by David Undercoffler Los Angeles Times
If you stepped into any U.S. car in the first half of the 20th century, it's likely the late Harley Earl directly or indirectly influenced its design. Now a well-heeled buyer will be able to step into one of his actual cars. Mecum Auctions has announced it will offer Earl's own custom-built 1963 Chevrolet Corvette convertible at its Chicago auction Saturday, Oct. 12. The pre-sale estimate for the car is $1.5 million to $2 million. Earl worked at General Motors from the 1920s through the 1950s and rose to vice president. His flamboyant designs have resulted in him roundly being considered the godfather of U.S. car aesthetic.
Earl's contributions to the industry include tail fins, the Corvette, the practice of using concept cars to tease future models and planned obsolescence from one model year to the next. Earl retired from GM in 1958. In 1963 the automaker built a custom Corvette as a gift for his decades of work. He owed it for two years, Mecum said. The car was originally a red convertible, probably used as a test car by GM. It was painted metallic blue, with custom blue leather seats and white trim, Mecum said.
It was then customized with pieces that wouldn't land on production Corvettes until 1965, including the hood, four-wheel disc brakes, chrome trim and the exterior badging. Other changes include the rare multi-piped exhaust running out the side of the car, just behind the front wheels. Only three other Corvettes are known to feature such a design.
Other custom flourishes made in Earl's honor are a dashboard in front of the passenger with a series of gauges. The dials show lateral acceleration, altitude, inside and outside temperatures, and vacuum pressure, Mecum said.