Harley Earl, General Motor’s “DaVinci”

Harley Earl, General Motor’s “DaVinci”
 Harley Earl was General Motors’ first genius car designer. Besides his unmatched list of automobile design and technological innovations (more about that later), he’s also known for creating the idea of concept cars or “cars of the future” for the automotive industry. Hooray for Hollywood Harley Earl was born in Hollywood, California before the film business arrived there. Long before there were backyard hotrodders, Harley Earl began customizing cars and car parts in his garage. And, when the movie business did arrive, Earl earned a name for himself customizing luxury cars for Roaring Ttwenties movie stars including Fatty Arbuckle and cowboy star Tom Mix. Throughout his career, the glitz and glamour of his Hollywood beginnings would strongly influence his work. While stodgier genius designers like Henry Ford emphasized the utilitarian aspect of the automobile, Harley Earl emulated Hollywood and dreamt of merging elegance and style with technological innovation. The LaSalle Harley Earl’s reputation soon spread to Detroit. In 1927, General Motors came calling to California and hired Earl to head the design department for the LaSalle, the company’s newest car model. Although the LaSalle was priced between a Buick and a Cadillac, the model’s V8 performance rivaled the Duesenberg, then the highest standard for luxury vehicles. The Great Depression of the 1930s, however, killed both the Duesenberg and Harley Earl’s LaSalle, but it didn’t end his career. The Buick Y-Job In 1938, Harley Earl designed the Buick Y-Job, recognized as the first “concept car.” Although the Y-Job was built on a Buick chassis, it included features that had never been seen before, including disappearing headlamps, electric windows, air-cooled wheel brake drums, and a power-operated convertible top. After the Y-Job, more concept models followed, some developed into classic GM production models, including what many consider his crowning achievement, the Corvette. Why they called him “Detroit’s DaVinci” The following is a partial list of Harley Earl’s innovations from his tenure at General Motors from 1927 to 1959. • He introduced the idea of annual model styling changes. • He created the first crash-test dummy, naming it “Oscar” as a tribute to his Hollywood roots. • He’s even credited with putting the first onboard computer in a car. • Other notable innovations include power windows, the power-operated convertible top, chrome trim, wrap-around windshields, two-tone paint jobs, and the Cadillac tailfin. Harley Earl as social innovator During its beginning decades, the executive offices of the automobile industry were white and male dominated. Earl is also credited with social changes in the auto business that included adding female and openly gay male designers to key roles on his design teams. Harley Earl retired from GM in 1959, and died ten years later. Non-automotive innovations Nabisco hired Earl to design the current “aerodynamic shape” of the Fig Newton. He’s also credited with designing the first deodorant roll-on. Harley Earl’s life after death In 2002, over 30 years after Harley Earl’s death, General Motors launched a series of TV commercials featuring the “ghost” of Harley Earl presenting then-current GM innovations. NASCAR’s “Harley J. Earl Trophy” serves as a posthumous tribute to Earl particularly as the father of the Corvette and the Firebird. The Trophy is given to the winners of the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s premier event. SOURCES: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concept_car http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harley_Earl http://www.carofthecentury.com/ http://www.carofthecentury.com/top_10_milestones_by_harley_earl.htm “Harley Earl”, Vivian M. Baulch, Detroit News, URL: (http://info.detnews.com/history/story/index.cfm?id=101 category;=people) http://www.businessweek.com/autos/content/jan2006/bw20060127_689697.htm “The Cars GM didn’t want you to see”, Phil Patton, Forbes, URL: (http://www.forbes.com/2001/03/19/0319feat.html) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorama “Eyes on Design”, Richard A. Wright, Detroit News, URL: (http://info.detnews.com/joyrides/story/index.cfm?id=408) “Pontiac Banshee”, Jeff Koch, Hot Rod, URL: (http://www.hotrod.com/featuredvehicles/96898_1964_pontiac_banshee_convertible/) “A collector gives concept cars a second life”, Dan McCosh, New York Times, URL: (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F01EFD91E39F936A15755C0A9629C8B63 sec;=travel) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Nucleon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIT_Car http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volvo_YCC http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontiac_Club_de_Mer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_Corsair http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=3359 “Concours de Elegante”, Richard A. Wright, Detroit News, URL: (http://info.detnews.com/joyrides/story/index.cfm?id=259) http://autos.aol.com/gallery/cool-concept-cars-of-the-past “Girl power softens Volvo’s edge”, Jorn Madslein, BBC, URL: (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3528757.stm)
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