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‘The Shape of Speed’ Exhibit Has Curves in All the Right Places

The Portland Art Musem is celebrating the “Streamline Style” of vehicles from 1930 to 1942.

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In the midst of the Great Depression, auto designers began manufacturing advanced autos that could cut through the air as well as a potential customer’s resistance to spending money.

Somewhat related to Art Deco, the Streamline Style emphasized the idea of movement and led to the creation of aerodynamic automobiles and motorcycles that were made to appear as if they in motion even when they were at rest.

Showcasing some of the most artistic streamlined automobiles and motorcycles that were built from 1930-1942, “The Shape of Speed” opens at the Portland Art Museum on June 16.

Featuring 17 cars and two motorcycles, the exhibit will put the most stylish work from majestic marques like Bugatti, BMW, Alfa Romeo and Talbot-Lago on display.

“The Shape of Speed celebrates great design that moves us,” said museum curator Brian Ferriso. “During the Great Depression, the forward-leaning, beautiful designs of streamlined vehicles were aspirational, inspiring a sense of hope for the future.”

In case you can’t take a road trip to see the collection yourself, here’s a quick preview.

Panhard X76 Dynamic sedan, 1937 (Courtesy of Peter and Merle Mullin/Portland Art Museum)

Panhard X76 Dynamic Sedan: Featuring baroque styling, a backbone chassis and an unusual steering wheel position that required the driver to sit slightly right of center, the Dynamic was one of the biggest examples of automotive Art Deco on four wheels.

Talbot-Lago T-150C-SS Teardrop Coupe, 1937 (Courtesy of Mullin Automotive Museum Foundation/Portland Art Museum)

Talbot-Lago T-150C-SS Teardrop Coupe: Capable of hitting 100 miles per hour and stopping on a dime, the Talbot-Lago T150C SS was the perfect combination of form and function as one of the striking models placed third overall at the 1938 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Chrysler Thunderbolt Roadster, 1941. Photo: Peter Harholdt (Courtesy of Roger Willbanks/Portland Art Museum)

Chrysler Thunderbolt Roadster: The first American car to be built with a retractable, one-piece metal hardtop,  the Thunderbolt’s features were so advanced that some of them made their way into post-WWII production Chryslers.

BMW, R7 Concept Motorcycle, 1934. Photo: Peter Harholdt. (Courtesy of BMW Classic Collection/Portland Art Museum)

BMW R7 Concept Motorcycle: A one-off concept model that was built to show off BMW’s streamlining skills at auto shows in Germany in 1934, the R7 features a pressed steel frame and steel bodywork throughout.

Bugatti, Type 57 Aérolithe, 1935. Photo: Joe Wiecha. (Courtesy of Chris Ohrstrom/Portland Art Museum)

Bugatti Type 57 Aérolithe: French for “meteorite,” the Avante-Garde Aérolithe was a one-of-a-kind model that was built by Bugatti to star at the 1935 London and Paris Auto Salons.

Delahaye 135M Figoni and Falaschi Roadster, 1938. Photo: Scott Williamson/ photodesignstudios.com. (Courtesy of Collection of the Petersen Automotive Museum, Gift of Margie and Robert E. Petersen Foundation/Portland Art Museum)

Delahaye 135M Figoni and Falaschi Roadster: Sometimes referred to as “Paris gowns on wheels,” the Delahaye 135M  was the work of renowned Paris-based coachbuilders Joseph Figoni and Ovidio Falaschi.

Stout Scarab Sedan, 1936. Photo: Peter Harholdt. (Courtesy of Ron Schneider/Portland Art Museum)

Stout Scarab Sedan: A precursor to the modern minivan, the Scarab’s futuristic monocoque chassis and body was envisioned by aircraft designer William Bushnell Stout.

Henderson, KJ Streamline Motorcycle, 1930. Photo: Peter Harholdt. (Collection of Frank Westfall, Ner-A-Car Museum/Portland Art Museum)

Henderson KJ Streamline Motorcycle: A one-off build by craftsman Orley Ray Courtney, the KJ Streamline Motorcycle had a power hammer-formed steel body and a rear end that looked like it belonged on a speedboat.