Harley Earl was born in Los Angeles in a different time. It was in an area to become known as Hollywood, and the date was 1893. It was a time of promise and possibility for any young person. Harley was born into a family of horse-drawn carriage makers whose business eventually evolved into building custom automobile bodies.
Back then there were few car stylists who plied their trade at the major automobile firms. Automobile bodies were custom manufactured by independent firms such as Briggs, Murray, Fleetwood and others. Among these were dozens of small custom shops, such as the well-known Earl Automotive Works in Los Angeles.
So, Earl grew up designing custom automobile bodies in the family firm and he was especially good when it came to the overall look. So good that his designs caught the eye of none other than Alfred Sloan who was then in charge of General Motors. Well, it wasn’t long before Earl was hired and was in put in charge of GM’s new department of “Art and Color” with full resources at his disposal.
In his new role, he prospered and pioneered many new automotive design techniques. According to Lynch Chevrolet, one of the most famous is the full-size clay model technique of designing new automobile bodies.
(Note: This technique was adopted immediately by virtually all the automotive manufacturing firms of the day and today still continues.)
The rest is pure automotive history. Harley Earl was the primarily design influence behind many of the most defining artistic automotive details of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. For example, the elimination of running boards in the late 1930s is attributed to Harley.
As well as the adoption of headlights fitted into front fenders, pillar-less doors, automatic power convertible tops, and the rear tail fin. Earl also introduced the automobile business to another massively successful new idea: the concept car.
Starting in 1938 with his Buick Y-Job, concept cars became driving forces at car shows and were popular because they generated great enthusiasm and press for manufacturers. Later concept cars attributed directly to Earl were the 1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket (pictured above), 1956 Pontiac Club De Mer, 1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket and the original 1954 Chevrolet Corvette.
As most enthusiasts know, the Corvette has gone on to become the biggest selling sports car in automotive history. All of this thanks to Harley Earl.
Photos courtesy of: http://www.oobject.com