Automobile As Art

Can An Automobile Be Art?

Can the automobile truly be considered a form of art? Or must art consist only of sculpture, painting and pottery? Just ask any of the many thousands of devotees of antique and classic cars whether they consider the automobile to be art and they will rush to tell you that, to the true automobile lover, the car isn’t just art — it’s art on wheels.

To the true car aficionado, there simply isn’t any comparison. After all, it just isn’t possible to put the hammer down on the Mona Lisa, rev her up to 60 miles per hour in a matter of seconds, smell the gasoline and feel the wind in your hair! Indeed, for those who truly love cars, the automobile is pure art.
The design of the modern motor car began in the late 1800′s and derived from the form of locomotives of that era. Steam locomotives were essentially large iron boxes with a boiler and wheels, and the first motor cars to come alone weren’t much more refined. It would be many decades before anything as ‘artsy’ as the tail fin would emerge.
Elegance was the last thing on the minds of the designers of the earliest automobiles. They hadn’t even gotten past passenger comfort yet, let alone give any thought to a refined appearance. It was enough to get their sputtering, backfiring contraptions running, let alone give a second thought to the driver other than to put a pad under his or her bottom.
Niceties such as windscreens were simply out of the question in the earliest vehicles. If you got a bug in your teeth you simply plucked it out and motored on. And if it were cold outdoors, perhaps bitterly so, you bundled up as best you could and tried not to allow the icicles on your eyebrows and beard to distract you from the treacherous task of keeping the vehicle on the road, even as you steered around rocks, potholes, horse manure and other obstacles of the day.
Gradually, as the early decades of the 1900′s rolled by, form gradually began to catch up with function as the automobile slowly began to accommodate owners who desired style along with their discomfort.
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The famous Model T, which was Henry Ford’s first commercial product, featured a roof and an enclosed passenger compartment, yet managed to maintain the homely, boxy appearance of a carriage that could just as easily be towed by a team of horses.
Gradually, as horsepower increased (minus the horses, thank you), cars became lower in profile, elongated, and with windscreens (now called windshields) that swept back to reduce wind resistance.
Engines got larger and you could really feel the wind in your hair now! Fenders flared, chrome grilles appeared, the white wall tire was introduced, chrome flashed from tail pipes and interiors saw the introduction of fine leathers and walnut steering wheels.
And such power! Among the fastest, most elegant and certainly most powerful cars of its era, the stylishly elegant 1936 Duesenberg sported a ram-air intake engine that could produce 400 horsepower.
By the 1970′s the American automobile had morphed into what is today called a “muscle car”, culminating in the Pontiac Gran Torino, a muscular, tire-smoking thing of beauty that can lovingly be admired as the star of Clint Eastwood’s movie of the same name: “Gran Torino.”
The oil crisis of 1973 rang in the era of economically, fuel efficient cars and heralded the beginning of a new period in motor vehicle deign in which function would serve the needs of economy, trumping form and fashion and resulting, most sadly, in a plethora of horribly inelegant and shapeless passenger cars that could scarcely be told apart.
To be sure there are exceptions such as the Hummer, but drive the roads of America today and you largely see an amorphous mass of visually boring, homogeneously designed, 4-wheel people movers with puny engines and just enough room for a driver to squeeze behind the wheel without feeling as though you’re being crammed into a telephone booth.
There is, however, one type of vehicle that has withstood the tests of time and the cruel dictates of economy. No one who chauffeurs one of these babies cares a hoot about gasoline efficiency. That is the limousine, and in particular, the stretch limo.
The limo is by its very nature an elongated, ponderously heavy rolling high-society salon that cares not a fig about miles per gallon or other such trifling concerns. The limo is the ultimate statement of automotive arrogance, designed purely and solely for the pleasure of its passengers.
The modern limousine can be stretched to comfortably seat as many as twenty passengers or more, each luxuriously nestled in cozy glove leather and enveloped by the latest in hi-tech surround sound sufficient to please and pamper the most discerning audiophile.
A well trained driver can accelerate a luxury stretch limo so gradually that one can hardly tell that one is moving at all, let alone cause the brandy in your snifter to so much as tilt to one side.
Truly, the modern limousine is to today’s automobiles as the clipper ship was to sailing ships of yore. Sleek, elegant, polished and wickedly sexy, the modern stretch limo is not just a thing of beauty, it answers the age old question of artists and designers as to whether form follows function, or function follows form. It simply doesn’t care, darling.