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‘The Allure of the Automobile’ at the High Museum of Art

Exhibit review

“The Allure of the Automobile”

Through June 20. $18; $15, students and seniors; $11, children 6-17; free for children 5 and under and members. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays; until 8 p.m. Thursdays (half-price 4-8 p.m.); noon-5 p.m., Sundays. High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-4444.

Bottom line: Call them rolling sculptures. Call them identity in motion. The iconic autos are feats of design and engineering, and they are a lot of fun to see.


By Catherine Fox

Legendary auto entrepreneur Preston Tucker aimed to build a safer car. He added padded dashboards and a center headlight that pivoted with the wheels. He wasn’t so careful about the English language. But one of his famous garbled expressions — “Put your foot on the exhilarator” — was not so far off the mark. Automobiles, after all, are more than mere conveyances. They are potent symbols of power, sources of pleasure and markers of taste. The 18 classic and vintage vehicles in the High Museum’s “The Allure of the Automobile” are the epitome of glamour, speed and sexiness.

All are hand-built, custom-designed, limited-edition vehicles. Car lover or not, you’ll be impressed by the craftsmanship, the many ways a similar shape could be reinterpreted, and the relationship of design, engineering and technology.

Oh, and there’s this: Cars are fun, and so is the show.

Assembled by consulting curator and auto guru Ken Gross, it presents highlights from the golden age, the ’30s to the ’60s. Call it Masterpiece Theater. The royalty of roadsters, with names like Packard and Porsche, Cadillac and Corvette, command the second-floor galleries — first with their elegant silhouettes, then with details like the red wire rims of the 1933 Pierce-Arrow.

The designs of the ’30s are all the more astounding when you think of the cars driven by the hoi polloi at that time. The upright, boxy Model T and Model A Fords hark back to horse-drawn carriages. The sleek, sinuous lines and gull-wing doors of the 1937 Dubonnet Hispano-Suiza have more in common with airplanes.

The aerodynamic shape designers preferred had something to do with speed and sport, but it also reflected the zeitgeist. Synonymous with modernity and its ever-faster pace, the streamlined forms were all the rage, even for objects that didn’t move at all.

The smaller, sportier designs of post-war autos reflect changes in production and car culture, which High Museum curator Ronald Labaco’s catalog essay explains in his fascinating overview. I wish a bit more of that context were part of the show itself. It would have enriched the visual experience and drawn a clearer distinction between the museum exhibit and the display of Porsches (the major sponsor) on the plaza.

Otherwise, all that’s missing is the experience of driving one of these magicalmobiles. Or of having people see you drive one. Gross says that Preston Tucker had six exhaust pipes put on the back of his eponymous auto so the noise would let other motorists know they had been passed by a Tucker. In other words, “Look at me and get out of the way.”

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