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.
The Harley Earl commercials were created by the
McCann-Erickson ad agency.
TRIVIA NOTE: 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.
career, Harley Earl contributed many unique ideas
to the art of car building including:
creation of "Art & Colour Section" at General
Motors in 1927 (where he introduced "clay"
verses "wood" as the modeling media used by car
the 1938 Buick Y-Job concept car
(called a "dream car" at the time);
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
the Buick LeSabre in 1950;
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);
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 Eldorado
Brougham and the Cadillac El Dorado.
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
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.
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