Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Harley Earl Look

My choice of the 1958 Oldsmobile to represent Harley Earl is maybe a bit unfair.  But he'd like this angle.

Here's a link to an interesting Petrolicious piece:

While on the subject of great-looking (but under-appreciated) mass-produced cars, I'll return here to a pet peeve: Harley Earl's ugly designs for General Motors.  The 1958 GM lineup was the worst, and the '58 Olds was the ugliest of them all.  Lineal yards of chrome applique looking desperately for a unifying theme--any theme--to be hung on.

Consider the classic GM design of the 1950's, the "tri-five" ('55-'56-'57) Chevy.  I believe Earl's aesthetic input was minimal because he wanted its simplicity to direct attention toward his more garish Pontiac and Oldsmobile stable mates.  The "tri-five" itself got progressively less attractive as Earl hung gingerbread on it.  The '55 Chevy can hold its head up in any company.  The '56 and '57 were progressively less attractive.  When Earl finally turned his full attention to Chevy in '58 and '59, he created two of the ugliest Bowties to come off the line: finally, part of "his" GM family.

Consider other sedan designs available in the '50's: Jaguar, Mercedes, Lancia--even the low-priced Fiats and the V.W. Beetle.  More to the point in those pre-world-market days, consider what Virgil Exner did with American Gingerbread in the late '50's as he was chasing Earl's styling "lead."  Nobody did wretched excess better than Exner in the '57 and '58 Chrysler lineup.

The Earl story has a happy ending.  Upon his retirement, Bill Mitchell succeeded him as head of G.M. design.  It took two years to flush Earl's tortured sheet metal stampings out of the system.  But by 1961, General Motors was headed toward some of the best-looking cars to come out of Detroit.

This image choice is fair enough: from an Olds catalog.

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