Battista Pininfarina and Harley Earl first met at the Paris Auto Show in the early 1930s where they showed a deep admiration for each other's work. But it was only after WW Two that this relationship flourished and important ideas and technological information were then shared. Charles Ritz, an old friend of Earl's and founder of the Ritz Hotel in Paris, supplied this excellent 1948 photo (shown directly below) taken from a Earl family photo remembrance scrapbook.
It's no secret Earl annually attended the European auto shows and had an affection for many of the one-off designs coming from this continent's most advanced luxury car companies. Whereby he often cultivated certain aesthetic ideas and engineering innovations which later would be incorporated to GM's wide range of product designs.
Year-in-and-year-out, Earl's aim was to develop supreme car designs. The ideology he originally instituted was simple: borrow and then blend certain visual prestige cues, from certain European cars, into and under the body surfaces of GM's wide range of product designs. For everyday back in the 1950s, millions of Americans were wowed by the novel car design theme Harley Earl formed which revolved around merchandizing and marketing "the language of vision" of his automobile design paradigm coming from the GM Styling Section. And it's no surprise that back in this time period of Detroit's auto history Harley Earl was also known as "Mr. GM" since he had created the No. 1 reason for car sales in this decade: the look of the car.
The three pictures (two above and one below) were sent by Sergio Pininfarina to Richard Earl in 1997; see copy of letter further down. Although it is not yet well-known, it is however easy to prove how Harley Earl originally set up the landmark car design relationship Pininfarina (of Europe) would develop with the world's greatest automotive company (GM in the U.S.A.) in order to test-market selling Pininfarina designed cars (first through the Cadillac luxury brand) in the American market place.
From left: Sergio Pininfarina, Harley Earl and Renzo Carli at the Grugliasco - Pininfarina plant - in 1961.
It was Earl who established a unique Italian-American co-operation design accord with the father and son team and company CEO, Renzo Carli, allowing Pininfarina to build 200 special luxury Cadillac coupes/1959 Brougham body units (notice the photo of the 1959 Brougham clay model in Detroit and a photo of these Cadillacs being built on a stationary assembly line at the Turin factory). To put it mildly, this postwar alliance was an extraordinary business opportunity for this European design house. The documentation at this section of the website helps clear up how this unique "automotive design" history has been largely unexamined over the years since it originally unfolded.
For further information, Pininfarina's website expands more on how this relationship later evolved and how "the Company (Pininfarina) became able to perform all facets of the industrial cycle, from ideas of prototypes, from prototypes to mass production. General Motors personnel frequently were visiting Pininfarina Studi e Ricerche in Cambiano and Industrie Pininfarina in Grugliasco during this period, and Pininfarina people often visit the Detroit and Warren, Michigan plants."
After the war, Battista Pininfarina designed and produced, among other things, the 1946 "Cisitalia" shown in the Museum of Modern Art in New York as "one of the eight outstanding cars of our time". Many believe it was defined as the best expression of simplicity and beauty of design in the automotive field. Well, the funny thing is the inspiration for Pininfarina's Cisitalia actually came from a masterful American car design that already been immortalized by the 1950s; it's name was the "Buick Y-Job" concept car designed by Harley Earl. Here are the exact words taken from the third paragraph of a March 1974 Motor Trend magazine article written by Karl Ludvigsen titled, 1938 Buick "Y" Show Car:
"The styling chain whose first link was the Y-Job extended even further. In Italy, after the war, Piero Dusio, a wealthy businessman and car enthusiast, owned a '46 Buick. Instructing the men who were to design a body for a car he wanted to build, Dusio said it should look like a wider, lower version of the Buick, whose lines he liked very much. The designer was Pininfarina, and the car was the Cisitalia coupe--the gemlike creation that formed the foundation for all the finest postwar sports-car shapes and styles. By then the Y-Job was semi-retired, pushed out of the spotlight in 1951 by a new generation of dream cars, the LeSabre and Buick XP-300. Neither, however, was as profoundly influential as this long, black roadster with the curious name.
"A giant of a man, both physically and professionally, Harley Earl had just begun..."