Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 113th Birthday to GM’s First VP of Design, Harley Earl

Dateline: 11.22.11

It was Harley Earl that decided that General Motors needed to make a sports car.

Harley Earl is arguably the greatest designer in American automobile history. And not just because of the Corvette. Some of Earl’s classic designs include the Buick Y-Job, the 1928 LaSalle Phantom, the Firebird Series, the Cadillac Cyclone, and others. He was also credited for inventing concepts that are today, simply taken for granted. From the website,, here’s a list of 13 concepts that Harley Earl invented:

1. Founder of the Automobile Design Profession in America

2. Inventor of the Concept car, also know as the Dream Car

3. The introduction of the Annual Styling Model Change

4. The Father of Modern Design Change in Mass production

5. The Dean of America’s Auto Design Protégés

6. The Motorama Show (where the Corvette had it’s first outing)

7. First to introduce the concept of clad modeling to Detroit

8. The Father of the Corvette

9. Opened “Harley Earl Corporation” outside of General Motors in 1945

10. Father of the Modern Car & Creator of America’s Small Car Trend

11. Harley Earl was a Giant “Advocate of Women’s Rights in the Auto Industry”

12. Invented the “Graphic Engineering” profession

13. First to introduce “Color Revolution” to Detroit’s auto world

I’m sure that the above list of 13 accomplishments should be considered a “starter list.” For fans of the olden days of automobile design, this site is a delight… Without a doubt, Harley Earl cast an enormous shadow upon General Motors.

A close second was Earl’s successor, Bill Mitchell. When Mitchell resigned in 1977, GM’s top management decided that NEVER AGAIN would “Design” have as much power as Mitchell and Earl wielded. When Mitchell left, the “focus group” model took over.

Years after retirement, Mitchell pointed out in an interview that architect Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t knock on doors and ask average people, “What do you think a house should look like?” I’m sure that Harley Earl felt the same. Mitchell may have learned that from Earl!

Harley Earl died on April 10, 1969 at the age of 75 from a stroke. Earl once said, “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.: Scott

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Five years after Earl retired from GM in 1958, he was given this customized '63 Fuelie Corvette Roadster. Those are some WILD side-pipes!

PS – When the Corvette concept car was shown at the 1953 Motorama, Harley Earl was called “The Da Vinci of Detroit.”

Corvette Timeline Tales: July 3, 1952 – Chevrolet Management Approves Harley Earl’s Fiberglass Sports Car Project

Harley Earl’s 1951 Buick LeSabre Concept.

Harley Earl’s 1959 Cadillac Cyclone, his last concept car.

Harley Earl’s Wikipedia page.


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