What became the Imperial was an alternative proposal for the Cordoba that never died. The clay sat off to the side while the Cordoba and Mirada were finished - the designers wanted that lay to be broken down but management wouldn't let it happen. The hump back was a known design idea that Bill Mitchell had wanted for the 1976 Seville - photos published in Car Styling and other places. Ultimately used by the next generation Seville, Linoln Versailles and this Imperial.
... View more
There is more on the story on the original design creation under Jack Telnack. He had just returned from a highly successful tour of duty as head of design for Ford of Europe. I was told that over the weekend of his arrival, before even starting back at work in Dearborn, he received a phone call from a very senior executive complaining about what was at that time the Mustang proposal created under Bordinat's direction. That led to a crash program to create what became the 1979 Mustang as we know it. Those European influences in its design can be attributed to Jack's time running the Ford of Europe operation. Jack would go on to ascend to VP of Design upon the retirement of Bordinat. Some very splendid designs came from Telnac's tenure.
... View more
The Opel Diplomat was more advanced in some technical areas than starting from the Nova platform. De Dion rear suspension and 4 wheel disc brakes. But, it is true that production tolerances for it were tighter on the body structure than was typical for a then American GM build. The consideration for using the Diplomat platform is that GM could have used existing tooling to reduce development time and outlay. Remember that the Diplomat's concept was to be a German competitor to Mercedes-Benz and was already engineered using the Chevy small block.
... View more
As I have understood it there were two problems why the Opel Diplomat could not be used as the basis for the Seville: (1) exchange rate of the Mark vs, Dollar, (2) the Germans were able to hold tolerances that could not be achieved by the American production systems. Upon introduction of the Seville in Southern California they started to be seen all over the affluent areas. I have heard talk that the acceptance in the middle of the country was far less so as those buyers remained wedded to the traditional Cadillac line. It might also be worth mentioning that all the initial run of Sevilles that went to the dealers for the introduction were silver with the silver vinyl roof and the light grey leather interior. This is also the color combination used for the original advertising.
... View more
Holls & Lamm book is: A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Michael Lamm, my mistake. If you can get your hands on it, there is also a special book on Bill Mitchell by Roy Lonberger. Written by a former GM designer targeted to an audience of designers. Credits members of the design team not just the VP of Design.
... View more
I too just read that book. As good as it was it did not delve into the design process. For that read the book by Dave Holls and John Lamm. That did far more on the inner working of design.
... View more
Harley J. Earl,
Not just General Motors’ first VP Styling but an enduring legacy to automotive design
By Jeffrey P. Kennedy
All photos General Motors LLC
The headline facts for Harley J. Earl are:
Born 1893 in Hollywood, California
Created General Motors’ Art & Color 1926
Vice-president GM Styling 1940
Died 1969 in West Palm Beach, Florida
Maybe you have some vague recollection of some Buick ads in the early 2000s where there was some character on screen touting “Spirit of American Style”. Unfortunately for the many of us that understand his monumental contribution to automotive design, these were just cynical attempts to resurrect the legacy of Harley Earl. Even noting that he was the first and then long serving head of General Motors’ styling operation is only scratching the surface of his enduring industry contribution. Even while retired, and later in death, his legacy was so pervasive that it would be invoked as “the ghost of Harley Earl” in Styling’s arguments with other the other GM departments and division heads.
Here is the person that created the profession of car styling, now referred to as Design. His vision drove the profound evolution of automotive aesthetics from the mid-1920s, throughout the 30s, 40s and up to his retirement in 1958. The processes and organizational structure employed were of his own creation, then emulated by the automotive manufacturers worldwide, remaining so to today. His ex-employees populated the design studios throughout the rest of Detroit. As a further example of his far-reaching influence, there was a period in the 1960s when each of the Styling/Design Vice-presidents for Ford, Chrysler and American Motors were all alumnus from his GM Styling. Beyond just making cars pretty, it was from Mr. Earl’s organization that the platform concept (one chassis and key structural elements underneath the visible sheetmetal that made Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile unique) was implemented. This single solution can lay claim as a pivotal element that powered GM to be the financial juggernaut with a 60% market share achieved under Mr. Earl’s tenure.
Born in Hollywood, California his father was a coach builder for horse drawn carriages, later transitioning to motorcars. Harley became the designer for his father’s Earl Automobile Works creating bodies for assorted makes of cars until being acquired by the Los Angeles Cadillac distributor. Being in the Los Angeles area, the Hollywood notables wishing for a more expressive look were part of their regular clientele. From his body of work and the Cadillac distributor connection at the start of 1926 he received a 3-month consulting assignment to go to Detroit to design the exterior for the upcoming La Salle, a sub-brand of Cadillac, at the start of 1926. This offer came from Lawrence Fisher (president of Cadillac and part of the Fisher brothers of Fisher Body; GM board members and major stockholders).
The success of the La Salle resulted in a phone call directly from Alfred Sloan, CEO of General Motors, only two months after finishing the La Salle. This time it was not a consulting role but an offer to return to Detroit full-time and create from scratch a new Art & Color department that would ultimately serve all the GM lines. This was the first time any car manufacturers set up an in-house department to perform design. As Earl had received no definition of duties or organization structure, at the ripe old age of 32 it was all up to Earl’s own vision to devise and implement whatever this operation should be.
It built up slowly, but with the support of Sloan, Earl was able to build Art & Color (renamed GM Styling in 1937) into the formidable aesthetic operation handling every GM division (cars, trucks, international and Frigidaire). Earl had very early on realized that he needed control the execution of his designs to ensure they were not compromised by engineering and manufacturing after a handoff. Part of the expansion of Art & Color/Styling was the incorporation of his own engineering and advance development groups to ensure that he had people finding solutions that could counteract the organization’s pervasive “no”. This enabled Earl to be the pioneer of advancements that GM could be the first to the market with. It is important to recognize that much of Earl’s political power against the divisional presidents along with their engineering and production groups, emanated from Sloan; something that Earl was known to threaten the use of when Art & Color/Styling might be losing a battle. Earl was allegedly the only executive with a direct phone line to Sloan’s desk although he was not a direct report.
A full-size airbrush rendering of a proposed 1956 Buick front end Earl himself is not known for drawing or sketching. Instead he utilized teams of designers with their related support staff organized into competing studio teams, segregated from each other. Earl and his senior executive staff were able to go between the studios, while each studio was kept isolated and self-contained. This was conceived as the way to stimulate maximum creativity as each studio blindly competed to prove it was putting forward the best possible proposals. Earl and his executive staff used their access to cross pollenate ideas, in total or in part, that came from one studio to another or redirect a solution developed in one studio that might be decided as a better fit for one division, like Chevrolet, rather than the proposal it originated from, such as Buick. Do understand that in Earl’s design process every visible element whether on the interior or exterior, large, or small, was part of his domain and subjected to the complete design development process.
Chevrolet Styling Studio. 1955 Chevrolet to the right. Full size clay model in the rear. Stylists/Designers left to right: Bob Caderet, Clare MacKichan (in suit), Joe Schemansky Selected designs were sometimes developed into scale clay models for initial evaluations but always there would be full-size clay models. This was a major innovation for the entire design process that comes directly from Earl dating back to his Earl Automobile Works days. These clay models use a specially formulated clay that never hardens yet can be worked and reworked until it represents exactly what is desired; move a line up or down a tiny fraction, move a fender peak slightly forward or aft, refine form transition areas, it all is possible. During development it is not uncommon for the left and right side to have different treatments under evaluation.
Clay of XP-37, Motorama’s 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne. The clay modelers are the artisans interpreting the designer’s 2D drawings into fully resolved 3D forms. The clay is applied over a fabricated armature. The clay is then shaped by the modelers using a variety of hand tools. Clay is not just about the exterior, it is also for all the trim pieces, wheel covers and the interior too. It is dimensionally stable so templates can be taken allowing the inner structure to be designed and the production tooling to be created.
When finished out with removable painted film (Dinoc) and foils to replicate the chrome it looks like a real car and for ultimate evaluation will be moved outside so all the surfaces can be more accurately “read” in natural sunlight. Every car design studio in the world owes this process to Harley Earl.
Buick Y-Job. Consider that this is 1938 and how advanced the aesthetics are when compared to all the other contemporary Another innovation of his was formalizing how concept cars could be used to publicly preview the future which then further cemented that GM was the style leader. Generally accepted as the industry’s first was his personal car called the Buick Y-job. Built in 1938 it was so advanced that it set the themes for the GM designs into the first half of the 1950’s. His next personal car, and again publicly promoted, was the 1951 Le Sabre which had design themes used to the start of the 1960’s.
Beyond these personal cars, and probably far more effective as concept vehicles to the general public, were the Motorama creations. Starting in 1953 and running through 1961, each GM division had at least one concept car in this traveling roadshow display. This unleashed each studio in a competition to show their greatest creativity without being bogged down by the production feasibility constraints. It was also a way to prepare the public and test their reaction to potential future design themes. However, there was an unintended consequence of this, the other manufacturers got an advance viewing of where Earl was leading GM to so they could make their own copies.
Mr. Earl’s second concept car, Le Sabre of 1951. This time it was not identified to a specific GM brand. Again, see just how different this was from anything else in 1951. Take particular note of how low the car is, the wraparound windshield and the thin tailfins that extend to the bumper. It too would be the personal car used by Harley Earl. The fiefdom that Harley Earl controlled had its own evolution that is an indicator of his status. When he started Art & Color in 1926 it was himself and just a couple of other in a shared space on one floor of the GM building in Detroit. There was an expectation, or even hope, that this would develop into something worthwhile. It took 2 years for this fledgling operation to reach all of 50 people with designers, clay modelers, shop craftsmen and some office staff. Shortly after the end of WWII, Ford made a concerted effort to steal away GM Styling personnel as they recognized where the best pool of talent in the industry resided and that they needed to emulate that organization as best they could. By Earl’s retirement in 1958 GM Styling was no longer his little fiefdom but a sprawling empire with its own campus in a Detroit suburb called the GM Technical Center having 9 exterior studios, 7 interior studios, 7 Industrial Design studios, 8 fabrication shops, engineering and development groups that were part of Styling (not GM Engineering), and an administration staff that included its own PR people. On top of this were his international operations around the world at divisions like Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in the UK.
An assortment of 1956 production cars representing each division and Motorama cars at the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan in the viewing courtyard next to the iconic Styling Dome. Front Row, Left to Right: 1956 General Motors Firebird II Experimental Car, 1954 General Motors Firebird I Experimental Car (both were turbine powered). Center Row, Left to Right: 1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket, 1956 Buick Centurion, 1956 Pontiac Club de Mer, 1956 Chevrolet Corvette Impala, 1956 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham Town Car. Back Row, Left to Right: 1956 Oldsmobile, 1956 Buick, 1956 Pontiac, 1956 Chevrolet, 1956 Cadillac.
Harley Earl’s legacy can too easily focus on some of his most seminal cars like the Buick Y-job, 1949 tailfin Cadillac and 1949’s entire line-up of 2-door hardtops, 1953 Buick Skylark, 1953 Corvette, 1955 Chevrolet and the 1957 Eldorado Brougham. While each of these, and a long list of others, are all individually meaningful it really misses the big picture. Across 4 decades Harley Earl’s leadership delivered year-on-year successes that led the industry’s aesthetics to the extent that the other manufacturers were relegated to following his lead. He created the processes and the organizational structure that were, and still are, the standard for virtually every automobile design studio around the world. In the world of automotive design, he was the largest fish in the largest ocean, and everyone knew it then and continues to pay homage to it today.
About the author:
Jeffrey P. Kennedy is a graduate of Art Center College of Design of Pasadena, California with a degree in Transportation Design. This is the program that for decades has produced the majority of car designers for the US design operations as well as a notable amount of the international companies. During his time at Art Center, the car design instructors all had been practicing professionals in Detroit with many having worked under Harley Earl. Additionally, the school was regularly visited by automotive designers and design executives who would interact with the students.
Although Mr. Kennedy does design for bespoke interiors of large corporate jets, he remains a life-long car junkie with car designer friend
... View more
1931 Packard Deluxe 8
An Article for Motor Trend Without the Expected Photograph
By Jeffrey P. Kennedy
photos courtesy of C. Mark Jordan
A couple of weeks ago a friend from college sent me some photos that he had taken that I never saw before. It brought back long forgotten details and, with his encouragement, triggered that I should tell this story.
This is about how an impertinent college student ends up with a 4-page feature article in Motor Trend magazine. The year is 1977 and I am a student at Art Center College of Design in the Transportation Design program, or as we called it “draw cars”. Through a friend at college I had become friends with the then Art Director of Motor Trend, Larry Crane. This in turn led to frequent trips to the Petersen Publications building on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles to see him and others on the staff that I would become friendly with.
In those pre-computer days, the magazine was being created about 3 months in advance of it hitting the newsstands. It was a manual operation of doing paste-ups for each page of the magazine grouped into printing sections that would be shipped to Petersen’s printing house somewhere in the Midwest. Then there would be advance proof runs of these sections sent back to the magazine offices for review. During one of my visits to Motor Trend, I saw one of these sections for an upcoming issue where their Retrospective article was on some pre-WWII car that I felt was unworthy of such a feature. During all my sneering remarks I mentioned a classic Packard that would be far more worthy subject matter. That led to a challenge to do an article of my own. Being appropriately naïve, that was a challenge worth accepting.
The Packard was owned by a family friend of one of my Art Center classmates but getting underway would have to wait until the next semester break when I could make the drive north to Pebble Beach. The car was a 1931 Deluxe 8, 840 owned by Chris Bock, a long time Packard collector that is currently the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Chief Judge. A Senior Series Packard with a factory catalogue 5 passenger closed body. Today few may be aware of Packard as a brand and recognize its standing as the dominant American luxury brand of its time; Cadillac aspired to what Packard already was even in these early dark days of the Depression.
When the net semester break did come, I made the drive north, borrowed a Sinar 4” x 5” view camera from my dad and went to Pebble Beach to do the photos that would accompany the article. The first day was spent scouting some possible locations and getting the official photo release forms done with Del Monte Properties for Pebble Beach (Pebble is all private property). On the second day I got the car from the owner along with a friend of his to do the driving and headed out to do some shots. Found a good dirt road inside Pebble Beach that I considered “era appropriate” for a 1931 car and took a series of morning light photos. [For those interested it was shot on Ektachrome transparencies.]
The owner had said to get back to him in the afternoon as he was hoping to arrange a potential backdrop for the photos that might be pretty special. So, in due course I did get back to his office and found out that he had been successful in getting the arrangements set. Now the story gets very interesting as something more than just another car article being written.
The owner had an office person whose father was friends with someone with a special house on the 17 Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. We needed to take the Packard over to the father’s house then follow him to the location. We arrive at the wooden gates to the special house and as we wait for the gates to be opened the father walks back, leaning into the driver’s window, tells us that the person opening the gates is the house’s owner, George Stoll. For all the world this looked more like some long-time family servant that no one had had the heart to retire as he shuffled along opening the gate slumped over in an overcoat with his grey hair shooting out from under his hat. We drive the Packard in, and I start setting up for the photos. The poor driver is wearing out his arms as I have him keep moving the car incrementally then cocking the front wheels just so for the perfect photo; remember that power steering wasn’t introduced for another 20 years after this Packard was built.
Not only is this a magnificent house it has a fascinating story. At the time the locals referred to it as “The Castle” although now one is more likely to find it called The Crocker or Crocker-Irwin Mansion. In any case it was one of the earliest mansions as Pebble Beach was being created as a private development by some of the wealthy San Francisco railroad families. Sitting on nearly 3 acres perched on the bluff that goes straight down to the Pacific Ocean, construction was started in 1926 by Charles Crocker, he of Crocker Bank and Southern Pacific Railroad, and his then wife, Helene Irwin, she from a wealthy sugar family in Hawaii. Taking 5 years to build it is reputedly the only structure in North America in the Byzantine style. Notably a part of that style includes that each of the 45 columns on the front entry porch is unique.
After I finished shooting my photographs George and Dallas Stoll invited us inside as it had started to rain. Over the years I have referred to it as no matter how interesting The Castle is, the Stolls were even more so. She pointed out some of the details of the house as we entered – the Zodiac wheel of mosaiced black and white marble as the floor in the foyer, that the newel at the start of the staircase to the upstairs was the largest piece of cut red agate stone in the world and how she rarely needed to water the indoor plants as the ocean air and regular fog took care of that by just opening the windows. As we sat with them in the living room (hall might be a more apt description of the space) around the fireplace we started to realize some things about this reclusive couple. They had been big time Hollywood people. He had been the music director for MGM from the late 1930s until the mid-1960s; 9 Oscar nominations and 1 win. [Recently found out that George had become friends with Elvis Presley from working together on a couple of his later films.] On a console table behind us they pointed out a pair of Ruby Red Slippers that had been given to them by Liza Minelli as recognition of his voice coaching work with her mother, Judy Garland, from The Wizard of Oz. At around this time in 1977, it had been big news that a car had for the first time ever sold at auction for a million dollars; the ex-Clark Gable Duesenberg SSJ. “I bought that from Clark.” But probably the most notable tidbit came from her when she talked of growing up with Howard; “my daddy worked for his daddy so we would play together”. It became clear that this was not just any Howard but Howard Hughes. They regaled us with and assortment of stories from their days in Hollywood and New York. But eventually we did say our goodbyes.
Upon finishing the manuscript I took it to Larry at the Motor Trend offices along with the photo sets. The answer was that they would consider it for a future issue; that would become the July 1977 issue. I remain forever grateful to the then Managing Editor, Cliff, as he took my manuscript and cleaned it up so it became something far better. Larry, as Art Director, decided to give my article the center spread of the magazine making the feature picture unbroken. Unfortunately, there was arose an issue right as the shipment to the printer deadline came up: I needed a Photo Release from the Stolls as the Del Monte Properties one was not deemed valid for their private residence. I was frantically reaching the car’s owner to have his assistant reach her father to reach the Stolls. But the father was out of town and although the daughter could probably find the phone number at his house the Stolls were so reclusive that she knew that only her father could be the one to make contact. With much disappointment all around, the morning photo was used for the article replaced the intended spectacular shot from The Castle.
These snap shots were taken by one of my Art Center classmates, Mark Jordan. He and his girlfriend had driven up for a couple of days and they joined me for the photo sessions. While I was concentrating on doing the shoot of the Packard at “The Castle” they had the opportunity to explore some of the other areas of the property that I never saw.
The Castle’s courtyard as I prepare to prepare to do the photographs. L-R: George Stoll, leaning against the planter, the father that knew the George & Dallas Stoll, driver of the Packard, girlfriend of my classmate, author.
Driveway to the 17 Mile entry gate
The backyard with the Pacific Ocean
A detail of some of the entry porch columns. Notice how each I different, a characteristic of Byzantine architecture.
The beach level pool. There had been a rockslide at some point in the past and the Stolls never had it repaired. That wasn’t the only “in need” item as the central heat ducts were made in aluminum and had long ago corroded; they relied upon the various fireplaces for heat.
About the author:
Jeffrey P. Kennedy is a graduate of Art Center College of Design of Pasadena, California with a degree in Transportation Design. This is the program that for decades has produced the majority of car designers for the US design operations as well as a notable amount of the international companies.
Although Mr. Kennedy does design for bespoke interiors of large corporate jets, he remains a life-long car junkie with automotive industry friends. Besides Motor Trend he has been published by Autoweek and the Missouri & Southern Illinois Chapter of the Ferrari Club of America.
... View more
It is disconcerting how Bob Hall who was the real force behind the Miata, and much of the original Mazda advance development operation in Irvine is slighted in the article. Yes, Bob had previously been an automotive journalist with Motor Trend and others but that is selling him short. As for the vast majority of the exterior design effort, just stop the story with Mark Jordan. The interior design credit goes to IAD.
... View more
That happened when the GM Board of Directors did not approve Bill Mitchell's recommendation for who was to be his successor. Then in the Board's infinite wisdom (hah!) they made the same mistake when they did not approve Chuck Jordan's selection for his successor. Each time the Board selected the pliable instead of the true leader that believed in the sanctity of Design and was willing to fight for it. Now it is too late for Earls and Mitchells to be allowed to happen again. Shame on the board for squandering the legacy of what Harley Earl created.
... View more
GM Design was doing the XS and the Chey B body coupe as how to use the new bent glass technology. It fit with the overall design trend of sheer design and a stiff truncation of the upper. It was just a design idiom of the time.
... View more
The B body Chevrolet Coupe and the Toronado XS glass was bent. That is why there is so much distortion on the edge. The El Camino's backlight was inspired by the 206/246 Dino. There were some notable GM Design people that were Ferrari fans. The comment about the bumpers for the B body is not recognizing that just how extreme the standards were then. It included the expected 5 mph frontal but also a significant diagonal impact too. The height of the bumpers had to account for the various options and build variations that turned into a taller bumper. A backlight that might also be worth of inclusion in such a list is the 3rd generation Camaro/Firebird (F body). These were formed glass with a reverse curve. Designers had been wanting to incorporate formed glass for a number of years but would get turned down because of cost.
... View more