GM ‘Car of the Future’ Reaches Milestone

August 3, 2016

In the late 1930s, General Motors styling section and Buick engineers created an extremely modern experimental car to illustrate coming advances in automotive design. The Buick project known internally as the Y-Job was announced as a car of the future in early 1940.

The Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) recently announced the Buick Y-Job as the 14th vehicle recognized on the National Historic Vehicle Register in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Historic American Engineering Record and archives of the Library of Congress.

The Buick Y-Job was created under the direction of GM’s legendary design chief, Harley J. Earl. The car was described at the time as a convertible coupe hand-built on a custom Buick chassis and powered by a Buick Series 50 engine with special experimental features. The Y-Job foreshadowed many design features that were adopted over the next several decades, according to HVA. The low and wider design eliminated the need for running boards and improved stability. The car incorporated 13-inch wheels and brakes with features used on airplanes at the time.

The body was beautifully streamlined and extended front fenders into doors. The rear of the car featured a fully concealed convertible top, boat tail design, and the hint of the tail fins that became iconic design elements of cars in the 1950s. The grill was far lower and wider than what was typical of the period and included novel retractable headlamps. The hood was described as “alligator-type” of one piece that was a departure from the two-piece hoods from the time.

“Harley Earl and the Buick Y-Job expanded the boundaries of car design and drew the blueprint for concept vehicle design and execution,” said GM Global Design Vice President Michael Simcoe. “We thank the HVA for ensuring the world’s first concept car is documented and preserved for future generations.”

The Buick Y-Job was documented during the grand opening of the HVA National Laboratory in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The laboratory is a pristine, purpose-built, state-of-the art facility for automotive photography, photogrammetry, 3D scanning, videography and the HVA’s growing physical and digital archives, according to HVA. The laboratory was built to standardize and streamline the expansion of the National Historic Vehicle Register program.

The laboratory environment includes a large 40- by 40-foot white room with infinity walls on all sides and turntable integrated into the floor to efficiently rotate historic automobiles during photography. The facility is believed to be the only facility of its kind in the world, according to HVA. The work done here will provide current and future generations a highly detailed, accurate and consistent record of some of the nation’s most significant automotive treasures.

“The Buick Y-Job is a true American design treasure and an incredibly appropriate vehicle to document during our National Laboratory grand opening,” said HVA President Mark Gessler.

The documentation of the Buick Y-Job on the National Historic Vehicle Register is being organized by the Historic Vehicle Association and underwritten by the GM Design Center, Hagerty, and Shell (including their Pennzoil and Quaker State brands).

The HVA National Laboratory is located adjacent to the 27 Acre NB Center for American Automotive Heritage that includes a half-mile circular track, conference facilities and full-time staff dedicated to automotive restoration, preservation and collection curation.  The HVA recently used the track facility to record movement and sounds of the first Camaro built and Thomas Flyer that won the New York to Paris Round the World Race in 1908.

The design, development, construction and ongoing maintenance of the HVA National Laboratory were underwritten through the support given by the NB Center for American Automotive Heritage.

Related Articles