GM Design celebrates 85th Anniversary

By Editors on June 20, 2012 2:16 PM

This month marks the 85th Anniversary of a landmark decision by the Executive Committee of General Motors to create an official department specifically charged with studying "the question of art and color combinations in General Motors products." It selected Harley Earl, successful Hollywood coachbuilder and the man who designed the original 1927 LaSalle to head up this fledgling operation, the first ever by any automaker. The rest, as they say, is history.

Under his watchful eye, Earl introduced a new kind of unprecedented innovation to the creative process in a tenure that spanned nearly 42 years and saw what originally began as the "Art and Colour Section" formally morph into GM Design. During his time in charge, Earl was responsible for everything from numerous concept cars - many highlighted in GM's spectacular Motorama auto shows -- to the introduction of tailfins and full annual model year changeovers. He also presided over the arrival of the first Chevrolet Corvette in 1953 and was credited with hiring the industry's first female designers.

In the years following Harley Earl's retirement, the top GM Design slot has been filled by five individuals: William Mitchell (1958-1977), Irving Rybicki (1977-1986), Charles Jordan (1986-1992), Wayne Cherry (1992-2003) and Ed Welburn (2003-present). Welburn, whose time as GM vice president, Global Design already has generated a number of potential future classics from the reinvented Chevy Camaro to the Cadillac CTS Coupe, notes that while times have may have changed, the fundamental mission has not. "What was true 85 years ago is still true today: A designer's role is to create a beautifully executed exterior with great proportions to draw you in, and an interior environment that invites you into a relationship that develops and grows." The accompanying gallery and video briefly chronicle many of the notable GM one-offs and production offerings, from Harley Earl's original Buick Y-Job in 1938 to the latest Cadillac Ciel concept.