It Doesn't Happen Overnight
In the mid-1990s, Richard Earl began soft-pedaling an idea inside America's auto capital: "seeing GM, along with the rest of the American auto industry, turn around and become design and innovation leaders again. The mission is about spreading awareness on a winning team of dynamic leaders at G.M. from the mid-twentieth century era who were, among other things, legendary at gaining market share. What did they do that was so remarkable? They created the greatest company of the 20th Century and as strange as it may seem, the inside track of this storyline never surfaced over the last half century."
Again, the story is about a small cast of characters (key players being Larry P. Fisher, William S. Knudsen, Alfred P. Sloan and HJE) and how these team leaders went on to turn General Motors into an auto giant. We're not trying to saint any one of these players, but we often do use Harley Earl as a metaphor to raise awareness on his team and the positive spirit standing up behind each and every one of these dynamic players. It's critical to share new insight on how this modern business team worked together, for what they achieved goes way beyond some Detroit auto making story in America. Sure it's controversial that the public, the auto journalistic community and especially most of the big execs inside the global auto scene today are unaware of this rather compelling side of the overall story.
This Detroit Free Press cover story, at right, from a May, 1969 rotogravure section (a month after Harley's death) helps frame the story in a new way for obviously it wasn't just "one man" who created "the Modern Car." Also, in the billboard of a Detroit News obituary, "Harley J. Earl Dies: Car Design Pioneer" provides more inspirational evidence on how, back in 1969, there wasn't any controversy for auto industry execs then for the majority of them just understood that "Harley and his team" stood behind this remarkable story. One of the reasons had to do with how everyone who was anyone inside the industry -- 50 years ago -- knew a thing or two how Engineer-Earl, along with his team, were legendary at "doing" big things and not grandstanding and "talking the talk." Also, Ward's AutoWorld did an impressive job in a May, '69 news article exposing Pioneer-Earl and his team's true identity with the magazine cover story titled, Harley J. Earl: The Man Who Invented A New Profession.
How and why this terrific American auto story went on to marginalized, dismissed and basically re-spun another way in the history books, in the decades to follow, opens a kettle of questions. Since he started, Richard has unearthed many answers and is mainly interested in fulfilling a positive based dream centered around the American auto industry, Detroit and General Motors (America's largest auto maker) experiencing a meaningful turnaround and having a, "repeat performance of their past successes that will no doubt create long-term benefits."
A 2002 New York Times article, shown below, reports on a part of Richard's vision, "it doesn't happen overnight" and he's pitching countless newspaper articles, online stories and magazine pieces; some spotlighted here:
• Yahoo Financial News
Emerging victorious from an intense bidding war that ultimately shattered a long-standing single-bid record at the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in Scottsdale, AZ, the Hendricks Car Collection has acquired the keys to a one-of-a-kind "dream" car -- the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 concept car. On Saturday, January 29, 2005, this rarest of rare cars sold for an amazing $3 million.
It is our Mona Lisa, stated John S. Hendricks (founder of the Discovery Channel), new owner of the car and the museum's creator. This GM dream car uniquely embodies the revolutionary design spirit of the legendary Harley Earl, the 'da Vinci' of Detroit. The 1954 Olds F-88 concept vehicle is, I believe, America's finest example of rolling art to emerge from the post-war era, said Hendricks.
• The New York Times
"I always believed Harley Earl could be brought back so the American public could finally embrace this one-of-a-kind Renaissance man," said Mr. Earl's grandson, Richard Earl, who consulted with Buick and is working on a biography of his grandfather. Asked if Harley Earl would have liked the modern Buicks in the commercials, the younger Mr. Earl said he thought G.M. could recapture its past verve. But, he said, "it doesn't happen overnight."
David Lewis, a professor of business history at the University of Michigan, said "Before Mr. Earl came from Hollywood, there was more to the industry than Model T's, but any artful design was done by outside consultants. "He introduced formalized styling into the automobile industry," Mr. Lewis said. "He came in from the West Coast and brought in California styling. His cars were very attractive and a breath of fresh air insofar as Detroit is concerned.”
• The Detroit News
Earl still casts the longest shadow in the auto design field. He’s by far the greatest figure in the industry, the giant among giants, super ego among sizable egos, larger than life, legendary.
Hollywood director Tony Scott, known for such movies as “Top Gun” and “Crimson Tide,” directed the five new Buick television spots in a campaign called “The Spirit of American Style.” The GM division has made some inroads in capturing a younger market. Golfer Tiger Woods appears in the new GM ads to be shown on the season debut of “Survivor” and the Emmys.
• The Boston Globe
When the ads appeared, most Americans doubtlessly asked, "Who's this Harley Earl guy?" All showing the influence of a man who some argue was the most important figure ever to emerge from Detroit. He took us from the mass-produced boxes of Henry Ford to the low-slung, long-wheelbase cars that endure to this day. GM wants to dismiss Harley Earl as just a designer...he was also an engineer.
• Detroit Free Press
"I can't tell you how many phone calls I get asking who Harley Earl was," said Jeff Taylor, curator of collections at the Alfred P. Sloan Museum, which includes the Buick Gallery. "I tell them he's the guy who began the art of car design."
• U.S. Auto Scene
Recent independent research on the campaign is positive, Buick officials said, and plans are to continue to use him “as a metaphor for the inspiration that drives Buick design” and “to create an emotional connection between consumers and the brand."
People of the world see the art he created every day and don’t know it. You don’t know the name Harley Earl, for instance, but you know the Corvette. He always wanted the object of beauty to get the credit.
• The Oakland Press
Harley was a contemporary artist. He created art in moving metal, he created rolling sculptures and today many of his artworks are what people are lusting after at auto shows and cruises," his grandson said. "He was the da Vinci of Detroit, and the Corvette was one of his masterpieces. He was really the first million-seller artist."
• Palm Beach Post
On TV, Harley Earl is a ghost, peddling Buicks with Tiger Woods. But in real life, the Palm Beacher and 'da Vinci of Detroit' was the brains behind some of America's greatest cars.
• Daily Tribune
The world as we know it would be a duller place if Harley Earl never moved to Detroit. The auto world was black and white until he left Hollywood and colorized it.
• Monterey County Weekly
Along the way, according to Clyde Hensley, product expert at GM’s media archives in Detroit, “he single-handedly designed 50 million GM products.” In automotive circles, he’s known as “da Vinci of Detroit.” Hensley gives Earl a nod over one of history’s most celebrated artists when speaking of the recent auction of Earl’s F-88—one of his original concept cars, which Earl called “dream cars”—sold for a record $3 million in Arizona last January.“ They pay much more than that for a Picasso and you don’t know what it is,” Hensley says. “I can’t understand that. The F-88 was a one-of-a-kind rolling piece of sculpture, of American history. I don’t see how you can put a price tag on it. It’s priceless.”
Every effort was aimed to shed new light on the quarterback and other leading business players responsible for creating the long-term success of the greatest company of the 20th Century: General Motors. Richard says, "the leadership rules and principles originally used by GM's forefather's can be re-spun in order to get GM to quickly turn around and become highly competitive again! This iconic company has the greatest winning history of any American car company and needs to use this ace-in-the-hole now."
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