered why Chevrolet didn't get a companion car, or at least not until 60 years later when they decided to rename their grab bag of badge-engineered Japanese small cars into the Geo sub-brand.