The 1938 Buick Y-Job: Proof of Concept for the Concept Car
What is a concept car? There are many answers to that question. In some ways, it’s a marketing ploy. Automakers wish to gauge public reaction to style changes and features, before investing large sums of cash in bringing them to the assembly line. In other ways, it’s an engineering experiment, an attempt to figure out if ideas that look great on paper will be just as wonderful in reality. In yet another way, they’re a form of artistic expression, a means by which a vision goes from being an idea to something tangible.
The 1938 Buick Y-Job was all of those things, plus something else. It’s the concept car, the very first vehicle built for all of the reasons above, and it occupies a very special place in automotive history.
Shaped Like Today’s Big Box Stores
If there’s a single word to describe most cars that were built in the 1930s, then that word is “boxy.” Windshields were mounted at almost 90 degree angles. Grilles were upright as well. Bumpers were massive affairs, and headlights were as large as many modern searchlights are today. Pose a bathing suit beauty on the hood of one of these monstrosities and the effect would be an unappealing clash of divergent forms and shapes. We should still try that at some point though, just to be sure.
Harley Earl, who was head of GM’s design department at the time, wanted to shake things up. He envisioned a vehicle that was long, low, and sleek, that purred like a kitten and was easy on the eyes. In short, he pictured a car that, unlike anything else of its time, could be described as having sex appeal.
The First “Sexy” Car