by Scott Teeters a written for Vette Vues
Timeline Tales: December 1, 1958 – V.P. of Design and Styling, Harley Earl retires from GM. Bill Mitchell becomes General Motors’ new chief stylist.
Dateline December 2015: This was more than just a changing of the guard; it was then end on one era and the beginning of another. Each era, in their own right, was distinct, unique, and beautiful. Harley Earl is acknowledged as the father of automotive styling, the annual model styling change, and the GM Motorama.
Earl went to work for GM in 1927 as head of the “Art and Color Section” and started his career with the 1927 LaSalle. Ten years later the department was renamed, “Styling Section.” All GM cars got the Earl treatment, but his most high-profile cars were the 1939 Buick Y-Job and the 1953 Corvette. He also defined the 1950s “Fins Era” with his approval of Frank Hershey’s design for the 1948 Cadillac that had the P-38 Lightning-inspired tailfin design. Before we knew it, every auto showroom in America had cars with fins.
Bill Mitchell was recruited by Harley Earl and started at GM in 1935. Mitchell was there beside Earl through the glory years. In 1936 Earl made Mitchell, Chief Designer of the new Cadillac Design Studio. By 1954 Mitchell was Director of Styling. Although both men worked together for many years, Mitchell’s design sense was very different from Earl’s. Once in control, Mitchell broke away from Earl’s heave use of chrome and fins. His “design model” was, “A car should look like a freshly pressed suit, with sharp, crisp lines.” No doubt this came from Mitchell’s snappy style of dressing. The man loved, and looked great in a flashy suit. Mitchell started with the Stingray Racer and went on with the Sting Ray, the Mako Sharks, the Riviera, and more.
Great Bill Mitchell quotes: “I got gasoline in my veins!” and “I’m the only one that designs Corvettes around here!”