Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


“I GO SOMEWHERE… I take a cab.” This apocryphal New Yorker’s view of travel was countered by that city’s Museum of Modern Art and its first exhibit on automotive design. Here are time-capsule tidbits from MOMA’s 8 Automobiles, 1951. In Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, the cars’ esthetics are discussed and contrasted, comments gleaned from the original MOMA catalog.

The complete catalog can be viewed online.

As the catalog notes, 8 Automobiles was “An exhibition concerned with the esthetics of motorcar design, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, autumn 1951.”

“Automobiles,” MOMA wrote, “are hollow, rolling sculpture. They have interior spaces corresponding to an outer form, like buildings, but the designer’s esthetic purpose is to enclose the functioning parts of an automobile, as well as its passengers, in a package suggesting directed movement along the ground.”

1930 Mercedes-Benz Model SS; 1939 Bentley, Coachwork by James Young. Contrasting the two cars, MOMA observed that the Mercedes SS is “an unusually consistent example of a box with applied parts,…”

1930 Mercedes-Benz Model SS. MOMA image from

“… while the parts applied to the Bentley,” continued MOMA, “are themselves less significant than their remarkable intersections, which form the true basis of the design.”

1939 Bentley 4 1/4 Litre, James Young coachwork. MOMA image from

1949 Cisitalia 202, Coachwork by Pinin Farina. MOMA wrote, “The Cisitalia’s body is slipped over its chassis like a dust jacket over a book.”

1949 Cisitalia 202. MOMA image from

“Modeled by swellings and depressions,” MOMA observed, “the surface of this seemingly one-piece metal jacket is made to incorporate those elements which, in the Mercedes, are superimposed on the body.”

1939 Talbot-Lago, Coachwork by Figoni et Falaschi, Paris. MOMA contrasted, “… while the component parts of the Bentley are related to each other by a series of flawless intersections, the Talbot’s unity derives from repetition of one motif…. five distinct shapes—front and rear fenders and the passenger compartment—related to each other by a general similarity of size and contour.”

1939 Talbot-Lago, coachwork by Figoni et Falaschi. MOMA image from

“The individual parts,” MOMA noted, “are varied by a sculptural modeling similar to the Cisitalia’s, but substitute for the Italian car’s incisive detail a witty juxtaposition of highly stylized curves.”

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll encounter American diversity and English enthusiasm. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019


  1. rulesoflogic
    December 6, 2019

    The Cisitalia is a timeless beauty! I think its design was “borrowed” for the second-generation Nash-Healey, but of course, that design was also by Pinin Farina.

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