Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 2nd June 2017

There are many famous car designers and Harley Earl is one of the greatest of all time. Considered the father of American automotive design, Earl made a name for himself by working at General Motors in the late 1920s. He was responsible for a number of designs that revolutionised the car industry, including tailfins and clay modelling. Here are some of Earl’s most innovative designs.

Auto-Styling Studio

Before Earl worked for GM, cars were designed by engineers who had no time for how a car body looked. So, Earl introduced the first styling studio called the General Motors Art & Colour Section. The studio changed how cars were manufactured, and rival companies were soon creating their own.

The Concept Car

Earl came up with the idea of the concept car in 1939, with the introduction of the Buick Y-Job. Earl designed the car to have power-operated hidden headlamps, electric windows, a gunsight hood ornament and wraparound bumpers. This laid the groundwork for future concept cars, as public reaction became an important factor.


Earl was fascinated with aircraft design and took inspiration from the Lockheed P-38 Lightning when creating the 1948 Cadillac. The car featured tailfins, which pointed towards a growing popularity with space travel that captured public imagination during the 1950s.

Wraparound Windshield

The 1951 LeSabre concept car featured another innovative Earl design in the form of a wraparound windshield. The glass curved sharply at the edges to meet the windshield pillars, giving the car a futuristic look. The windshield was also featured on the 1953 Cadillac Eldorado and 1953 Oldsmobile Fiesta.


Another feature of the 1951 LeSabre were bullet-shaped bumper guards called Dagmars. Named after a famous TV personality, the guards were designed to mimic artillery shells.

Clay Modelling

When creating his cars, Earl liked to make three-dimensional models out of clay. Using clay as a modelling tool helped to simplify the design process by allowing designers to visualise shapes that were difficult to create in steel.

The Chevrolet Corvette

Earl decided America needed a sports car after being influenced by the European and British cars on the racing circuits. Work began on a secret project called ‘Project Opel’ and the first Chevrolet Corvette was introduced at the 1953 New York Auto Show. Although it was only designed to be a show car, there was enough public interest for GM to make a production version.