Harley Earl

Born on the November 22, 1893 Harley J. Earl was a son of the reputable coachbuilder that customized horse drawn carriages. His father followed the ongoing market trends and with time began building custom bodies and parts for larger car manufacturers in his company Earl Automobile Works.

Young Harley Earl was sent to the Stanford University to expand his knowledge, but he left soon in order to help his father and learn the family business. Cadillac dealer Don Lee eventually bought Earl Automotive Works and kept Harley Earl to run the custom body shop.

When Lawrence Fisher, the general manager of the Cadillac division, was checking the dealer and distributor network in the United States he saw a great potential in one man. While observing Harley Earl work his magic on the models, Fischer noticed exactly how original his approach was.

Fischer's career also began as a coachbuilder in the company Fisher Body, where he learned the trade. He hired Earl to design the 1927 LaSalle model. The success inspired the General Motors President Alfred P. Sloan to form the Art and Color Section at General Motors.

It was a radical idea at the time, because most of the vehicle body design was done by engineers that placed emphasis only on functionality and cost. Harley was named the head of the new section in 1927 and had numerous critics thrown at his early work. Many executives, engineers and sales personnel at the General Motors nicknamed the section as the "Beauty Parlor". Most of the people simply found their concepts extravagant and overestimated.

In 1937, the Art and Color Section was renamed the Styling Section. Sloan understood the importance of design and even promoted Harley Earl to the vice president position. Thus, Harley Earl became the first head of Design at General Motors and the first styling executive in the entire American automobile industry. His skills in the industrial design area made him a pioneer of modern transportation.

Harley successfully paved the way for freeform sketching and hand sculpted clay models as legitimate design techniques for car models. To further the development of design within General Motors Earl presented the first concept car in history named Buick Y-Job. It was a unique vehicle that allowed designers and engineers to test their radical ideas, helping the management to find the most desirable car features in process.

As an interesting fact, the legendary Chevrolet Corvette was initiated as his Project Opel, which tested the innovative sports car design. There were other famous innovations such as the wraparound windshield or factory two-tone paint that Harley personally oversaw. He considered his mission to lengthen and lower the American cars, at times in reality and always at least in appearance.

American automobile industry in the 1960s and 1970s was heavily influenced with his design ideas. Planned obsolescence and annual model change concepts that are considered as a normal part of business process today were virtually unknown in those days. Harley Earl was truly an automotive icon, responsible in many ways for the overall success of General Motors.

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