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, "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. This was the most money ever paid for a car at a Barrett-Jackson auction (see U.S. Auto Scene newspaper story at bottom).
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"
First off, I came across the "turkeys into eagles" quote by Harley, in a 1997 interview with my uncle, James M. Earl (Harley's 1st son and HJE's 2nd son was my dad, Jerry), while at his home in Colorado, "Fifty years ago right now, my father had one of Detroit's toughest jobs turning those 3D clay models from turkeys into eagles at GM's first global design department. It was only through his design vision and effort that GM wound up cemented 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 of the 1950s and 60s heyday years when almost every Detroit auto exec knew a thing or two on the amazing business success story standing behind 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 very closely tied to why America's auto industry today is in such hot water."
By 2005, I had gained a reputation with some writers and editors at Detroit area newspapers (both the articles, above and below, boil down on my expertise) for creating fresh new content on a niche focusing on modern auto history going back to the most winningest team at GM 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 I told this history using a long forgotten auto innovator and pioneer, Harley Earl, being the quarterback who led the team. And boy, this team had an incredible ass-kicking reputation of gaining market share and and creating an innumerable slew of other positive things to happen in GM, Detroit and America's auto industry.
As a matter of fact, if there was a Super Bowl prize they handed out every year in Detroit's auto world that was an annual popularity contest and/or auto sales leadership trophy, GM won it every single year, uninterrupted, from the late 1920s throughout the end of the 1960s. It's the most epic business success story of the 20th century and secured the state of Michigan the most millionaires of any other state in the country back in 1963. Talk about a winning dynasty!
Having moved to the Detroit area in 1996 and dedicating several years to researching material on my grandfather's story, I also started becoming known in auto circles as being a new face for telling the legacy and lore behind HJE. People noticed I passionately told the story in an entirely different fashion (on the founder of GM Design) and it was polar opposite how GM had done it over the last three decades of the 20th century leading up to this time. To me, the way GM's leaders fashioned and created their car designs between 1970 and 2000 was closely tied to the narrative of the company's greatest design superstar, Harley Earl. Not only was this corporate vernacular on Harley's story lacking any visceral chord or arc, but this company's leader's during this truly dark period in America's auto industry past/history had entirely shuffled around HJE's accomplishments and milestones and often painted the man's picture in a way that was just downright factually and historically incorrect.
Like so many others, I too understood GM was a big nameless faceless corporation, but when it came to GM Design, that wasn't the case at all. My inquisitive nature ferreted out most all of the significant historical milestones on the founder of GM Design, and it was obvious that the other brother, GM corporate, didn't really want the media and the public to ever recognize Harley Earl being the face behind all of GM's designs. I knew this was a mistake.
I'm sure some of this had to do with how the maverick Harley Earl changed the entire auto world by the time he stepped down from GM in the late fifties and how the industry then, just as it is now, remains simply an, "Automobile Design Manufacturing Industry." To this day, most people don't know anything about this fascinating history, but maybe they ought to since nobody else in auto history created the automobile design profession and all the rules and principles behind it when they never existed before. The only other company today that's knocking it out of the park (and it's the top-most consumer product companies -- outside the auto industry -- on the planet now), is Apple Co; and it's not surprising Steve Jobs took the baton from what Harley J. Earl did at GM half a century ago. [ZDNET.com's entitled article, Harley Earl's Influence on Steve Jobs is spot on.] HJE's underlying business message that he created and did bigger and better inside GM more than any other 20th Century company was simply, "appearance and function are of parallel importance."
So after learning everything humanly possible about the modern auto design industry and all its players I just continued telling the stories, anecdotes and basic history I'd learned all about on the winning cadre of leaders at GM half a century ago. This material sparked new interest and created positive dialogue on one of America's most intoxicatingly elaborate engineering legacies (yes Harley was perhaps GM's greatest engineer, ever, and his first title when he was hired into the company back in 1925 was as a "consulting engineer") and I found the goal, moving forward, very simple; just educate and create new awareness in and outside of America's auto capital on the non-fiction narrative behind the newly rediscovered Car Design Pioneer and how the tale was truly a general interest story.
Many people started finding my personal viewpoint on America’s first family of auto design refreshingly new and inspiring. But instead of my voice creating harmony inside the halls of GM Design, feathers started flying and that's when I noticed a number of high ranking GM executives were getting their guard up. But that particular story is for another time.