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The Golden Era of Streamlining
By Larry Edsall
Cars as art, as gorgeous examples of rolling sculpture, are the focus of a special exhibit that runs through June 3 at the Phoenix Art Museum.

"Curves of Steel: Streamlined Automobile Design” features 22 of the world’s most beautiful works of automotive art, most of them from the 1930s when automotive streamlining was at the forefront of automotive and other expressions of design.

One of those other expressions was in clothing design, and the museum also features an exhibit it calls “Automotivated” that shows how designers of high fashion were inspired by the streamlined automobiles of the era.

Exhibits in renowned art museums that feature the automobile as moving sculpture are rare, though certainly not unheard of. For example, in 1951 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City featured “8 automobiles.”

Then, as now, the exhibit included a teardrop Talbot-Lago by French coachbuilders Figoni and Falaschi, a 1937 Cord and a Lincoln, though the MOMA featured a 1941 Continental while the Phoenix museum includes a 1939 Zephyr.

Vehicles in the Phoenix exhibit include works of art from both side of the Atlantic.

Streamlined design in the United States is represented by a 1934 Chrysler Imperial Airflow, a 1935 Auburn 851 Speedster, a 1935 Stout Scarab, a 1937 Cord 812 Sportsman, the 1939 Lincoln Zephyr, 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt, 1948 Tucker, 1952 SoCal Belly Tank racer and the 1986 Oldsmobile Aerotech closed-course speed-record holder.

Among the European vehicles are a rare 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic coupe, a stunning red 1939 Delahaye 165 Cabriolet by Figoni and Falachi, and the mesmerizing 1937 Dubonnet Hispano-Suiza H-6C Xenia by Russian-born French coachbuilder Saoutchik.

For more photos of the cars on display, visit our Photo Gallery. For more information about the exhibit, visit the museum’s website at

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