Timeline of America's Car Design Legacy
Part I. California Years – Son of a 19th Century Coachbuilder (1886 - 1927)
"Harley grew up fast and tall in Hollywood at a time when the hometown economy was shifting from citrus to cinema. Earl learned showmanship and flair from the best in the business." Auto Writer, Michael Lamm
1886: The price of a train ticket between Kansas City and Los Angeles falls to one dollar, prompting LA's first population boom. Rather than making the long hard trip by prairie schooners (horse-drawn wagons) train travel all the way "out West" on the rails becomes the fastest and safest way for the masses to make the move.
1889: Jacob William (J.W.) Earl founded a small carriage and blacksmith shop between Ninth St. and Los Angeles Streets in the city's center, the Earl Carriage Works. He was twenty three years old and his shop gained a reputation building and repairing horse drawn carriages of all types. The population of Los Angeles is just under 50,000.
1891: On June 20th, J.W. marries Abbi L. Taft the daughter of two prominent Angelenos, Harley Taft and Mary Eleanor Hazard. The Tafts, for their part, founded Hollywood's prestigious 12-story Taft Building at Hollywood and Vine that's still standing today. Henry Hazard served as LA's mayor from 1889 to '93 and the Hazard Pavilion was built in 1887 and located downtown at the intersection of Fifth and Olive Streets; it was LA's largest auditorium.
1892: J.W. and Abbie have their first son, Carl Everett. Harley would follow a year later and Arthur, Jessie and William are born between 1896 and 1908. All the Earl children would attend local California public schools, starting at the Grant School on Wilton, just south of Hollywood Blvd., and then go onto Hollywood High School.
1892: Edward Doheny discovers oil at “Greasy Gulch,“ near Westlake Park. Soon oil is discovered all over the Los Angeles area. Doheny's story is the inspiration for the 2007 film, There Will Be Blood staring Daniel Day-Lewis.
1893: Harley J. Earl was born November 22nd in the Earl's home in Hollywood and his namesake was his maternal grandfather, Harley Taft of Burrillville, Rhode Island.
1894: As J.W.'s carriage business improves, he moves the shop several times, finally ending up at 1320 South Main Street and Pico St. in downtown LA.
1895: At the time, Hollywood consists of a few dozen families, most of them Mexican-American who dry-farm barley, who'd begun to plant strawberries and grow some citrus trees. The Electric-car line from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena is constructed.
1896: Don Lee is finishing up school in Chicago and graduates a year later from the Northwestern Military Institute. After a short stint in Detroit, Don Lee moves out West to launch a new career in automobile sales.
1897: The first automobile takes to the streets of LA. Five hundred oil wells are operating within Los Angeles. California is the third-largest oil-producing state in America.
1899: After moving to Detroit, Harley recalls his boyhood memories in Hollywood to a newspaper reporter who writes that Earl is a, "General Motors Style Tycoon." Harley then reveals, "Laurel Canyon was a sportsman's paradise, offering excellent hunting for the nimrod–quail, dove, cottontail, and jack rabbits were abundant."
1900: On July 4th, 1900, the Earls move into a brand new house that J.W. and Abbi built for the family. It stood on a five-acre plot in the village of Hollywood, CA. on what is now the northeast corner of Bronson and Hollywood Blvd. The Auto Club, a.k.a. (AAA) is founded in Los Angeles and 3-years later sponsors its first auto race. LA's population: 102,479, which ranks it 36th in the nation.
1901: Henry Huntington establishes the Pacific Electric Railway (PE) and takes over the Los Angeles–Pasadena interurban line.
1902: Business continues to improve at J.W.’s carriage shop and he also specializes in the design and construction of fine racing sulkies.
1903: Henry Ford incorporates the Ford Motor Co. and introduces the Model A, a small, two-cylinder car with an eight-horsepower engine to sell for $850. After school, Carl and Harley start doing odd jobs at dad's plant downtown on Auto Row. If the boys aren't there, they likely can be found messing around at the beach around the Santa Monica pier.
1904: Every summer, like a lot of families, the Earl family packed up to get out of hot LA and vacation in the cool mountains at Bailey’s Ranch. The Earls went north of Los Angeles in the Tehachapi mountains between the San Fernando Valley and Bakersfield. This came to be after Mr. Bailey began buying wagons from Earl's shop in 1894 and then invited J.W. to come up to the ranch for some deer hunting where they became fast friends. After that J.W. couldn't imagine a better place to spend the family vacation and from 1896 to 1914, eighteen years in a row, the Earls spent part of their summers at Bailey's Ranch.
1905: Don Lee sees that cars are a growth investment and capitalizes on sky-rocketing demand. Lee becomes the Cadillac dealer in LA. As a distributor, his new territory is all of Southern California and his first Cadillac ad announcement was in the LA Times on December 24, 1905.
1906: Sniffing the winds of change, Angelenos were now crazy about automobiles, J.W. changes his company's name to the Earl Automobile Works (EAW).
1907: Harley and his older brother, Carl, spearhead a dangerous new local boy's sport (born in Hollywood), called, Coasting. The small hand-made box carts have no motorization or formalized braking other than the leather on the bottom of boy's boots. HJE becomes a leader of the pack creating fast streamlined one-passenger vehicles that are often better constructed, and safer, than other custom rigs quickly thrown together to just roll down hills on all the curvy steep roadways spilling into Hollywood. Regardless of the dangers, word spreads fast among boys living in SoCal how much fun Coasting can be zooming down all the legendary hilly roadways (especially around Hollywood…which roads are better than other communities) in the vast metropolitan area surrounding LA. Like his dad, Harley has gasoline in his veins. His brothers, not so much.
1908: Fred and Charles Fisher establish the Fisher Body Co. in Detroit and a short time later their five younger brothers (William, Lawrence, Edward, Alfred and Howard) move up to Detroit from the family's Norwalk, Ohio coach-building operation and home. Lead by William Durant, Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Oakland (later renamed Pontiac) are merged into a single corporation, General Motors. Ford introduces the Model T and it costs under $300 and comes in one color: black.
1909: (A pivotal moment in American Auto history formed in the clay at Bailey's Ranch) The son of a 19th century coach builder, Harley and his younger brother Art happen onto a big hallow of clay next to a stream on the property. Art said the following in a 1980 interview, "Harley and I made saws (saw horses) out of wood and we went over to the clay and Harley started designing cars out of clay way back then, clay that he took out of the ground. He'd pick up a big chunk of clay and would work it down to the sort of car he wanted. I guess we had twenty or thirty of these little cars of different shapes; roadsters, and touring cars. And, we had a lot of fun." As J.W. later said after seeing Harley's climaxes-in-clay, "these models, some were damn near full-size, were not like cars of the day, but as they might be later in the future. It was really kind of eerie seeing all these rounded off car bodies in a period when automobiles were mainly just boxes on wheels." The occasion marks the beginning of a lifelong adventure for Harley Earl; he was the first artist-engineer to use plasticine for the creation of his full-size automobile designs.
1911: HJE graduates from Hollywood High School (HHS) and goes on to USC in 1912. In his last year of HHS, he begins dating classmate Sue Carpenter who he'd later marry six years later. Harley's remembered as a good student and an enthusiastic athlete. While going on to USC he became something of a local track star, setting a pole vaulting record and tossing a mis-thrown hammer into the grandstands and almost causing a riot. His coach advises him to give up pole vaulting when the bamboo kept breaking under the fast growing youth's weight. Even so, a 6 ft, 6 in. lean Harley stayed active in rugby and basketball and as well as being a horseman and a hunter.
1912: J. W. Earl starts to make and market the first custom bodies and accessories for automobiles at his downtown plant, inventing the bling-bling after-market in the process. The area around the Earl Auto Works and Don Lee Cadillac, both on South Main and Pico Street in downtown Los Angeles, are ground zero of what has become well known as “Auto Row” and this area goes on to shape SoCal’s massive movement in the transportation world.
1912: Young Harley goes to USC and a year later attends Leland Stanford University where he plays breakaway on the rugby team. HJE joins Phi Delta Theta and takes art classes and studies engineering. At college, all he can dream about is building cars…his way!
1915: In a relatively short time, Don Lee has become the West Coast's largest luxury car dealer and is serendipitous located right across the street from the Earl Auto Works. The LA basin along with many area businesses are booming. Earl family members are interfacing daily with the first families of Hollywood's new picture industry that’s just beginning to take on color as an international art center and would quickly become the capital of a worldwide industry. At the time, Paramont was housed in a barn, south of Hollywood Blvd., on one of the ranches of Hollywood. The first fossils are excavated from the La Brea Tar Pits.
1916: The EAW is largest auto plant on the West Coast, employing 300 and 500 people. Jacob W.'s company doesn't make production automobiles but specializes in custom jobs and is first to establish transportation contracts with the principle heads of the fast growing movie studios popping up in Hollywood, which had been practically the Earl's back yard for the last 25-plus years. Los Angeles love affair with the automobile is in overdrive and road expansion is fervent.
1917: Harley has become a highly sought after new kind of artist. An all-new medium, his works of art – custom cars – command record prices. HJE marries his Hollywood High School sweetheart, Sue Carpenter.
1918: Artist-engineer-Earl designs custom cars for two of Hollywood's greatest silent movie stars, Tom Mix who's Tinseltown's first giant "western movie star" and comedian, Rosco (Fatty) Arbuckle. Wanting to outdo friends in his Hollywood circle, funnyman Arbuckle orders the most outrageous custom luxury creation from Earl costing $28,000. It's perhaps the most over-the-top celebrity car ever made, and, set a new record high price ever paid for an automobile! The Second Street tunnel, which will become an iconic element in movies and car commercials, opens under Bunker Hill in downtown LA.
1919: LA TIMES reports "Don Lee passed the 10,000 mark for Cadillac cars he has sold in California since he became Cadillac dealer fourteen years ago." An enviable record, Lee goes on to buy out his biggest competitor and cross the street rival of Auto Row, J.W.'s Earl Auto Works. Insiders know it's a ploy by Lee to hire Harley who has an amazing black book of clients he has designed for Tinseltown elite and millionaires far and wide. On July 19th of this year the LA Times reports the full story on Don Lee buying the Earl Automobile Works to get his hands on Designer-HJE. Over the next 5-years, Don Lee and Harley Earl produce well over a 1000 custom cars for Hollywood's elite and the globe trotting rich and famous. From a taped interview from 1953 Harley says, "during these years Lee and I were building between 200-300 custom bodies a year, it was a highly profitable affair." During which, HJE was building an incredible resume so he could move to Motordom and design cars for the masses. Recently remarried, J.W. Earl goes into other business ventures and is in semi-retirement. go into a lucrative business venture together designing one-of-a-kind custom bodied cars for the rich and famous
1920: Harley files a couple of U.S. patents and his new color & design techniques, for automobiles, lands him in the newspapers.
1921: Southern California is billed in the media as, "the World's Ideal Playground." The car culture that emerged here had a profound impact on American culture as other cities began to develop along similar lines, with the automobile at the center of regional planning, and the oil industry essential for that growth. Los Angeles had the oil and the cars at the start of the 20th century, a combination that we are still paying for. When you look at suburban sprawl throughout the United States, Southern California in the 1920's created the template.
1922: After playing golf with Alfred Fisher on the links of his and Harley's favorite golf club (HJE's a member of the exclusive Los Angeles Country Club in Beverly Hills) these two men, with similar backgrounds of having fathers that were 19th Century coach builders, start a long friendship and prosperous business relationship.
1923: After explaining what's wrong in Detroit's auto world (Henry Ford doesn't have a clear vision anymore on the future of the auto world) Harley begins soft pedaling/pitching two of the Fisher Body brothers, Alfred and Lawrence P. (LP) on his dream and/or vision for the mass auto world: "the cars I design for movie stars and millionaires, I can have coming off of all of GM's assembly lines in volume production in the future."
1924: Harley's aim is to move to Detroit and start designing for the masses and is leading up to making the principal shareholders and leaders of GM an offer they can't refuse. An auto journalist writes about Harley saying, “Earl started streamlining before the word was invented.” Harley begins consulting directly to L.P. Fisher of Cadillac Motor Co. part of the General Motors Co. and Earl is brought into the loop of exploring and submitting new concepts for a new car line to be the "companion car" of Cadillac.
1925: Harley is hired by Cadillac Motor Co. as a "consulting engineer" and Designer-Earl goes right to work pitching his dream to the largest shareholding family of GM stock (the Fisher Brothers) on a game-changing idea, "the one-of-a-kind custom cars I create for Hollywood movie stars and millionaires, I can have coming off all GM's assembly lines in the future." Keeping it close to his vest, HJE has no interest in working with Henry Ford or Walter Chrysler.
1926: It is no coincidence Harley knew all the members of the fledgling Academy of Motion Pictures since most of them drove one-of-a-kind custom bodies designed by HJE. At this time, Harley dives deeper into pitching a major design concept-proposal to GM's largest shareholders that also uses a historical swordsman figure not too much different than the figure used for the Academy's Oscar statuette figure. HJE's central character is of a new car design for the Cadillac Motor Car Co. using the sword wielding conqueror Cavelier De La Salle who was a legendary French adventurer, who over time, became iconic figure in American history.
1926: Fisher Body family members sell the remaining 18 percent of Fisher Body stock to GM for $208, 000,000 dollars.
Part II. Motordom – General Motors Hitches a Ride on Harley Earl's Dream (1927 - 1969)
1927: The LaSalle, designed by Harley Earl as a companion car to the Cadillac, sets a trend toward wider, more aerodynamic cars. From this moment onward, Earl is recognized by the leaders of GM (and it's greatest cross town rival, Ford Motor Co.) as the American auto industry's first professional "industrial designer." Basically, GM begins hitching a ride on a West coast Style Tycoon's vision of the auto world's future. For the next 32 years (except during the War years) Harley would attend the Paris auto show.
1929: The pregnant Buick
1929: Harley's first to create excitement for forward design work of GM's products. In other words, Earl's selling a new ideology, "appearance and function are of parallel importance." HJE and team invent an espionage game encircling GM's all-new body development system. The new game in town is all about "Car Design Secrecy" and GM's main competitors go to extreme lengths seeking out and/or photographing Harley's forward car designs of all GM's auto bodies. Consequently, "Forward Design" is a new byproduct of the complex game of the modern art of auto making. Earl introduces a whole new glossary of auto design terms (invented at his West coast auto plant) that many auto engineers in Detroit are unfamiliar with and don't even yet comprehend. This goes hand-in-hand with all the delicious pressure Earl's new Art & Colour Section is creating inside GM and Detroit's conventional auto world. In other words, many of the old fashioned engineers don't have any idea of the value behind pre-designing technology Earl's introducing within GM. HJE and GM's other leaders (mainly the largest shareholding family of GM, the Fishers) decide this is a good thing and keep this new trade secret information, developing in Earl's studios, close to the vest. So, soft-pedaling the notion becomes hospital routine for GM's top leaders.
1930: HJE and Larry Fisher are thick as thieves leading up to the introduction of their super car creation, the 1930 Cadillac V-16. GM shocked the industry offering the first production car with a sixteen-cylinder engine. Developed in secrecy, it set a new standard for performance, and luxury. The Cadillac V-16 starts a standard of excellence in all GM brands and the company's market share reflects it, going north of 40% moving into the late 1930s.
GM launch of the Cadillac V-16 would provide the leadership direction for all GM's car designs of the future. Naturally, HJE took great pleasure knowing he had the only U.S. design patent in existence for the original V-16 Cadillac.
1930: The Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild (FBCG) is formed to cultivate young design talent in America. Following quote from the FBCG Fact Book of 1958 says it all: The response to the FBCG Napoleonic coach competition clearly demonstrates that it was not merely a contest, but rather the beginning of a movement. One newspaper summed up the Guild by saying, "The story of of the Guild hit the newspapers like a scandal." The first year, 1930, 145,000 boys enrolled in this competition. If money talked, Fisher and the Guild spoke with authority, as the first annual competition dispensed over $50,000 in awards. (Read Harley's reaction later in the timeline, 1968, when this art & engineering movement is disbanded by the regime of leaders following in his wake.)
1931: Battista Pininfarina custom builds a unique model as a spider version of a V16 Cadillac for the Maharajah of Orccha. This is the first contact between the European car body maker and Harley Earl. General Motors means the United States, and Pinin has had his eye on the New World automobile companies. For him they represent the future of the industry. Pinin Farina begins to win international fame for his car bodies. By this time, Harley Earl and Pininfarina are two tradition-swathed names in the motoring world. Each is a byword for cutting-edge design, style, and innovation.
1932: The Art Center College of Design, originally located in Los Angeles, starts its first course in industrial design, headed by Kem Weber.
1932: What's going on behind-the-scenes inside GM's hybrid design department? It's a secret new engineering world fusing art, engineering and technology. Harley was an all-new kind of car architect and he and his team were the only division of GM that could design one-of-a-kind custom models for high profile individuals. The practice of doing so used the technology HJE had brought with him from California. Of course GM's vast resources allowed him to expand on the theme and turn out "one-offs" even faster. During his entire career at GM, Mr. Earl and his team created customized cars for special individuals. All along the way, HJE's same techniques came into play designing cars for the most special people of all (especially in this man's eyes): the general American public.
1932: Ford introduces a new coupe and roadster model known as the Deuce. It was the first model to provide greater torsional rigidity, meaning the frame was not only tighter but could handle more load and stress. 1932 was also the year of Ford’s first production V-8, which sets the standard for big engines to this day.
1935: Like so many others who would go on to become acclaimed "auto designers," Gordon Buehrig was an early hire into GM's new Art & Colour section in 1927 and a year later jumped ship going to Stutz, only to come back to A&C where he worked again from 1933 to '34 inside Harley's brand new GM design headquarters. It was only through this relationship that Buehrig was able to learn all about the "state-of-the-art" clay modeling auto design technology (pretty much everything demonstrated within this Cord Corporation promo film). E.L. Cord and his brand new head designer, Buehrig, leveraged the new technology in this film as a sales and marketing tool of the company's new "810 Cord." For the first decade it was in play, GM's top leaders kept silent on all the innovative technology hatching inside Harley's new hybrid engineering dept. Buehrig's early resume at: coachbuilt.com/buehrig
1936: Cadillac introduces the Series Sixty, ushering in a new class of high-end American automobiles. First song lyrics about the brand appear soon after.
1938: Harley developed the Buick Y Job to display the latest developments in engineering and styling. It was the first concept car.
1938: Buick makes HJE's turn signals innovation available for the first time.
1940: L.A.’s population tops 1.5 million. The first freeway, the Arroyo Seco Parkway, later renamed the Pasadena Freeway, opens. The first traffic jam occurs moments later.
1941: Harley's outfit is outgrowing his facility inside the 3 floors of the Argonaut Bldg. at the GM Bldg. in downtown Detroit and company's leaders start long range planning on building an all-new facility (halted by the War) centered around GM's new design and engineering department. Eventually, in 1956, the GM Technical Center on outskirts of Detroit would be completed.
1941: World War II mothballs civilian car and truck production in both Southern California (largest condensed car market in the world) and around the rest of the country. Harley Earl's transportation design department, the largest of its kind in the world, is simply known as GM Styling, but this was where GM's most valuable trade secrets were hatching. Since its conception in 1927, top leaders had created a fortress around Earl's department because this was the heart of where GM's advanced engineering (rapid prototyping) and design obsolescence technology was happening. Of course all of GM's leaders downplayed Earl's beauty parlor or styling section, for this was the original intention Larry Fisher stood right behind Harley's, "secrecy is a necessary part of the process" declaration. GM Styling's rapid new car designs played no small part in the market share explosion and fast growth of GM from 1927 to 1941. Harley invented "design obsolescence" and/or birthing all GM's car and truck designs (not to mention its trains) and this is naturally why General Motors became dependent on his design technology. After joining the company, HJE evolved into GM's head engineer during the '30s and he was first to create a new "pre-engineering" building block to the auto making equation. GM Styling's new technology centered around revolutionary math-based full-size models that all of GM's major rivals, leading up to WW II, were still struggling to unlock and figure out. Auto-Innovator Earl was behind how GM became "so much faster" at taking a car from the idea stage to reality than the competition. Bottom line: since 1927 Harley Earl was GM's key "so much faster" guy and "Auto Design" was the differentiator giving the General first mover advantage (FMA) and that's why this company quickly toppled Ford Motor Co.'s firm grip on the No. 1 position in the auto world. Auto Design technology started a revolution of change and modernity inside General Motors and dramatically quickened the pace of progress of all its product designs of the transportation world.
1942: Detroit is well on it's way to becoming known as the Arsenal of Democracy. Auto industry insiders, especially GM's principal leaders, call it something else entirely, the "Arsenal of Design" and intimately know that Harley Earl sparked a technological revolution that changed warfare forever. Directly after America enters the war in the forth quarter of '41, GM's top brass decide to aim their advanced engineering department in a new direction and let the cat out of the bag on the new profession Engineer-Earl and the Fishers had launched inside the company. HJE and GM's top most leaders tip their new technology hand to a select group of U.S. military generals and top Washington officials explaining how America's new production heart -- Detroit -- actually has an edge over how its enemies build their war time products. By special invitation only, a full demonstration is presented to these military and govt. leaders within GM's Styling auditorium on the 10th floor of the Argonaut Bldg. (behind GM's massive headquarters bldg.) in downtown Detroit. The intention is to show how America's largest company can and will dramatically increase the pace of progress when it comes to making the nation's war time transportation products, cars, trucks, trains, planes, military transports, etc... "Design obsolescence" is the new building code creating a sea change in the sophisticated new world of product design technology.
1943: "When Hitler hitched his chariot to an internal combustion engine, he ran it straight down our alley," said Lt. Geral Brehon Sommervell. The quote is part of the elaborate GM battle cry and is also published inside a detailed brochure entitled, "Air Power" by GM that remained classified until the last days of the war.
1943: First year Harley begins grooming women stylists to zoom up the ladder at GM Styling. Later on, in the 1950s, HJE scores a huge hit in the national media with his all-female Designing Women team; here's the term most newspaper articles pen, The Damsels of Design.
1947: GM opens the Van Nuys Assembly Plant, building such seminal Chevrolets as the Camaro and the El Camino until it closes some 40 years later.
1948: Hot Rod magazine launches its first issue. The very first Porsche, the 356/1, is introduced, paving the way for the first auto-related midlife crisis.
1949: GM Styling's Strother MacMinn begins teaching car design and heads new transportation design dept. at Art Center School in Hollywood, Ca. Hot rodders hold their first Speedweek at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
1950: In the two decades leading up to the mid-twentieth century year, Harley's auto design technology proves to be the ultimate game changer raising the bar in auto making. GM, Detroit and America's auto industry are heralded as the crown jewels of the business world. The state of Michigan is the nation's technology leader, and, has more millionaires than any other state in the country.
1951: Charles Chayne, head of GM Engineering at the time, begs Harley to let him build a concept car all his own. Harley tells him, "no problem Charles, go ahead and build one inside your own division." Chayne tries and is totally stymied since he has never built a car from scratch, let alone a "GM concept car." Chayne tries and fails miserably creating an ungodly looking mess of a thing barely resembling a modern car so he comes back to HJE and asks if he can borrow one of his top designers and Harley says, "Sure" and sends over one of Harley's top Styling Section leaders Ned Nickles who goes on to help the XP300 design get started. The state of California creates the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
1953: Harley Earl’s "dream car," the fiberglass-bodied Corvette, debuts at the 1953 Motorama exhibit. Three hundred were made, of which 255 survive. The base price was $3,498. For promotion and publicity purposes, Harley freely gives many of the new small cars to famous celebrities.
1954: All auto makers begin to adapt to making concept cars following Engineer-Earl's rigid original standards used within GM Styling to first build these special kind of vehicles. GM's main competitors, Ford and Chrysler, conduct pirating raids to try and hire away any of GM Styling's seasoned auto designers, but often the best designers stay in GM and the weaker ones jump ship. Industry reporters also refer to auto stylists of GM as the "Harley Earlites" and this is a time when another phrase is being commonly bantered about in the auto industry, "Our Father Who Art in Styling, Harley Earl Be Thy Name." Traditional minded auto engineers loath Auto Stylist-Earl and his new gang, but can only reminisce back to the good old days when men like Henry Ford ruled the roost.
1955: “Detroit is the design center of the U.S.A.," wrote founding editor of Industrial Design (I.D.) magazine, Jane Thompson (formerly Mitarachi), in her editorial for the Oct. '55 issue; mag's cover story, "Design In Detroit – a special report on design in a major industrial center." Articles inside boil down how Harley had created Detroit's Dependency on Design and how this new juggernaut was now directly impacting the national economy year-in-and-year-out. Many top journalists and leaders of the 50s and 60s, in and outside the worlds of design and automobiles, knew all about the fact sheet of America's greatest car designer.
1955: The Damsels of Design is another bold forward move by modern maverick-Earl and one newspaper writer penned, "Earl, being an adventurous man at heart and long an advocate of women's rights in the auto industry..." Well, his risk-taking "women's rights" move ruffled a lot of feathers in Detroit's staid "all-male" engineering world. Even though equality was the future, Harley's trailblazing stand for women being equals to his male designers of GM Styling Section created a fire storm of tension.
1956: Inside the inner sanctum of his design organization within the new Tech Center, HJE has his team build a custom racing Corvette for his son, Jerry, to take on the U.S. racing circuit. It is named the Corvette SR-2. Harley appoints a team of GM Styling members to assist in his son's racing efforts. Like most things HJE does, this one in particular creates enormous tension inside the corporation since all the other leaders have to stand by and watch this man get to build an expensive sports car for his son inside the company with GM's money. Harley and Chevrolet sponsor and/or sanction Jerry's racing efforts. Dick Thompson also drives the sports car in '56 and '57.
1958: HJE's successfully created a new area of what he and many auto industry experts completely understand: Car Design is the new soul behind the modern automobile industry! Harley retires and walks out the door of GM having the feather in his cap knowing he's personally responsible for creating the No. 1 reason for car sales. Car Design Leadership is an epic success story! After all, just 33-years prior Earl had been ridiculed by the vast majority of Detroit's auto world leaders for his risking his reputation on the belief that "car design" was a game changer for the entire auto industry. More than any other man, since Henry Ford, Harley Earl is truly a Renaissance Man being directly responsible for raising the standards of the entire modern auto industry.
1961: Los Angeles County’s freeways grow to 250 miles, while both the Pacific Electric and the Los Angeles Railway lines are discontinued.
1962: Chevrolet reaches its highest market share level ever, 31 percent, and just like GM's overall market share begins a new trend, downward, lasting into the 21st Century. Carroll Shelby introduces the AC Cobra, a small British sports car featuring a high-output Ford V-8. Shelby becomes an overnight legend, his small Los Angeles auto shop a racing mecca.
1964: Ford introduces an inexpensive, mass-market sports car — the Mustang — inextricably altering the landscape of the industry forever. Meanwhile, Porsche brings out the 911.
1967: GM debuts the Mustang-inspired Chevrolet Camaro. For the next five years, until federal emissions standards are toughened, a muscle-car war breaks out. Dodge releases the Hemi-powered Challenger and Charger models, Pontiac releases the GTO, and Plymouth brings to market the most awesome car ever made, a stock, purple Hemi ’Cuda convertible with a 426 Hemi V-8 that produces 425 horsepower.
1968: The Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild was oddly disbanded by GM’s new leaders, but here is what Chuck Jordan, GM Design's fourth vice president (1987-'93), said on the value, size and scope of the FBCG, "Enrollment since WW II had toppled the three million mark, and over 9,000 model cars had been entered, the winners sharing more than one and one-quarter million dollars." An area never promoted was how the FBCG was the largest and longest consecutive running philanthropic and monetary art scholarship program, ever.
1968: Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen, is released. His co-star is a Mustang fastback.
1969: Harley Earl dies on April 10th and The Detroit News headlines death of the one-and-only: CAR DESIGN PIONEER. Also, one of the oldest and most respected industry magazines, Ward's AutoWorld, goes on to feature an extensive cover story entitled, HARLEY J. EARL: THE MAN WHO INVENTED THE MODERN CAR. What's more important perhaps is how Earl's Car Design Profession is not only the new soul of America's modern car industry, but it goes on to rapidly become (even long after his death) a worldwide standard that every auto maker in the global automotive economy duplicates and internally incorporates. The modern business strategy of the "auto design department and corporate VP of Design" has held the test of time the world's best car designers still use HJE's rules and principles and roots and traditions. The hierarchical first order of any idea or pre-engineering of a car or truck is born and starts here.
1969: Los Angeles suffers through the worst smog season on record, with 137 smog-alert days. Richard Nixon creates the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).