A book recommendation

I just began reading Fins, by William Knoedelseder. It is the story of Harley Earl, and of General Motors, during the period when Earl was in charge of GM styling. It seems to be a very good read.

Incidentally, I am not promoting purchase of this book from Amazon, mainly because I was able to buy my copy from an indy book seller for about 1/2 the price that Amazon is charging. I am just posting this Amazon link so that you can read about that book.


Harley Earl was quite the character and visionary. He recognized that styling sells cars and that changing the styling every year gives people a reason to buy a new car year after year. Sort of a “keeping up with the Joneses” thing. GM made him the first VP of design. A first in any company. He saved LaSalle from cancellation in 1933 by putting the '34 car onto an Olds chassis with an Olds engine to save money and giving it an art-deco style. Kept LaSalle alive until the war.

I will look for that book!


I will second @VDCdriver 's recpmmendation. I read the book a few months ago on Kindle and I loved it.

I started reading it. So far so good. I borrowed the ebook from Cloud Library and the audio book from Hoopladigital via my public library. I like to read and listen or switch between listening and reading.

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‘Gee our old LaSalle ran great - those were the days!’

Was that the origin of ‘twinning’: 2 essentially-identical cars under different badges?

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, codger I am

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No, because they were not twins. The 34 Olds looked much different. Different body, same chassis, almost the same engine.

But that was the benefit of GM from early days. Engineers has a big parts bin to pull from. Designers were then free to make them look as they wanted with only the cost of body tooling.

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It was an early example of “badge engineering”

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I’m not a motorhead, but I used to listen to The Car Show on KPFK. Len Frank would note that some Ford was basically the same as a Mercury (for example - the same was true between GM badges and Plymouth/Dodge). I assumed he meant that the chassis, engine, everything under the hood was the same, only the bodies different. Am I wrong?

That’s the word I was looking for. Thanks.

Sone of that was right, some was wrong. Using 1934 as an example, the Lasalle, Olds and Buick shared a basic chassis. The Buick engine was overhead valve 8, the Olds was a flathead 8 built by Olds and the LaSalle was the Olds engine built in the LaSalle plant.

Well into the 70s, each nameplate in GM and to a lessor extent, Ford, Mercury and Lincoln each had their own engines. Pontiac cars had Pontiac engines. Cadillacs had Caddy engines. In the 50s and 60s, GM didn’t even share rear axles. Transmissions also had significant variations.

By the 80s, more parts were common but the “tuning” of various parts were specific to the make. Shocks, springs, stabilizer bars, stereos, carpet, headliner materials, seats, exhaust sound, anything that could differentiate an Olds from a Buick or Chevy… or a Ford from a Mercury.

The 80s was when real badge engineering happened in the US car market. The Brits had been doing it since the early 60s as their car companies struggled and consolidated.

When dad custom ordered his new minivan in 1988 he almost forgot to say if it was going to be a Grand Caravan or Grand Voyager, the only difference would be the grille and the badges. Same price either way. We ordered from a small town Ford/Mercury/Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth dealer that averaged less than a weeks supply of Grand Voyager’s and Grand Caravan’s in 1988.