How does the ill-fated story that launched the career of Ralph Nader relate to the demise of Harley Earl: The Father of the Modern Car?
and consumer activist, Ralph Nader, published Unsafe At Any Speed in
1965, a withering indictment of the safety record of American automakers,
especially General Motors. Nader even vilified Harley Earl and his design staff in
particular for their work on the flawed Chevrolet Corvair --- an ironic choice
of targets after it came to light in the media that GM brass used blackmail like
tactics in the early 1960s to discredit Nader. General Motors was then implicated
(click PDF news story shown directly below) for hiring
private detectives to dig up dirt on Nader, but the strategy backfired when
Nader sued GM for invasion of privacy. GM president James M. Roche and Fredrick Donner,
GM’s CEO, were forced to
make an embarrassing public apology. The following quote on the settlement is
provided from Ralph Nader's Wikipedia site; "Upon learning of GM's
actions, Nader successfully sued the company for invasion of privacy, forced it to publicly apologize, and used much of his $284,000
net settlement to expand his consumer rights efforts. Nader's lawsuit against GM
was ultimately decided by the New York Court of Appeals, whose opinion in the case expanded tort law to cover
'overzealous surveillance.' " Nader has since made three
unsuccessful runs for the presidency of the United States.
The reason GM’s top brass knew the Nader ploy would work flawlessly was because the selfsame shakedown tactic ousted Harley Earl just a few years prior. President Jack Gordon, CEO Fred Donner and their designer Bill Mitchell knew if their scheme had toppled the Father of the Modern Car's tradition of constant "change and modernization" dead in its tracks, it would pluck Nader from the scene just as fast.
At the end of the 1950s, millions of Americans were addicted to Earl's rolling works of art that were simply everywhere. Back then, many general audience members knew a thing or two on Earl being some kind of hero in Americana. In the eye of the auto journalistic community, GM's new leaders of the early 1960s began to change and slant the perception on Designer-Earl after having wrestled the controlling power seat (behind the look and feel of all GM's cars) away from Earl and his design department. That's when these rogue leaders started throwing away GM's time-tested progressive "design driven" business paradigm so they could direct the controlling interest behind all the money that had been going to Earl's design team and department. And after Earl died ten years later in 1969, instead of these execs paying homage to this auto pioneer or giving him a posthumous victory, GM's new leading bean counters went the other way and entirely began to change the role Harley Earl actually played in GM's winning history. Marginalizing and washing away his artistic engineering mark on the American auto scene became the new norm rather than legitimizing his business accomplishments in academia and the business world. GM's upper echelon truly began fabricating this man's historic records to make themselves look good.
Where is Earl's title today for being "the father of the modern car " in the history books? Buried. Although the above 1969 cover title of this 12-page rotogravure story is hard to erase, it is a perfect example elaborating how Earl's auto legacy today was directed down a road of obscurity. As time began to pass, GM's newest leaders cleverly steered this man's greatest milestones all around so they'd look like the GM executives who followed in Earl's wake were the real talented ones. And by the time of GM's 75th anniversary in 1983, the world's largest company had legions of auto journalists and business historians in their back pocket perpetuating the con of turning Earl's history of "art in industry" upside down so things read differently in the automotive history books. Such as, Harley Earl really wasn't that important. Nobody did it better than GM's early 1980s CEO Roger Smith, who is known today for gutting GM's heart and soul. Tainting and fabricating so many historic facts behind Detroit's auto design world legacy became commonplace. These were dark times.
By the early 1990s, many of the important facts on how Earl first invented the success behind Detroit's dependency on design business model had been buried so deep this man and his once great story was fast becoming a lost legacy inside GM, Detroit, the media and to the American public. By this time, GM's bean counter leaders just decided nobody cared anyway so why spend a lot of time and money fixing the damage done by previous leaders cooking the company's history books, etc...(No one has ever gone to jail in the world of big business, or on Wall St., for cooking a corporation's history books...but maybe that should change)? This is why such a small audience today in America and the rest of the world hardly care to understand how Harley Earl invented the Automobile Design profession in the first place. It's is a huge accomplishment in the history of business and it's even written that way in stone within Detroit's archival world...if you know which archive to look in.
This is one of the primary reasons GM and Detroit was in such a heap of trouble at the end of the twentieth century. At that time, you could go around and interview Detroit's top auto execs and hardly any of them knew Harley Earl had invented the Automobile Design Profession in America. That's because GM massacred and ate it's golden goose and very few big named American historians or business professors at major US universities or business institutions knew anything about the inside track behind Detroit's Dependency on Design or where it came from in the first place. Thankfully, maligning the history behind GM Design (Harley Earl's legacy) is on the downswing since the formation of the new GM in the forth quarter of 2010, but the new GM is very much connected to the old GM, so much work needs to be done in order to making Earl's business-art story flourish instead of languish. Even at GM's 100th birthday in September 2008 (right when this company was first hitting the bankruptcy wall) GM's PR dictum on GM Design history and Earl's legacy was downright vague, false and misleading. Sadly, millions of Americans just look the other way when GM history is brought up today. The same holds true when you mention "Detroit;" Americans are fed up with all the shenanigans coming out America's auto capital the last 40 odd years.
Why did the illuminating history on the man who toppled Henry Ford never flow outside of Detroit's insular world?
Simply put, the powers that be at the top of GM and Motown's richest family (Ford descendants) clearly had another agenda: meticulously control the flow of all information related to Harley Earl milestones and/or inventions. One reason being, these were some of the hottest promotional diamonds related to the American auto industry's modern history, and Detroit's cream of the crop had every intention of spinning things "their way in the media" to ride on the glowing coat tails of this one past leader's victories in business success.
Not much has changed in Detroit since the 1960s for the most powerful leaders in Detroit today (especially the top cadre at GM in 2007) were cut from the same cloth of traitorous demagogues who prematurely terminated America's auto world's leading vision back in 1958. This section of the website provides proof positive the central character of the American auto industry's meteoric rise "behind the modern" was deceptively withheld from ever reaching the public domain. Yes, it is true, Harley Earl made Henry Ford's old fashion utilitarian auto building ways obsolete and some historians understand the true history, "Harley Earl was first to introduce forks and knives to Detroit's auto world starting in the late 1920s when he initiated a whole new modern pattern of auto building...since that time, it has revolutionized the entire auto world." What follows shows why this story is Detroit's dirtiest secret and why many powerful players would prefer it stay buried moving forward.
This story of betrayal connects to the very top of the American business world and that's the primary reason it has stayed suppressed for so long. Of course another detail behind why the story never came forward has to do with the fact Harley Earl was mighty embarrassed by being a recipient of a treacherous shakedown by the very GM leaders he had in fact help make!
W. Rybicki painted the best picture why all of GM's CEOs over the last fifty odd
years have participated in a massive distortion and/or deception of American
business history. Mr. Rybicki was a 42-year GM
veteran who worked under Earl and, later on, became the third vice president of
GM Design (1977-1986). His statements were gathered in various taped interviews:
"Harley Earl is responsible for more than half of GM's greatest 20th Century milestones. The fact this company had exclusivity of all his work and was able to capitalize off his artistic efforts and innovative engineering ideas first, is why this man's story is so controversial and a kept secret today in Detroit."
Look at the above chart...GM and Detroit's forward momentum and progress were never supposed to be severely halted! Whereby, a historic decade-after-decade downslide began and has now prevailed into the beginning of the 21st century auto world. Something really big, negative and highly controversial happened "behind-the-scenes" in Detroit's business world that has never before been publicly fleshed out or shared. The treachery that brought down an iconic American had vast consequences that no doubt affected America's business world.
How do the Fords (Detroit’s wealthiest family of the 20th Century) play into this plot?
Ford family members witnessed "GM's cooking the history books" leading
up to General Motors 75th birthday in 1983 (the infamous GM CEO,
Roger Smith, was in charge of this stratagem) many Fords saw this as an
excellent opportunity to leverage and elevate the “Henry Ford” brand relating directly to
modern automobile history. Not surprisingly, Harley Earl was the fall guy.
largest shareholders of Ford Motor Co., Ford descendants went on to spin around
in their pot (via having the director of the Henry Ford Museum in their pocket)
some of the most glamorous modern American auto history and milestones.
How did General Motors "originally" become the No. 1 auto maker in the modern era (last 85 years of auto history)?
On account of one word: Design. Even while GM's new leaders today are restructuring the company (and GM stock is freely trading again) they don't really look into the area that made GM great in the first place. Once scholarly broken down and fundamentally analyzed one can understand and begin to see how Toyota will take the No. 1 throne position away from GM and continually dominate the world's auto market of the future. One thing for sure, GM's stock has been a dog for well over a year and currently is trading near new 52 week lows (under $20.00 as of July 2, 2012) and over 40% off it's high price set of over $40 dollars after it's 2010 IPO price. GM's design leadership being the reason why GM became No. 1. What's compelling perhaps is how Toyota's leading execs probably understand auto design history better than large execs inside Detroit. of today and how this company originally became No. 1 in the first place. Why would you s. One reason has to do with how it supplies more evidence on how the world's largest auto company lost this position and became No. 2
GM's financial leaders of the last fifty years (1959-2009) had an iron grip on Earl's legacy of design and business success story and currently view it as a dirty business secret and never want it to escape. Naturally, it's at the heart of why the U.S. Auto scene became such a shambles. For example, read the newspaper article at the bottom of this section on Bill Mitchell's view on how small cars were the wrong road for GM to take in the future. For a long time, the bad guys 'told the history of GM' and thus why the lost legacy of Harley Earl languished in obscurity for decades of time...until now.
Thankfully with the advent of the internet age, things are changing and a grass roots movement has been going on now for nearly a decade whereby members of the auto collector arena now recognize the role Harley Earl played in the auto world by creating America's most hotly collected motoramic masterpieces. These unique one-of-a-kind cars have had a huge spike and are now selling for millions of dollars at auction. Just ten years ago (2002), Earl's legacy and story was obscure after GM had controlled it for so long. It's really interesting how one day in the future, GM's going to have to swallow the following statement, and how they ignored it for decades of time! If you look at the facts, it's easy to disseminate that Harley Earl is the most accomplished leader to come out of the American auto world in the last 85 years.