Hundreds of designers and stylists have played a major role creating memorable vehicles, but a few names stand out. First among them is Harley J. Earl, the first designer in the U.S. to establish the role of the artist in an engineering-dominated profession.

Son of a coachbuilder, he began molding cars out of the wet clay he found while camping in the mountains north of Los Angeles at age 16.

He later used clay to sculpt a Cadillac LaSalle display prototype -- instead of creating it from wood and hand-beaten metal parts. GM President Alfred P. Sloan was impressed with how all the separate parts flowed smoothly together. He hired Mr. Earl, and a revolution was born. The 1927 LaSalle was a hit. Under his leadership, GM ruled automotive styling. The first concept car, the Corvette, and tailfins were his personal creations.

One of Mr. Earl's biggest achievements was development of specialist teams capable of producing an integrated final design. At the peak of his GM career, Mr. Earl was responsible for 17 studios staffed with some 1,400 designers and modelers.

William L. Mitchell followed in his footsteps, heading GM's styling staff for 19 years. During his tenure the staff name was changed from "Styling" to "Design" in 1972, recognizing that it was responsible for vehicle architecture, packaging and safety in addition to traditional style and color. He is credited with developing the original Buick Riviera, among other great cars.

American Motors Corp.'s Richard A. Teague designed some of the most famous -- and infamous -- cars of the '50s, '60s and '70s, including the first "compacts," plus the Hornet, Javelin, AMX, Gremlin and Pacer. His interesting and original designs helped keep perennially cash-starved AMC afloat, but they often were shortchanged because of funding problems. The Pacer, for instance, was designed to use a powerful and compact GM-built Wankel engine, which would have made it a very sporty performer. But GM canceled its Wankel program and Pacer wound up with an oversized, underpowered inline-6 and the the car became a famous dud. His most enduring work: the Jeep Cherokee, still selling today.

Others include Edsel Ford I, who played a major role in the gorgeous original Lincoln Continental in the late '30s, and Eugene Bordinat Jr., who developed the long-hood, short-deck Mustang, a basic shape that heavily influenced U.S. vehicle design in the 1960s and '70s. The Mustang helped Ford design regain face after the late '50s Edsel disaster.

John J. Telnack, Ford's current design chief, also stands out because he designed and fought for the enormously influential aerodynamic shape of the Ford Taurus in the early '80s, despite opposition within the company over its "radical" appearance. He continues to take chances with new shapes, such as the '96 Taurus.

And at Chrysler Corp. is Tom Gale, the man who brought the "cab-forward" concept into the mainstream, and who also is responsible for Chrysler's sexy -- and functional -- new designs, from the swoopy Chrysler Atlantic concept to innovative vehicles such as the Plymouth Prowler.