World’s first concept car

The 1938 Buick Y-Job is generally considered the industry’s first concept car. Created by General Motors Styling and Buick Engineering, it was designed by Harley J. Earl, GM’s first design chief, and built on a production Buick chassis modified by Charlie Chayne, then Buick’s chief engineer. Power was supplied by a Buick 320 cubic inch straight 8.

  • 1938 Buick Y-Job
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    5244 L
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    front, RWD
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Buick called it "Y" because so many makers dubbed experimental cars "X." Styling and mechanical features of the "Y Job" showed up on GM products, particularly Buick and Cadillac, throughout the ’40s. Particularly noteworthy is the introduction of a wide horizontal grille with thin vertical bars, which remains a Buick styling feature to this day.

But dream cars, like yesterday’s newspapers, have a short shelf life. The Y-Job’s innovative styling and advanced features soon paled alongside even more futuristic products from GM’s supercharged design staff. The Y-Job was eventually consigned to a warehouse, and later transferred to the Sloan Museum in Flint, Mich. There the Y-Job languished in dusty anonymity - until a burgeoning interest in Detroit’s fanciful dream cars rescued the Y-Job and its descendants from obscurity.

As historians and enthusiasts began to appreciate the significance of these landmark vehicles, the Y-Job was returned to its former glory as the centerpiece of a concept car revival at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. In 1993, the Y-Job came home to the GM Design Center in Warren, Mich., where it now resides as an honored member of GM’s heritage collection.

The car served as Harley’s Earl personal transportation for many years, until he replaced it with the 1951 General Motors LeSabre dream car.

About Harley Earl

Harley J. Earl (November 22, 1893–April 10, 1969) was an automotive stylist and engineer and industrial designer. He is most famous for his time at General Motors from 1927 until 1959.

The first car designed by him was the 1927 La Salle, a smaller companion car to the Cadillac. His car quite resembled the Hispano-Suiza that various Hollywood celebrities and American nouveaux riches were buying at the time, a fashion which Cadillac executives resented. And, as the more expensive cars of that time were usually sold as chassis, drive-train, fenders, radiator, and cowling to be given a body by a specialized coachbuilding firm, it was the first car of that sort which was designed body and all by a professional in a motor firm.

Since he was responsible for the very first concept car, the Buick "Y" job of 1938, which had concealed headlamps and prefigured later Buick design motifs, Earl is credited as being the father of the concept car approach. But given the immediate postwar sales boom, his second concept car was prepared only in 1950. This was the Le Sabre, the gimmick of which was its extreme lowness, by having the carburetor and air cleaner taken off the top of the engine and put alongside the cylinder heads. At first, Earl and the concept cars toured the United States in the GM Motorama shows.

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