General Motors began a precedent when, in 1927, chairman Alfred P. Sloan hired a Hollywood custom car builder to create the American auto industry’s first design department. General Motors called it the Art and Color Department.
And it was led by none other than Harley Earl, who happens to land on Automobile‘s list of the 25 greatest designers of all time. Earl was responsible for some of the greatest design trends in American automotive design, and his work can be seen at almost any classic car showing.
Earl led GM design from 1927 until 1958, where he was responsible for the looks of about 55 million cars in his tenure. Automobile calls him the “great assimilator of design ideas from European sources” and he had a knack for crafting outlandish space-age concepts with some of the most innovative ideas of the 20th century.
Following Earl’s storied tenure was William Mitchell, who happens to also land on the list right behind Earl. Unlike Earl, though, Mitchell wasn’t as engrossed in the details as Earl was. Where Earl would divulge in things like wraparound windshields and tail-fins, Mitchell would execute his designs with more precision and sculpture-like finesse.
Notably, the 1963 Buick Riviera was the work of Mitchell. The Riviera paved a new direction for GM design in the 1960s, where it would continue to evolve into the coming decades after Mitchell’s retirement in the 1980s and up until his death.
A few other design greats, such as Virgil Exner and Gordon Buehrig grace the list, with their beginnings tied to the General, but ultimately, their hits lie with other manufacturers. The list covers other incredible designers across Europe and even some who are poised to become greats, and we encourage you to read the whole list, which may be found here.