ALL IN THE FAMILY

John Gunnell |

   Richard Earl is the grandson of Harley J. Earl, the legendary General Motors styling chief.

  Harley Earl was trained in his father’s carriage shop, which was purchased by Don Lee, the exclusive West Coast distributor of Cadillacs, after World War I. Earl continued to work for the Lee organization, building custom bodies for the cars of Hollywood movie stars.

   In 1927, Lawrence Fisher (Fisher Body) saw Earl’s cars and hired him as a consultant to oversee the styling of the 1927 LaSalle. GM Chairman Alfred P. Sloan loved the LaSalle and lured Earl to Detroit to set up and literally “rule” a new Art and Color Section that morphed into GM Styling. In this role, Earl established the first formal system of styling cars and employed all the great designers. Until the start of 1959, Earl supervised the development of America’s greatest production cars and “idea” cars.

   Historians believe that Earl’s training as a carriage maker gave him a two-dimensional way of seeing things. He looked at cars in front view or side view like a drafstman would. In numerous interviews, Earl’s stylists said that he could not make three-dimensional freehand drawings. If true, this certainly didn’t affect Earl’s ability to create great car designs.

   But Richard Earl believes that many stories about Harley Earl are corporate fantasies concocted to downplay his grandfather’s influence on car sales. He also feels that GM’s de-emphasis of the importance of styling is the reason the corporation is struggling today.

   Richard has done a lot of research and his Website www.CaroftheCentury.com tells the world how he feels about his grandfather’s design legacy. Even those who don’t agree with his point of view can appreciate all of the great material he has dug up and posted for the world to see.

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