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Programs & Exhibitions

The Space Age Hits the Road: Visionary Car Designs in America


The shiny cars rolling off the assembly lines of Detroit's Big Three automakers were among the most memorable symbols of the future as it was imagined during the 1950s. Their elongated tailfins and cockpit-like windshields drew inspiration from the U.S. space program and the aesthetics of jet aircraft, evoking the idealized lifestyle promised to Americans by Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors. Automobile designers envisioned a sleeker future, in which drivers traveled effortlessly and comfortably to their destinations. Their innovations took shape against the backdrop of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States, set into motion by the October 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite and culminating in the 1969 Apollo moon landing. Many of the images seen here were originally published in the Los Angeles Examiner newspaper, which had the second largest circulation in Southern California when it folded in 1989. The photographs are now a part of the USC Libraries' Special Collections.

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