General Motors’ styling department, led by design legend Harley Earl, was tasked in the late 1930s with imagining the car of tomorrow. That car, known internally as the Buick “Y-Job,” predicted the design trends of the 1950s and beyond, and is regarded by many as the first American concept car. Now, the Y-Job is getting some official recognition as the 14th vehicle entered into the National Historic Vehicle Register.
The National Historic Vehicle Register is a program established in 2014 by the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) with help from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Heritage Documentation Programs, and Library of Congress. The register’s mission is to document significant automobiles from America’s history. The Y-Job’s addition to the register coincides with the opening of the HVA’s National Laboratory in Allentown, Pa., which was built to advance the expansion of the program. The facility houses a 3D scanner, a 40 x 40-foot white room with vehicle turntable for photography and videography, and the HVA’s physical and digital archives. The Y-Job was the first car to be documented at the laboratory.
The Y-Job was a two-door convertible built on a Buick chassis and powered by a Buick Series 50 engine equipped with experimental features. But the Y-Job’s real claim to fame is its design. The car’s low, wide body meant it didn’t need running boards, which were commonly used on cars of the day. The low and wide philosophy also aided in stability. The fenders wrapped around the front end for a more streamlined look, and the boat-tail rear completely hid the convertible top. The Y-Job also marked the first appearance of the tailfin, a design trend that wouldn’t become popular until the ‘50s. In addition, the concept originated Buick’s trademark waterfall grille and employed retractable headlights.
“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, in a release. “We thank the HVA for ensuring the world’s first concept car is documented and preserved for future generations.”
So far, the register includes a 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe prototype, a 1947 Tucker ’48 prototype, a 1940 GM Futureliner used in the GM Parade of Progress, President Ronald Reagan’s 1962 Willys Jeep CJ-6, and several other vehicles the HVA deemed worthy of inclusion. What vehicles do you think should be added next? Tell us in the comments below.