Earl, Harley J.
Automotive designer, born in Hollywood, CA. Earl attended the University of Southern California in 1912 and studied engineering at Stanford University from 1914 to 1917. He began his career with the firm his father founded in 1908, the Earl Automobile Works that from 1911, built custom car bodies for film stars. Harley designed the first complete car produced by the firm in 1918. Don Lee, West Coast Cadillac distributor, bought the entire company (including Harley) in 1919. Earl's talents were soon recognized by Larry Fisher, Cadillac Division president, and he was sent to Detroit in 1925, where he designed the first car designed by a stylist, the 1927 LaSalle, which was a huge sales success. He established GM's Art and Color Department in 1927 (which became the Styling Section in 1937), and Earl became a VP of GM in 1940, an unheard of level of corporate design until then. His pre-war concept car, the "Y-job" became the template for all GM's postwar styling innovations. In 1945, while continuing as head of GM styling, he established his own independent consulting firm, Harley Earl. Inc., to design many successful products not competitive with GM. In 1964 his consulting firm merged with Walter B. Ford Design Associates, Inc. to form Ford & Earl Design Associates. Earl pioneered in the process of building full-scale clay models and in dozens of innovative designs including the hardtop convertible, wrap-around windshields, two-tone paint, heavy chrome plating, and tailfins. Earl dominated GM design policies (and thus the entire industry) until his retirement in 1958, naming William Mitchell (PE 1958) as his successor. By then, GM styling had passed its time and was criticized as excessive and wasteful. The tone soon turned to a more conservative direction.