This one-of-a-kind LaSalle defies any modification crimes.
Cars recognized by the Classic Car Club of America are among the hottest types of collector cars, particularly open roadsters and phaetons. These historic cars from what many consider the peak of automobile design are coveted and collected by hobbyists, and their owners often cradle them to the most prestigious concours and club events across the country.
The ultimate sacrilege one could commit against this type of car today is modifying it — replacing the straight-eight or V-16 with a small-block Chevy, installing bucket seats in place of finely upholstered bench-type seats or the most offensive crime of all — altering the graceful lines of these often hand-built cars.
Recently, on the showfloor of Jeremy and Dani Thomas’ Unique Specialty & Classic Cars in Mankato, Minn. (www.uniquemankato.com), sat a Classic not featured in any LaSalle catalog or coachbuilder’s porfolio. The car was a 1933 LaSalle truck, a creation never offered, let alone imagined, by the automaker. This car, however, defies any modification crimes, and actually serves as a wonderful “should have been” model.
“The first thing people would say is ‘I have never seen another one of those,’” said Jeremy Thomas. “We’d say, ‘you’ll probably never see another one.’ That is usually how the conversation started.”
Thomas does not know much about the LaSalle’s history, since the truck arrived as a trade-in for a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible he had in stock. The owner trading the LaSalle didn’t share much of its history.
“The story on it was he had restored it, and the truck was originally a 1933 LaSalle rumble seat convertible coupe, and we have the documentation from Cadillac verifying this,” Thomas said.
The LaSalle was restored with a patina to its paint befitting a workhorse, and since Cadillac and LaSalles of this period are registered by their engine number, the original 115-hp, 353-cid V-8 engine was displayed next to the car for safe keeping. A similar 1933 LaSalle engine was placed under the hood to keep the car-truck hybrid on the road.
“The hardest thing for us was trying to put a value on it,” Thomas said. “You can’t look and see any [comparison sales], so it was a tricky to come up with a value on it. We had to work to put a deal together.”
Though they’re uncommon, trucks based on Classic cars are not unheard of. Before and after World War II, used medium-size and large cars were sometimes converted to truck duty in order to receive more gas ration stamps during the war, or to give new life to a fine-running car with a damaged rear body. Such trucks were often based on fine cars wearing the names of Lincoln, Packard and Cadillac, and even a few Duesenbergs, among others, since their engines packed the power to haul goods and tow wrecks. Such conversions were typically backyard jobs undertaken with a handsaw or a torch and the finished products often reflected the skills (or lack thereof) of their creators.
A few well-finished vehicles did emerge from such transformations, although they were a rarity. Of those better conversions, this 1933 LaSalle truck is probably among the best in several regards. Not only does the elegant pickup look as though it were a factory job, it was completed in the manner that most hand-built Classic cars were constructed — by a coachbuilder.
This 1933 LaSalle began life as a handsome and desirable Fisher-bodied convertible coupe model with a rumble seat, according to Cadillac records. The Cadillac research center determined the car was the sixth of only 146 convertible coupes fitted on LaSalle 345-C chassis that deep Depression year, and was a special-order delivered to the New York branch on Dec. 30, 1932.
How long the car remained in its original configuration is unknown. Somewhere in its history, the car underwent the conversion into a truck in the hands of qualified professionals, possibly following an accident to the rear of its body. It’s even possible, though maybe not probable, that the car was specifically ordered for the purpose of becoming a truck, and the convertible coupe was ordered for its roadster-style windshield frame and cowl design, which it still retains. If this was the case, the builder wisely chose the convertible coupe model, as it was the least expensive open LaSalle at $2,394.
Regardless of what path took it to professional car builder Henney, at some point in its life the LaSalle convertible coupe stopped in the Cedarville, Ill., shop, where the rear of the body was removed just behind the doors. In this area behind the front seat, the body was finished in the shape of a typical truck cab’s rear and a truck bed was fitted atop the rear of the chassis. To cover the passenger compartment, a hint of the LaSalle’s past was retained when a collapsible roadster-style top was placed over the seats, though it had a different design than the original LaSalle top. This top was built by Hearts Jonarts and identified as part No. 5210. In back, the LaSalle truck received a tailgate with the Henney name emblazoned across it, as well as a trailer hitch.
The service for which the LaSalle was intended to perform has been lost to time. The truck could easily have been planned as a flower car-type vehicle, which was just coming into vogue in the 1930s. Many flower cars, especially early flower cars used for hauling floral memorials, featured a convertible-shape roof very much like this LaSalle’s top.
Without factory records, dating Henney’s work on the LaSalle or determining its original purpose is almost impossible. The Fall 1978 issue of The Professional Car includes a transcript from a speech given by H. Reid Horner, the director of personnel at Henney from 1928-’54. In his interview, Horner noted that flower cars were built by Henney in batches of 10 at a time and were special-orders. Before the company began exclusively building bodies on new Packard chassis in 1937, Henney built bodies on Buick, Auburn, Pierce-Arrow, Reo, Pontiac and Oldsmobile chassis. He said bodies were built on other makes, including LaSalle, on a customer’s special order. With this window, it’s probable that Thomas’ LaSalle was built some time before 1937, regardless of what type of service its owner intended.
Unfortunately, Horner’s speech does not mention this specific LaSalle, leaving its original purpose open to conjecture. If the LaSalle was not built as a flower car, it’s possible that it served as an in-plant hauler for Henney itself, or for a Cadillac and LaSalle dealer. It’s also possible, that a LaSalle lover with taste simply wanted the utility of a truck and the panache of a LaSalle for business or personal use.
“There’s no way to document how many of those were sent to Henney to do the pickup conversion,” Thomas said. “Odds are, this was one of only one or two.”
Today, many enthusiasts would consider it a criminal act to turn a Classic into a truck. However, restoring this unique LaSalle back into a convertible coupe would be equally punishable, since it’s a rare reminder of a once-common conversion, and it’s spent most of its life as a coachbuilt truck, not a convertible coupe.
Luckily, Texan truck and Classic car collector Richard Mitchell, the new owner of this Henney LaSalle, has no plans to rewrite the LaSalle’s history again.
UPDATE: CLICK HERE for updated information on this article: “What’s the real story behind the ‘rare’ LaSalle Truck?”
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