Tag Archives: Don Lee
In our last post on The Art and Colour of General Motors, we covered the Earl Automotive Works, Harley Earl and a very attractive custom bodied 1920 Cadillac designed by him. That car was built by the custom body shop of Los Angeles dealer Don Lee, after he had bought the Earl Automotive Works and kept Harley Earl on as the director of its custom body shop.
A short time later Lawrence P. Fisher, general manager of the Cadillac division, was visiting Cadillac dealers and distributors around the country, including Lee. Fisher met Earl at Lee’s dealership and observed his work. Fisher, whose automotive career began with coachbuilder Fisher Body, was impressed with Earl’s designs and methods, including the use of modeling clay to develop the forms of his designs.
Fisher commissioned Earl to design the 1927 LaSalle for Cadillac’s companion marque. The success of the LaSalle convinced General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan to create the Art and Colour Section of General Motors, and to name Earl as its first director.
The 1927 LaSalle was a run away styling success and put both Art and Colour and Earl in the limelight, that would soon also shine on other future designs.
Left to right (above) The LaSalle radiator shell and mascot, actress Clara Bow in a 1927 LaSalle Roadster, and a Hispano-Suzia H6 of the type from the Nethercutt Collection that inspired Earl to design the LaSalle.
In our next installment we will look at another later Cadillac along with a LaSalle. In the mean time you can visit Coachbuilt Press and learn much more about The Art and Colour of General Motors. You can also learn more about Earl at coachbuilt.com. You can also enjoy more of Michael Furman’s work here on The Old Motor.
The Talbot-Lago, is a French automobile that originated from the Talbot-Darracq, which became a subsidiary of the Rootes Group in England after the Sunbeam Talbot Darracq group failed. Like many auto makers, the company fell on hard times during the depression and was saved by Antony “Tony” Lago who purchased the company, with the help of a subsidy from the French government.
Lago was trained engineer who first worked at Isotta-Fraschini, he then went on to become the director of Wilson Self-Changing Gear, in England. Lago’s engineering background helped there with the development of the well-known Wilson pre-selector gearbox.
When Lago took over the company, he and his engineer Walter Becchia set to work on a combination of the most exquisite coach work of the time and high-performance racing engines and chassis in a semi-production car. The 3996 cc engine was a resigned inline-6 with an aluminum, rocker-arm actuated, two-valve hemi head. This engine is backed up by a Wilson pre-selector gearbox. The chassis features a wishbone independent front suspension with a transverse leaf spring. The live rear axle was located by semi-elliptic springs.
Lago and Becchia also built racing cars with higher-tuned engines in the same chassis and entered racing in 1936. By 1937 they placed first, second, third and fifth in the French Grand Prix, which immediately gave the fine cars they had crafted world-wide exposure. In 1938 a T150 coupe placed third in the 1938 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Joseph Figoni in 1935, joined forces with Ovidio Falaschi (Figoni et Falaschi) and went on to develop a very sensuous teardrop shaped coach work in 1936 on a Delahaye 135 chassis, that was a hit at its debut at the Paris Auto Salon. Figoni’s fine sense of design and color was a highly successful combination. He then went on to design this tear drop coupe for Talbot-Logo.
Fourteen of these beautiful coupes were built and thirteen of them have survived. There were two versions produced, the notch backed Jeancart and this model which is referred to as the New York, after its very successful debut at the 1937 National Auto Show in New York City. This coupe was bought new by Tommy Lee, the sports car and dry lakes racing enthusiast son of Don Lee, the very successful coach builder, car dealer and radio station owner in Southern, California.
Tommy Lee died in 1949 and the Talbot-Lago was well taken care of by a succession of owners afterward and ended up in the Brooks Stevens collection. The care that has been lavished on the coupe over the years, has left it the best preserved of all of the survivors. It is largely in original condition and other than a repaint in 1979, it still carries its original interior, drive-train and coach work.
The car has been in the JWR Auto Museum since that late Jack Rich purchased it in 2009. Rich and curator-restorer Mark Lizewskie wisely chose to preserve and maintain it in fine condition which it has survived in.
This series of fine photographs of this remarkable car are courtesy of photographer and publisher Michael Furman of Coachbuilt Press. To learn more about fine French styling and coach building, be sure to see the Coachbuilt book, French Curves which covers the Delahaye, Delage and Talbot-Lago cars in The Mullin Automotive Museum.
A striking image by Tim Scott of Fluid Images, showing the Don Lee Special Alfa Romeo P3, on the Pebble Beach tour in 2010, the year that the Alfa Romeo was the featured marque.
This car reportedly joined the Ferrari-run Alfa team in 1934 and later was sold to Count De Villapadierni from Spain. The car ran in the Indianapolis 500 twice pre-war and was acquired by Don Lee and prepared and run again in the 1946 -1947 Indy 500 events driven by Hal Cole. You can look back on an earlier photo here of the P3 Alfa ready to get loaded on a plane for the trip to Indy in 1947 with Don Lee’s W154 Mercedes. Photo courtesy of Tim Scott