Thursday, January 3, 2013
The world's first concept car--Harley Earl's 1938 Buick Y-Job. BUICK WEEK
Cars back then were much different. They had tall, narrow bodies. There wasn’t much room across, but there was plenty of headroom to accommodate the hats people liked to wear. There were running boards and fenders that attached beyond the body. This is one of the reasons they were so narrow inside. Headlights typically were housed in big pods over the fenders. Taillights were an afterthought—tacked unceremoniously to the back. Wheels were usually 16-inches in diameter or better. The roads were getting better by the late 30s, but people still placed value on the ground clearance the larger wheels provided.
The Y-Job is credited as the first concept car. It was never produced beyond this one example, but many of the styling elements were used on other General Motors cars down the road. For example, the iconic shape of the Buick waterfall grille first appeared on the Y-Job, and it is still utilized on Buicks to this day. The taillight shape morphed into the P-38 aircraft-inspired units that appeared on the ’48 Cadillac. The hidden headlights and top mechanism eventually found their ways into the Corvette. All of these exciting ideas, and they all debuted on the Y-Job.
Harley Earl is possibly the most influential car designer in history. As the head of the “Art and Colour” section of General Motors, Earl made an enormous impact of the automobile business. Before Earl, styling was not high on the list of priorities of everyday people when buying a new car. People wanted something that would serve their basic needs for as long as possible. Earl made vehicles into something people wanted to be seen in. Suddenly, they aspired to get the newest, most attractive models. Cars were no longer a lifeless appliance. They had life, passion, and status.
So much influence had Earl that he actually used the Y-Job as his personal transportation. He designed it to gauge interest in the styling ideas that were built into it, and he learned what people thought by putting the car on the road. Earl drove the car for several years, making subtle changes along the way.
When I had the privilege of seeing the Y-Job in the Heritage Center, it was like shaking hands with a celebrity. There are so many elements of so many great cars over the years that can be directly traced to the Y-Job, it is far more than just some neat old car. It wasn’t just a footnote in history. It helped write the book. I consider it one of the greatest cars of all time.