This section below outlines the beginning of Harley Earl taking General Motors into the modern world of sports car racing in America. Photos taken in August 1957, directly below, were taken at the Elkhart Lake Road America race. Not surprisingly, the award prize for this particular race, pictured further down, was another Harley J. Earl Trophy. A couple years later, the Daytona 500 award would be named "The Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 Trophy." The reason this man's name is on these trophies has everything to do with the enormous contributions this one man made to modern American car racing.
Designer-Earl loved showing up at races in one-of-a-kind concept cars (Olds F-88 II above).
Photo at top is of Briggs Cunningham, Harley Earl and his daughter-in-law, Constance Earl. Photo, above left, is of Dick Thompson and Jerry Earl who both raced the Corvette SR-2 on this day at the Elkhart Lake race in 1957. Picture above, at right, is another one of Cunningham and Earl. Picture below is of Earl with Road America race prize: The Harley J. Earl Perpetual Trophy. Where is this particular Harley Earl trophy today?
In 1956, the Sebring Chevrolet racers sired a trio of SR Corvettes - "SR" standing for "Sebring Racer" or alternatively "Sports Racing."
When Jerry Earl announced he was going to race a Ferrari 250 MM, his father --- Harley Earl --- commissioned a racing Corvette for him instead. The result was the very first Corvette SR-2 (Jerry, above, standing in middle).
Jim, Jerry and Suzy Earl at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin Road America racetrack in 1956. At 26, Jerry raced the very first Chevrolet Corvette (sponsored and built by G.M.) in the post war modern era. This exciting car is included in a historic GM Styling list right alongside other amazing concept cars designed by his father having the General Motors shop order (SO) numbers to prove it.
Jerry Earl's Ferrari, below, helped jump start first factory sponsored Corvettes.
1955 - November - Pictured directly above at home in Grosse Pointe, Mich., Jerome (Jerry) C. Earl is sitting in his recently acquired 1953 Ferrari 250 MM Vignale. In a July, 2006 conversation, Jerry Earl said the following from his Florida home: "I bought this racing Ferrari for $4,000 from Richard Lyeth after the ’55 season was over and intended to race it on the circuit in 1956. My father, Harley J. Earl, made an offer that was hard to turn down. He recommended building a custom one-of-a-kind Corvette racer inside GM Styling for me to take on the 1956 race circuit versus my racing a Ferrari (which I'd have to end up paying for everything on my own). Essentially, he said I'd be sponsored in many ways and thus avoid paying all the high costs associated with the sport. Naturally racing what would later become known as the very first factory sponsored (by GM) custom built Corvette racer over this particular Ferrari was a giant motivator. So, I said sure thing to my dad on this deal and ended up selling the Ferrari about five months later in March 1956 for exactly what I'd paid for it. While it was in my garage, I did end up taking it out a few times, but I never raced it before I sold it to some fellow race car driver from down south in Birmingham, Alabama area. I wish I could remember his name..."
As one can see in the following photos (check the dates), Jerry Earl's SR-2 already had been fitted with the high fin. That's why --- the SS Corvette (shown above) and/or XP64 --- seen further down in color photos of 20ft blackboard drawings were initially rendered with a high fin, too. At this time, Aug. 1956, the SS Corvette was still being built.
This impressive photo shows Jerry Earl's Corvette SR-2 race car with two other enormously important GM concept cars: the LeSabre and the Olds F-88 II.
Tail section of first SR-2 had pointed fin molded to the back deck. Taillights were the first of the units which later became stock items. Plastic coverings for headlights add much to the streamlining of Earl's Corvette, they are removed for street use. Parking lights are special units that were taped for racing.
Harley Earl, built the "the first race Corvette" for his son inside one of his very own engineering body development studios at GM Styling. This type of behavior is usually reserved for the top dog leader who is running the entire show. Naturally the power and the creative control to do anything desired, inside this giant corporation, created a slippery slope for Harley Earl. For example, hundreds of other top GM finance guys, engineers and stylists were restless because they simply didn't have the clout to "build running prototypes"...let alone know how to get the financing to fund their dreams inside this corporation...or make a concept car for anyone, let alone their own son.
Famous stock car racer Curtis Turner pictured with Jerry, below, at 1957 race in Nassau.
Below is a case study detailing the power role H. J. Earl played influencing certain GM advertising campaigns. This logo theme for Corvette, illustrated in following four pics, show why Corvette’s advertising from the late 1950s was so unique. At certain times, Mr. Earl would point Campbell-Ewald Advertising Co. (Chevrolet’s sole advertising company since 1928) down particular creative roads. Mr. Earl was never challenged, for this was back before the day of modern Marketing Departments and often enough, GM’s Styling team “marketed” the company's image, brands and overall feel and look. Oh, were those the good old days of GM; a time when the literary output and artwork used in massive print advertising campaigns were closely tied to GM’s product designs.
Logo emblem designs on GM concept cars would show up on GM's end products. TV became the most popular way to market a product in the early 1960s, when before that print ads were the NO.1 way to advertise. ( New Yorker & Sports Illustrated ads, above, from March 1957.)
More on how Harley Earl took GM into modern sports car racing