Monday, June 4, 2012

Wanted: The Lost History of Le Mans #2

Image courtesy of Cadillac & LaSalle Club member, Jim Jordan
     At left is an advertisement promoting the display of what was the second of four Cadillac Le Mans concept cars built. Le Mans number two was originally painted metallic silver-blue with a matching interior, but by August/September 1953 its color scheme was changed to a black exterior and a yellow interior.
     If any readers of this blog have original photos of any of the four Cadillac Le Mans, the author would appreciate hearing from you. Those taken by visitors to an auto show where the car was shown are of most interest, though any uncommon GM publicity photographs would certainly be of interest. Also, if any reader actually worked for GM and has some interesting history about the car or any of the other Motorama concepts to share please email me.
     Ultimately, I would like to determine whether or not this particular Le Mans still exists. See my earlier posting to this blog for more information about this car here:  Le Mans # 2: Nearly Forgotten

Le Mans #2 - Nearly Forgotten

Robert Moore of Greenlease-Moore dealership posing with Le Mans #2
      There was a time when General Motors was the unquestioned leader of the automotive industry. Throughout the 1950s, GM dominated automobile sales in this country with a nearly 50 percent market share by the middle of the decade.
      One of their successful marketing techniques during this era was the GM Motorama, a traveling extravaganza with venues in major cities across the country. Its goal was to bring attention to the company’s many and varied divisions (such as AC, Allison Engines, Frigidaire, etc.) to, of course, stimulate sales. Through free admission, Broadway-style stage shows, and – most memorably – experimental vehicles typically called, “dream cars” (“concept cars” in today’s vernacular), millions of people were attracted to the great spectacle held consecutively from 1953 to 1956 as well as previously in 1949 (as “Transportation Unlimited”) and 1950 (“Mid-Century Motorama”), as well as again in 1959, and 1961. The years from 1953 to 1956, however, are the most noteworthy thanks to dream cars and prototypes such as the GM LeSabre, Cadillac Le Mans, the Buick Wildcat series, the first Chevy Corvette, the turbine-powered GM Firebird I, II, and III, plus many more.
     One of the concept cars crafted for the 1953 GM Motorama was the Cadillac Le Mans, a sporty yet elegant car with a single bench seat. Among the many noteworthy features of the metallic silver-blue fiberglass show car was a modified 331 V-8 said to produce 250hp thanks, at least in part, to dual four-barrel carburetors; this was 20 horsepower more than a stock 331.
     Ultimately, three more Le Mans' were built - two more for use as show cars and one for the president of Fisher Body, an entity of General Motors. Originally they were all painted the same metallic silver-blue as the first Le Mans. 
Le Mans #2 at Grosse Point Yacht Club, 1953 Glidden Tour
     The second Le Mans (serial number 5300 00003) has an unusual and largely unknown history. It was built at virtually the same time as the first Le Mans used for the GM Motorama. The history of this car between then and August 1953 was not uncovered, but it was probably shown across the country. This car’s build sheet in the files at the GM Heritage Center says “Cars in Company use, for use of Harley J. Earl.” The car was transferred to Earl on August 21, 1953, so he owned it for a while. Internal correspondence at the center makes reference to a Le Mans sitting in a warehouse which was titled to Earl. The correspondence authorized the car to be transferred back to the company and gave its net asset value as one dollar. The VIN is not given, but unless Earl owned two Le Mans’ (doubtful), then number two must be the subject of the memorandum. Notes also indicate Earl’s car was repainted black sometime in 1953 – definitely prior to September of the year. Le Mans number two was definitely repainted black by the time it appeared with four other dream cars (LeSabre, Wildcat, Starfire, and Parisienne) at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club in September of that year as part of the Glidden Tour. Incidentally, Harley Earl and Wilfred Leland, son of Cadillac’s founder Henry Leland, were in attendance. A few photos from the event still exist showing this car with others from the early 1900s including a shot of it posed with a 1909 Cadillac. In mid-October, the car was sent to Oklahoma at the request of the state’s governor, Johnston Murray, to participate in the Oil Progress Exposition. This car along with two other ’53 Motorama cars – Starfire and Wildcat I – as well as a Corvette were on display at the Oklahoma City Municipal Auditorium for two days before being driven in the Oil Progress Motorcade and on the newly completed Turner Turnpike. The Le Mans and the other cars went on to Tulsa to be displayed there.
Le Mans #2 on display at Greenlease-Moore Cadillac-Chevrolet
     Le Mans number two went back to Oklahoma City to be displayed at Greenlease-Moore Cadillac-Chevrolet during the first week of November. After November 8, 1953, the car seemed to have disappeared. Some reports claimed Le Mans number two was the car sold to Floyd Akers, a Cadillac distributor in the Washington, D.C. area. In fact, Akers received the third Le Mans - a car which definitely still exits. Since the author's early research on the Le Mans show cars, a posting was discovered on the blog site Jalopy Journal. A single posting by a man who said he was a retired engineer for GM replied to a thread about the Le Mans. He stated, "I had the pleasure of driving one of the 53 Caddies (black) in 1956 while being employed as an engineer at Cadillac. I used it for several months as my company car." Attempts to contact the man who posted this for further information failed. (The full content of the original message can be seen here:
     Does Le Mans number two still exist?

More on the Cadillac Le Mans, show cars one and two can be found here: