'Art and Engineering Background' Key to HJE's Success
Harley was Detroit's first professional "auto" industrial designer targeting the mass market. During Earl's four decade (1920s, 30s, 40s and '50s) long tenure at GM, no other engineers had a blank check to build an endless stream of astronomically expensive experimental custom cars "from the tire treads up" said Harley that among other things, were boldly used to represent the company in the public eye. This is a well documented fact, so why is it so hard for people today to realize Harley Earl was Detroit's top dog engineer before, during and after GM became the world's largest company? Does it perhaps have to do with the fact that legions of other powerful "traditional minded GM engineers"(with no experience in the worlds of art and design) of the era were entirely sidelined, jealous and left out of Earl's new wildly creative body development process, one of the most exciting new areas of auto building, and where the birth of an automobile, during the most pivotal decades of GM's meteoric rise, wound up having an ax to grind, later on, with the vacuum of power Pioneer-Earl and all his "Stylists" gained during this time frame in history?
'56 news article (at right) entitled, Auto Stylists Drive Far Into The Future delves into Pioneer-Earl's creating "the men of the future" in the modern auto industry.
This historical article is a real watershed for contemporary readers, exposing some long forgotten winning expressions from the birth of the modern auto world; such as, Mr. Earl, the corporation's key "man of the future." Remember, this was a time when Detroit was doing great and America's auto industry was sitting on top of the entire world of big business! People across the country wanted to know about the creative heart of the auto business, hence why articles like this were delivered to the masses informing them on, "the Harley Earlities."
Professionals who designed cars back then (1940s to 1960s) were known as "Auto Stylists," and this new profession was hot! Sadly, as the winning performance and stats behind America's auto industry significantly cooled, beginning in the 1970s, the good times for Auto Styling in Detroit were dramatically changing. Afterwards, the profession as a whole transformed and became much more conservative and its top leaders, from the 1980s forward, wished to remove the "Car Stylists" term from the auto world vernacular and recasted these professionals as, "Car Designers" from now on in.
So where does this leave us in today's Auto Design universe? Truth be told, the world's best car designers these days pretty much loath the original Auto Stylist moniker and if a major journalist or top auto exec referred to their auto maker's veep of Design as an "Ace Auto Stylist" it would be akin to an insult or seen as a dismissive sissy term from the past. No doubt the gaffe would create an ensuing bitch-off between the VP of Design and the company's communications/public relations people.
Personally, we hope more women come into Harley's professional arena moving beyond this writing (2014), since their feathers don't easily get ruffled by the Stylist term Harley Earl and others were proud to be called throughout their professional careers.
"Ace Auto Stylist"
For a number of reasons, Harley Earl was proud of this term above to describe him. Not only is he being hailed at the top of his field but he was the responsible head for originating the "Auto Stylist" phrase and having it become a standardized description representing a new breed of professionals entering the modern automobile world. What other great auto pioneer has done this? It seems women car stylists and/or car designers have always respected the term more than their male counterparts.
The Bottom Line
These days, the best way for a car designer (male or female) to reach the very top of the auto world is to be equal parts "artist and engineer." Being original, resisting convention and going on to design millions of uniquely artistic well-engineered cars is key when it comes to ultimately landing in the great pantheon in the sky, a.k.a., automotive heaven.