Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Buick Y-Job

The 1938 Buick Y-Job has a very unique 
distinction in the motoring world

It's the first concept car....ever

I always enjoy a quirky story. Back in '77, Lockheed was toying with the idea of a stealthy jet attack craft - what would become the F-117 Night Hawk. 

So they built a full scale mock-up and placed it on a pole. Then they invited air force brass out to their desert location for the stealth test and flipped on the radar.

The Night Hawk was, unfortunately, fully visible on the radar screens.

Embarrassed, the Lockheed engineers sent a guy out in a pick-up truck to see what the problem was. A bird had landed on the mock-up and was unconcerned with the test. The engineer shooed the bird away, and the Night Hawk disappeared from the radar screens.

Harley Earl and his vision....

We need concepts and mock-ups. It's a place to start, and in 1938, Harley J. Earl realized this. Earl was the head of engineering at Chevrolet, a free-form thinker that introduced clay modeling to car design. 

Then he took it one step further with the Buick Y-Job, using the car as a clever marketing tool and showing the American public just what General Motors was capable of. The letter 'Y' is a military term for experimental aircraft. As above, the Night Hawk would have been the YF-117 during testing.

The Y-Job had many firsts. Concealed headlights, electric windows, flush door handles, a top that folded into the trunk, and futuristic styling that must have made the Buick look like a space ship at the time. 

It is difficult to imagine a world without concept cars now. But at the time of the Y-Job, American motorists were very interested in what they considered their 'dream car'. And at 17 feet long, this low-slung two-seater fit the bill rather nicely.

Under the hood, it's business as usual - a 320 cubic inch straight eight powers the Y-Job. The styling innovations, however, would be seen for many years on GM products - particularly Buick and Cadillac. 

The Y-Job was ground-breaking, though, a huge streamlined piece of art that probably got 3 mpg. It didn't matter, as this was no trailer queen. Earl himself drove the Y-Job until 1951, when it was finally placed in storage and forgotten.

The influence of the Y-Job can later be seen on the '49 Cadillac, another giant cruiser. Earl went on from the Y-Job concept with 'Project Opel' after WW2, which would become the Corvette. He introduced tail-fins, the wraparound windshield, two-tone paint, and hardtop sedans to the world. 

And it all started with the Y-Job.

Joy Osmanski had this to say:

"I don't know. The Buick is kinda cool, if you 
lived in Russia and only ate potatoes. 

It reminds me of a human placenta that 
washed up on the beach. Bleck!"

Gee, thanks, Joy.

What is your favorite 
concept car?

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