By George Hornbein
Even before I was old enough to drive, my family would take me to the local car dealers to marvel at what Detroit had in store for us with the next year's models. As a teenager, my favorites were Ford's Mustang and GM's Corvette, but I was never able to convince my parents to buy either one. This was before two car families, and these cars, pretty as they were, were impractical for a family of five. Instead, my family chose a four-door Buick Roadmaster, so owning one of those sporty beauties remained my teenaged dream.
Now through September 7, 2014 my teenaged dream is being catered to by Atlanta's High Museum of Art's new show, Dream Cars. Seventeen rare concept cars from Europe and the U.S. are in a display that pays homage to automotive designers' imagination and experimentation. It often took decades for the forms and features of these vehicles to be incorporated into production models. In 1936, William Stout imagined the Scarab, a streamlined, tube-like car with room for mom and pop, the kids and their friends. It wasn't until 1983 that Chrysler introduced the world's first minivan. There are precursors of this year's video detection devices housed in the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone's “Dagmar” front bumper that scanned for visual objects in the driver's path. (For those too young to have gone to car shows or watched late-night TV in the 50's, Google Dagmar.)
The majority of the cars in the show take on a raw sexual expression of power, aerodynamics, and speed. Edsel Ford took advantage of Ford's corporate might and designed a roadster based on European styling. At a time when Ford was stamping out Model A's, the car was thought too radical for production. It did, nonetheless, become Edsel's personal car that he used for his commute to work.
While most of the cars were designed in the 30s or shortly after World War II, there are more recent dream cars as well. The 1970 Lancia, Strato HF Zero and the 1970 Ferrari 512 S Modulo respectively 33" and 36" from roadway to roof are parked next to each other.
Looking at these sleek, low-slung machines makes us wonder how to get in them and then, once in, how we could ever have fit. And, in its own gallery is the 2010 Porsche 918 Spider Concept car, soon to be released as a production model that we will be seeing on our roads in the company of $100+K Ferraris and Lamborghinis.
The Spider designers were charged with making a sexy car that would go really fast, yet be fuel-efficient. I don't think fuel-efficiency will be a major selling point.
Many designers experimented with skin material: welded aluminum like the seamless body of the absurdly gorgeous Noman Timbs Special a unique personal car that greets the Dream Car exhibit visitors;
the 1948 TASCO that used fiberglass for some of its parts; the BMW Gina Light that has an aluminum and fiber carbon frame over which a fabric is stretched (there's a sample of the fabric we can touch);
and my show favorite, the magnesium clad 1935 Bugatti type 575 Competition Coupe Aerolithe.
Magnesium is light-weight, easy to form, but nearly impossible to weld. So, like the BMW's skin, where the material dictated the design features, which had to follow the shape of the skeletal frame, the Bugatti's
magnesium body parts had to be riveted together, giving the car a unique ribbed design that was carried to its logical conclusion in the treatment of the rest of the car's details.
The intriguing impact of this fine show is to see what resulted from the designers' motivations. Some were motivated by mandates from corporate interests that wanted to whet the appetites of consumers. Other mandates came from engineers who wanted to see their designs incorporate new materials and technologies. And a few others came from designers who didn't see the perfect car out there, so were motivated to design and built their own dream car.
George Hornbein is an architect based in Atlanta.
Dream Cars is on view at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta through September 7, 2014.
Photos (from top):
Bugatti with riveted fender and roof ribs
1970 Ferrari 512 S and 1970 Lancia Strato HF Zero to the right
2010 Porsche Special
1947 Norman Timbs Special
2001 BMW Gina Light
1935 Bugatti Type 575 Competition Coupe Aerolithe
All photos by George Hornbein