Cadillac top brass and the Engineering and Test Departments must have been very confident with the performance of the attractive new LaSalle. On June 20, 1927, the automaker put a LaSalle roadster driven by William Rader, who was assisted by Experimental Driver Gus Bell to the supreme test. To further raise the ante writers for the automotive press and major newspapers were invited to witness the speed run.
The new LaSalle, the companion car to the Cadillac, was designed by Ernest W. Seaholm, Chief Engineer and styled by Harley J. Earl, who had been brought in under contract by Lawrence P. Fisher. The car was a runaway success in the salesroom, and now General Motors set out to prove its speed and durability on the race track.
- The lead image shows the LaSalle with Experimental Drivers Gus Bell and Jess Nall.
- William Rader and Gus Bell at speed during the ten hour long – 951.87 mile – June 20, 1927, endurance run at the GM Milford Proving Grounds.
The run was staged at the GM Milford, Michigan Proving Grounds on the 3.78-mile concrete test track that was first opened three years earlier in 1924. The roadster was stated to be completely stock by Seaholm other than: the removal of fenders, running boards, windshield, lamps and muffler, high compression cylinder heads (optional), high speed cam, and a 3.5 : 1 gear ratio were all substituted.
The run started at 6:30 am with William Rader (racing car driver and Head of the Experimental Garage) behind the wheel and Experimental Driver Gus Bell assisting him. GM had previously set up a time keepers area with two backup teams complete with precision stop watches and a chronometer. A crack pit crew had also been trained to take care of any repairs needed, change wheels and tires, fill the gas tank, radiator and crankcase with the correct amount of fluids.
- One of the stops showing the crew on the right and the press behind the car.
Rader and Bell pushed the car quite hard on the track and traveled as fast as 105 m.p.h. on the straightaways. The pair only came in for routine stops until mid-day when Rader took a half hour break – Bell then jumped behind the wheel, and Experimental Driver Jess Nall assisted him. 117-miles later Rader got behind the wheel again, and Bell took a break for the next 300 miles. At about the 600-mile mark, Bell replaced Nall for the final 300 plus miles covered that afternoon.
Nine pit stops were required for the distance. The shorter stops requiring only fuel; oil and water took as little as 30 seconds – longer stops when a tire change was necessary took no more than 1 minute 18.8 seconds. The total elapsed time for all the stops amounted to 7 minutes 24.7 seconds.
- An account covering the stops in the Cadillac “Clearing House,” June 30, 1927.
- The press and visitors gathered around the car at the end of the run.
The run ended at 4:30 pm and Cadillac reported that a copper suction tube between the pickup in the oil pan and the pump had fractured causing a loss oil pressure. Whether the oil pan was removed, and this was actually determined before the announcement was made is not known. Broken oil lines were often stated in racing as the cause of a retirement to cover up an engine failure.
This type of problem was a regular occurrence at the time in races including the Indy 500. Copper oil and gasoline lines that were used at the time would work harden over the course of a race or a tortuous run such as this.
An article in the June 30, 1927, Cadillac Clearing House, like most in-house publications, mentioned the broken tubing, but went on to paint a positive picture of the accomplishment by the LaSalle and its crew. Regardless of the cause, Cadillac deserved the good publicity it received after the run. To torture a passenger car engine at what must have been very close to its limit and have it last for ten hours straight while averaging 95 m.p.h. was a major feat.
The distance covered in the run was 951.87 miles at an average speed of 95.2 m.p.h. No mention was made of the how many miles the run was to cover. Rader while mading light of the tubing failure stating: “If the pipe break had not occurred the car could have easily have achieved 1000 miles or 1500 if need be.” One can only assume that Cadillac was hoping to make the 1000 mile mark and possibly set a record for the distance?
- Rader and Cadillac Vice President Lynn Mc Naughton after the ten hour run.
In a sad afternote: Chris Bell, the source of the GM photos of the run, and his great grandfather, Gus Bell, has also made light the story of his death at the Milford Proving Grounds. After driving an experimental 1930 Cadillac V-16 roadster on road tests, he then brought it back to Milford for high-speed tests.
Detroit area newspapers reported that Bell (33 years old) was driving the experimental 1930 Cadillac V-16 roadster with Glenn McCallum (23 years old) on the track. The young man was a third year engineering student at the General Motors School and was recording the test results. Two previous runs on the test track produced 98 and 100 m.p.h. runs. On the third run at an estimated 112 m.p.h., the car crashed through the fence and went over a four-foot embankment. Bell was killed instantly and McCallum died on the way to the hospital. The cause of the crash was never determined. The GM images are via Richard Earl.
- Experimental 1930 Cadillac V-16 roadster that crashed at Milford killing Bell and McCallum. All GM images found via Richard Earl.