Speed Read: Dream Cars Exhibit

A primer on the IMA’s auto-exotica show.


1. Vehicle-lovers, start your engines—and make tracks for Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas, running May 3–August 23. Organized by the IMA and Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, the show opens May 3 and features 17 ultra-rare rides that prove just how artful autos can be.

2. Dream Cars debuted at the High last year and drew a whopping 180,000 people, partly because it was the  museum’s second car exhibit. IMA CEO Charles Venable hopes attendance for the museum’s first foray into vehicles reaches 75,000, which would make Dream Cars one of the IMA’s largest events ever.


Creepy but cool: a BMW with a Spandex “skin” that wrinkles when you open the doors.

3. Manufacturers such as Chrysler, Porsche, and Ferrari built these concept cars between 1934 and 2010—not for mass production, but to push automotive innovation.

4. But dream cars can come true. “Many of these cars are the beginnings of good ideas that now we think are commonplace,” says Ken Gross, an automotive writer who helped curate the exhibit from private collectors and museum holdings. The roomy, tubular 1936 Stout Scarab foreshadowed the minivan. The 1956 Buick Centurion XP-301 featured a rear-facing camera. And the 1942 L’oeuf Electrique (“the electric egg”) had an electric motor. All of these models are part of the exhibit.

5. Many of the cars embody the mid-20th-century fascination with flying—especially the General Motors 1953 Firebird I, which looks like a fighter jet on car wheels. The Firebird was also the first American-built auto powered by a gas turbine, like a jet. The experiment failed, though, because the engine was inefficient and loud, and its exhaust was a blistering 1,000 degrees.

6. The Firebird made it into the exhibit by inches. IMA staff couldn’t figure out how to fit the car into the museum’s freight elevator—until they realized they could angle it in and leave the elevator’s door up.

7. Assembling a fleet of valuable vehicles presents other logistical challenges. For one, they can sit idle for only so long, limiting the exhibit to 16 weeks. But installing cars has an advantage over, say, a giant sculpture. As an IMA colleague told Venable, “All of this art rolls.”

8. Visitors will get to design a dream car using an iPad app, but the highlight may debut at the opening party on May 1. Cruise over to the amphitheater, where you can park yourself in the front half of an actual car and use its controls to play Pole Position on a big screen. The feature will stick around for the Summer Nights Film Series, which starts June 5 with the road-trip classic National Lampoon’s Vacation.

9. At each of his exhibits, Gross gets to drive a few cars from the truck into the museum. But Venable won’t get behind any of the wheels. “Even the director of the art museum doesn’t get to touch them, much less drive them,” he says. Besides, “I’m not a good enough driver.”