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Our favorite rides from the Frist’s latest Art-Car Show
By Patrick Conley

Even people who can’t tell a Mitsubishi from a Mazda will turn their heads when a Lamborghini or Ferrari rumbles past, demonstrating the enduring power and prestige of Italian auto design. More than mere status symbols, Italian cars are exercises in rolling art. Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts is recognizing this with their second automotive exhibit in as many years: Bellissima! The Italian Automotive Renaissance 1945-1975.

Italian manufacturing learned much from its wartime duties supplying sleek, high powered aircraft for the Axis war machine. In peacetime it applied these lessons to the manufacture and design of stunning automobiles. Dish, of course, was there to scope out these handbuilt pieces of motorized modern style which defined an era of glamor, optimism, and delight in the booming post-war world.
Alfa ERomeo Bat 5
1953 Alfa Romeo BAT 5
The exhibit opens with a trio Alfa Romeo Concepts, the BAT (Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica) 5, 7, and 9. The Bat 5, with its silver body and dramatic red interior and accents, is our favorite. All three expressed a distinctly Italian take on the aircraft inspired shapes and fins which also adorned their American contemporaries. The beautiful skin is also functional, with the designers setting out to create cars which would slice more easily through air than any other, an insight borne out of the new jet aircraft industry.
1950 Cisitalia 202 SC

When the story is told of how cars went from gangly and utilitarian contraptions to today’s sculptured supercars, the 1950 Cisitalia 202 SC will surely warrant its own chapter. The car was the first to be adopted into the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Though the car was adopted for its classic lines, which influenced many other designers, under the body it sported a new, tubular chassis which allowed the driver and engine to sit closer to the ground. Keeping the center of gravity low is now a principle of designing any sports car.

 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO
1962 Ferrari 250 GTO
What’s the most valuable car in the world? You might be looking at it. Only 39 GTOs were ever made and the last two sold for prices approaching $40 million. It’s quite the feat for a car created by an unknown designer who first created an outline with wires, then hammered metal sheets by hand to fulfill his vision. The result is a car with curves and vents in all the right places, with a perfect stance exuding a race-ready toughness beyond any show car.
 1955 Chrysler Ghia Gilda

1955 Chrysler Ghia Gilda
It was only a matter of time before Italian craftsmanship gained worldwide renown. The American automaker Chrysler recruited Italian designers to craft this Jetsons-worthy showpiece. Though the car was purely a styling exercise, it later influenced many designers, including those at Dodge and Mercedes Benz. The life of this non-running show car took a twist when a later owner installed a gas turbine engine, the perfect jet-age complement to the car’s sci-fi shape.

 1970 Lancia Stratos HF
1970 Lancia Stratos HF
Among the salacious curves which fill the exhibition hall the ostentatious and sharp lines of the Lancia Stratos HF stand out, if not very high. The 33-inch tall Lancia Stratos was a chiseled shot across the bow to the curves and waves which dominated Italy’s auto design at the time. Although Lancia production cars would take cues from the radical concept, it would later influence (and continues to influence) a generation of wedged and edged supercars from other marque brands. Every boy who plastered his walls with posters of the Lamborghini Countach and Diablo in the 80's, or today’s Aventador and Huracan, can clearly see the influence of the Lancia Stratos HF.
1955 Lincoln Indianapolis
1955 Lincoln Indianapolis
Chrysler wasn’t the only company to hope an Italian job would boost sales. The Lincoln Indianapolis was a distinctly Italian take on the iconic American brand. Though the concept never led to a production car, the blazing orange, long hood, and gaping front intake make one wonder what might have been. The chrome pipes which jut from the front fenders are yet another nod to jet aircraft, while the checkered interior and badging speaks to the influence of Indy 500 pace cars. Its past is also checkered, with the car mysteriously ending up in the hands of movie star Errol Flynn. After that its interior was burned, then the car was partially disassembled and stored for decades. Eventually, it was reconstructed and restored. / Issue 185 - September 7815
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