The Roman philosopher Seneca is credited for saying, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” When Harley Earl attended his first organized road race at Watkins Glen in September 1951, (the very first Watkins Glen Sports Car Grand Prix was in 1948) two things were glaringly obvious to him; First; “sports cars” were not a fad, there was real passion for the unique European cars he saw racing through the streets of Watkins Glen. And second: General Motors needed to build an American sports car – right away!
By 1951 Harley Earl was entering the twilight years of his long career in design and innovation. He was a true living legend. Earl knew everyone who was anyone in the automotive world and then some. He wielded so much power inside General Motors that he had a button on his desk to get a direct call to GM’s president Alfred P. Sloan. Earl was a personal friend of United States Air Force General Curtis LeMay and one day in the early 1950s the general said to him, “Why don’t you make an American sports car?”
The Strategic Air Command general loved sports cars and owned an Allard J2. GM even built LeMay a special Cadillac-powered Willys Jeep. LeMay was also instrumental in helping start the Sports Car Club of America and in 1954 was the recipient of the Woolf Barnato Award, the SCCA’s highest award for club contributors. Barnato won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1928, 1929, and 1930 and he was the only driver to ever win the Le Mans race every time he entered! Continue reading “Corvette’s Founding Fathers, Pt 1 of 6 – Designer Extraordinaire, Harley J. Earl”