Ask someone on the street what their "dream car" is, and they'll probably name the latest model with a Prancing Horse badge or Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament. However, for the designers and engineers that make cars, the phrase can take on a more literal meaning.

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A collection of these dreams on wheels is now on display at Atlanta's High Museum of Art under the simple title "Dream Cars." The exhibit showcases forward-looking automotive design from the 1930s to the present day.

The cars come from manufacturers small and large, but they all share evocative designs that convey their creators' visions of what the future of the automobile should be. For some--like Edsel Ford's personal Model 40 Special Speedster of 1934 and the 1947 Norman Timbs Special--do it entirely with style, while the 1936 Stout Scarab and 1948 Tasco sport unique engineering features.

Many of these designs appear quaint today, but others look just plain cool. General Motors Motorama concepts like the Buick Centurion XP-301 and jet-powered Firebird scream Jet Age, but they still attract stares in the Digital Age. Their original mission was, after all, to be three-dimensional propaganda as they traveled the country in shows that heralded a future center around GM products.

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While today's executives and consumers have a slightly more sober view of cars, there are a couple of relatively recent cars that demonstrate the role of concepts in modern product planning. The fabric-covered BMW Gina was the styling inspiration for the controversial Chris Bangle-era Bimmers, while the 2010 Porsche 918 Spyder concept of course morphed into the track-conquering 2015 production model.

The day-to-day business of the car industry is rooted in pragmatism and profit, but sometimes it really is important to dream. Their functionality and relevance to the average buyer may be questionable but, like avant garde artwork, these designs show the extent of what's possible in the medium that is the automobile.

Dream Cars runs through September 7 at the High Museum in Atlanta. For more information and to purchase tickets, head over to the museum's website.


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