Atlanta’s High Museum of Art is opening an exhibition of some of the rarest and boldest concept cars ever built. At a time when cars are getting plainer and plainer, and teens and twenty-somethings can barely be bothered to get a driver’s license, it’s a reminder why generations of Americans handed over 52 weeks of salary for a dream on four wheels.
Take the Lancia (Bertone) Stratos HF Zero. This metallic wedge is pure 1980s futurism, but it was actually built in 1970–that’s the year after this season’s Mad Men takes place, for those keeping count. The Zero was designed by Marcello Gandini. If you think the Zero looks a bit like a Lamborghini, that’s not so crazy. He also designed the Lamborghini Miura and Countach, the latter of which shares the Zero’s aggressive, spear-like posture. But Gandini was no one-trick pony. He also design the remarkably groomed original BMW 5 series, the cooler-in-retrospect Citroën BX, and a tiny, cubby bear of a car, the Innocenti Mini. Additionally, he invented those absurd and eye-catching scissor doors we associate with supercars to this day.
Only one Zero was made. The same is true for another car in the exhibit, the General Motors Firebird I XP-21. This thing is literally a jet on wheels. Its turbine engine spewed jet exhaust at 1,250 °F. It was so sketchy that the driver was never supposed to push the throttle beyond 100mph. And you know what GM did with the Firebird I XP-21’s co-creator Harley J. Earl after it came out? They didn’t fire him. As the first top-level executive designer in American history, they basically gave him carte blanche, allowing him to introduce the world to both tailfins and the Corvette, too; later, he retired. (It’s worth noting, Earl is credited with creating the original concept car as a way to build hype around design, the Buick Y-Job.)
These are incredible cars. And they’re on display at the museum May 21 to September 7, 2014.