Indianapolis – July 2015 – The Art of Wheels and Wings

The weekend of July 18th and 19th found us in Indianapolis for more things with engines. Our first event was the The Gathering of the Faithful, a loose coalition of independent MG clubs and state chapters of MG owners located in the central United States. Each Year a different state club sponsors a regional Gathering of the Faithful of MG cars. This year it was held at an airport in Carmel, Indiana.

While it was billed as Wheels and Wings, there were only a couple of airplanes there, but the ones that were present, were beautiful. The airplanes and the majority of the cars were from the 1930s-1950s.

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In addition, the owners of the cars were very friendly, much more so than most car shows. They loved to talk about their cars, the histories, and how they obtained, restored and maintained them. One of the MGs was decorated as a plane, with wings and a rear stabilizer.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art (known colloquially as the IMA) is located on a 152-acre campus on the near northwest area outside downtown Indianapolis. The IMA is the ninth oldest and eighth largest encyclopedic art museum in the United States.The permanent collection comprises over 54,000 works, including African, American, Asian, and European pieces.

While I enjoy art museums, the main reason I wanted to visit was the exhibit Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas, which featured rare concept cars from the early 1930s to the 21st century, that showcased some of the most unique vehicles ever created by top names in the automotive field. Along with conceptual drawings and scale models, the exhibition explores the evolution of revolutionary automobile design that pushed the limits of the imagination and shaped the future of the industry. Dream Cars features both American and European concept car designs.

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The experimental, concept, or “dream” car has long been a dynamic tool that allows designers to showcase and demonstrate forward-thinking automotive design ideas. Concept cars were not vehicles the public typically could purchase, but rather the testing ground for innovations that might find expression in automobiles produced years, or even decades, later. This exhibition explored the groundbreaking designs that sparked ideas of future possibility and progress.

It examined the dream car through five themes: independent makers, the impact of styling, the Motorama and the rise of the dream car, the influence of automobile shows, and the role of concept cars today.

Arriving on the second floor you were greeted by the Rocket Car. With features reminiscent of a delta wing fighter jet, the Firebird 1 originally taxied into the 1954 General Motors Motorama as the 1954 XP-21 Firebird concept

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Just a precursor of what was to come, but it was amazing. I was like a kid at Christmas. As you entered the main exhibit area you found The Voisin C-25 Aérodyne and the Bugatti Type 57 Compétition Coupé Aerolithe, two of the earliest examples. Their curvilinear shapes set them apart from the boxy car design predominant at the time.

Easily one of the most unique vehicles there was a 1936 Scout Scarab. Some people call it the very first minivan, but that  hardly does the Stout Scarab justice. Built without compromise for the fortunate few who could afford the $5,000 price of admission in 1934 (roughly the equivalent of $87,000 today), the Scarab boasted innovative features like fenders incorporated into the body, deleted running boards, rear wheel skirts, hidden hinges and flush glass, all meant to optimize airflow and reduce wind noise.

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After spending a good hour reviewing the remaining concept cars, including the Chrysler Thunderbolt and the Streamline X “Gilda” we headed out to see the rest of the museum, initially going outside for the gardens and the Lilly house. After the cars the gardens and the house, with it’s silver exhibitions seemed blasé

Returning to the main museum we toured the African art section, which had literally hundreds of intricately carved masks and statues. The IMA was well laid out, with the display situated with lighting and glass that was conducive to photography, which lead to me coming home with hundreds of great photos.

 The IMA showcases, through innovative displays, one of the nation’s largest and most significant collections of Asian art. More than 400 works of art in the gallery provide a panorama of more than 4,000 years of Asian art from China, Japan, Korea, India, Tibet, and West and Southeast Asia. The collection includes Chinese art, including ancient bronze ritual vessels, jades, ceramics, textiles and paintings, a Japanese section that features one of the finest collections of Edo-period painting in the U.S., and one of the world’s finest collections weavings by the Baluchi people of Iran and Afghanistan—one of the world’s finest such collections—are on display.

The contemporary collection includes outstanding examples of Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting, Minimalism, Op and Pop Art, installation art, and video and light-based works. The top level included some ‘art’ that made no sense at all, a large wall with a black dot painted on it, etc.

Finally it was nearly closing time, and as we were leaving I decided to go through the Dream Cars one more time, and to my delight I had 15 minutes of the place to ourselves. What a wonderful opportunity to get even more photographs without people in the way.

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The custom car show at the fairgrounds was amazing with all of the cars, and the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village show was equally amazing, but these 19 cars, without a doubt, were the coolest cars in one place. I doubt I ever top it for the content and displaying of automobiles.

The next morning, we went to downtown Indianapolis and toured the area around Monument Circle. The Indiana State Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a 284  foot high neoclassical monument in the centerpiece of Monument Circle, a circular, brick-paved street that intersects Meridian and Market streets in the center of downtown Indianapolis. The monument is the first in the United States to be dedicated to the common soldier. The monument’s original purpose was to honor soldiers from Indiana who were veterans of the Civil War; however, it is also a tribute to Indiana’s soldiers who served during the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War. It is surrounded by the tallest buildings in Indianapolis.

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After a brief visit to the Indiana State Capital we drove out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to visit the IMS Museum. The museum rotates a display of over 75 cars at any given time. Due to considerable space restraints, only a small portion of the total collection can be displayed. Many cars are stored in the invitation-only basement, or at separate off-site facilities.

The collection includes over thirty Indy 500 winning cars, various other Indy Cars, and several racing cars from other disciplines. Other items on display include trophies, plaques, racing paraphernalia such as helmets, gloves, and driver’s suits. A collection of models, photographs, toys, and paintings are also for view. One display exhibits a timeline of scoring devices.

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Any other time this would’ve been the highlight of the trip, but after yesterday’s Dream Cars it was just a cool side trip. The workers at the Museum were huge racing fans, and very knowledgeable. The day we were there a tour bus with Brazilian tourists came in, adding to the atmosphere, since while the Indy 500 is the epitome of an American event, more often than not it has been won by drivers from all over the world, including a number of Brazilians.

The displays give an excellent understanding of the development of the race car over the years. How they didn’t kill more people in the 1930s and 1940s cars is beyond me, since they learned how to get the speed but the safety features are nonexistent.

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Not far from the speedway is the former Indianapolis baseball stadium, Bush Stadium. When they completed the new retro stadium in downtown Indianapolis this field was slated to be torn down. Thanks to some ingenious people the stadium was saved and redeveloped into apartments, called the Stadium Lofts.

I know if I had to live in Indianapolis I would want to live here. Even the bus stop keeps with the theme as they used some of the seating for the bus stop seats.

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As we started to the east to return to Ohio we diverted slightly to the city of Muncie, Indiana, home of, among many things, the National Model Aviation Museum.

Part of the mission of this museum is remember and care for aero-modeling history through preserving the physical legacy of the sport. This means that the Museum collects three-dimensional objects relating to aero-modeling that help convey the story, evolution, and importance of the modeling experience. They have about 9,000 artifacts in our collection, including model airplanes, radio systems, engines, building tools and equipment, and memorabilia such as patches, stickers and clothing.

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The museum is located on the extensive grounds of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, with hundreds of acres of flying fields for model airplane enthusiasts. The day there were a number of people flying planes, situated in small groups staying in massive RVs with out of state plates.

Our final stop of the day was in Wapokaneta, Ohio, at the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum. The museum highlights Ohio’s contributions to the history of space flight. Among the items on display are an Skylancer, Gemini 8 spacecraft, Apollo 11 artifacts and a moon rock.

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The museum is also home to two full-size aircraft, including the very airplane in which Neil Armstrong learned to fly.