Making the Register: Buick Y-Job

It all starts with an idea on the designers table—a series of lines and shapes laid to paper that come together to create a vision of the future. And in the case of the Buick Y-Job, it truly was a vision, one that existed solely within the mind of a handful of designers who managed to create this rolling work of art from little more than a few sketches.


A well-known pioneer of automotive design Harley Earl and his team set the bar impossibly high with the unveiling of the so-called “Y-Job” or “Car of the Future” under the Buick marque in the late 1930s. While it’s arguable that the Y-Job was the industry’s first concept car, what is undeniable in the impact the car had on the industry. The Y-Job ushered in a new and exciting era, one that offered the buying public a glimpse into an imagined future where styling and design took precedent over mere functionality. With the Y-Job, Earl’s message was clear: Cars were no longer mere machines designed to take you from Point A to Point B. They were also a statement that defined the buyer’s social status and lifestyle.

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If you know the name of only one automotive designer, chances are that name is Harley Earl. Under his watch as head of design at GM, Earl’s teams churned out the Corvette, the idea for the tailfin and a host of other distinct automotive styling cues that ultimately defined the most exciting and identifiable era in automotive history. Arguably the most iconic of Earl’s designs the Buick Y-Job, a car that arguably altered the way designers began thinking about their automotive creations.

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A styling marvel clearly ahead of its time, the Y-Job was one of the most futuristic looking cars ever assembled. Even now, its brilliantly flowing lines, impeccable design and stunning profile evoke a sense of awe. Then conceived as a view of the future, the Y-Job was never actually produced. But it’s impact on the industry is undeniable. GM went on to incorporate many Y-Job design elements in a host of other models—design features that were quickly copied by other competing car makers. Some of them include hidden headlamps, electric windows, flush door handles and the vertical waterfall grille design still in use today.

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