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Harley Earl – Early G.M. Auto Design Legend

Regular and ongoing styling changes in the automotive field and markets would just about seem as standard as good old American pie to most automotive consumers & owners. Yet it was not “always that way”. The famous statement attributed to auto industry pioneer Henry Ford Sr ( the pioneer of mass production of cars and trucks) and market leader of its time was that “You could any color of the Ford Model T you wanted as long as it was black”. Models were produced solely by model type , yearly model changes were as of yet totally unknown and styling and cosmetics did not appear to be an issue of consideration and a factor affecting sales volumes at all. One person can be said to have been the lightening rod to change this – it was a G.M. styling auto exec named Harley Earl. Harley Earl and his G.M. “Art & Color” department not only changed the market in the US & indeed worldwide forever more and in addition propelled General Motors to become the auto market leader in terms of sales volumes and market share far ahead of the Ford Motor Company. Ford never really ever caught up .

Credit for Auto Industry Marketing Insight & Hiring Harley Earn Should Go to GM President & CEO Alfred E. Sloan:
Yet just whom was Harley Earl and where do he come from to have such influence ? Credit for Mr. Earl’s employment at General Motors should go to upper management at General Motors – in the form of Alfred E. Sloan. Sloan was the long standing president chairman & , C.E.O of the General Motors Corporation. It was Sloan himself who warned his staff , in the early nineteen twenties that as automotive industry engineering advances slowed and stabilized that the cosmetic appearances of automobiles could be more than crucial to its sales success and successes.

Harley Earl’s Beginnings in the Families California Custom Coach-building Business:
Harley Earl’s family business was coach-building and it had grown to include custom-built bodywork by the time the DuPont company had invented its first synthetic auto paint , whose trademark was “Duco”. Sloan created another G.M first , and made Harley Earl the boss of a new “Art & Color” section – the first “styling house” in motor city Detroit.
 
Influences of Hollywood Icons In Earl’s Automotive Coach Building Projects:
The Earl’s family business was located not in center of the automotive industry itself in mid-America but rather in California – not far away from Hollywood itself. Early connections with the movie industry led Earl into friendships with people like Cecil B. DeMille and Al Jolson. These theatrical influences remained with Harley his whole life. Earl was the man who brought sculptor’s modeling clay to Detroit from Hollywood. Up to then styling models had been made from simple wood. Artist’s modeling clay gave auto designers on GM staff tremendously more freedom and versatility to work in complex curved shapes and forms.
 
GM & Harley Earl Should be Credited With Auto Styling Processes & Systems:
Lastly in the whole process Harley Earl is to credited with formulating the process of evolving a new car ( or model line) through the stages of drawing and then model making which has remained the norm and standard practice of design in not only the automotive field – but throughout worldwide industries as a result. It might be held that in our modern electronic era that computer assisted design software systems with group integrations have replaced simple clay format. Yet the systems were laid in place by Harley Earl himself. Only the media has changed. At its heart the basic concepts of both stylizing and working the products down a system were laid in place at GM in the 1920’s at its Detroit “Art & Color Section” – the auto industries’ first “styling house”.
 
Paul Maple
 
Maple is a “car guy”  who resides in Vancouver British Columbia  whose greatest area of expertise and intererest is in good old fashioned Cheverolet vehicles.  The old ones he says are rock solid reliable transportation that are simply fun to work on . service and upgrade.


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