1938 Buick Y-Job
Engine: 320 c.i. Inline Eight
Horsepower: 141 @ 3600rpm
Transmission: 3 speed manual
Steering: Bendix power steering unit
Other: Electronically controlled windows & convertible top
After designing the 1931 Cadillac V16, Harley Earl wanted to implant his vision of combining
automobiles with future technology. Coined the “Dream Car”, he used this vision when he created the
1938 Buick Y-Job, which was considered to be the world’s first concept car. It was called the “Y-Job”, due
to the letter, “Y”, being used for experimental aircrafts at the time. The Y-Job was GM’s first trial run at experimenting different designs on cars. Not only did Harley Earl design the car, he later used it as his daily driver as well!
The Y-Job was a styling breakthrough, because it allowed the automobile to be lower and longer in
terms of appearance and design, which foreshadowed the cars to come in the late 1940s. In 1948, a wire
service reporter photographed the Y-Job on the streets of Detroit and thought it was a brand new 1949
Buick! The styling was quite futuristic for the time, with its wrap around bumpers, hidden headlights,
flush door handles, and recessed tail lamps. The car also had electronically controlled windows and an
electronically controlled convertible top that was concealed by a metal deck. The headlights of the car
were specifically designed to “blink” as the top and bottom covers opened up horizontally.
The engine in the Y-Job was a 320 cu in straight eight that developed 141 hp at 3600rpm. The car
measured 208in in length and 74in in width. The long and swooping lines of the car allowed it to have a
low roofline at only 58in. The dashboard of the Y-Job set the tone for future Buicks with its center
mounted speedometer, clear round dials and radio controls. The seats resembled a bench design and
the accelerator pedal’s heal went into the floor to give room for Harley’s large stature. The wheel size on
the Y-Job was quite small, at 13in, which helped its long and low design. Additionally, the car was fitted
with Bendix power steering unit that allowed smooth steering at all speeds. The Y-Job’s power steering
wasn’t available on other cars until the 1950s.
Information and images courtesy of the GM Heritage Center.