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The Art of The Automobile – Harley Earl

Article by Adrian Britton

Harley Earl…if you recognize the name, then you know, but if you don’t know the name then you don’t understand the influence he has had on your concept of the automobile as art…it can easily be stated that he is the greatest car designer ever. Our idea of the modern automobile comes from him.While some car designs stand alone-like Malcolm Sayer’s E-Type Jaguar-no designer has had more impact than Harley Earl as to what we see a car as and what we dream it can become. NO ONE!!

Harley Earl

He created the idea of the “Concept Car” and the world’s first concept car, the 1938 Buick Y-Job. The Y-Job is a stand alone one of a kind vehicle. It was so far ahead of it’s time that in 1949 (11 years after it was made) a photographer forwarded a picture of it to his publisher thinking it was a “new” design for 1949…This man changed it all as to the way we looked at cars, and the way cars were designed.

He was the first designer to make use of clay and to make full scale clay models of vehicles. He pioneered automotive design…it was under his leadership and vision that the automobile as we know it moved forward. From the idea to eliminate the running board, to using curved glass, to having a pillar-less vehicle, to integration of the headlights and grille to hidden spare tires to the use of the tail fin when he authorized the Frank Hershey design for the 1948 Cadillac… and the “Concept Car” or Dream car as they are sometimes called.

Now every manufacturer makes one…but he made the FIRST ONE!The vehicles made under his watch as the leader of the GM Art and Colour Section, later renamed the Styling Section, is awe inspiring when looked at as a whole. Without the production needed for WWII who knows what an automobile of the 1940’s would have become. Remember his Y-Job came out in 1938!! Harley Earl the Father of Automotive Design and Styling. While others can be credited with a design his impact on design and styling from the early 1930’s till his retirement in 1959 is unmatched in automotive history.

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Adrian Britton – AutomotiveTimelines

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