High Museum brings dream cars to Atlanta

Atlanta’s premiere art museum, the High Museum of Art (further referred to as the High), is home to a permanent art collection with over 13,000 pieces, and has an extensive anthology of 19th and 20th century American and decorative art. The southeast’s leading art museum is also expanding its collection of European paintings, African American art and contemporary and photography.

Four years ago the High organized a popular automotive exhibit called “The Allure of the Automobile”, which acted as a celebration for custom-coach built cars and luxury automobiles. This year changing things up a bit with a new summer auto-exhibition that’s sure to draw interest from the student population here at Georgia Tech.

“Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas” is a five month exhibition of innovative automotive design curated with seventeen concept cars developed over that past century in both the United States and Europe.

The exhibition consists of conceptual drawings and blueprints, 3D scale models, and fully functional concept cars to fully represent how imaginative and forward thinking these designs were for their time. The goal of this curation is to showcase how creative thinking and innovative engineering pushed the automotive industry to where it is today.

The High Museum hopes to enlighten budding auto-enthusiasts, inspire students of engineering and design and even lead some to discover a new found passion in those fieldsThe selection of cars here wasn’t done arbitrarily; each of the seventeen cars were carefully studied and picked to create a time line that would best represent the most influential movements in car design.

The museum also brought in Ken gross as a consultant; Gross has been a jurist for the North American Car of the Year award since its inception, has written a number of award winning books on cars and twelve episode SPEED TV program called “Behind the Headlights”.

Concept car selections date all the way back to the 1930s with William Stout’s “Scarab”, a strange precursor to modern minivan that makes the iconic VW minivan look bland, and date as late as 2010 Porsche “Spyder 918” concept car that has actually made it to production in 2014.

The exhibit is hosted on the second floor of the museum. This could not have been an easy setup, since these cars are unique one-of-a-kind works of art worth millions.

Attendees are greeted by a gorgeous hand built car, known as the Norman Timbs special (as show in the picture above). The first room throws attendees back in time with various cars from the middleof the 20th century. This first grouping of cars does not consist of the most mind blowing and imaginative cars ( it would make no sense to put the best first). Instead, these cars serve as works of art and design. The 1934 Edsel Ford Model 40 Special Speedster is an excellent example, and drew a great deal of attention, with its sleek “Continental” design based on European stylings that Henry Ford’s son, Edsel Ford, desired in a car. The long hood, slippery lines and detached wheel arches give it an epic Cruella Deville look.

The Stout Scarab though dominated the first room however. Designed by aviation pioneer William Bushnell Stout, this hand built van was only produced in single digit numbers. Taking on the shape of the scarab beetle, this car was designed to create a modern living room on  wheels; it was build to take on seven passengers seated in modular convertible furniture for social interaction and drinking (perhaps that part was a bit too forward thinking, given todays driving laws). With all the talk today about electric and solar powered roads, with self driven cars the Scarab really does act as a model that was ahead of its time and is something modern designers may be looking back on.

The main room of the exhibit hosts cars from 1934 all the way to the 1970s.

The Voisin C-25 Aerodyne would have been an excellent fit for their previous auto exhibit as  it served no purpose other than to amaze and maybe even confuse people. Its creator, Gabriel Voisin was known for extreme sharp designs that drew attention from the likes of Vogue magazine and fashion designers.

If you thought GPS and radar technology in cars was a recent design concept, think again! Cadillac’s Cyclone XP-74 is put in the center of the room, and is an incredible center point. This long and low car sported black cones on the front where headlights would be, which worked as “proximity-sensing radar units” that could warn the driver both audibly and visually of objects in its path. Of course this wouldn’t be a classic Cadddy without flared fins on the back end and a luxurious interior.

Another modern day GM company, Buick, is here to surprise us. Think your mom’s minivan was the first car to ever have a rear facing back-up camera? Nope. Tgs 1956 Buick Centurion XP-301 had a 4×6 inch view screen in the dashboard. Pair that with the transparent bubble top and panoramic windshield, and you’ve got a car with no side or rear-view mirrors! Thinking about how new televisions were for that time, and how hard it would be to fit one in a car is undeniably incredible.

Tucked away in a little sliver room is the Paul Arzens L’Oeuf electronique”. This makes the modern day Mini Cooper, Smart Car and G-Wiz look big. The car was designed during the Germanoccupation of the city and was meant to serve as a small and convenient urban mini-car. It was a response to the shortage and ration on precise materials like petroleum, and so was designed to run on electricity. This car is bare-bones and simple but had a profound impact on the automotive community and its influence has clearly shown up in current fuel efficient urban vehicles.

Of course there are some modern sporty cars as well. The competition between Ferrari and Lancia is literally put side-by-side as there super low, and ultra light cars are put next to each other. The Peninfarina (Ferrari) Modulo was built to be the ultimate “wedge” car and stood at only thirty-seven inches high; the Lancia is shorter at 33 inches.

BMW and exhibit sponsor Porsche both have their most influential concepts present as well. The famous BMW GINA Light Visionary Model from 2001 is extremely difficult to not touch (if you want to get an idea for what it feels like, buy a speedo) and the Porsche 918 concept may be the closest some come to seeing the actual production vehicle.

Reading about these cars, or even looking up their pictures and history does not do them justice though. To really experience these “Dream Cars” and to learn all about them, one really does need to go to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The amount of history and inspiration is nearly unbelievable; the exhibition began May 21 and will run all the way through until September 7.