Harley Earl's colorful battles and/or "body politics" made him a magnet for mythology. One of his legendary conflicts is detailed in a 1950 magazine article, "Growing" Stops for Automobiles on his highly controversial stance relating to a giant trend he foresaw regarding the future success of the American motor car world: Small Cars. It exposes one of the reasons GM's "treasury office boys" ultimately ganged up and unceremoniously removed this artist/engineer impresario from power by the late 1950s. It's also ironic how Earl shed light, so long ago in the modern era, on the very essence of what would eventually topple General Motors some 50 years later, "It's a matter of record that poor styling or improperly timed styling has proved financially disastrous to some automobile manufacturers." Read the article, click below, showing how Earl wanted to steer GM towards building smaller cars.
Want to quickly boil down on which GM leaders originally betrayed and dethroned Harley Earl in 1958; proceed to the bottom of this section and click photo link of Bill Mitchell, Jack Gordon and Fred Donner. While every one of GM's leading CEOs over the last 50 years went in an entirely different direction than the one that made General Motors so powerful and successful by the mid-twentieth century, Auto Design Leadership still remains the central universe behind what makes or breaks any worldwide auto maker's long-term success. Nobody can erase this fact.
Although you may not recognize his name, millions of people look and interact with this man's artistic lifestyle creations everyday. This heritage runs deep for Harley Earl first invented the rules and principles of the Automobile Design profession – in America – when none existed before.
How many times have you heard the phrase "As GM goes, so goes the nation"? How often have you come across someone referring to "America’s love affair with the automobile"? These common sayings epitomize American culture in the 20th century and remind us of a heritage that we struggle to retain. And this tradition probably would not exist if not for one man — Harley J. Earl.
Earl (HJE) began making a most enduring contribution to our society and culture after penning a partnership in 1926 with a middle of the pack auto maker, General Motors. After which, he moved his profitable and high-tech custom car designing operation from Hollywood/Los Angeles, CA. to Detroit, MI. and within a decade, this auto-innovator would be credited for launching the industry or business of designing cars in the transportation world, i.e., "inventing the art of making cars."
After Harley Earl introduced a more innovative way to build cars in the late 1920s, Henry Ford's old fashioned utilitarian methods crumbled and quickly became obsolete. The ultra-futuristic tradition of "pre-styling the auto body ahead-of-time" using Earl's colorful life-size two dimensional drawings and full-size clay models (the U.S. auto industry's 'modern master' is shown directly above pointing out a visual feature on the Club de Mer show car) became a couple of visual cornerstones behind his creating the auto world's dependency on design.
Going into the post World War Two years, Detroit was entirely dependent on Earl's new ultra-modern volume "design" production methods and at that time, most savvy auto execs and automotive media correspondents understood the new order of the day: 'Design' was the No. 1 reason for car sales. After a career spanning nearly 50 years, Harley Earl was also credited for taking the entire global automotive economy into the DESIGN business by the early 1960s. The power of DESIGN OBSOLESCENCE remained the dominant American auto market sales leader throughout the end of the 20th century. The real question that should be challenging everyone in today's auto business is: "Should Harley Earl's state-of-the-art business paradigm be brought back to reestablish confidence and order to the American auto business in 2009 and beyond?
In the beginning, Mr. Earl liked to refer to his new profession as the 'MODERN ART OF INDUSTRY' and the following quote, from 1956, reflects his timeless approach, overall depth and artistic reach:
"The art of automobile design has progressed, until today it is regarded as one of the most important factors in the marketing of the automobile."
During the mid-century years, the automobile design profession became the central universe behind what made the modern automotive industry tick. Even today, Harley Earl’s complete methodology of integrating art, science, and showmanship has held the test of time and continues being the worldwide standard, or, key foundation to business success of building modern transportation product designs, for all worldwide auto makers skillfully Style or Design ahead of time. Mr. Earl wrote the following excerpt in 1938 while addressing his revolutionary new way of auto body development, "pre-engineering the automobile and designing style and beauty in the building of modern motor cars":
Out of the merger of art, science and industry have come new techniques that have within themselves the ability to create an entirely new pattern and setting for the life of the world.
Mention the word "art" to a roomful of people and most of them will think of a great painting. Some will think of sculpture or architecture – a few, of music or literature.
But hardly anyone will think of industry.
For art in industry is comparatively new. Only in recent years has the interest of manufacturer and user alike been expanded from the mere question of "Does it work?" to include "How should it look?" and "Why should it look that way?" Appearance and style have assumed equal importance with utility, price and operation. The artist and the engineer have joined hands to the end that articles of every day use may be beautiful as well as useful.
Every civilization has contributed something of importance to man’s understanding of the principals of beauty. It remained for our own times, through new forms of skill, to provide the means by which artistic creations are made available to everyone. Probably in no field have the results of the application of art to the products of industry been more apparent than in the that of the automobile.
The following billboard
paragraph and list of modern innovations from a comprehensive
2007 business magazine article (click below) titled, "The Lost Legacy of
Harley Earl came to General Motors in 1927 and retired in 1958. During that time, he turned the business of designing, mass-producing and marketing automobiles on its head. With the possible exception of Henry Ford, no other person has single-handedly contributed more to the evolution of the modern automobile industry.
From the original framework of his 1927 LaSalle, Earl's design patent below left, to forms such as the Firebird III in 30-years time was a quantum leap. So far from the usual or the commonplace, none but a grand master could have carried out these daring new aerodynamic designs.
While introducing new guidelines on the art form of modern day Motor Car Designing, Harley Earl made the following statement showing how the designer and/or engineer must know what is underneath before he or she can design the covering, or envelope, known as the body:
LEONARDO DA VINCI, the great Florentine artist, demonstrated that in order to arrive at a satisfactory portrayal of the human form the artist must possess a knowledge of anatomy – especially of the bones and muscles that make up the structure of the body.
As in the case of the automobile, mechanical improvements, too, have contributed to improved appearance. In fact, it is rather an accepted principle that as a product is improved functionally, it tends to become better artistically.
Secreted Historical Photos, below, Tell Enormous Story on Modern 'Art Form' of Auto-making
work began on the 1960 Chevrolet Corvair inside GM Styling.
It was a new and radically
different design for an American manufacturer. The Volkswagen Beetle, along with
other small imports had become popular with economy-minded drivers in the U.S.
market place and this activity set Harley Earl off in the direction to create
American compact cars to compete with them. Earl was
met by a formidable wall of opposition, since so many other company leaders at
this time didn't want to break GM away from the tradition of, "Building Big Cars
These very photos embody the spirit of Harley Earl's bold entrepreneurial American cars and how we, "millions of American consumers" were supposed to inherent countless beautifully manufactured small modern cars, like these, moving forward into the 1960s and beyond. Instead, the jealous Financial Treasury Office administrators of GM pulled off a silent coup in the late 1950s and grabbed the leadership reins away from Earl and his advanced guard of hybrid Auto Design engineers (who were directly responsible for cementing this auto-maker near a 50% market share during the mid-twentieth century). The new financial team ushered in and went on to manufacture millions upon millions of bigger cars and trucks in America, many of which were substandard in design and engineering. By the 1970s and beyond, all GM's products were wholeheartedly touched (cursed) by the new elite GM treasury office management team. These leading players of GM were subsequently followed by the next group to come out of the GM financial treasury office, and so on and so on...eventually leading GM's products all the way to where this company is today at the end of 2008. Essentially, all GM's CEOs of the last 50 years played their own unique part in the largest destruction of wealth in the history of modern business.
Think about it. After GM's greedy finance guys took hold of the power reins, this company began to quickly cut out the ultra-sophisticated Harley Earl roots and traditions of modern auto-making and dismantled the leading edge "engineering art form" Earl invented that was supposed to be "built in" all of GM's products of the future! Right up to current times, Earl's true leadership role and impact on the modern auto industry was entirely hidden, marginalized or just cut out of the storytelling of GM's history by this company's corporate financial crooks who literally spent a fortune of GM's money over the last few decades to cover up and cook the history books on GM's Design Legacy. Erasing the facts on how Earl created the successful business paradigm behind what made GM so victorious (DESIGN) in the first place become hospital routine for GM's incompetent CEO leaders over the last five decades. All Americans are now familiar (in December, 2008) with the corporate shenanigans GM's leaders have been pulling off for decades now. What's the end game? The sagging GM brand will probably go "poof."
Do you think this early '60s Chevy Monza concept car looks shoulders above the Japanese Mazda Miata that stole the small two-seater sports car market in America starting in the late 1980s? We do, and that's why we put this historically important photo up here to demonstration how GM and Detroit's other leading auto companies had everything they needed to never let a foreign auto invasion happen in the first place, but the pathetic managerial flunky "bean counters and traditional old fashioned engineers" disrupted the harmonic order of the American auto business and recklessly steered Detroit's auto empire down the messy road it's been on for decades now.
Ultra-modern truck, bus and an advanced styled 1959 Cadillac design above point to how if Harley Earl had never moved from Hollywood, CA. to Detroit, MI. "to make a difference" the world as we all know it today would be a duller place.
On a historical note, and relating to the new economic climate we are all experiencing on the doorstep of 2009. We, as Americans, need strong metaphors right now to shake us out of our apathetic state. This goes double for the captains of industry who are about to inherit a giant problem in Detroit's auto world. Harley Earl's 'modern' story is the right story for the somber times we now live in because his story will provide a shot of adrenalin into the veins of a dying patient (the American auto industry). For one, his untold story entirely streamlines democracy! If he were somehow currently brought back to witness what has unfolded at GM and Detroit for the last 25 years, the creator of the "Versailles of Industry" -- (websearch this phrase) 50 years ago would most certainly crucify CEO, Rick Wagoner, and quickly act for sweeping modernization and reform to be intelligently injected into the new leadership role of GM. On a brighter note, look for something uniquely wonderful to be reborn and sprout forth in the American auto industry after this long-ragging fire finishes flaming out in 2009.
Finally, what is the World's "Automobile Design" Legacy? For one, every worldwide car designing engineer today can be traced back to this revolutionary individual: Harley J. Earl. Through the language of vision – which knows no boundaries – this online venue will continue introducing exclusive segments on the untold side of Harley Earl's life and work. From a kaleidoscope of images to a vivid storyline, we intend to supply everything imaginable. All of which, will be brought to you in living color and historical black & white photography...along with audio clips and reel footage.