allure of the auto

I’m in Portland, Oregon, and at the museum is an exhibit of classic cars. had a great time shooting them, although it was very low light without flash…

Allure of the Automobile//
Here’s some basic info from the museum’s catalogue:

1930 Bentley: Speed Six “Blue Train Special.” Walter Owen Bentley built big, powerful, stately and also extremely speedy cars that won many long-distance races in spite of their heft. Curator Ken Gross writes: “Ettore Bugatti, whose cars were for the most part light and lithe, is said to have commented sarcastically, ‘Monsieur Bentley builds the world’s fastest lorries.'” But take a look at that luxurious carriage. That’s no truck.

1931 Duesenberg: SJ Convertible Sedan. Despite their name, Dueseys were American cars, built in Indiana to designs by German immigrant brothers Fred and August Duesenberg. Hollywood stars and capitalist high-rollers loved these cars. Jay Leno owns eight of them. This one has belonged at various times to Buster Keaton’s son, Jean Harlow’s ex-husband and Portland grocery baron Gerald Strohecker.

1933 Pierce-Arrow: Silver Arrow. A streamlined, futuristic-looking car that combined the sculptural qualities of Art Deco design with the imposing look of money and prestige. The rear windows are super-slim triangles — sleek and gorgeous but almost impossible to see out of.

1937 Bugatti: Type 57S Atalante. A superstar among stars — as Gross puts it, “a sports car for the ages.” This one has been restored to its original, jaw-dropping color combination of black and yellow. A racecar-fast two-seater, it’s definitely not a family car.

1937 Dubonnet Hispano-Suiza: H-6C “Xenia.” Sleek, streamlined and seemingly faster than a speeding bullet, this improbably low-slung coupe seems almost more like a spaceship than a car. It was built for French millionaire Andre Dubonnet, who named it “Xenia” after his late wife, reportedly to the consternation of his wife at the time.

1937 Mercedes-Benz: 540KSpecial Roadster. A sporty silver beauty. Gross writes: “The 540K had presence, panache and power, and it still exudes those qualities today.” This one was a graduation gift to 19-year-old Baron Henning von Krieger from his mother, and later went to his sister, the glamorous Baroness Gisella von Krieger, then sat idly in a Connecticut garage for decades before being restored.

1938 Alfa Romeo: 8C2900B Touring Berlinetta. A curvilinear beauty that won endurance speed races and is noted for its advanced engineering. Gross quotes Ferrari historian Stan Nowack, who drove the car in 1968: “What a delight. I had driven many great pre-war machines … but none felt as modern as this 82C900 Alfa! … The entire feel of the car denied its prewar heritage.”

1939 Talbot-Lago: T-150-C-SS. Stunningly smooth lines. A series of echoing curves slung on a low sharp chassis, it seems perfect in form. The Talbot-Lago’s shape was quickly dubbed “teardrop.” The body of this ultimate fastback was designed by Georges Paulin, who trained as a dental technician but found the possibilities of the luxury automobile infinitely more appealing.

1948 Tucker: Model 48 Torpedo No. 1007. Preston Tucker is one of the most fabled failures in American manufacturing history, either an innovative genius felled by a dark conspiracy of corporate forces (as persistent legend has it) or an erratic showman whose own poor business skills brought him down (as his detractors insist). Either way, he’s a great story, and this is a beautiful car.

1953 Porsche 550: History in an aluminum shell — the prototype racing car that set the stage for Porsche’s amazing success on the world’s race tracks and revived the German company’s fortunes after the war.

1954 Plymouth Explorer Sports Coupe: Chrysler was looking to upgrade its dowdy postwar image and turned to Ghia designer Luigi Segre to jazz things up in a series of Dodge concept cars called Firearrows. The Explorer Coupe quickly followed. Long, low and sexy but also roomy inside, the Explorer and its Ghia sisters had a sporty but quietly luxurious look that anticipated and helped inspire Detroit’s ebullient designs of the later ’50s and ’60s.

1955 Mercedes-Benz: 300 SLR “Uhlenhaut” Coupe. Light, tight and powerful, the SLR with its gull-wing doors was an aeronautic speedster that cleaned up on the race tracks and became extraordinarily popular with enthusiasts. The one on display is one of just two rare, specially designed coupes that Mercedes-Benz racing boss Rudolf Uhlenhaut ordered built.

1957 Jaguar: XK-SS Roadster. This one was Steve McQueen’s tooling-around-Mulholland Drive car: He loved the twists and turns. The XK-SS was just the thing for racing around hairpin curves. Its immediate predecessors the D-types were consistent winners at Le Mans. The D-types were another step in the merging of form and functionality, with a one-piece sheet-aluminum shell and a redesigned engine that allowed the car to sit alarmingly low to the ground. The XK-SS is basically a street version of those racing machines. Because of a factory fire, only 18 were built.

1959 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray: Longer, lower, sportier, like the most elegant torpedo ever built. It was built on the sly under orders of a maverick GM vice president named Bill Mitchell, who later explained that sharp fender line to writer Mark Cantey: “Trousers don’t look any damn good without a crease in them. You’ve got to have an edge to accentuate form.”

1961 Aston Martin: DB4GT Zagato Coupe. A fortuitous marriage of Italian and English know-how, with body design for the English company by Italians Gianni Zagato and Ercole Spada. Gross praises the “sneer” of this car’s “turned-down, oversized grille” and “bellowing tailpipes,” saying the car “exudes a purposefulness matched by its fine record as a quick, agile and race-winning GT.”

1961 Ferrari: 250 GT Comp.61 Short-wheelbase Berlinetta. This is a shorter version of Ferrari’s championship 250 GT Gran Turismo racer, designed to be even more effective on the racetrack with improved cornering and maneuverability. It took a beauty and made it more compact but also more efficient — engineering wedded to design.

Source: Exhibition catalog, “The Allure of the Automobile,” Ken Gross and Ronald T. Labaco (put together b y Bob Hicks)

My daughter wanted to know what happened to these cars.

I looked up Bugatti, and found that Ettore Bugatti died in 1947, preceded by the death of his son, Jean who died in 1937 while testing a Type 57 race car. World War II ruined the factory in Molsheim, and the company lost control of the property. A comeback was attempted in the mid 1950s by Roland Bugatti, but the car did not perform according to expectations…



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