Harley J. Earl (November 22, 1893–April 10, 1969) was an automotive stylist and engineer and industrial designer. He is most famous for his time at General Motors from 1927 until 1959. Earl was instrumental in establishing automotive design as its own discipline, and demonstrating the critical place of good industrial design in the automobile field. He is credited with many innovations, some practical devices and ideas and some that were purely a matter of styling and artistic flair. Among automobile features pioneered by Earl were chrome trim, two-tone paint, hardtops, and wrap-around windshields, but he is probably best known to the general public for beginning the tailfin craze that dominated automobile styling in the 1950s and early 1960s.
The first car designed by him was the 1927 La Salle, a smaller companion car to the Cadillac. His car quite resembled the Hispano-Suiza that various Hollywood celebrities and American nouveaux riches were buying at the time, a fashion which Cadillac executives resented. And, as the more expensive cars of that time were usually sold as chassis, drive-train, fenders, radiator, and cowling to be given a body by a specialized coachbuilding firm, it was the first car of that sort which was designed body and all by a professional in a motor firm.
Since he was responsible for the very first concept car, the Buick "Y" job of 1938, which had concealed headlamps and prefigured later Buick design motifs, Earl is credited as being the father of the concept car approach, that is the idea of making a car prototype to showcase a new vehicle's styling, technology, and overall design a long time before mass production decisions have to be taken by engineers. But given the immediate postwar sales boom, his second concept car was prepared only in 1950. This was the Le Sabre, the gimmick of which was its extreme lowness, by having the carburetor and air cleaner taken off the top of the engine and put alongside the cylinder heads. At first, Earl and the concept cars toured the United States in the GM Motorama shows.
Earl saw his contribution to auto design in more general ęsthetic terms. He noted that all through his career his purpose had been to lower and lengthen the car, because according to his sense of proportions, oblongs were more appealing to the eye than squares. But his most notorious design command was after Chrysler had introduced far lower cars than General Motors for the 1957 model year. He ordered that for 1958 all General Motors cars should have fifty pounds of chrome-plated steel trim apiece. These overdecorated cars did not sell well with the economic recession of that year; the Buick and Oldsmobile are often considered the most ugly American cars ever built.
In the early 21st century, GM created a series of television commercials for its Buick nameplate featuring an actor depicting Earl.
- Official website (http://www.carofthecentury.com/)