|"Going Places" exhibit at Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Fla.|
The special exhibit there is "Going Places, Transportation Designs from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection."
Here, amid soaring conceptions of transportation devices as depicted by automotive, airplane and even railroad designers, one thing becomes perfectly clear.
Mine was the Luckiest Generation.
We got the flying cars we'd been promised (not that we bought them).
Always longer, wider, and lower than the previous model year, and ever bulging with the promise of power, these were real cars that you could buy — if you had the money — and they looked fantastic.
|The Mercury Carnival of 1952; Similarity to a jet is obvious.|
(Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection Photography)
Sometimes the reality is more astounding than the dream, as in the case of the Plymouth Barracuda, with its aquarium sized glass "fastback."
More often, as in the case of the Nash Airflyte, the actual car looked more like a bathroom fixture than the streamlined spaceship designers visualized.
|A Chevrolet from a vision of the future that never quite came true.|
Few of the dream cars actually flew, of course, although some could. Despite their rocket ship looks, under the hood many made do with straight-six, flathead motors left over from the 1930s.
And, yet, they soared, on their looks alone.
|The dream cars looked fantastic, even standing still in illustrations.|
Cadillac tried to capture the allure and promise of those airplanes by incorporating gentle bumps into the rear fenders. These would grow to become "fins" on Cadillacs and other cars.
On automobiles, fins didn't quite fly. But it was a remarkable effort.
Among the collection at the Norton are models created over the years in a longstanding General Motors scholarship contest for high school students. I was among the boys who sat in an auditorium and were encouraged to submit our wildest ideas for consideration.
Some of these youngsters came up with admirable models. I drew up a three-box design that looked like a 1965 American Motors Ambassador. This was hardly a vision of a future anyone would want to live in. It would have made a practical coffin, I suppose.
I showed the design to my father. He wasn't impressed, and why would he have been? He had driven a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air with fins that would have stabilized a jet.
I realized I needed to dream better dreams.
“Going Places” was curated by Matthew Bird, a professor of Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. It continues through Jan. 10, 2016 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, Fla.
|No swoopy dream car, the 1957 BMW Isetta on display at the Norton|
nevertheless captured a vision of promise. Did you ever notice that
the tail lights of an Isetta occupy bullet housings, just as do the headlights?