General Motors Le Sabre
The General Motors Le Sabre was a 1951 concept car. Possibly the most important show car of the 1950s, it introduced aircraft-inspired design elements such as the wrap-around windshield and tail fins, which became common on automotive designs during the second half of the decade.
The Le Sabre was the brainchild of General Motors Art Department head Harley Earl. The design was Earl's attempt to incorporate the look of modern jet fighter aircraft into automotive design. As jets replaced prop-driven aircraft in the late 1940s, they symbolized the very latest in design and engineering, and Earl had hoped to carry this concept into automobile design.
The project was a follow-up to Earl's famous 1938 Y-job. Like all his projects, it was built to be roadworthy, and became Earl's personal automobile for two years after finishing its tour of the auto show circuit. With a body made of aluminium, magnesium, and fiberglass, it was powered by a supercharged 215 cu in (3.5 L) V8 able to run on gasoline (petrol) or methanol (like Indy roadsters of the period did), and had an unusually-placed rear-mounted Buick Dynaflow automatic transmission. This was later changed to a GM Hydramatic. In addition to its jet inspired design, the 1951 Le Sabre also featured numerous advanced features, including a 12-volt electrical system (most cars of the period were 6-volt), heated seats, electric headlights concealed behind the center oval "jet intake", front bumper dagmars (later made famous on 1957-9 Cadillacs), a water sensor to activate the power top, and electric lifting jacks integral to the chassis to aid tire changes. (This idea would be copied decades later by Formula One race teams.)
The Le Sabre was GM's first use of a rear-mounted transmission, which would reappear in the Pontiac Tempest. It was also the first use of the aluminum-block 215, which appeared in the Buick Special and Skylark, Oldsmobile Cutlass/F-85 and Jetfire, Pontiac Tempest and LeMans, and ultimately in numerous British marques, including Rover, Land Rover, Range Rover, Triumph, MG, and Morgan.
The Le Sabre is owned by the General Motors Heritage Museum, and still occasionally appears at car shows.
- Flory, J. "Kelly", Jr. American Cars 1946-1959 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Coy, 2008), p.1021.