Harley Earl was The First Car Designer

He Helped Turn General Motors Into The Most Dominant Automaker In The World.

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We have been in the middle of a Renaissance for nearly a century. Every car on the road is a masterwork of design and engineering. Their creators are proficient in a wide array of mediums. They use two-dimensional means to quickly and coherently communicate their ideas and go through the arduous process of fleshing out their ideas with scaled or, sometimes even full-size clay models. Even with the advent of computer-aided design, the process still largely resembles what it did nearly a century ago.

Harley Earl, the architect of the modern automotive design process, brought the automotive industry out of the doldrums of the carriage industry and into a new era. He brought techniques that he and his family developed at their own coachwork over to General Motors. Not everyone saw things his way, though. Holdovers from that bygone era either ignored or outright sabotaged Earl’s efforts. In time, they came to realize that design was just as integral to the development process as engineering and marketing. During his tenure at the company, General Motors became the most dominant automaker in the world, and other American manufacturers adopted their practices to make it an industrial powerhouse.

Earl Automobile Works

Despite never attending high school, Jacob William Earl had managed to carve out a comfortable living for himself. He became a blacksmith's apprentice after the 8th grade and then got involved in Michigan's booming lumber industry, initially as a lumberjack and later as a sawmill worker. The back-breaking work and brutal Midwestern winters became too much to bear. When he was 19, he traveled with his uncle to visit relatives in Arcadia, California, and NEVER returned to Michigan. He worked as a carpenter with his uncle before finding more permanent employment at a small carriage shop in Los Angeles. He eventually became a partner and then bought out the other man in the business in 1899. The company, now known as Earl Carriage Works, grew rapidly under his guidance. In time, they had several dozen craftsmen, woodworkers, and painters that put together everything from simple farm wagons to sleek carriages for the wealthy.

Around the turn of the century, the automobile went from a curiosity to an increasingly important part of American life. Wagon shops, even successful ones like Earl Carriage Works, risked going out of business if they couldn't adapt. Jacob got with the times. In 1908, he renamed the business Earl Automobile Works. They specialized in automotive repair and maintenance, but on the side, they provided goods that improved upon the base vehicle. A few of their accessories included leather dye, adjustable windshields, and sturdier aftermarket wheels.

The shop soon became a family affair. Each of the kids took an interest in something. Arthur, for example, spent much of his time in the upholstery section while Jessica was drawn to the paint department. But his second oldest would be the one to take the business to new heights.

Harley was born in 1893 and it didn’t take long for people around him to notice his eye for design. His brother Art recalls:

“Harley was sixteen and I was fourteen. “We were up at Bailey’s Ranch, camped in this canyon. It started to rain, and we ended up having a big flood. The whole canyon flooded and it filled up this hollow with clay. Harley and I made little saws out of wood and we went over to the clay, and Harley started designing cars out of clay. . . . He’d pick up a big chunk of clay and would work it down to the sort of car he wanted. I guess we had 20 or 30 of these little cars of different sorts, roadsters, and touring cars."

A rainstorm washed the models away, but the act of creating cars out of clay never escaped his mind.

Earl Automobile Works took another step as Hollywood built itself around them. Production studios went to them when they needed prop vehicles for their movies. They made chariots for Roman action flicks, covered wagons for trailblazing period pieces, and everything in between. The shop had this market cornered. The movie industry was right in their backyard and they had no competition anywhere on the West Coast.

Harley graduated from Hollywood High School in 1912 and worked part-time at the shop while studying law at USC. He then transferred to Stanford, but this was cut short after he suffered a severe leg injury during a rugby game. It was so bad that doctors were seriously considering amputation. He fought with them the whole way through and won out. He gave school another swing after spending a year recovering, but dropped out once again and returned to the family business.

EAW was an arms throw away from Don Lee’s Los Angeles Cadillac Dealership. Lee was the brand’s exclusive dealer in the state. He was doing well enough for himself, but he couldn’t help but notice what was going on across town. The especially well-off among his clientele would purchase a Cadillac chassis from him, have it delivered to EAW, and pay up to three times the price of the car to have them whip up a custom body. He didn’t see why he couldn’t roll that line of work into his own business and keep that money for himself. Lee made a bid to buy the company outright. The details of the deal have been lost to time, but the price was enough for JW to retire early at 53 years old. Harley would remain in place as chief designer at the newly christened Don Lee Coach and Body Works.

Their relationship with the movie industry paid dividends around this time. Actors were flush with cash and flocked to DLC for one-of-a-kind automobiles. Harley designed cars for some of the most prominent figures of the day. His client list included Mary Pickford, Tom Mix, Pauline Frederick, Viola Dana, and Wallace Reid. His most high-profile client was no doubt Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle who ordered three cars from him. The wildest of them was a 7 foot tall, 168-inch wheelbase cruiser built upon a Pierre-Arrow chassis. It took nearly a year to put together, but the finished product was truly the talk of the town. Earl remarked that “altogether Arbuckle must have sold 100 cars for me.”

Don Lee sought to scale up operations. In the summer of 1925, he ordered a staggering 100 chassis from the Cadillac factory with the intention of putting out a series of Harley-designed 5 seat sedans. The unusually large order from a relatively small builder caught the eye of Cadillac president Larry Fisher. Before going through with the order, he wanted to scope out the shop himself and see what exactly was going on.

Earl and Don caught word of his arrival and packed the evening with a series of social events. During a bout of drinking, Earl boasted “I can make a car for you, like your Chevrolet, look like a Cadillac.” He responded, “If you can do that, you’ve got yourself a job.”

He accompanied them back to the Don Lee shop and was blown away by what he saw. They used modeling clay to create full-scale models of their cars. They were painted and trimmed to the tee. This was a great way for them to see how a car looks in three dimensions without expending too many resources. Fisher also saw them come up with ingenious solutions to styling dilemmas To lengthen the wheelbase of a car, for instance, they sliced the chassis in half and stuck in an extra piece. If you didn’t see it happen then you’d be none the wiser.

He didn’t offer Earl a job right then and there, but some time later Fisher called him and presented him with an opportunity. General Motors was working on an all-new line of cars and he wanted to know if he’d be interested in submitting a proposal. He accepted the offer and took the next train to Detroit.

lasalle

Cadillac found itself in a conundrum in the 1920s. Packard blew right by them to become the best-selling luxury car in the country in 1925. They were being outsold 2-1, in fact, and the company couldn’t quite put their finger on why customers gravitated toward Packard. The engineering between the two was about on par with one another. General Motors president Alfred Sloan felt that it was a matter of style.

Alfred Sloan

Alfred Sloan

Cadillacs, as well as all other GM cars, were done by Fisher Body Works The design process wasn’t much of a process at all. Ernest Seaholm, Cadillac’s chief engineer from 1921 to 1943, said:

“Up until this time, Fisher Body division had been the absolute dictators of body design and zealously guarded their prerogative. Theirs was a simple approach - a full-size line drawing on a blackboard, take it or leave it.”

This may have served them adequately in the preceding decades, but it was becoming clear that buyers were expecting more from their cars than to move under their own power. Simply owning one wasn’t enough of a status symbol. The automobile had percolated to the middle class. People sought more stylish cars that would separate them from others, and Packard just did this better than Cadillac. Sloan wanted to take a different approach to vehicle development but didn’t want to risk alienating the brand’s reserved core customer base. GM had another problem and he saw an opportunity to knock out two birds with one stone.

There was a sizable gap between the most expensive Buick and the least expensive Cadillac. Those that were looking to step up from the mid-ranger but weren’t quite ready to make the jump to the range-topper had to go outside of the General Motors umbrella for their next vehicle. They were losing sales and otherwise lifelong customers simply by not having anything in this range. A car that filled the gap named the LaSalle had been in development for a few years and by 1926 the engineering had been decided upon. The only thing that was up in the air was styling.

Harley arrived in Detroit on the 26th of January. Fisher arranged with Don Lee beforehand for him to have a 3-month leave of absence. This may seem like an extended layoff at first, but it's actually not much time at all when you consider that GM expected Earl to create the look for a new line of cars in this span. He was led to a body shop in the back of the Cadillac factory where two body engineers and a clay modeler were waiting. The team worked from sketches to bring his ideas to life. 90 days wasn’t very much time to develop a style from scratch, so Earl looked to the Hispano-Suiza for a head start. The front end of his car in particular borrowed heavily from it. This isn’t just my take. Earl himself said he outright stole a lot of stuff from the car. Full-scale models of a roadster, convertible coupe, open touring car, and a sedan were created.

1927 Cadillac LaSalle Series 303 Roadster

1927 Cadillac LaSalle Series 303 Roadster

Brothers Larry and Fred Fisher were the very first people to have a look at them. They left the warehouse and returned with other members of the General Motors Executive Committee including Alfred Sloan, who came all the way from his office in New York. They had a look over the cars as Earl stood by in anticipation. After some time, Sloan called him over to tell him the verdict. “Earl, I thought you’d like to know that your design has been accepted.” He then went on to say “Larry, I think we should send Mr. Earl to the Paris Auto Show.” Fisher responded, “Mr. Sloan, I already have his tickets.” The latter part might not seem that important, but it was during that trip that Earl and Sloan forged one of the most important friendships in automotive history.

Earl thought the LaSalle was a one-time thing. He went back to working for Don Lee in April after returning from Paris. A month later he was out golfing when he was called to the telephone. Sloan was on the other end. The LaSalle breathed new life into the company and he wanted to know if Earl would be interested in advising them on the development of the '28 Cadillac. Work for the other divisions could be in the cards as well. If he did wish to pursue this opportunity, then Sloan would be waiting for him in New York. Earl boarded the next train there and arrived at their headquarters on the other side of the country four days later.

Sloan was there, as he expected, but the Fisher brothers were present as well. The idea the two of them discussed was bigger than he initially let on. He wanted to establish an entire department within the company that was wholly dedicated to designing their cars using the very same methods employed with the LaSalle project.  Earl accepted the proposal and entered the next phase of his career.

say goodbye to hollywood

He asked for and was granted a six-month reprieve from his duties at the shop, though this was a formality more than anything else. He'd already begun the process of uprooting his family from Los Angeles and setting them up in Larry Fisher's penthouse at the Whittier Hotel in Detroit. He would never again design a car for Don Lee.

Earl spent the next several months working at Cadillac's experimental body department. He mainly worked with division executives and body engineers on the '28, though he also influenced the look of the '27. That design had been frozen and the car was due to be shown at the New York Auto Show the following January. Larry Fisher showed him a few sketches to see if he was warm to it.

He responded “Let’s paint them up so they look like something. Put a lot of color and some wire wheels on them and doll them up.” Cadillacs weren’t offered in more than three colors in years prior. The ‘27 was inspired by Earl’s car customizing background and was offered in 500 different exterior and interior combinations. This move lured younger buyers into showrooms much like they hoped the LaSalle would.

1930 Cadillac Town Sedan

1930 Cadillac Town Sedan

Design operations became more integrated within the company on June 14, 1927, when Earl was moved into a dedicated workspace in the General Motors headquarters. It was a cramped office on the 10th floor. Perhaps more disheartening, he didn’t have anyone else in the department with him. Those that helped him with the LaSalle and 1928 Cadillac were only there on a temporary basis. He also made the decision to not bring anyone from Don Lee Works in California over. He knew that they would make GM employees feel like outsiders and that he’d subconsciously favor them. So he stuck it out on his own. He didn’t receive a single visitor or a single phone call for the first two days.

Bill Fisher paid him a visit on the third day to see how he was settling in. Not well, he said. He was asked to build a team but wasn’t sure of the best way to go about it. He wasn’t familiar with the company’s corporate structure and was even less acquainted with the staff. To break the ice, Fisher provided the very first addition to the team in Howard O’Leary. In addition to providing his own expertise, O’Leary also made his way between the departments and, consequently knew many people throughout the company.

Several days after this, Sloan officially named the styling division the Art and Colour Section. (It took on the British spelling, as he felt it made it seem more distinguished.) He also announced that a total of 50 positions would be allotted to the new department. Earl and O’Leary were able to attract a few people internally through word of mouth. Ernest Seaholm recommended Ralph Pew, who contributed sketches and engineering data to the LaSalle project. John Lutz, a member of the bodybuilding team, learned of Pew’s impending transfer and wanted to join as well. Art and Colour grew steadily in this way, though the two of them would need to rapidly shore up the remaining spaces if they wanted it to stick around, and that would prove to be quite an undertaking.

There’s an abundance of talent in today’s industry, but in the early 20th century, automotive design wasn’t even a formally recognized practice. Harley couldn’t just swing by Art Center and hire the cream of the crop. Experienced people in this field were rare, They created bodies for Packard, Duesenberg, and other low-volume makes. Their methods were more or less carried over from the carriage industry, far removed from the techniques that Earl wished to implement. The “perfect” hire didn’t exist. Anyone they did bring in would inevitably have holes in their game that would need to be plugged up.

O’Leary took out ads in newspapers and magazines hoping to attract illustrators, architects, graphic designers, sculptors, or anyone else with an artistic inclination. People were drawn to Art and Colour, partly because of the generous pay, and partly because they were excited about this mysterious burgeoning new practice.

The company engineers didn’t share in their excitement. Even in the wake of the runaway success of LaSalle, they were reluctant to seek Earl’s advice. This was due, in part, to who was pegged to lead the charge in this new direction. Many of the senior engineers had been in the industry since it could call itself one. Mechanical innovations were what stirred up excitement in those early days. Different propulsion methods, transmission types, engine configurations, and body layouts lured buyers into dealerships. General Motors was cornered in what was becoming an antiquated process. The book Fins by William Knoedelseder goes into more detail, saying:

“GM engineers designed the chassis complete with fenders, running boards, radiators, hoods, and trunks. Fisher Body was left to design what was called the coach (basic passenger compartment with windows, doors, and interior upholstery. Sloan wanted to update this process, but Fisher engineers weren’t willing to give up the amount of control they had, especially to Harley Earl.”

Designer Frank Hershey said “These were rough and tumble guys who’d experienced the hard times of the beginning of the industry. There were no artists [at Fisher Body]; the chief engineer was doing the designing.”

And now Sloan was telling them to listen to a glorified hot rodder that flew in from halfway across the country. A man that was born into a thriving family business, mingled with the truly elite, and dressed like they took fashion advice from a 64-pack of Crayolas. In other words, what the hell did this guy know that they didn’t? Sloan anticipated the pushback and pointed to the name of the department to ease the blow. He told them that they’d simply “study the question of Art and Color combination in General Motors products.”

Still, he sensed a bit of animosity between the two parties and requested that Earl report directly to him, at least until engineering warmed up to them. He left the overall direction up to him and only handed down just one directive. “Design cars that will sell.” This seems self-explanatory, but Earl didn’t think he’d be up for it. Prior to this, he’s never had to please anyone but himself and his client. But trying to appeal to millions was something else entirely. The general public was sure to have more reserved tastes than a Hollywood actor. Failure here would erode the relationship between him and Sloan, validate the beliefs that the engineers had, and put General Motors at an even greater disadvantage. He couldn’t let the pressure get to him, though. The best thing he could do was put his head down and work.

The first person to consult with Art and Colour was Chevrolet division manager O. E. Hunt. He needed their advice regarding an update for the ‘28. It was a minor facelift; a tweaking of the radiator shell, headlights, trim, and accent features. It wasn’t the most glamorous job in the world, but anything to endear themselves to the rest of the company was more than welcome.

Their big break came when Buick approached them about their 1929 “Silver anniversary” models. This wasn’t Buick’s 25th anniversary. 1904 was the year that William C. Durant bought the company from its troubled founder. Buick wanted to hail in the occasion with four all-new models that wore bodies styled by Art and Colour. If they could revamp GM’s most tenured nameplate, then perhaps Fisher Body and the engineers would finally see the value in design.

They spent a little over a year on the project. Countless sketches, clay models, and seven-foot-high blackboard drawings later, they had a design they were proud of. It was longer, lower, and wider than the line before it, but the feature they were most proud of was the 1 ¼ inch roll just under the beltline. It was a subtle yet distinguishing element that would separate it from GMs other lines as well as its competitors. Just like their previous efforts, the design was frozen and sent off to Fisher body for engineering and tooling. Earl focused his attention elsewhere and didn’t pay the Silver Anniversary any mind until the factories were gearing up to build them. It wasn’t quite what he envisioned. Engineering tweaked the design to fit their needs. In Earl's words:

“Unfortunately, the factory, for operational reasons, pulled the side panels in at the bottom more than the design called for. In addition, five inches were added in vertical height, with the result that the arc I had plotted was pulled out of shape in two directions, the highlight line was unpleasant and the effect was bulgy.”

It might seem like a minor detail to get worked up over, but automotive design is a war of inches, and Art and Colour lost this battle. Walter Chrysler said it looked pregnant when he first laid eyes on it. The story spread throughout the industry like wildfire, everyone began referring to the car as the “pregnant Buick,” and just like that, its fate was sealed.

Year over year Buick sales fell by 25 percent. They fell to the fourth-largest make in the country behind Hudson. Chevrolet may have been their most popular line, but Buick was their top money maker. The failure of the ‘29 significantly reduced company profits. There were those internally that thought Earl had been intentionally sabotaged to undermine styling efforts. If this was the case, then their plan backfired.

The incident actually proved Sloan right. The ‘29 Buick was superior in every conceivable way to its predecessor, mechanically speaking, yet most people didn’t seem to care. Styling had become one of the most important factors for car buyers. The president, emboldened by this experience, set in place a few changes to car development procedures.

Firstly, any significant alterations to Art and Colour designer would need to be run by Earl for approval. Additionally, the department would receive its very own body engineer; Vincent D. Kaptur Sr. He spent the previous 12 years at Packard and would serve as arbitrator between the two parties. Fisher Body would always point to reasons why certain elements couldn’t be implemented onto the cars, whether they be technically or financially prohibitive. These concerns were brought up to division chiefs who had the final say on matters. Earl never really bought them, but he never had the technical background needed to counter their claims. Now Art and Colour could finally even the playing field and negotiate with them. The Silver Anniversary Buick debacle actually turned into a bit of a victory for them. For those that still weren't sold, Art and Colour would prove to be an invaluable part of the company during the auto industry's darkest hour.

the great depression

Harley Earl became heavily invested in the stock market by 1929. He made less as head of the styling department than he did at his previous job, so this was a way of shoring up his income. He used what he earned from the sale of the family business to invest, but he also bought stocks on margin. That is to say, he borrowed money to purchase more than he'd be able to otherwise. Risky business, but it served him and many other Americans well.

And then the stock market crashed. Earl suffered catastrophic losses and couldn’t pay back his debtors. All the money his family received from the sale of Earl Automobile Works was gone. What began as a diversion was now the only thing he had left. General Motors sent letters out to each member of the styling department assuring them a job as long as the company was around, but even this wasn't guaranteed. Sales across the board dropped by 40 percent and their shares fell from $73 to $8. The depression cut into their profits significantly and they just couldn't afford significant overhauls of their products.

There were fewer people that were able to purchase a car, and even fewer could afford the offerings from upscale brands. Once someone did buy one, they wanted to get their money’s worth and keep it for as long as they could. This combined with GM’s own reduced manufacturing capabilities left them wondering how they could sell cars in volume. This is where Art and Colour proved their value. Sure, completely new vehicles like the 1929 Buick weren’t in the cards, but in their place were visual modifications to existing vehicles. Design became the most important part of the development process out of necessity. It’s much cheaper to change the trim on a headlamp or swap out the material for a grille than it is to develop all new components. This strategy would also play on people’s inert desire for upward mobility. GM wanted the current year’s model to make the previous effort obsolete, at least in appearance, so that the customer would be incentivized to trade their vehicle in for it. Rinse and repeat year after year, and suddenly that ever-shrinking pool of customers didn’t seem so shallow.

GM did have a loss of $4.5 Million in 1932, though when compared to the roughly $30 million blow Ford suffered that same year, they may as well have broken even. The annual updates carried them to a 41 percent share of the market, far ahead of Ford, who still claimed about a quarter of it.

In the monotony of redesigning hubcaps and touching up hood ornaments, Art and Colour received an assignment that was more aspirational. Seaholm asked them to collaborate with Fleetwood on the design for a car for the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago. This was the second World’s Fair that the city had ever hosted, and they chose to use this opportunity to look past the present economic recession and toward happier days. It featured an optimistic view of the hopefully not too distant future with art deco architecture, Jetsons-style homes, and extravagant transportation, as seen with the Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe show car. The main attraction for showgoers may have been its massive 7.4L V16 engine, but its styling and design solutions proved to be just as influential.

Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe

Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe

The car’s streamlined profile features pontoon fenders that put the car in a perpetual state of motion. It’s uninterrupted by the side-mounted tires that you might find on a car of this vintage. The spare is out of sight in a dedicated compartment in the trunk; a novel idea at the time. The Aero Coupe also has an imposing stance. It rides on a 149-inch wheelbase 452C chassis, and it’s made to appear even longer with a narrow greenhouse, a V-type windshield that’s aggressively raked back 35 degrees, and a brightwork element that stretches from the headlight to the rear wheel. Special attention was paid to the sun visors. They were made to look like abstract leaves and were mounted in place with screws that had heads of imitation pearl. Out of all of its mechanical and aesthetic innovations, the one that would see near-immediate use was its fastback roof. The Aero Coupe employed a steel roof that was a single piece. This was in contrast to pretty much every other car that was on sale at the time. Car manufacturers hadn’t yet developed the necessary tooling to create this, so they relied on rubberized fabric inserts to make up any ground. The car influenced the look of future Cadillacs. The ‘34 was the first production car to have dedicated spare tire compartments and the ‘35 had an all-steel roof.

A warm reception at the World’s Fair motivated GM to order a limited run of them. A custom body was listed in the Fleetwood catalog starting in 1934. They tried to increase the car’s appeal with a variety of engine offerings. V8 and V12 variants were built on a 146-inch wheelbase chassis that was only slightly shorter than the show car’s while the V16 was atop a massive 154-inch wheelbase chassis. Even with GM aware of its limited appeal, the Aero Coupe performed far below expectations. They planned to build 400 of them, but only 20 were constructed in total. 8 of them had the V12 and only 3 were equipped with the V16. The latter started at $8,000 which, when adjusted for inflation, comes out to over $150,000 in today’s money. The line was discontinued upon the introduction of the ‘38 Cadillacs. It turns out that releasing the antithesis of rationality in one of the worst economic downturns of all time wasn’t a sound business decision. Who woulda thunk?

Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe

Cadillac Aerodynamic Coupe

The Great Depression ended the Aero Coupe prematurely, and it would’ve done the same with a few of GM’s other nameplates if it weren’t for the Art and Colour department. Pontiac sales were down 80%, and while it was guaranteed at least another year, higher-ups were seriously considering discontinuing it. Fins says:

“The division had a new chassis and a powerful new straight-eight engine ready to go, but its body engineers were struggling to come up with a new look for the car. So Harley dispatched Frank Hershey to the plant in Pontiac, Michigan, to check out the wooden mock-up of the body they were considering for the 1933 model year. “Go out there and tell me what you think,” he told the designer. Hershey reported back that the proposed new model “looks just like the old car.” If that was all they were going to do, he said, they “might as well leave it alone.” “All right,” said Harley, “you’ve got two weeks to come up with something better.”?

This project had shades of the original LaSalle project. Hershey was charged with creating a new design with his back against the wall. With a small team at his disposal, he got to it. Like Earl back in the day, he based it on an existing car he was especially fond of. “I was in love with Bentleys,” he said, “so I decided to do a Bentley front end on this Pontiac.” The new look drew people to showrooms, and a lower price helped them bite the bullet. Sales doubled in 1933. As a result, the brand earned its stay in General Motors.

Speaking of LaSalle, Earl’s baby was also in serious danger of seeing the axe. It was doing even worse than Pontiac, and any sensible price cut likely wouldn’t have been enough to save it after the crash. On one occasion, Earl was out of the studio making the rounds at the auto shows in Europe. While he was away, designer Jules Agramonte created a full-size airbrush rendering of a car sporting a tall, slender grille that was inspired by the day’s track and beach racers. He showed it to Harry Shaw, Earl’s second in command, but he was unimpressed. He put it away but showed Earl when returned. He was in love with it. So much, in fact, that he ordered them to construct a model of it. And this wouldn’t be a standard model, either. Earl wanted it realized down to the most minute detail. Instead of clay, they fashioned it out of wood and metal. This sold the illusion of a real car even more when it was painted. Designers even went through the trouble of creating a fully functional interior. You could actually open the doors and sit inside of it. Harley put in all this effort for a reason. He caught wind of LaSalle’s impending discontinuation and wanted to make an impression on his superiors. Fins goes into more detail.

“Harley unveiled his proposed 1934 LaSalle to a group of pertinent executives he gathered in the Styling Auditorium. He “had the LaSalle mock-up onstage, alone, with the curtains drawn. As he rose to make his presentation, he said, ‘Gentlemen, if you decide to discontinue the L’Sawl [as he pronounced it], this is the car you’re not going to build.’ The curtains parted, and there stood the gleaming mockup of the 1934 LaSalle. The audience sat silent for a moment, and then came to life. Everyone liked the design, and GM quickly approved it.”

This only bought the line a few more years. It was discontinued in 1940, though the situation is a prime example of Earl’s perseverance and work ethic. He’s worked with stubborn people that refused to see the worth in his work and made believers out of them. They’ve never failed to impress, either, even in the cash-strapped 30. Art and Colour was surely a well-oiled machine, right? Well, actually...

working for harley earl

I think Bill Mitchell surmised his tenure perfectly when he said “He had a chair, like a director's chair in a studio in Hollywood… and he would have all these people around him, and everyone would run around like a bunch of monkeys.” This isn’t that much of an exaggeration. Working under Earl was incredibly stressful, partly because of the backbreaking work and tight deadlines, though the man himself was also the source of some anguish. You might not believe this if you didn’t already know, but Harley Earl, General Motors’ first vice president of design and the architect of the practice as we know it today, couldn’t draw. No one In the styling department could ever recall him contributing sketches to any project. It seems ludicrous to imagine someone getting a foot in the door without some modicum of artistic ability, but he had a fine eye for design. Designer Gene Garfinkle said:

“There would be guys drafting lines with the width of a 2H pencil—tenths of a millimeter wide on a full-size drawing—and Earl might have been in the studio three nights before and asked if that fender line could be lowered a little. And as soon as he had that studio door open, I mean, you could hear his voice: ‘I thought I told you to lower that line.’ He could see it from 40 feet away. He knew exactly where that line was supposed to be; that was the sort of sensitivity he had.”

His style of leadership foreshadowed how design managers would operate. As designers move up the ranks in their respective companies, their duties begin to have less to do with creating and more to do with managing. Their job now lies in getting the most out of the staff. Chris Bangle put it best when he said "I don't design cars, I design designers."

Earl detailed one of the ways he elevated his employees.

“I sometimes wander into their quarters, make some irrelevant or even zany observation, and then leave. It is surprising what effect a bit of peculiar behavior will have. First-class minds will seize on anything out of the ordinary and race off looking for explanations or hidden meanings. That’s all I want them to do - start exercising their imaginations. The ideas will soon pop up."

The development process rarely went off without a hitch. Earl tried to point his designers in a certain direction, but in a profession where sketching is the primary form of communication, it was a crapshoot whether or not it would come out like he wanted. Stylist and future VP of design Irvin Rybicki recalled:

“Harley walked into the studio and announced they weren’t leaving until they came up with a solution for a particular Cadillac design. Sat down right next to Irv and waited for him to begin. “I picked up a pencil, and I started sketching. I made about 3 lines and Earl put his big hand on the pad, wrinkled up the paper, and threw it in the wastebasket. He looked at me and said, ‘let’s try again.’ everything wound up in the basket that day.”

Earl had a fuse so short that it may as well have been inside the stick of dynamite. Bill Mitchell claimed that Earl chewed some guys out so bad that they needed to see psychiatrists afterward. It was literally either his way or the highway in the studio, as the following Fins excerpt details:

"Harley supposedly had all the designers seated in a circle around a car as he expounded on how the heavy bumpers made it look lower. “And you boys all agree, don’t you?” he said. None of them did, but no one said so, which proved smart. “And if anyone doesn’t [agree],” he continued, “then he should stand up so we can take a look at the sonofabitch.”

The book goes on to give an example of one designer that broke the rule.

“The punishment for breaking Rule Number One was usually swift, as a young Chevrolet designer named Duane “Sparky” Bohnstedt learned when he pushed back on something the boss said during a visit to the studio. “I never want to see that guy’s face again,” Harley told Howard O’Leary as he left. The kindly O’Leary had mitigated many such spontaneous terminations over the years, often saving the employee’s job by doing nothing and giving them a few days off while Harley’s temper cooled. This time he took the boss at his literal word and instead of firing Sparky, a decorated World War II bomber pilot, he stashed him in a studio in a building across the street where Harley wouldn’t see him. The ploy worked for several months, until Harley happened to be passing through the other building and came face-to-face with Sparky and thereupon fired him for not being fired in the first place.”

People have been fired for less. One time, Earl was making the rounds in one of the studios when he spotted a designer sleeping under a drawing board. He walked over, woke him up, and told him that he was fired. He was also rumored to have fired someone else because he didn't like the way they walked.

Plenty of people quit before he could do the same to them. Bill Porter said

“The really good guys couldn’t take it,” said Bill Porter. “He kept the whole place in a state of suspended anxiety . . . and we lost good designers.” Ray Dietrich left in 1931, John Tjaarda and Bob Gregorie in 1932, Tom Hibbard in '33, and Virgil Exner in '38. Frank Hershey quit way back in 1929 and fled to California, but O'Leary managed to talk him into coming back.

These departures played a major role in the development of design studios of other automakers. Gregorie would go on to head Ford’s program. Strother MacMinn joined the staff at Art Center and helped Toyota establish Calty Design Research, the first west coast car design studio. Exner would be an instrumental part of Studebaker’s design efforts and eventually become Chrysler’s styling chief. They would go to other companies, implement the processes that GM used, and mold the designers much in the same way Earl did to them.

The ones that stuck it out were subject to an insanely demanding workload. Bernie Smith says he worked “a stretch of three months without a single day off, including Easter and Fourth of July, eleven to twelve hours a day.”

Virgil Exner said:

"Harley had selected a front-end design sketch of mine to model in full-scale clay - on a crash basis. He and I, along with a modeling man, worked on it until 5 AM, at which time Harley called a halt, whereupon we ‘retired’ to an adjoining drafting room and slept on drawing boards until 7:30. We then arose, had a cup of coffee, and finished the job for a meeting with Buick executives at 11 AM."

There are people roped up in MLMs that have a better work-life balance than Art and Colour personnel. The job wasn't finished until they had the car just right.

“It’s tough to be creative around the clock,” said designer Thomas L. Hibbard. “Overtime was a steady diet—and unproductive in many instances. Employees’ family lives fell apart because in many cases evenings for weeks were spent on the job trying to come up with startling innovations to meet a deadline."

They weren’t the only ones that felt the burn working with him. Engineers, accountants, and others ran into the buzz saw that was his friendship with Alfred Sloan. The two of them went on Atlantic cruises on Sloan yacht during the summer, for example, and this relationship leaked into work in the form of a button at Earl’s desk that put him in direct phone contact with his line in New York. No one else in the building had anything else like that. He didn’t even need to use it to have his way. Merely brandishing it had the other party bending over backward.

Buick division head Harlow Curtice was called into Earl’s office after a dispute with a designer regarding an upcoming model. He pressed the button and, in an instant, was on the phone with Sloan.

“Alfred, I’m here in the studio with that sonofabitch Curtice, and he seems to be a little confused. He can’t tell who’s in charge of Buick and who’s in charge of Art and Colour. I thought maybe you could straighten his ass out for me.” He handed the phone to Curtice, who supposedly listened silently as Sloan told him, “let him build whatever he wants.”

Then there’s the subject of credit. Every automaker recognizes its designers differently. BMW, for example, shines a light on the one that comes up with the winning proposal. Toyota withheld individual names from the public for the longest time, instead considering each car a collective effort from the company. General Motors took a similar approach, except for the fact that credit was funneled to Earl.

Fins goes into a bit more detail here:

“No one was to get publicity in his department but Harley J. Earl,” said Tom Hibbard, who unwittingly violated that rule his first week on the job when he cooperated with a GM public relations man in putting out a press release announcing his hiring while Harley was on vacation. “When Harley returned, he raised hell about it,” Hibbard recalled. “In the early days, with few exceptions, pains were taken to see that no individual but Earl received publicity outside the company or got credit for anything they contributed.”

You could interpret this as him shielding his men from outside criticism. The 1929 Buick was no doubt a humiliating experience for Earl. Most people at the time weren’t aware of what went on behind the scenes, and even if they did they wouldn’t have cared. The only things that mattered were that the car missed the mark and his name was attached to it. His reputation took a hit in the public’s eye as well as within the industry. By that point, Earl had an extensive catalog of high-quality work. He was able to dust himself off and string together another three decades of hits that made the Buick a distant memory. But perhaps not everyone would be that fortunate.

If GM were to release another duck like that and the blame was cast upon a designer that couldn’t take it, then it would probably ruin them. The drastic measures he took to safeguard the studios from corporate meddling that we’ll get into a bit later, gives more credence to this perspective.

Fins presents the other side of the coin. The book quotes art historian C. Edson Armi who goes on to say that Harley:

“isolated the staff through a hierarchical, even dictatorial, chain of command through which all professional contacts passed” and “worked hard to solidify his exterior contacts with directors of Chevrolet, Pontiac and the other car divisions by consciously developing [his own] image of an indispensable arbiter of taste.”

This is likely a topic with no straight answer. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, so feel free to leave a comment down below.

The Y-Job

As GM clawed themselves out of the Depression, Alfred Sloan felt that the Art and Colour department had outgrown their Trojan horse of a name. Styling was seen as integral a part of the development process as marketing, engineering, and manufacturing, so in January of 1937, it was rechristened the General Motors Styling Section. This also came with a change in scenery. Operations moved to the top four floors of the newly constructed Argonaut Building. They’d have 80,000 square feet to work with, enough for each division to have their own dedicated studios. The space may have been allotted to them, but Earl did his best to isolate the design department from the rest of the company as well as the studios from each other. The comments he received from managers on ideas that hadn’t yet been fully fleshed out deeply irritated him. In retaliation, he kept the design levels under lock and key and only allowed walkthroughs when he approved. The individual studios were kept away from each other as well in an effort to reduce cross-pollination.

Argonaut Building

Argonaut Building

“Internal security was strictly enforced, with elevators stopping only on the eighth and eleventh floors, so that staffers who worked on the middle two floors had to enter and exit on the eleventh, where Harley stationed a “timekeeper” who took down names and had the authority to inspect packages and briefcases coming in or going out. Only Harley, with his master key, could enter any studio any time he wanted. Only he could take a sketch from the Pontiac studio over to the Buick studio and say, “I think you should try something like this.” He was the only one who knew what everyone was doing.”

This secretiveness would manifest itself when he and several others broke ground on a revolutionary project. Styling had always been hesitant to put out their craziest ideas out of fear that they might not hit with the general public. Earl himself had been considering ways to get them out and finally thought of a way to do so. A show car that flaunted these features would give them a way to screen them through the public and let them know which ones stuck and which ones didn’t. It wouldn’t be cheap, but it’d be a safer bet than tooling up for something unproven and having it fizzle out. Earl did have a more “personal” reason for pursuing the project.

The design studios at other companies were becoming increasingly sophisticated. Earl could tell because the chiefs of at least two of them had their own personalized cars. Ed Macauley of Packard and Edsel Ford of Ford Motor Company drove physical embodiments of the best their programs had to offer. Earl, meanwhile, had his pick of whatever Cadillac he wanted. Nothing to sniff at by any means, but he drove something that anyone could buy. It hit Earl especially hard because they all lived near each other in Grosse Pointe and he saw them commuting to and from work on a near-daily basis. GM needed to be out in front in all respects, even in admittedly vain endeavors such as these. Buick Division Chief Harlow Curtice was on board. He offered him a Century chassis and the budget to design a one-of-a-kind experimental car that would serve both purposes.

He assembled a small team and set them up in a secret studio. Vincent Kaptur was charged with body engineering while Buick head engineer Charles Chayne would oversee its mechanical systems. The styling team was managed by George Snyder, the chief of the Oldsmobile studio that had a better read on Earl than most. It was originally dubbed the Y-Project, as the letter X was used to distinguish experimental programs from others in various industries. This car would theoretically go another step beyond those. Earl, however, kept calling it the Y-Job, so that’s the name that stuck. 18 months and $50,000 later, the car finally saw the light of day.

Buick Y-Job

Buick Y-Job

The 1938 Buick Y-Job is one of those watershed moments in automotive history. Michael Lamm commented on the inspiration in the January/February 1997 issue of Special Interest Autos.

“Art Moderne, the commercial art form that auto designers borrowed from architecture, was very much in vogue at the time. Snyder incorporated the parallelism, repeated lines, and horizontality of Art Moderne in the Y-Job.” Many of the major hallmarks of the movement make an appearance on the car.

Every element on the outside is beholden to the overall gesture. The streamlined pontoon fenders, smoothly-crowned hood, and v-type split windshield gives it a bit of momentum.  The visors were integrated into the convertible top, contributing to the clean look when it was down. Even the headlights play second fiddle to the sheet metal.

This wasn't the first car to have concealed lamps. The Cord 810 had them two years prior, but the Y-job made strides in a few areas. Whereas the former required the driver to manually operate them via hand crank, the Y-job's were operated by a switch on the dash. The horizontally-split doors moved backward about 3 inches and an entire headlight complete with a chrome ring emerged. The tolerances were so tight around here that they actually looked fixed in place. The jet black paint job also helps mask any panel gaps.

Buick Y-Job

Buick Y-Job

The theme of repetition can be seen on the brightwork lining the fenders. This feature is broken off as it reaches the door, but there's still some semblance of continuity here. They also do their part to stretch out those respective areas of the car. This texture has an interesting dynamic with the front grille, which is best seen on the ¾ view. The horizontal strakes contrast with the vertical forks used in the grille, drawing the eye to both. Earl reportedly rejected a number of horizontal grille proposals in the past but changed his stance after laying eyes on the ‘38 Lincoln Zephyr and Mercedes W154. The car was a testbed for a number of engineering innovations. It had a prototype version of Buick's Dynaflow transmission, which would see use in production cars starting in 1948. Buttons were used in lieu of typical door handles. When pressed, an electronically activated solenoid released the door latch. There was a mechanical release cleverly worked in if the battery were to die. Pressing the door button in further would mechanically unlatch the door. A quick aside. I find it amusing to think that such a seamless integration of a mechanical failsafe was on a car released nearly a century ago. I know it’s a concept, but modern cars don’t have anything that comes close. Its first public appearance at the New York Auto Show was also its last. The car was shipped directly to Earl’s home after the event. He logged at 50,000 on it, though if you’re somehow able to peek at the odometer, it’ll only show about 29,000 miles. That’s because the entire IP was replaced with 1948 Buick gauges in late 1947 when the car received a mechanical refresh.There were several other modifications made to the car over the years. It was originally designed with an aircraft-inspired braking system that utilized pneumatic bellows. It proved to be unreliable and there’s at least one instance of one of the bellows bursting. Conventional hydraulic brakes replaced this. It also had a Bendix power steering system. Buick managers had it removed because they didn’t think it was possible to sell power steering systems profitably. It’s said to “steer like a truck” now.

fins

The second World War brought about significant changes to General Motors. Designers found themselves caught in the crossfire, whether through the draft pool or by their own volition. The department was down from a pre-war high of nearly 100 to about 35. Earl worked to scrounge up jobs for his staff so they could contribute in their own way. He named Steve McDaniel, his interior design chief, the head of a new Wartime production studio. Here, designers created countless diagrams and illustrations for military manuals as well as IPs for combat vehicles. The Buick division designed the M18 tank destroyer, which served as an effective counter to German Panzers. In 1944, the Navy commissioned the styling section to provide illustrations for “Flight Thru Instruments, a training manual for pilots. They were also involved in the Allies’ ill-fated camouflage program. The most iconic thing the styling section developed during this period wouldn't see the light of day until after the war. In the spring of 1941, Earl heard there was a Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane being held at an army base 30 miles north of Detroit. He pulled a few strings and managed to secure a rare audience with the aircraft.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning

Lockheed P-38 Lightning

Earl brought along a few senior designers including Mitchell and Hershey, hoping it could inspire vehicles in the near future. Photography was strictly prohibited and the stylists were required to stand 30 feet away from it. Even with the restrictions in place, the P-38 provided ample inspiration.

Any further developments on this front would have to wait. Hershey and Mitchell, the two designers spearheading the effort, we're called into battle. They returned when the war ended, but a worker’s strike soon after locked the designers out of the studio. It would take four months to resolve. In the meantime, the styling section would need to pursue other means to realize their ideas.

Hershey had a farm 60 miles out of the city that would serve well as a temporary base of operations. He invited the entire Cadillac team out to work with him. The space wasn't quite what they were accustomed to, but the opportunity did provide Hershey the time and resources needed to finally realize his vision. He could never get the P-38 out of his head. Fins continues:

“Looking at the plane’s twin tail rudders that day, Hershey immediately thought of fins on sea creatures—slicing through the water’s surface as a shark moved in on its prey, flashing silver-blue in the sun when a sailfish rose out of the ocean in full flight, waving a languid goodbye just before a whale disappeared into the deep—heart-stopping images long embedded in his imagination. It struck him that fins were wondrous creations of nature—beautiful, sleek, and shiny, streamlined and symmetrical, the embodiment of power, speed, maneuverability, and stability, everything that a modern automobile should be. And yet no one had designed them into the body of a car, until now."

He and a few others set up a makeshift studio in the basement. They worked to turn his sketches into fully fleshed out ¼ scale models. When the studios opened back up, they were able to take their work along with them. And in typical GM fashion, it was decided that Cadillac would be the first to get them.

The designers thought they'd be the next big thing. Executives, on the other hand, weren't sure what to make of them. Their initial reaction upon seeing a proposed 1948 model was negative. Earl ordered the fins removed, but Hershey just covered them with a cloth. It’s a good thing he didn’t get rid of them, as management had a change of heart and approved the design upon a second viewing. Cadillac GM John Gordon took a bit longer to come around to them.

“He supposedly sat on an overturned wastebasket and stared at them in silence for ten minutes. Finally, he shook his head and said, “Too tall,” suggesting they cut three-quarters of an inch off the top. Ed Cole stayed behind after Gordon left and agreed with Mitchell that the fins were just right. So Mitchell instructed his clay modeler “to make the far fin an inch or so taller than the one nearer the viewer. Next day, when Gordon returned, he said, ‘See, didn’t I tell you it looks better lower like that?’”

Cars sporting the fins didn’t see production until February 1948 because of tooling delays. The front half of the car appears to be a more refined version of the ‘47. It isn’t until the second half of the car that the changes jump out at you. Instead of rounding out at the end, the haunch continues straight and then kicks up a bit at the light. The look is more subtle on the sedan. This style already has an established deck, though the fins do a bit to level the third box out. The fastback has a teardrop cabin, and the fins visually widen and firmly plant the car.

1948 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special

1948 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special

Compared to how wild they got in the mid-50s, these seem tame. Inconsequential, even. We’ve long established that Cadillac buyers are a conservative bunch, and at first they didn’t take well to them. Dealers said that the fins were driving customers away in bunches. Sales managers called in and demanded they fast-track an updated model that did away with them. This wouldn’t be possible, given the nature of the design process. They were already baked into the ‘49 and ‘50. Sales stalled for a bit at first, then soared to heights never before seen for the brand. They sold in excess of 100,000 cars for the first time ever in 1950.

Earl attributed the delayed success because the fins:

“gave them an extra receipt for their money in the form of a visible prestige marking for an expensive car.”

GM as a whole sold 3 million of them, which was almost as much as the rest of the auto industry combined.

The fins seeped down to the rest of GM’s divisions. These iterations were more subtle to start but became more prominent in the ensuing years. Designers were especially proud of the 1955 line, not because of the top-trim Cadillac, but because of the entry-level Chevrolet. The Corvette injected some much-needed excitement into the brand. Earl sought to capitalize on it. He, along with Clare Mackichan and Ed Cole, worked on what they called a “cross-up.” Instead of developing the smooth surfacing that Chevy had in the past, they prioritized sharper edges. Its squared-off hood and nearly flush rear deck earned it the “shoe-box body” moniker.

1955 Chevrolet Bel-Air

1955 Chevrolet Bel-Air

It was a runaway success. In 1955, Chevy sold 255,000 more cars than Ford. The line spearheaded GM’s most dominant model year to date. 50.8 percent of the nearly 8 million cars sold were built by them. They sold more than twice as many cars as Ford and more than three times as many as Chrysler. It was at the peak of their success that the Styling section would find itself at a crossroads.

beginning of the end

The ‘55 was always going to be a tough act to follow. Instead of doubling down on its strong fundamentals, Earl opted to make it look “more Cadilac.” The ‘56 had a larger grille, more chrome detailing, and taller fins. The lower front clip of the ‘57 was swathed in what he called “entertainment” and it also had even taller fins. These models are revered today, but at the time there was some animosity internally about the direction Earl was taking. Bob Porter was one of the most outspoken voices.

“It was as if he took a collection of airplane parts, put them in a box, poured in some glue, and shook it up,” he said. “I thought his application of aircraft imagery to automobile design was wasteful and inappropriate. Cars are not airplanes. But Le Sabre took everybody by storm, and once you did that you had a whole new design vocabulary. It was a vulgar vocabulary and it was coming from Harley Earl. For some reason or other, he had this dichotomy in his personality. He’d hire top people and at the same time have them doing the most vulgar and awful bombs-and-fins in the production studio. I felt I had to do something about it. I was idealistic. There were other guys who felt the same way.”

The ‘58 was leaning even further in that direction and Earl was under pressure from management to try something new for ‘59. There was something of an anomaly in the development of that model year. A cost-cutting move to transfer some of the lines to the B and C bodies forced them to revisit much of their work. Earl supervised some of these revisions early on, but he went to Europe to tour a circuit of auto shows. The rest of the team continued to work on the update while he was away, but the project would take a 180 after designer Chuck Jordan made a startling discovery.

“Chrysler had this big holding pen back behind the plant, and I used to go past there because I wanted to see next year’s cars before anyone else did. Well, in the fall of 1956, through the chain-link fence, I saw all these brand-new 1957 Plymouths, and wow, it was really a shock. They looked so clean and lean with that thin roof and the nice proportions of glass; just the opposite of what we were doing at General Motors at that time.”

He rushed over to the studio and told Mitchell what he found. He tried to explain it to him, but he needed to see it for himself. Word spread amongst the designers and before long a dozen cars were trailing each other back to the factory to peek at the new cars. For the first time in a long time, GM was in serious danger of playing second fiddle to another make. Something had to be done, and fast.

Mitchell had an idea. The ‘58s were already finalized; a foregone conclusion. Earl would certainly want to see them make progress on the direction that he set forth for the ‘59, but Mitchell also wanted alternative proposals ready. This would also mean twice the work for every division. A crash program was implemented, which basically means that all hands were on deck. Designers worked without a day off for months and overtime was in no short supply. They managed to get it done by the skin of their teeth. All they needed to do now was wait.

Earl returned to the studio after the trip, but Mitchell intercepted him at his office. He escorted him to the GM Design Courtyard, where one of the “forward look” Plymouths was waiting for them. Earl remained unconvinced. Mitchell then brought him to each division to see his own ‘59 alongside the alternative proposals. At the end of the tour, everyone stood by and awaited his reaction. It was something they’d never seen from him before. The man who found the most effective way of getting his thoughts across was through blistering diatribes, was without words. He stood there for a moment, then he and Mitchell retreated to his office. Mitchell emerged, went to every department, and informed them that Earl thought the change in direction was necessary.

No one saw much of him after that. Perhaps he realized that it was time for him to move on. He was the last remnant of old Detroit. He was at least thankful for his staff for setting him straight before things got too out of control. He worked through Mitchell during his last days as VP of Design. Earl told him what he thought of the designs and hoped that he’d pass the critiques along.

Earl’s retirement came on December 1st, 1958. The 1960 cars were the last ones bearing his influence. Most of his attention was focused on his own personal design business, though he remained involved with the company on a consultancy basis.

He and his wife retired to a bright pink house in Palm Beach, Florida. One day after they had dinner with Mitchell and his wife, Earl suffered a massive stroke. He remained in a vegetative state in the hospital for several weeks. He was mostly unresponsive, though his daughter in law Connie recalled:

“One day he seemed to slam his hand down on the bed in frustration. It was the only thing I saw him do.”

Harley Earl passed away on April 10th, 1969. His body was cremated and Connie and a friend took his ashes up in a Cessna to scatter them across the Atlantic Ocean. Her friend fumbled the urn, which scattered most of the remains all across the aircraft. Earl surely would’ve fired him, had he still been alive.

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Comments (7)

  • Just one point to make. Harley Earl was a stylist, not a designer. Alex Issigonis was a designer and a pretty rubbish stylist (his ideas needed actual stylists to make them acceptable by and large).

      1 month ago
    • Yes but which design stayed relevant? Issigonis'. It wasn't sTylIsh, but it was functional. And the original 1950's mini is still very much relevant and modern. Meanwhile, the Lasalle's and stuff look good, but in the context of a...

      Read more
        1 month ago
    • While Issigonis can take credit for the Mini, Earl's impact on the industry as a whole (and not just as a stylist) is so far reaching that we still feel his impact today.

      He more than earned the title of...

      Read more
        1 month ago
  • This is a superb article, well written and sufficient content that it could have been published as a series in some glossy magazine. The Buick Y-Job alone was enough to make Harley Earl a legend in automotive design. I doubt that one person could have as much impact on the industry today.

      1 month ago
  • I've always liked the tale of the crash '59 design. The original proposals were so ungainly but to see all those new Forward Look cars in that lot, looking like nothing else on the market.

      1 month ago
  • Yeah well Mr Bangle, we've seen your cars...

      1 month ago
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