Automotive exhibit showcases influential designs of the future ... from the past


May 6, 2014

GM's rocket on wheels, the Firebird I XP-21 (1953)  concept designed by Harley J. Earl, Robert F. “Bob” McLean was a design study to  determine if gas turbine engines were practical for use in future vehicles (Photo: Michael Furman)

GM's rocket on wheels, the Firebird I XP-21 (1953) concept designed by Harley J. Earl, Robert F. “Bob” McLean was a design study to determine if gas turbine engines were practical for use in future vehicles (Photo: Michael Furman)

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In looking to the future many designers look to the past for inspiration. The High Museum of Art in Atlanta is ramming this point home with a fascinating exhibit that will showcase some of the world’s most forward thinking designs from the past.

Opening this month and running until September in Atlanta, the event entitled, Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas will feature select car concepts from the 1930’s through to the current day. The back-to-the-future collection, containing 17 concept cars from Europe and the US, includes such gems as the curvaceous Norman Timbs Special (1947), the waist-high Pininfarina Modulo Ferrari, the spacecraft-like Chrysler (Ghia) Streamline X Gilda (1955) designed by Giovanni Savonuzzi and Virgil Exner, and perhaps the closest thing to a rocket on wheels you'll ever encounter – GM’s 1953 Firebird I XP-21, by Harley J. Earl and Bob McLean. Any one of these cars is iconic in its own right, so to find this collection in one place is a significant treat.

Concept cars enable designers and manufacturers to investigate new techniques and technologies, as well as providing an avenue to explore future possibilities – something that's to the fore in this exhibition.

Visitors will have the opportunity to get a detailed look at some rare automotive pieces, their conceptual drawings, patents and scale models, and even though the exhibition only represents a small taste of the many concepts that have been penned over the last century, the designs on show definitely stand out from the crowd.

“The concept cars presented in ‘Dream Cars’ demonstrate how design can transcend the present and offer new paths and opportunities for the future,” says Sarah Schleuning, Exhibition Curator. “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.”

The High Museum of Art “Dream Cars” exhibit runs from May 21 through to September 7, 2014. Visit the gallery for the full exhibit line-up and additional information on individual cars.

Source: High Museum of Art, Atlanta

About the Author
Angus MacKenzie Born on the cold, barren Canadian plains of Calgary, Alberta, Angus MacKenzie couldn’t decide between marketing, automotives or an entrepreneurial path - so he chose all three. With an education in automotives and marketing, Angus has rebuilt the carburetor on his 1963 Rambler Ambassador twice, gotten a speeding ticket in an F430 once, and driven & photographed everything from Lamborghinis to Maseratis to various German and Asian designs. When not writing, Angus has for the past six years been Editor-in-Chief for elemente, an internationally recognized architecture/design magazine. All articles by Angus MacKenzie

I think those older designs for future cars are nice, some are really nice. There is a couple of them that would still look futuristic even though they were designed years ago.

The one that was a two wheel car that self balances reminds me of the Zerotracer. It two has two wheels and is self balancing. Perhaps the one in the article is its ancestor?


Though not included in this exhibition, Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car might have been influential had it not been for bad luck. The Urbee may do better. There have been countless great ideas that sadly went nowhere.

Wayne LeTendre

Aptera deserves to be included here.

Where are basic details, such as, drag & curb weight?

If these prototypes influenced future production, how? I don't see it.

The emphasis in the U.S. since the fifties seems to have been on more power, e.g., increasing top speed, decreasing 0-60 time.

Don Duncan

That first one, the GM Rocket, looks like it was designed before crashes were a consideration.


i'd say most of the advancements over the past 50 years have been in safety and fuel economy. Power has largely stagnated, except for the fact that there is more power per given liter/cubic inch of displacement. I live in Atlanta and am very excited to go see this event.

Michael Wilson

I sometimes wonder about progress. I've been following the development of electric cars and motorbikes lately and here I discover that this tiny french Electric Egg that is 72 years old has a range of 96 km on a full charge and a maximum speed of 60km/h!!!,,,,..... I knew that around 1910 the taxi-cabs in Paris were electric, but those were big carriages, full of lead-acid batteries. This is a small capsule , seating 2 persons, there is not much room for many batteries in there. Perhaps 96 km could only be achieved at 10 km/h, I don't know, but you get the sensation we've being waisting our time in the 20th century, with respect to electric transportation.

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