The Canadian International Auto Show, in Toronto, has a history of staging spectacular classic car displays and it has revived that tradition for 2015. Its 'Art and the Automobile' feature exhibit traces the artistic evolution of automotive design over almost a century from Canada's first automobile in 1867 to concept cars of the 1960s.
Setting the stage outside the entrance to the exhibit is General Motors 1959 Cadillac Cyclone concept car, which was one of the last cars designed under the direction of GM Styling head Harley Earl, It originally embodied many of the futuristic styling cliches of the '50s, including wraparound windshield, bubble top, huge fins and a rocket profile. Futuristic as it seemed, it represented the end of an era in automobile design and It was modified to its present form in 1964 to tone down those excesses that already seemed dated. As the sign proclaims, Art and the Automobile is presented by the Cobble Beach Concours d'Elegance and Murdoch Mysteries, the TV series.
Inside, a magnificent array of cars, like this 1913 Stutz Bearcat in the foreground, are presented in an art gallery-like setting to reinforce the art connection. More than just a collection of pretty cars, the vehicles on display were chosen to illustrate the artistic evolution of automotive design over almost a century from the automobile's inception into the 1960s. Not only are automobiles in their finest forms, woeks of art themselves, they have long been the subjects of works of art, some of which are also displayed in the exhibit.
The visual story begins with what is believed to be the first automobile designed and constructed in Canada.Henry Seth Taylor, a jeweller and clockmaker in Stanstead, Quebec, designed and built this Steam Buggy in 1867, predating even the Benz Patentwagen. Taylor unveiled the car at the Stanstead Fall Fair and drove it around town – shortly before crashing it into a creek. It now normally resides at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, ON.
Most of the cars within the gallery are displayed against a period-matching backdrop of Toronto-area architecture. The exhibit was designed and staged by event manager and CIAS media director, Beth Rhind, who is also an enthusiast of Toronto architecture and history. The mansion behind this 1936 Cord 810 Phaeton is Parkwood Estate in Oshawa, the former home of R.S. 'Sam' McLaughlin, the founder of General Motors of Canada. Arguably among the most beautiful cars ever produced, the Cord 810 was years ahead of its time in both design and engineering, if not reliability. Designed by Gordon Buehrig, originally for Duesenberg, its pontoon fenders, hidden headlamps, lack of running boards and clean surfaces established a new design paradigm.
If you're a fan of Murdoch Mysteries, you may recognize some of the backdrops in the Art and the Automobile display from the TV show. Several of the images were provided by the show's producer, Shaftesbury, and this 1903 Ford also appeared in the series. By the time the Ford Motor Company was established in 1903, automobile design had progressed from just buggies with engines to purpose-built vehicles, but not much further. Function still overruled form as this example, clearly attests.
The exhibit traces the progression of vehicle style over several decades. Big changes occurred after World War II, as is apparent in this view of a 1948 Tucker Torpedo in juxtaposition with a pair of pre-war designs. Independent automaker Preston Tucker set out to revolutionize the automotive industry with a radically different car that carried his name. Novel styling features included a below-the-bumper grille, swiveling 'cyclops' centre headlight and sculpted fender panels. Just 51 Tuckers were built. This one is on loan from the Gilmore Museum in Hickory Corners, MI. Its backdrop is the CNE's Princes' Gates - a Toronto landmark.
In this setting the '48 Tucker is parked behind a 1941 Cadillac 60 Special Sedan, also from the Gilmore Museum. The 60 Special, designed under the direction of Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell, set the tone for 1940s design with such trend-setting features as a completely integrated, coupe-like trunk (three-box" sedan styling), no running boards, four front-hinged doors, raked windshield and lowered roofline.
The Cadillac 60 Special, designed under the direction of Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell, set the tone for 1940s design with such trend-setting features as a completely integrated, coupe-like trunk (three-box" sedan styling), no running boards, four front-hinged doors, raked windshield and lowered roofline. Here it's stopped at the intersection of Bay and Adelaide, circa 1940.
By the time the 1960s rolled around, there was a noticeable shift in automotive design from the aircraft and rocket-age influence of the 1950s to more pure form. The Chrysler Turbine car in the background was a visual bridge combining elements of both themes. This car is one of just nine remaining of 50 built as a bold technical experiment. The others were all destroyed following a period of testing. The 1963 Ford Mustang II prototype was built after the design had been finalized for the 1965 production model. Its purpose was to prepare people for what was about to come – a new type of car in both concept and design that would have a greater impact on the market than any other car of the era.
One of the three star cars on elevated risers in the centre of the gallery is this stunning 1929 Auburn 8-90 Boattail Speedster. In the 'Roaring Twenties' styling came into its own as both a differentiator among vehicles and a way for buyers to make a fashion statement. This Speedster does both. With its daringly raked, vee’d windscreen, and hood louvers and door openings angled to match,it conveys the impression of speed, even standing still.
This 1911 Brush, also featured in Murdoch Mysteries, is displayed outside the entrance to the Art and the Automobile gallery. Brush automobiles were low-priced transition points from the buggy age to the automobile age, as this vehicle illustrates. Relying on wood frame construction with little more than self propulsion to offer beyond a buggy, Brush was one of many early automakers that failed to survive.
By 1908, the automobile had taken the form that most successors would follow for much of the next century, with an engine up front driving the rear wheels. Function ruled, but elements of style began to appear in the details, such as the wood trim and leather upholstery in this Reo, which was 'owned' by George Crabtree and driven by 'Dr. Grace in the Murdoch Mysteries episode, Murdoch takes Manhattan'. In the background is a 1932 Packard 900 'Shovel Nose' roadster
Style continued to evolve even during the depression years, as cars like this Packard 'Light Eight' demonstrates with its sculpted 'Shovel Nose' variation of Packard's ox-yoke grille and sweeping fender lines, highlighted by detailing, inside and out, that characterized the premium cars of the Grand Classic era. It's parked against a backdrop of period houses in the College Street area.
After winning the 1911 Indianapolis 500, the Stutz became known as, “the car that made good in a day." The forerunner of the modern sports car, this production 1912 Stutz Bearcat maintained much of the appearance and many of the characteristics of the race car – a practice that continues in sports cars today.
The Stutz Bearcat shares centre-stage with an ultra-rare and valuable French Delahaye. The art wall in the background features artwork by Ken Dallison, one of two internationally renowned autonotive fine artists, along with jay Koka, who are featured in the exhibit.
This 1936 Delahaye Type 135 Competition Court Teardrop Coupe is arguably the superstar of the show. The most exotic designs of the Art Deco era were those of French coachbuilders whose work became synonymous with the “French curve.” Among the most prominent was Figoni et Falaschi, which built the body for this Delahaye – one of just three of its type. It was Best in Show winner at the 2014 Cobble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
By the early '50s, fenders were history and the aircraft influence, combined with plenty of chrome, took over as the dominant styling theme of the era, the beginnings of which are reflected in this 1953 Buick Skylark convertible. The Skylark's long, low, wide look typified the styling of the early and mid-years of the decade. Here it's set against the Royal York Hotel of the 1950s in the distant background.
The aircraft influence on styling led directly to the finned era, which reached its zenith in the flamboyant and outrageous 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Seville. Perhaps the most memorable Cadillac ever produced, it marked the end of that cycle of excess, beginning a pendulum swing that would lead to the opposite extreme. In the background is the floor of the 1958 CNE Auto Show in the Automotive Building.
While some aircraft and rocket-age influence continued into the 1960s, there was a noticeable shift to pure form as the styling theme of that decade. That look was epitomized in its purest form by the now-classic Jaguar XK-E, which is one of the few vehicles in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
A five-decade span in iconic automobile design.
There's beauty inside the cars too, and also in the reflections. Note the wood and leather and the engine-turned instrument surround.
Teardrop fender on the 1936 Delahaye Competition Court Teardrop Coupe reflects the 1912 Stutz Bearcat
Jay Koka is an internationally-renowned automotive fine artist. One look at is work, displayed at the auto show in both the Art and the Automobile feature exhibit and the Auto Exotica area, explains why. Did we mention that he's Canadian?
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