Unlike most industries, automotive design arguably already hit it’s zenith years ago. Though the features available in cars today are mind boggling, their pure forms are, frankly, pretty lame compared to some of the designs that erupted out of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.

The Portland Art Museum is currently showing a traveling exhibit called The Allure of the Automobile, which showcases some of the very rarest, most exquisite cars ever designed. From PAM’s own website:

June 11 – September 11, 2011

The Allure of the Automobile is the first exhibition to consider the stylistic development of cars in the context of prominent design movements such as Art Moderne and Postwar Modernity. Visitors will learn about the contrasts between European and American design, the influence of decorative arts, and the significant changes in automotive styling and engineering before and after World War II.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an array of programs and opportunities to learn more about these remarkable automobiles, the technology behind them, and their historical and cultural context.

Though the exhibition is small at only 16 cars, they’re very much one-of-a-kind models, all in pristine shape, all positively glowing in the art museum setting. I visited the exhibit knowing I’d be appreciative of the artfulness of these cars. But I was blown away at the utter beauty of these vehicles. More sculpture than cars, the collection holds extremely rare, unusual models like the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT racecar, 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante, and the show-stopping 1937 Hispano Suiza H-6C “Xenia” Coupe. The Xenia is one of those designs destined to go down as one of the most gorgeous of all time. I didn’t expect it to be gargantuan, which it is. Everything down to the exhaust pipe is exquisite, and at the time, it was an extremely futuristic design. It still is, 75 years later.

Here are just a few photos I took on my brief tour of the exhibit. For anyone interested in industrial design, sculpture or craftsmanship, I highly recommend a visit.

1961 Ferrari 250 GT

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SLR Roadster

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SLR Roadster

1959 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray

1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow

1938 Alfa Romeo 8C2900B Touring Berlinetta


1937 Hispano Suiza H-6C “Xenia” Coupe

1937 Hispano Suiza H-6C “Xenia” Coupe