Harley J. Earl - Legendary General Motors car
designer (known as "The Father of the Corvette") who appeared as a "ghost" in a
series of 30-second TV commercials for Buick's "Spirit of American Style"
campaign in 2002. Wearing a fedora, actor John Diehl (known to many as
Hawaiian-shirt wearing detective Larry Zito in the 1980s' MIAMI VICE series)
proclaims "My name is Harley Earl, and I've come back to build you great car."
In another spot, Earl declares "Once upon a time, I designed the cars that
defined an entire era of American style. And I've come back to build you a great
car." In still another, Earl stands beside two other ghostly apparitions
(apparently deceased golf legends) to watch Tiger Woods hit balls.
This was not the first time the ghost of an automotive icon appeared in a TV spot. In the
late 1990s, Nissan Corporation hired actor Dale Ishimoto to portray Yutaka
Katayama, the man who inspired Nissan's first pickup and the 240Z sports car.
The Harley Earl commercials were created by the McCann-Erickson ad agency.
Born November 22, 1893, in Hollywood, California, Harley Earl
attended Stanford University's engineering program and then began his career in
his father's Southern California coach building shop (Earl Carriage Works) and
then created customized cars for Hollywood film stars like silent screen legend
Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, and Western star Tom Mix. Earl's father J.W. Earl, a
former lumberjack had moved his family from Michigan to the California in 1889
to build and repair horse-drawn carriages and wagons.
During his career, Harley Earl contributed many unique ideas to the art of car building including the
creation of "Art & Colour Section" at General Motors in 1927 (where he
introduced "clay" verses "wood" as the modeling media used by car designer); the
1938 Buick Y-Job concept car (called a "dream car" at the time); the innovated
chrome and "tail fins" design (inspired by the World War II P-38 Bomber and
sharks fins twin-tail Lockheed P-38 Lightning pursuit plane) which became a
Cadillac trademark; the Buick LeSabre in 1950; the fiberglass bodied two-seater
Chevrolet Corvette as a competitor to the European MGs and Jaguar sports cars in
1953; a 1959 dual bubble canopy Firebird III (reminiscent of the Batmobile); and
the idea of an auto show (originally called "The Motorama Show") to display the
latest designs to the American public.
Reportedly, Earl was also the first man to design a car with a wraparound windshield and cars without running boards as
well as such memorable design contributions as hardtops, two-tone paint, hidden
spare tires, turn indicators, rain-sensing automatic convertible tops,
disappearing headlamps, tinted glass, electric windows and the use of lots and
lots of chrome.
Between 1948 and 1958, Earl also lent his creative touch to such
GM projects as the Chevrolet Nomad (a 2-door station wagon), the Chevy Bel Air,
the Cadillac El Dorado Brougham and the Cadillac El Dorado.
Harley Earl, who was GM's chief stylist for 31 years, died from a stroke on April 10, 1969 in Palm
Beach, Florida. He is remember at GM with the phrase "Our father who art in styling, Harley is they name."
While at GM Harley Earl worked along side and inspired many talented designers including Virgil Exner, Frank Hershey, Art
Ross, Gordon Buehrig, Henry Lauve, Ned Nickles, Clare MacKichan and William L. Mitchell who succeeded Earl in 1958. See also -Mr.