Industrial Art from the Golden Age of automobiles.

To a gear head a car show is about horsepower, posi-traction, and a host of other modifications that improve speed and performance for certain cars from specific eras. Things like flatheads, and slicks go with unique vocabulary like “Tri Fives”, posi, and a host of other specific “in the know” terms that both limit understanding from outsiders and are the ticket to the “in crowd”. In some ways, community car shows tend to have the same model and makes of specific cars, the crowd pleasers that guarantee a well-attended show. After all, who doesn’t like looking at large finned 57 Chevy Bel Airs, 55 and 56 T-Birds and 65 Mustangs? There is always a chance to see muscle cars from the late 60’s and early 70’s. What’s not to like?

Back in the day before aerodynamics was everything and designers presented to us smooth sleek bodies without exterior extras, cars were designed as pieces of practical art. I’m sure it is no mistake that the art deco style of the twenties helped influence automotive design. Elegant sweeping fenders, beautiful v-styled hoods, interior lamps and burl wood dash boards added flair to an otherwise pedestrian piece of transportation. A small but obvious part of the car’s art was the ornament at the front of the hood. Hood ornaments were both practical and artistic. In the early days Henry Ford’s Model T hood ornament doubled as a thermometer for the radiator. Mostly, hood ornaments are reflections of an era and part of the marketing and persona of the car.

The design team for this early Ford used their metal and chrome to give the proud owner a flying bird that not only ads an artistic flair, but it also adds to uniqueness of the car. Denoting its speed, Chrysler used the Clipper ship for a while. Here are a couple of variations

In the 1930’s and 40’s fast translated to this Ford Greyhound.  What about this hawk from the Chrysler? One of my favorites is the 1940’s version of a bullet train, very Streamline Moderne. The theme of the fifties was the jet age and Chevrolet used the jet and the line behind it to signify speed. This car is beyond fast it’s supersonic.

Industrial art was part of the car business from the beginning. I guess you could say it made cars more than the sum of their parts. Some of those parts were much more than mechanical and served an esoteric personal function. More than mere transportation, this industrial art speaks to another part of the automobile world I had missed all these years.

Do you have a favorite? Maybe something unique to a small brand that has ended up on the trash heap of the auto business. I’d love to hear your preference.

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