Harley J. Earl was born November 22nd, 1893 and lived a long life lasting until April 10, 1969. He is well remembered in the automotive community as an automotive stylist and industrial designer. His work inspired many 'firsts', such as chrome trim, two-tone paint, wrap-around windshields, and onboard computers in automobiles. In an era when the automobile was still evolving at a rapid pace, he introduced rules, principles, and procedures for successful automotive design and styling in the United States. He is responsible for the tailfin era of 1950s, a flamboyant design that was creative and inspiring. He is regarded as the father of the concept car approach, meaning, making a prototype to showcase a vehicles styling, design, and technology prior to being mass produced. He was of the opinion that oblongs were more appealing than squares. As a result, most of his cars were long and low.
'Earl was responsible for the design of the modern American car while at General Motors in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s when the 'stock car' was born,' according to an automotive historian.
In 1927, Earl designed his first automobile, the La Salle. The La Salle was a smaller version of a car produced by Cadillac. It was one of the first automobiles to be designed and created in-house, rather than outsource the work to custom coachbuilders, a tradition of the time.
In 1938 he created the first concept car, the Buick 'Y' job. The 'Y' job had concealed headlamps and other innovations. In 1950 he created the Le Sabre concept car which was shown at many GM Motorama shows, building consumer excitement.
His innovative methods for creating a design, then concept, then production automobile, completely changed the old fashioned utilitarian way of automotive construction. Clay models were used to form the car and to understand the abilities and flaws of the creation.
In 1954, 1956, and 1958 he created the Firebird I, II, and III, respectively. This began the nameplate Firebird of the mid 1960s.
One of the most watched races in the United States is the Daytona 500. To honor Harley Earl's life and accomplishments, the trophy is called the Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 Trophy.