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Some GM Cars You'll Never See

Today while GM hopes to emerge from bankruptcy as a leaner company more likely to survive in the future, it stands as a stark contrast from the old GM of boom economic times which threw big budgets into many intriguing concept vehicles and research programs. One of the most interesting of these concept car programs was a possible return to building a new line of LaSalle automobiles to be sold by Cadillac during the 1950's.

The original LaSalle marque of automobiles were sold as a companion brand by Cadillac from 1927 to 1940. GM's legendary designer, Harley Earl, was the father of this brand which included many large and luxurious automobiles with a limousine-like appearance that looked like rolling gold. They were beautiful automobiles. But they became the first major American brand to be discontinued right before WWII.

The planned revival of the LaSalle brand included a sports car model obviously based on the Chervolet Corvette as well as large four door model with pillar-less roof-line called the LaSalle II. While the LaSalle II concept car apparently never grew beyond some artist renderings, an actual LSalle sports car was built and toured the auto show circuit. 1955-cadillac_lasalle_ii.jpg

Sadly the LaSalle sports car eventually ended up in a junk yard to be crushed. Fortunately, the LaSalle roadster was never crushed, but left in pieces which were said to be reassembled for a 2008 auto event. However, another unique GM showcar, the Biscayne was built out of fiberglass, and the steel chassis was crushed. However, since the body pieces still survived, they were dug up out of the ground and a process to reassemble the car, much like putting a dinosaur back together has been undertaken. laSalle II concept.jpg

Would a revival of the LaSalle marque have really been a big boon to GM during the 1950's? That's highly unlikely for a small new brand to be sold by Cadillac with a very high price tag. However, the concept of some high priced sports oriented models sold by Cadillac was somewhat realized with the great front wheel drive Eldorado cars of the 1960's and some later Cadillac models in recent years.

Profits are certainly larger in more expensive luxury cars compared to small cars. However with so much pressure from Washington for higher fuel economy, as well as uncertain and quickly rising fuel prices, don't expect to see very many new large new luxury cars in the future from American auto brands. Certainly, a few high price brands will exist in the future. But that page of history is now probably past.


Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!

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Comments (6)

GianiD:

No company ever can be called 'leaner' when they have union labor involved.

Christina Viering:

Kind of cool.

Mac Lorry:

CNN Money has a nice story on GM's
Junk Heaps. Seven of GM's worst models. While I never owned a Vega I did own a Monza, which used a late version of the Vega's engine. I put 75,000 miles on that car and never had a problem with the engine.

Paul Hooson:

Hello Mac, indeed it was some of GM's smallest cars which were cheaply made that brought the company lots of grief in terms or hurting the company's reputation. The Book, ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE GM had a pretty damning account of the development of the Vega. The car was planned to compete with the $1,879 AMC Gremlin or the $1,919 Ford Pinto, but instead huge project cost overruns kept increasing the price.

Some of the problems were that the brake system and suspension was too cheaply built to hold up the weight of the car and a cast iron engine, so a lightweight aluminum engine had to be used to allow for small brakes and substandard suspension parts.

When the Vega finally hit the market, it was an attractive car, with four models, a notch-back, a lift-back, a wagon and a panel wagon, however even the cheapest model cost nearly $2,200, which was much more than either the Gremlin or Pinto. Further, the Vega lacked the durability of either the Gremlin or Pinto, both of which were very long lasting cars despite their low prices.

Vega cars did make a good hot rod body for putting in a V8 engine and beefing up the front end and brakes. Otherwise, as an economy car they just didn't save buyers that much money as Vegas with more miles than your 75,000 began to become real money-pits for the owner in repairs.

I managed to get more than 500,000 on two AMC cars by comparison, a 1973 Hornet and a Gremlin, with the original engines and not engine overhauls by comparison. Those AMC cast iron engines could run almost forever. I guess you could say that AMC got the great engine quality of Hudson, but the ugly body styles of Nash.

But I'll give GM credit for some popular and good looking designs. However, those Vega cars sold at rates of over 400,000 a year, the Pintos under 400,000 and those Gremlins at around 66,000 a year to 113,000 one year. Yet after a few years, the Vega cars quickly disappeared off the streets due to breakage, while the Pintos and Gremlins remained for years. Some mailmen or government agencies drove Hornets or Gremlins because they were so long lasting and fairly economical with six cylinder engines. They were probably similar to an American Volvo in many ways. Unattractive boxy cars, but very durable cars.

Mac Lorry:

By the time GM was using the Vega engine in the Monza they had changed over to iron cylinder sleeves, which is what's used in most aluminum block engines today. Had they figured that out earlier they could have saved themselves a lot of grief. Then again, maybe they knew it all along and tried to save a few bucks on the engine. Seems GM made the same mistake when they converted a gas engine block to diesel and put them in some Oldsmobile models.

The Ford Pinto is the only car, past or present, that big rig truck drivers learned to respect. There's at least one advantage to driving around in a fire bomb.

Paul Hooson:

Those Pontiac style Iron Duke four cylinder engines were pretty good, Mac. Too bad it took GM so long to build them. Those German Opel cars long had great fours. Amazing GM just didn't use that design long ago. We once had an Opel wagon. Great power and an honest 25 miles per gallon overall. Darn good car until my brother carelessly decided to roll it, which made me very unhappy. Thank goodness he wasn't seriously injured. But I can tell you for a fact that rolling a motorbike in some sudden hail is even worse yet.


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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