NATIONAL DESIGN TREASURES
When it comes to revealing the artistic provenance behind motoramic masterpieces designed by H.J. Earl, Richard has been doing it for years. Part of his job is to make sure all sorts of people (especially the owners and potential buyers of these rare vehicles) have a better understanding and deeper appreciation behind their true value.
For example, right before the Jan., 29, 2005 Barrett-Jackson auction began for the '54 Olds F-88, Richard shared his newly discovered scholarly evidence and/or historic provenance with the audience saying, among other things, "this golden beauty of a GM concept car is a national design treasure." After a fierce 5-minute bidding war, the gavel hammered down at $3,000,000 million plus an 8% commission. At the time, this was the most money ever paid for a car at a Barrett-Jackson auction (see U.S. Auto Scene article further down).
A year later in Scottsdale at B-J 2006, Richard spoke to the auction audience about two more rare vehicles by GM Styling — and people were very receptive to rediscover the potent provenance behind the '54 Bonneville Special concept car which went on to sell for $2.8 million dollars. Then, moments later, a GM Futurliner went up for grabs and Richard once again delivered more unreported heritage and lore on this iconic American Original designed by HJE. (For decades, General Motors hadn’t come close to telling the full story — about the artistic provenance of Harley Earl — relating to some of the company’s most historically important vehicles.) The combined total of the Bonneville Special and Futurliner was a whopping $6.8 million dollars; then add the selling price of the Oldsmobile F-88 from a year earlier and the figure exceeds $10 million dollars! A Jalopnik article titled, GM's Futurliner Brings in Record-setting $4.5 Million at Barrett-Jackson provided this spot on viewpoint:
"The 1950 GM Futurliner just set three records with a $4.5 million sale. It set records for biggest sale at Barrett-Jackson, biggest sale for a GM vehicle at auction, and biggest sale for an American-made car at auction. Plus, biggest sale for a damn bus."
In the July, 2014 Wired magazine reported how this very same Futurliner (of the 12 originally built, only 9 remain) will once again go up for auction in Jan., 2015 at Barrett-Jackson; here's a great quote from the article:
"The Futurliner was designed by Harley Earl, one of the shining minds of the United States’ greatest design eras."
HJE's QUOTE ON TURNING "TURKEYS INTO EAGLES"
In 1997, I first heard the "turkeys into eagles" quote while interviewing my uncle, James M. Earl (Harley's 1st son born in 1927), at his home in Colorado, "Fifty years ago right now, my father had one of Detroit's toughest jobs turning those three dimensional clay models from turkeys into eagles at GM's first global design department. Harley’s design vision and efforts played a large part helping cement GM near a 50 percent market share level for decades of time. This used to be a widely known fact at GM and throughout America's auto world during the 1950s and 60s heyday years and almost every Detroit auto exec knew a thing or two on the business success story surrounding America's Car Design Pioneer Harley Earl. The opposite holds true now (1997), and since so many of these auto execs in GM and Detroit lost this important part of their history, it's no doubt closely tied to why America's auto industry is in such hot water."
By 2005, I had gained a reputation at some of the Detroit area newspapers (both articles, above and below, show some of the things I’d learned) for creating fresh new content on a niche focusing on modern auto history going back to the winningest team at GM that was during the mid-twentieth century years. These car guys were legendary! This was when Design was the sword of power fueling a meteoric rise in America's auto world and GM’s Styling Section team had a fantastic reputation.
As a matter of fact, if there was a Super Bowl prize they handed out every year in Detroit's auto world, that was say for an annual popularity contest and/or auto sales leadership trophy, GM won it every year, uninterrupted, from the late 1920s through the end of the 1960s. It's one of the most epic success stories of the 20th century — it was a true dynasty of the business world — and played no small part securing the state of Michigan the most amount of millionaires, over any other state in the country back in 1963.
Having moved to Metro Detroit in 1996, I went on to research material on my grandfather's story and became known in auto circles for being the walking-talking Harley Earl spokesperson. Leading into the new century, I gathered up countless anecdotes and lore to strengthen this overall story. People in and around Detroit’s auto world started noticing my auto passion and story telling ability. This was a time when GM’s corporate vernacular on Harley's design story (from the 1970s leading up to the end of 1999) lacked a visceral chord or consistent narrative arc that tied him to founding GM Design and also creating the car design profession when it had never existed before. I’d tell people, “one of Detroit’s greatest ‘art’ stories around all its modern motoramic masterpieces is missing its central identity and/or most dynamic artistic provenance.” It’s like Detroit’s auto world, by 1999, was not aware of how, Harley Earl was America’s car design pioneer.
So, I decided to do something about it and increase awareness on America’s first family of car design and the indomitable dream team of GM’s mid-twentieth century leading execs. Many people found my viewpoints refreshing.