17 CONCEPT CARS THAT SHAPED THE FUTURE OF THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY

SPECIAL FOR THE AJT

This summer only at the High Museum of Art, the special exhibition “Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas” showcases 17 concept cars from the early 1930s to the 21st century that pushed the limits of imagination and foreshadowed the future of design. On view through Sep. 7, the exhibition features some of the rarest, most imaginative cars from across Europe and the U.S., designed by such automakers as Ferrari, Bugatti, General Motors and Porsche.

The cars are paired with conceptual drawings and scale models, demonstrating how their experimental designs advanced ideas of progress and changed the automobile from an object of function to a symbol of future possibilities.

Concept cars are a way for automakers, coachbuilders and independent designers to showcase and demonstrate innovative and progressive designs. Most concept cars are never intended for series production and are created as a way to explore ideas through styling and design aesthetics, as well as experiment with new technology.

“The concept cars in the exhibition demonstrate how design can transcend the present and offer new paths and opportunities for the future,” said Sarah Schleuning, exhibition curator and curator of decorative arts and design at the High. “While these cars were never mass-produced, they shaped the future of the automotive industry by challenging the notion of what is possible, technologically and stylistically.”

A few highlights of the exhibition include Paul Arzens’ “L’Oeuf électrique” (1942), an electric bubble car designed by Arzens for his personal use in Paris during the German occupation, which has never before traveled to the U.S. Also featured is William Stout’s “Scarab” (1936), the genesis of the contemporary minivan. The exhibition also includes Marcello Gandini’s Lancia (Bertone) “Stratos HF Zero” (1970), a wedge-shaped car that is only 33 inches tall, and Christopher Bangle’s BMW “GINA Light Visionary Model” (2001), featuring an exterior made of fabric.

“Visual and tactile tributes to ingenuity and imagination, these remarkable cars will intrigue visitors with their audacity, just as they did when they first appeared,” said Ken Gross, consulting curator for “Dream Cars.”

The exhibition also examines how automotive design events like General Motors’ 1949-61 Motoramas influenced the industry and will feature three cars from these events, including the Firebird 1 XP-21 (1954), Buick Centurion (1956) and Le Sabre (1951). Another focus is on the role of automotive designers such as Harley Earl at GM, who combined styling and design aesthetics with technological advances to create futuristic renderings that imbued automobiles with a sense of glamour and fantasy.

To complement the presentation, the exhibition also includes a contemporary design workshop featuring the 2010 Porsche Spyder 918 concept car. “‘Dreams Cars’ offers the opportunity to explore the dreams of individual automotive designers, as well as some of the most famous car manufacturers in the world,” said Michael E. Shapiro, the Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. director of the High Museum of Art.