The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia has been taken over by cars of the future – or at least you could be forgiven for thinking so. A new exhibition titled 'Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas' has gathered some of the world's most exciting classic concept cars in a celebration of forward thinking. It is due to run until 7 September.
Among the highlights is the 1934 Ford Model 40 Special Speedster, which was created at Edsel's request after he made clear his desire for a sleek 'continental' car based on the roadsters that he'd seen on a visit to Europe. Ford's styling chief Eugene 'Bob' Gregorie was the man responsible, and the resulting car sported a number of features both men considered too radical for a production car, including an enclosed radiator and no running boards. The car was regularly used by Edsel.
Also on show is the 1942 l'Oeuf Electrique, or "electric egg", which was created by French artist Paul Arzens. The car was one of the world's first bubble cars and, incredibly, was designed and built in Paris during the Nazi occupation of France. It was capable of travelling more than 60 miles per charge and could reach a top speed of 37mph thanks to its lightweight aluminium body.
Perhaps better known is the 1953 General Motors Firebird XP-21, the jet-age machine penned by Harley J Earl. While its futuristic styling is clear to see, the novel ideas that led to its creation were more than skin-deep; it was the first gas turbine-powered car built and tested in the United States. It would spawn two further iterations, but the high fuel consumption and exhaust temperature of more than 1000 degrees Fahrenheit meant that it was never viable for mass production.
The Norman Timbs Special from 1947 is a true one-off, having been created by the mechanical engineer entirely from scratch. The streamliner comprises two hand-formed aluminium shapes and has no doors. It took Timbs more than two and a half years to complete at a cost of more than $10,000 (see C&SC July 2010).
The 1936 Stout Scarab is a more practical proposition, having enough room for seven passengers thanks to its elongated body and rear-mounted engine. The interior was fitted with many interesting features, including a passenger seat that could rotate though 360 degrees, a back seat that could become a sofa and a fold-out table for playing cards or holding drinks.
The Scarab was never produced in large numbers, but many of the Stout's clever features were later adopted for productions models.
Another car packed with ideas was the 1948 Tasco, brainchild of Cord and Duesenberg engineer Gordon Buehrig. The Tasco sported revolutionary wheel spats, that moved with the front wheels as they were turned, plus a T-bar roof. Not only did it provide the occupants with fantastic levels of visibility, but it was also an idea that would eventually be picked up for the 1968 Chevrolet Corvette.
As with the Firebird XP-21, the 1951 Le Sabre XP-8 was also the work of General Motors designer Harley J Earl. Work began on the project as early as 1946, and the wild low-slung roadster featured plenty of novel details. the most obvious (or least obvious) were the car's headlights, which were concealed behind an oval-shaped grille. They weren't the only hidden feature of the Le Sabre: each corner housed an electric jack, while the seats were heated electrically. The windscreen would go on to influence a number of GM designs in the decade that followed.
While most of the vehicles on show hail from the United States, the flag for Europe is flown gamely by the Bugatti Type 57 Competition Coupé Aérolithe. The original 1935 car was thought to have been destroyed to enable the production of four Atlantics, but the museum has on display the only replica, which was built by The Guild of Automotive Restorers in Canada in 2007 after consulting historic pictures and paintings.