Curator Ken Gross had his first encounter with Porsches in college, when the cool guys were driving Super 90 Coupes. His old Ford, which was fine for attracting girls in high school, didn't compare.
''I lusted after that car,'' Gross says. ''A friend let me drive his, and it was kind of an epiphany for me.''
He bought a 1961 Super 90 Coupe after graduate school in 1966, then sold it before he went to Vietnam in the U.S. Navy. Although he hasn't owned another one since, he has found a job that makes for a fine consolation prize - curating museum shows that include Porsches, such as the one that opens Saturday at the North Carolina. Museum of Art.
This show is different from other car exhibits that Gross has curated because it's the first one he's done that focuses only on Porsches. The show has 22 of the German-made cars, starting with a 1938 Type 64 Berlin-Rom Racer and including actor Steve McQueen's 1958 Speedster, fashion designer Ralph Lauren's 1988 Type 959 and a 1989 Panamericana concept car with a zip-off roof that's never been in the U.S. before and was an 80th birthday gift to Ferry Porsche. It's the only one of that car, which had a dune buggy feel to it while still maintaining that clear Porsche design.
Porsche didn't put the car into production, although elements of its design are apparent in the modern 911s, Gross said.
Janis Joplin's psychedelically painted 1965 Type 356C Cabriolet that's usually at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland also is part of the exhibit, titled ''Porsche by Design: Seducing Speed.''
Museum exhibits of cars date back to 1951, when the Museum of Modern Art produced a show titled ''Eight Automobiles,'' and are gaining in popularity with museum directors, who see them as a way to attract a new audience. Gross, former director of the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, now works as a guest curator for museum exhibits about cars, most recently at the Frist Center for Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, and has exhibits scheduled through 2016.
''They are rolling sculpture,'' said NCMA Director Larry Wheeler. ''It's the design and exquisite quality of Porsche that has been sustained from the very beginning. In terms of art museums embracing great industrial design, this is not new.''
Both Wheeler and Gross said they believe the North