Two years ago, the Shelby Daytona became the first inductee in the National Historic Vehicle Register. The 14th car to get the same treatment is the Buick Y-Job, the first-ever concept car.
Before anything, it needs to be mentioned that the Historic Vehicle Association has developed the National Historic Vehicle Register with the sole purpose of documenting America’s most historically significant cars, motorcycles, trucks, and even commercial vehicles. Having cleared that, what makes the Y-Job worthy of its induction?
I’ll let Michael Simcoe, the Global Design Vice President at General Motors, explain what’s the deal with this awesome blast from the past: “Harley Earl and the Buick Y-Job expanded the boundaries of car design and drew the blueprint for concept vehicle design and execution. We thank the HVA for ensuring the world’s first concept car is documented and preserved for future generations.”
In 1940, the Buick Y-Job went on display as the “Car of the Future” and, believe it or not, it was a radical departure from the passenger cars of that era. No running boards? Check. Low and wide radiator grille? Check. One-piece hood? Check. And good golly, the list of goodies doesn’t end here. Other highlights include the retractable headlamps, subtle tailfins, concealed hydraulic-electric top, and the 13-inch wheels in an era when 16 inches was the standard.
All things considered, the Y-Job had paved the way for American automotive design of the 1950s. It expanded the world of car design as we know. Its creator, Harley Earl, loved it a lot. Yeah, that Harley Earl who introduced tailfins to automotive design and who convinced General Motors to go ahead with Project Opel, a.k.a. the Chevrolet Corvette. In fact, he used the Y-Job as his daily driver for roughly a decade. In 1951, Harley presented it to the Buick Historical Collection and the rest, as they say, is history.
Intriguingly, the name of the Buick Y-Job wasn’t as forward-thinking as the exterior design. As per the GM Media archive, the Y-Job was called as such “because so many makers dubbed experimental cars ‘X’.” There’s another explanation for the name, though. According to a book written by Larry Edsall, ‘Y’ was chosen by Earl because it was used in the aviation industry to denote the most advanced prototypes.