General Motors 1951 Le Sabre Concept Car
Not to be confused with the Buick LeSabre, the General Motors 1951 Le Sabre Concept Car was so futuristic and so forward-thinking that it is still considered by many to be the most important show car of the 1950s. It introduced element and design features that would later become icons of the era. This car is basically the Father of another World-famous car, so it was VERY important in automotive history.
Not Your Fathers Buick
The 1951 General Motors LeSabre concept was yet another one of those cars of the 1950s that tried to capitalize on the ‘jet age’ of that time. Jets were just starting to replace the prop planes of the past in 1951. They were considered by most to be the symbol of the latest and greatest in engineering and design. The 1951 LeSabre was designed by Harley Earl, the head of the Art Department of GM at that time. Harley Earl is famous for some of the wackiest and wildest concept cars of that era, and his design ideas influenced cars for decades. In fact, he also designed the amazing Cadillac Cyclone we covered a while back.
Unique Car With A Legacy
The 1951 LeSabre had many unique features. One of these features was the gorgeous body, which was made of a unique blend of aluminum, magnesium, and fiberglass. Harley Earl continued that idea in another car he designed a couple of years later. Harley Earl was also the man that conceived the World Famous Corvette, and many of his ideas are seen here in their infancy. The Corvette, introduced in 1953, would continue the idea of using alternate materials for the body by using an all-fiberglass body. All Corvettes since 1953 have had a fiberglass body.
Another idea that lived on was the idea of the side scallop, which is that white insert along the side of the car. Comparing the 1951 LeSabre Concept Car with a 1956 Corvette, below, it is easy to see some basic similarities. This car is noted by most historians to be the first use of tail fins, shown above, which became the standard for cars in the 1950s. Addtionally, it is the first car to use the wrap-around windshield, which is also obvious in the Corvette below.
Futuristic Thinking In 1951
The 1951 General Motors LeSabre concept car was way ahead of its time by being capable of running more than one type of fuel. The engine could run pump gasoline, but it could also run methanol. Methanol was the fuel Indy 500 cars burned at that time. Yes, this car could burn pump gas or race fuel! The engine was unique in that the aluminum block 3.5 liter 215 cubic inch V8 was supercharged from the factory. Oh, you thought that having a factory supercharger was a modern idea? Nope, Harley Earl wanted to do that decades ago!
In addition to this hybrid fuel burning aluminum supercharged engine, the car was also unique in another way. The LeSabre concept had a Buick Dynaflow transmission mounted in the rear of the car, not directly attached to the engine. This idea lives on today with the modern Corvette which has that same configuration.
Some of the ideas he had never made it to production, and some became standards. This 1951 LeSabre had innovations that rocked the show car circuit in its day. In addition to its jet inspired design, this car had a 12-volt electrical system, like all modern cars. Cars of that era ALL had 6-volt electrical systems. The LeSabre also featured more ideas you probably thought were modern, such as electric heated seats, electric headlights that could be concealed behind the front ‘jet intake’ grille, and front bumper dagmars. Dagmars are those cone shaped bumps on the front bumper near the middle. They aren’t functional, but they became synonymous with 50’s cars..
Features We Need Today!
This car sounds pretty good so far, right? Well, the car had even more innovative features to add to its bragging list. This was the first ‘smart’ car in existence. Don’t believe me? Even today, If someone leaves the top down on their convertible while its parked, the concern is always that it will rain while they are away from the car. This car had water sensors on the body that could detect when it got wet. If the sensors on the body detected rain, it automatically activated the power top to prevent damage to the interior! Now THAT Is a smart car! I don’t know why that feature didn’t become standard on all convertibles!
In addition, Harley wanted this car to be driven by everyone. A big problem back in those days was hefting these gigantic cars up on a jack. That required considerable agility and strength, which meant some people had trouble changing a tire. To fix that problem, this car had built-in electric lifting jacks installed under the car. If your tire went flat, you simply pushed a button, and the car lifted that tire a few inches off the ground! As long as you could get it on a level surface, you never needed to fumble around with a jack to get it off the ground. Why don’t we have that now?
General Motors 1951 Le Sabre Concept Car
The car you see here was more than a concept – it was an actual car that was fully functional. In fact, Harley Earl drove this car as his daily driver for 2 years after it finished its tour of the car show circuit! It still exists today, and can be seen at the GM Heritage Museum. It also still appears in car shows from time to time. Although the LeSabre never went to production in this form, many of the features and functions lived on. The name LeSabre was adopted by Buick for their LeSabre in 1959, although it didn’t have the same feature list. If this car had ever been mass produced, it would have been a sales hit, for sure.