For three decades, from 1927-59, Harley Earl was the most powerful voice in world of car design, shaping and influencing tens of millions of cars. He was a clever man and a consummate politician, and he had strong backing from Chairman Alfred Sloan. He retained absolute control of General Motors styling but sought input from every possible source.
An example: At 18, I wanted to be a car designer, so I sent Earl 118 drawings and asked for a job. Astonishing friends, family (and me), he hired me — at a handsome salary. He was always open to ideas from raw beginners, but to assure continuity he retained a cadre of experienced people who had been with him since the 1920s.
Many of the world's finest designers worked for Earl. The great Gordon Buehrig actually created the basic forms of the classic Cord 810-12 while working at GM. Earl didn't like it; he thought it was too advanced. Earl's genius lay in proposing designs that, while new, were essentially conservative.
Earl was often cruel and cutting, and he ruled his domain by fear. One memorable day in 1956, he called all his stylists to the viewing yard of the Styling dome. He said, "Now, I want all you fellas who've been here for three years to go over there by that wall." Movement.
"Now I want all you young fellas to come over here by me." Move movement.
"All you over there are all burned out," he said. "These boys with me are the future of this place, don't you agree with me?"
Only one answer was tolerated: "Yes, Mr. Earl."