1969: The End of the Road for a Trailblazing Automobile Designer

April 10, 1969

Harley J. Earl, a pioneer of modern automobile design, died in West Palm Beach, Florida, at the age of 75. He started out life in Hollywood, California. His father’s own transportation career involved building horse-drawn vehicles in the late 19th century and then focusing on custom bodies and accessories for automobiles. Harley eventually worked alongside his father in developing those custom bodies and accessories and in the process cultivated his own skills in that field of endeavor. 

Harley J. Earl’s well-honed automotive designs and techniques ultimately brought him to the attention of Detroit-based General Motors, and he found himself applying his creative skills on behalf of that company and its various divisions. Over the next several decades, Earl — through the use of such innovative methods as freeform sketching and hand-sculpted clay models — made numerous major contributions to automotive style and appearance. 

These contributions included tailfins (inspired in large part by airplane designs); two-tone paint; built-in luggage compartments; the four-headlight system; and one-piece, wrap-around windshields. Earl, who retired from General Motors in 1958, also helped bring about the elimination of such once-prevalent features as running boards and outside spare tires. 

Earl’s strong artistic sense of commitment to automobiles was never in doubt. “I dream automobiles,” he once admitted. In 1986, Earl was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. His impact on not just the automotive industry but the culture-at-large was confirmed in 1999, when the Detroit Free Press ranked him third to only Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder as the most significant Michigan artist of the 20th century. 

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/40143737@N02/4259596370 (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

For more information on Harley J. Earl, please check out  https://www.automotivehalloffame.org/honoree/harley-j-earl-2/ and http://www.harleyjearl.com/timeline

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