17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever Designed

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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 supercar.

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?”

The exhibit, Dream Cars, runs through September 7. Here are the cars that will be on display.:

1936 Stout Scarab

1936 stout scarab front 3q 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedMichael Furman

Designer William Stout, who worked as an aircraft engineer before turning to automobiles, was a pioneer in integrating luxury and leisure into transportation. Stout Air Lines is credited with introducing flight attendants and in-flight meals. The Scarab draws on that idea; it’s a road-going diner car powered by a Ford V-8 tucked in the rear of the stretched aluminum body. The brand never took off, partly because at $5,000 (about $90,000 today), the Scarab was more expensive than the Packards and Cadillacs of those days. Fewer than ten were produced.

1942 Oeuf electrique

1942 l oeuf electrique 1942 9199  17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedMichel Zumbrunn/ Urs Schmid

The 1942 Oeuf électrique, or electric egg, had three wheels and ran on batteries decades after gasoline became the dominant way to power cars, and decades before Elon Musk decided to make electricity cool again. Its designer, Parisian Paul Arzens, worked as a painter and designed railway locomotives before moving on to cars. The bubble is made of hand-formed aluminum and curved Plexiglass, a novel material at the time.

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1947 Norman Timbs Special

1947 timbs profile 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedPeter Harholdt

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.

1953 General Motors Firebird 1 XP-21

1954 firebird i front 3qx 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedMichael Furman

To describe today’s supercars, we fall back on likening the Koenigseggs and Paganis 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.

1955 Chrysler (Ghia) Streamline X “Gilda”

1955 ghia gilda r3q 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedMichael Furman

The 1955 Chrysler (Ghia) Streamline X “Gilda” got its name from a 1946 Rita Hayworth movie. After foregoing a planned jet turbine engine, Italian firm Ghia outfitted the Gilda with a plain 1.5-liter engine made for touring. The design is an antecedent to a short run of Chrysler turbine cars, and the fins tell you it’s from the 1950s.

1970 Ferrari (Pininfarina) 512 S Modulo

1970 ferrari pininfarina 512 s modulo 01michel zumbrunn 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedMichel Zumbrunn

Design firm Pininfarina has produced more famous works, but the Ferrari 512 S Modulo car, which it created for the 1970 Geneva Motor Show, didn’t aim for beauty. Designer Paolo Martin put the bizarre body on the chassis of the Ferrari 512S race car.

1970 Lancia (Bertone) Stratos HF Zero

1970 lancia stratos zero 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedMichael Furman

This 1970 Lancia (Bertone) Stratos HF Zero is the concept that led to the seminal Lancia Stratos. Just 33 inches tall, the concept was so short, drivers had to enter through the hinged windshield.

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2001 BMW GINA Light Visionary Model

gina 5 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedBMW AG

The 2001 BMW GINA Light Visionary Model concept came from BMW design director Chris Bangle, famous for upsetting the German auto-maker’s design standbys with hard geometry and chunky body parts. Here, he covered the car’s exterior in polyurethane-coated spandex that would shift according to the car’s aerodynamic needs at the time.

Porsche 918 Spyder Concept Car

2010 porsche spyder f10 0272 fine 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedPorsche

The Porsche 918 Spyder Concept Car was unveiled at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show and led to the hybrid supercar Porsche on the road today. The concept was an evolution of the Carrera GT that precedes it, with added electric motors on the front and rear axles producing a combined 218 hp. Those, of course, were supplemented by a 500-horsepower 3.4-liter V-8.

1935 Bugatti Type 57S Competition Coupe Aerolithe

1935 bugatti aerolithe 1r3a2903 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedJoe Wiecha

The original example of the 1935 Bugatti Type 57S Compétition Coupé Aerolithe, which debuted at the Paris Auto Show in 1935, was lost after the unveiling — the popular explanation is that Bugatti disassembled it for parts to make the Type 57 production car that followed. The model on display is a recreation produced in 2007, based on recorded specs, photographs, and an oil painting by a Bugatti engineer.

1932 Ford Speedster

1932 ford speedster 3 4frt 006a 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedCourtesy of Edsel and Eleanor Ford House

The 1932 Ford Speedster, packing a flathead V-8 engine, came with a starter button, decades before the feature became standard automotive fare. The low, long roadster was the brainchild of Henry’s son Edsel Ford and designer Eugene Gregorie.

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1934 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne

1934 voisin c 25 aerodyne f3q restored 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedMichael Furman

Like many of his peers on this list, designer Gabrielle Voisin started off making airplanes. After World War I, he turned to cars. Only 28 of the 1934 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne were made, one of which won Best in Show at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

1948 Tasco

1948 tasco profile 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedPeter Harholdt

This 1948 Tasco was made under a short-lived brand called The American Sports Car Company — the car’s name is an acronym for the manufacturer. Gordon Buehrig, formerly of Duesenberg, took design inspiration from World War II fighter planes. The fiberglass covering the front wheels moved with the steering input.

1951 GM LaSabre

1951 gm le sabre side 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedMichel Furman

The 1951 GM Le Sabre was the first car to sport fins and a wraparound windshield, design elements that became standard in American cars thereafter. The car came with a moisture detector that would automatically raise the convertible’s top if it rained.

1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt

1941 chrysler thunderbolt side open.psd  17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedMichael Furman

The curves on the 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt were inspired by streamliner trains. The car was among the first to have power windows — Chrysler used hydraulic motors to move them. The fully retractable hardtop and button-operated pop-open headlights were also seminal design features that showed up in cars decades later. It was one of the last Art Deco designs before concepts leaned towards futuristic aesthetics.

1956 Buick Centurion

1956 buick centurion front 3q 17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedMichael Furman

The 1956 Buick Centurion had a back-up camera decades before they appeared in consumer vehicles. Buick emphasized the significance of the car’s advances with the Jetsons-esque clear bubble roof and cockpit, which gave the driver and passengers unobstructed views.

1959 Cadillac Cyclone

1959 cadillac cyclone front 3 4crop  17 Of The Strangest Cars Ever DesignedPeter Harholdt

See those two black cones where the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone’s headlights should be? Those are the radars for the car’s crash-avoidance system, a technology you might recognize as today’s adaptive cruise control. If the car sensed an approaching object, it would set of a series of warning lights and a high-pitched beep, and car could even automatically apply the brakes.

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