1953 General Motors Firebird 1 XP-21
To describe today’s super cars, we fall back on likening the Koenigsegg’s and Pagani’s of the world to jet fighters. The 1953 General Motors Firebird I XP-21 was an actual jet fighter, with four wheels, a tail fin, and a bubble cockpit. The turbine engine spun at up to 26,000 rpm to generate a whopping (for the time) 370 horsepower.
1947 Norman Timbs Special
No other automobile looks like the 1947 Norman Timbs Special, with its front-mounted cockpit and curves leading to a raindrop tail. Timbs, an Indy racing engineer, made the car with a Buick Straight 8 engine placed at the rear of the chassis. Look to racers like the 1937 Auto Union Type C for indications of Timbs’ inspiration.
1942 Oeuf Electrique
Paul Arzens (1903–1990) was a French industrial designer of railway locomotives and motor cars. Arzens was born in Paris, at an address along the Boulevard des Batignolles on the northern side of the city. As a young man he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and soon gained recognition as a talented artist able at this stage, unusually, to live reasonably well on the sales proceeds from his paintings. This gave him enough time to pursue other interests in the realms of engineering and design. As his life progressed he accumulated a large collection of his own paintings and gained a reputation for an acute reluctance to sell any.
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The history of automotive design is littered with bold attempts to create vehicles so different in how they look and how they work that they render obsolete everything that’s come before. The most daring of these are usually concept cars, which aren’t limited by practicality or government regulations and can therefore allow automakers to really push the limits. For its latest exhibit, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta has assembled 17 of the most beautiful, hideous, and strange automotive concepts ever dreamed up by man, from a 1934 Bugatti prototype up to an early iteration of the Porsche 918 Hybrid super car. What happens when creators balance aesthetics, functionality, and their personal vision of the future is one reason we love cars. That’s especially true when the results leave us wondering, “How could anyone think this was a good idea?”
1936 Stout Scarab
The Stout Scarab is a 1930–1940’s American minivan. It was designed by William Bushnell Stout and manufactured by Stout Engineering Laboratories and later by Stout Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. The Stout Scarab is credited by some as the world’s first production minivan, and a 1946 experimental prototype of the Scarab became the world’s first car with a fiberglass bodyshell and air suspension.
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