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Father of American Car Design Just Won't Fade Away
By Royal Ford, The Boston Globe Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Posted on Sun, Mar. 14, 2004

The boy is 10 and last glimpses his grandfather on a sandy stroll along a Florida beach in 1969.

Even today, he holds tight the towering image.

And more than 30 years later, beyond mere memory, the grandson, Richard Earl, sees an actor in the ghostly form of his grandfather, selling Buicks in a television ad, promising that he, Harley Earl, is back to build America a better car.

Not that he hadn't already done that -- to the tune of more than 50 million cars and counting, all showing the influence of a man who some argue was the most important figure ever to emerge from Detroit.

Yet when the ads appeared, most Americans doubtlessly asked, "Who's this Harley Earl guy?"

He's the guy who, rising to 6 feet 4 inches, bedecked in suit (sometimes white), snap-brim fedora, and two-tone shoes, defined American automotive design. He took us from the mass-produced boxes of Henry Ford to the low-slung, long-wheelbase cars that endure to this day. He convinced designers that the flow of malleable clay was a better medium with which to work car design than the rigidity of edge-imposing wood.

If you are not an engineer, do you figure out how to bend glass, safely eliminate the central support system of hardtop cars to make them sportier, lower the stance, and lengthen Henry Ford's boxes to turn them into sleek cruisers? Do you take the fins from a Lockheed aircraft and aerodynamically adapt them to the automobile, use fiberglass in the construction of America's first true sports car, the Corvette?

Harley Earl did these things.

In 1927, he arrived in Detroit, where Ford first gave us the assembly line and GM president Alfred P. Sloan Jr., who lured Earl to the motor city, was matching marketing with multilevel management. Earl gave us the third leg of the stool: cars that sold on emotion, on visual appeal, on fabulous form welded to firm function.

His LaSalle, in 1927, was the first American car designed headlight to bumper by a stylist. His job at GM: head of the Art and Colour Department, the first division of an American car company devoted exclusively to design.

He brought the flowing promise of Hollywood imagination to the locked steel of Detroit industry.

Among his finest cars, in my opinion: the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket V-8, the 1955 and 1957 models of the Chevy Bel Air, the 1959 Cadillac with its sky-creasing fins, and, of course, the 1953 Corvette.

His approach -- born of an engineer's timed heart, a stylist's careful eye for appeal, and an artist's sense of the freedom of flow -- would revolutionize the look of American automobiles.

And to those who would argue -- some at GM among them -- that he was "just a designer," I'd say that no architect can design a home or a skyscraper without knowledge of structural integrity and that no automotive stylist can change the look of cars without knowing how to bend their glass, their steel, their chrome.


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Harley Earl was the man. Wish he was around still... we could get rid of this retro.
We can see his airplane design carried on with cars like Caddy's that take their sharp lines off stealth craft.
 

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Funny Story about this.


When I was home for Christmas, my mom asked me if Harley Earl had really worked for Buick before he retired. Apparently, she had seen the commercials. I told her that he oversaw all GM design during his career. She then remarked that she was glad he had returned, because current Buicks are ugly. Apparently, she though that

A. Harley Earl was still alive

B. The actor in the commercial was, in fact, Harley Earl.

C. That he was making new cars


I wonder how many other people are under this impression. I'll bet there are plenty of them. If you don't have any prior knowledge of Earl, and you don't pay close attention to the commercials, you may accidently conclude that he's just a guy who came out of retirement- like Lutz. Seriously, do any of the new "Harley Earl" ads explicitly state that he died?

If you disagree, please, no "mama" jokes.
 

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Originally posted by Tim_M@Mar 15 2004, 08:15 AM
Funny Story about this.


When I was home for Christmas, my mom asked me if Harley Earl had really worked for Buick before he retired. Apparently, she had seen the commercials. I told her that he oversaw all GM design during his career. She then remarked that she was glad he had returned, because current Buicks are ugly. Apparently, she though that

A. Harley Earl was still alive

B. The actor in the commercial was, in fact, Harley Earl.

C. That he was making new cars


I wonder how many other people are under this impression. I'll bet there are plenty of them. If you don't have any prior knowledge of Earl, and you don't pay close attention to the commercials, you may accidently conclude that he's just a guy who came out of retirement- like Lutz. Seriously, do any of the new "Harley Earl" ads explicitly state that he died?

If you disagree, please, no "mama" jokes.
man..I had a really good momma joke too...

hehe anyway, yeah I think that Buick should have developed a little story into the guy. I dont understand why he was put in the Buick commercials? I always thought of him as more of a Caddy man then anything else.
 

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I had the chance to meet the actor who plays Harley Earl in the Buick commercials, cant remember his name but I guess he is a legitimate actor. They were shooting a new Buick commercial and they were using our plants to shoot it in. Some of the plant empoyees were chosen to be possible extras(me).... boy were the actors pissed, I think they even got there Union involved. :p
 

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The actor that plays Harley Earl is named John Diehl, he played a charachter on Miami Vice(1984) and he was "The Cruiser" in Stripes with Bill Murray(1981). Recently he was in "The Client" (1994) and played a character on the emmy winning FX show "The Shield"(2002).


I am one of the people who thought this was a cool ad campaign...Harley Earl was definetly a Buick guy...the 1st concept car ever, was the Buick Y-Job, which he designed and used as a daily driver for several years! Earl also designed the LeSabre show car a few years later.
 
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