Trust me, I’ve been to a lot of auto shows and Concours d’Elegance, but nothing quite as spectacular as the “Dream Cars” exhibit opening at the High Museum in Atlanta on May 21.

There are some incredible cars that I’ve seen a lot — Auburn boattail speedsters, Shelby Mustangs and Cobras, Duesenbergs, special-bodied Packards, glorious Mercedes roadsters — and then there are the truly exotic one-of-a-kind vehicles that the High has assembled. A few highlights that speak to the incredibly varied world of auto design include:

  • L’Oeuf électrique (Electric Egg). It's an amazing battery-powered bubble car (below) designed by Paul Arzens just as the Nazi noose was tightening around Europe. It’s never been Stateside before.

L’Oeuf électrique or the Electric Egg

  • The Stout Scarab. Like Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion, a 1930s precursor of the minivan. The Scarab (main photo) had amazing Art Deco styling, groundbreaking interior functionality — and an astoundingly high price of $5,000 (in 1936), which assured that very few were built. I’ve only seen one other, at a concours in northern Michigan. “The Depression-wracked buying public did not recognize its many advantages,” the catalog says. Founder William Bushnell Stout was the founder of Aerial Age, and aircraft-inspired streamlining is evident in the car’s sleek design and aluminum panels (over a tubular frame).
  • Alfa-Romeo Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica 7 (B.A.T. 7). There were three of these Batmobiles built from 1952 to 1955 by coachbuilder Bertone. Extreme styling exercises, they are nonetheless functionally aerodynamic, not to mention gorgeous. Typical of the era, they weren’t much valued at the time and were acquired by industry legend “Wacky” Arnolt, who took them to California. Poor #7 had its fins hacked off before a sympathetic restoration. Even stranger, #9 (arguably the best looking of the three) ended up on a used-car lot in Michigan, where a 16-year-old, Gary Kaberle, bought it for next to nothing. He sold popcorn from a stand outside his parents’ gift shop to pay for it. All three cars were eventually restored to their former glory and are worth millions now.

Norman Timbs Special

  • Norman Timbs Special. This 1947 streamliner (above) looks 10 years ahead of its time; we’re still not ready for it. Timbs, a mechanical engineer who worked on the Tucker and on race cars, built his rear-engined special out of hand-fashioned aluminum panels. He spent $8,000, an enormous sum at the time, but then hardly drove the car because, says his son, “it was so futuristic looking he couldn’t drive it anywhere without people constantly stopping and staring at it. It happened so often he got tired of it.” It sat wasting away in the California high desert before being rescued, sympathetically restored, and winning first place at the Pebble Beach concours.
I talked to the curator, Sarah Schleuning, who said the three-wheeled electric egg was one of her favorites. “I went to see it in France, at the National Auto Museum, where it was displayed on white gravel," she said. I thought it epitomized something important about innovation — it shows that great things can happen at any moment. ‘L’Oeuf’ is stripped down and simple, but also elegant and refined. Arzens, who went on to design locomotives, built it as an electric car to get around the petrol ration, and then used it during the German occupation of Paris.”

Schleuning is also a big fan of former BMW designer Bangle’s “GINA Light Visionary Model” of 2001, which has a changeable fabric skin. “If you want the headlights on, they open like an eye,” she said. “In the back, the taillights shine through the fabric. When you open the wing-like doors, they wrinkle and stretch. In 30 years, are cars like this going to be normal?”

Lancia Stratos HF Zero

Don’t miss the rocket-inspired Cadillac Cyclone of 1959, one of the last General Motors Motorama cars. It’s like the ’59 Caddy taken to its logical extremes. And Marcello Gandini’s wedge-like and Bertone-designed Lancia Stratos HF Zero of 1970 (above) is just 33 inches tall, a bullet in flight with a retractable wing.

The High is aptly named; it hosts 13,000 works of art and a wide range of high-end shows. Fittingly, when it turned to car design, it went all-out. If you find yourself in Atlanta before Sept. 7, don’t skip this show. The museum is part of the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. You can find more information here.

And for a closer look at the Cadillac Cyclone, here's video:

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

'Dream Cars': Masterpieces of auto design in Atlanta
Atlanta's High Museum of Art showcases memorable one-of-a-kind styling. You won't see these cars together anywhere else.