The 1934 "Royal Family of Motordom" print ad below is a beautiful lead-in to the story presented here and we kick off with Hollywood, California's favorite custom car king (many people of the day called him "Hollywood Harley" Earl) moving East to Detroit, MI. in 1927 to begin his relationship designing custom cars for Cadillac and GM.

It is especially significant that the name of GM's chief engineer of Cadillac, Ernest W. Seaholm, accompanies Harley Earl’s moniker on the first La Salle patent (illustrated above) because, contrary to popular belief, it clearly establishes H.J. Earl as also being an engineer regardless that nine out of ten auto execs in Motordom today think Earl was just some "Stylist." The U. S. Patent, (illustrated below) shows the beautifully streamlined 1934 LA SALLE and notice there is only one engineer's name on it. That's because Mr. Seaholm remained on as Cadillac's head engineer, but truth be told, he was no longer in charge or any way responsible for the design of Cadillac products anymore; Harley Earl had taken this job away from him. In doing so, Earl would go on to create a whole new pre-engineering department inside GM.

Notice below how Earl crafted enormous modernity into his next "model change" of his design of the 1934 La Salle. (Patent illustrated side-by-side with print ad of this car next provides continuity.) Even while Earl designing custom creations for Hollywood elite and millionaires of the day, H.J. Earl's universal mantra was the, "Cars were the Stars." Little does anyone know today that the Royal Family of Motordom was simply the La Salle family of cars Harley would invent for Cadillac and GM.

A Major Breakthrough on a Decade's Old Controversy

The moment Mr. Earl stepped off the train in America's auto capital to begin remodeling all of General Motors car lines, tensions were high. This especially holds true concerning the majority of GM's vast network of engineers. In order for Earl to succeed in any kind of battles to come inside GM, he'd already secured a one-of-a-kind mandate before moving to Detroit. He simply wasn't going to risk moving to America's auto capital without having GM's top leaders and largest shareholders onboard to where he intended to take GM in the future. So, Earl and Larry P. Fisher (who happened to be one of GM's largest shareholders at the time and was Earl's greatest ally, patron saint or agent-of-change) were already in position and given the go ahead to detonate a revolutionary new hybrid-engineering department inside GM. Naturally the company's new CEO, Alfred P. Sloan, was in on this team effort in securing Earl's moving to Detroit and giving up his highly lucrative position in Los Angeles making the world's most expensive "custom cars" for movie stars and millionaires in sunny southern California. The mandate was Harley's ace in the hole and it enabled him to gain a giant foothold edge over legions of traditional engineers inside GM. 

"In order to make these cars to sell, I became the most hated man inside the corporation," said Harley Earl in a 1956 NYTimes article.  

By '34 Seaholm had lost so many important battles against Earl inside Cadillac he knew to never challenged him again! This was a paradigm busting time inside GM, for Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and Oldsmobile brands all started being pre-engineered ahead of time by Earl's new auto design team. Seaholm happened to be the first major GM engineer to be sidelined and rendered despondent by Earl's new sword of power. Afterwards, legions of other top GM engineers would wage battles against Earl, and they all lost too over the years and decades to follow. Each one was usually directed to talk to CEO Sloan (Earl had a direct phone line to Sloan put in his office) who'd tell them to back down and leave Earl and his new regime of hybrid engineers at Art & Colour, later GM Styling, alone to design GM's new cars. Earl later said the following in a 1956 New York Times article on him and his new engineering department regarding this matter, "In order to make these cars to sell, I became the most hated man inside the corporation."  

Heading into the mid-'30s, GM's new inventor, Harley Earl, and his principal benefactor, "LP" Fisher, were not only carrying the flag for all of GM, they were raising the bar much higher and creating a new "standard" order of what was fast becoming known as, "the 'modern' American auto industry." Both of these auto innovators knew it, too! If they hadn't absolutely meant it, they sure as hell wouldn't have dared risk referring to GM's No. 1 luxury products as, "the Royal Family of Motordom," "The Modern Motor Car" and using terms like "master by right" in all the 1934 ads unless they were boldly going where no other auto maker, or company, had ever gone before. 

Mr. Earl never chose to publicly talk about all the delicious pressure going on inside and around the corporation regarding his new and more modern engineering "auto design" department. He also wisely chose not to broaden peoples understanding on the fact he was talented in many other areas besides engineering (Mr. Earl personally detested being referred to as, "an engineer" for he knew it to be such a limiting pretext). In Earl's West coast auto building career, he had never suffered and/or been pigeon holed in one position like most typical engineers and auto execs of this period in 1920s-30s auto history who worked inside a large auto manufacturing concern. Not surprisingly, Ernest Seaholm (named with Mr. Earl on '27 LaSalle patent above) and many other large GM engineers who waged and lost major battles against Harley Earl would try getting even with him much later on in history by bad mouthing this new design-engineer in the history books. Apparently, a lot of people bought it.

The smart, distinctive Cadillac-La Salle body designs, that created a national vogue in motor car style, were carried to new heights of refinement and beauty. The exquisite closed bodies were notably engineered with unprecedented roominess and comfort. More strikingly apparent than ever before seen in any production automobiles, Harley Earl's stylish engineering leadership was brilliantly exemplified in these modern motor car designs.

We present more fresh evidence below by starting with three of Mr. Earl's bold assertions, (see red arrows directly below) on the basic principles of automobile design and engineering that have held the test of time. Whether or not any leading auto execs over the last forty odd years in Detroit ever paid much attention to any of Mr. E's highly important philosophies behind what it takes to build and sell cars successfully in the American market place is an entirely another matter. One thing is for certain, if Harley Earl were to come back and see what was going on today in Detroit, the one area which would frustrate him the most would be the legions of Detroit players who are more "career oriented" versus "car oriented." 

It's a certainty that the trailblazing "Car Design Pioneer" as the Detroit News dubbed Mr. Earl in the title of his 1969 obituary, was also an engineer.

Notice unique winged coat of arms emblem, below, along with Mr. Earl’s signature “LaS” mark featured on the very first design work he did for Cadillac (GM). When this new artist-engineer impresario started working for General Motors, the Cadillac brand was not the established leader in America's luxury car market place. Mr Earl was the champion to spearhead the enormous rise of Cadillac, cementing the brand as the No. 1 leader in the American luxury car market for over 60-years uninterrupted (1935-1997).

Harley Earl is credited in the annals of automobile history for being the responsible head behind the aesthetic rules and dramatic engineering principles applied to all GM’s brands over his entire career life in Detroit from 1926 to 1969. (In the last ten years of his life, 1959 to 1969, this auto-innovator remained under contract, with GM, as a highly paid consultant.) The engineer who pioneered a new profession in Motordom ("Car Design" was considered by most leading auto professionals during the mid-twentieth century as being the leading sales factor for all cars sold during the era when Earl retired) was also entirely responsible for inventing the " GM LOOK " whereby each division [Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac] had its own identity.

More than any other, Harley Earl changed the shape and proportions of the American car of the last seventy years of the 20th century. By using all-new streamlining techniques, based on the new profession he was championing inside GM, this man dramatically shifted away from the cracker-box designs other more traditional engineers had used beforehand in Detroit. Henry Ford’s utilitarian principles were the most pervasive of the era right before Mr. Earl moved to Detroit in 1927. In eradicating the old and driving in the new, he pointed the auto industry in a different direction that came directly from his modern manufacturing methods he'd already established in California before moving to Detroit. In the post WW II years, every other auto manufacturer followed in step with Earl’s more-modern technique; investing heavily in building full blown and brand new "automotive design" departments within their respective auto company. Earl's new "auto designers" were hybrid artist-engineers who took hold of creating each car companies new product designs that would later become the company's end product: A car or truck...or another shape that usually took the form of a transportation product. 

Most traditional minded auto engineers during the 1950s despised Mr. Earl being heralded in the media as the "Car Design Pioneer" because his new department of highly trained appearance-engineers (equal part artist and qualified engineers) started sidelining most of the old fashioned ways of Detroit's long-established auto engineering crew. After WW Two was when the battle began to really escalate for the long established engineers (they were all men) who continued to think like the greatest Detroit engineer, Henry Ford, were simply kicked down to the curb and often put out of work. This was a time when many traditional engineer's fortunes began to dwindle while the status of Earl's hybrid auto designers began to tower. Not only were Earl's "car designers" highly sought after by auto companies, they garnered much more respect at this time in auto history. A highly trained auto designer's salary, male or female, far exceeded someone coming out of college with just an engineering degree. 

Bottom Line: Truth be told, between the late 20s thru the 1950s, Harley Earl and his new hybrid car designers were always fighting a silent war inside America's auto capital against GM's old fashioned auto engineers to control the auto building process. Heading into the 1950s, Detroit's traditional engineers knew the about the lopsided score, for Earl's faction inside GM had been winning year-in-and-year-out continiously. Earl and all his new team of professional car designers basically made thousands of old fashioned Detroit auto engineers look bad. One phrase was popularized at it went like this, "Harley Earl dragged traditional auto engineers kicking and screaming into the 20th Century auto world."


With all the dodging and spin created by others (who were in direct competition with Mr. Earl's hybrid "auto design" engineering profession) there was an avalanche of hearsay created over the years that helped bury Harley Earl's true story in American history. Once again, it's important to remind people reading this new information for the first time, that all the auto design innovations listed and shown above are "engineering" based.