Le Sabre—GM’s answer to pre-war Mercedes?
Leading up to Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland, certain high members of the Third Reich were flaunting their national pride and power by using a visual cross-reference language or techniques to mesmerize the German public. Politics combined with modern Teutonic engineering ingenuity had never been successfully employed like this before. Germany’s racing propaganda machine was the Mercedes Benz W125, arguably Europe’s most futuristic pre-war sports car. Special notice was taken in Detroit’s auto capital, and Harley Earl vowed to deliver a triumphant message all of his own someday.
When things were settling down in Europe following the war, one of America’s most legendary innovators created a clever comeback in the form of an automobile (according to the Car of the Century website, the Le Sabre was started in July, 1946). Originally planned as a super streamlined car, the Le Sabre comprised more variations on a theme than Bach ever dreamed of—all of which were aimed at winning over a world audience. In the best-selling booked titled, The Fifties, David Halberstam wrote, “Other GM execs drove Cadillacs, but Early drove the Le Sabre, a highly futuristic car he himself had designed; the cost to the company of building this prototype was estimated at roughly $7 million. It is possible that no one exerted as much influence on American style and taste in the fifties as he.”
While this radical concept car had many purposes, the most intriguing one was never publicized. The Le Sabre’s emblem was a flipped Mercedes Benz tri-star logo, surrounded in a bull’s-eye like center target—blending in America’s color of red, white, and blue. Along with the elegant French name symbolizing strength, the Le Sabre was complete. The inverted Mercedes star as a visual hook was truly mysterious, to say the least, as were most of the Le Sabre’s touches. Every one sent out spooky effects to all of its viewers. It’s no doubt the wizardry was intended to remind the new world community of America’s supremacy and future direction, which of course was opposite of Germany’s pre-war view. Also, in a subtle way, this one automobile clearly pointed out the world’s greatest automaker, too, as well as showing Le Sabre was the most influential car, ever. In terms of numbers and fiance, it is the most expensive car built to date, but because of certain reasons, one being Earl’s secretive nature, this fact has been left largely unexamined. On top of all of this, Harley Earl named Le Sabre as his inspirational muse when originally conceiving his American sports car, the Corvette.
1954 Le Sabre brochure, courtesy of Ron Will
1951 and 1954 Le Sabre photos
Design Unlimited, from Car Life magazine, 1954