The Buick Y-Job Is the Most Important Concept Car of All Time

An ode to the raddest lady of a bygone era

August 5, 2016 9:00 am

If you’ve ever wondered why automakers go to so much trouble to produce cars that will never roll off the production line, this is a good place to start looking for an answer.

The Buick Y-Job was one of the original concept models, and certainly the most famous. And she was just honored as the newest inductee (no. 14 overall) to the National Historic Vehicle Register — for good reason.

The Y-Job was the handy work of one Harley Earl, son of J.W. Earl. In 1927, he was charged with running a new Buick department, “The Art and Colour Section.” The Great Depression was then upon them and companies were forced to vie for every dollar they had. After a couple of disastrous experimental makes, Earl decided that The Art and Colour Section would become “The Styling Department” and that concept cars would be developed to test the consumer’s opinion. Thus, the Y-Job was born.

At the time, concept cars were not displayed as car shows. Rather, Earl used the beauty as his own dream driver, not revealed to the public until after WWII.

While Buick tagged it as a convertible coupe, it is clearly so much more, and its historical recognition is well-deserved. The Y-Job never went into production, but its characteristics can be seen in many later Buick models. Thematically, it presaged and inspired the auto designs that would become popular in the ’40s and ’50s.

It was lower and wider, meaning no more need for running boards, and had fenders that stretched into the doors, a harbinger of the transformation to ’50s models and their more enveloped forms. Other changes included close-wrapped bumpers, a one-piece hood and GM’s first horizontal grille, which was influenced by the Mercedes W154 Grand Prix racer. See also: the denoting of tailfins, which would spiral out of control in no time.

Accordingly, in ‘59, upon Earl’s retirement, he stated of his design philosophy, “You will never know what the industrial products of the future will be like, but the secret is to keep trying to find out … I’d rather try crossing a river on a path of bobbing soap cakes than make predictions about the car of tomorrow. The footing would be far safer.”

Hats off to your, sir.

And to the Y-Job, raddest lady of her era, with a legacy now preserved forever.

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