Among the major car collections in the world, there is one that stands out more than any other as synonymous with excellence: that of iconic American fashion designer Ralph Lauren. A selection of the most prestigious sports cars from the 1930s to present day is on view for the first time in Europe at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, with the exhibit running 28 April – 28 August, 2011.
Seventeen outstanding cars, chosen by curator Rodolphe Rapetti, and put on display by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, outline the main phases of European automobile history. With this collection, Ralph Lauren shows that the automobile is a major art form created by the industry’s biggest names: Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Porsche and of course, Ferrari, the high point of this unique collection.
In 1970, Les Arts Décoratifs presented a selection of competition cars, “Bolides Design.” To compile the exhibition, a special jury was assembled, featuring designers Joe Colombo, Roger Tallon and Pio Manzu, and the artists Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jean Tinguely and Victor Vasarely, as well as Robert Delpire and François Mathey. The jury chose the models with the idea of the car as a design object, a work of art, showing that “art and technique, each at their own level, are the expression of man and his relationship with design.”
The Ralph Lauren car collection can be seen from the same perspective. Patiently assembled over several decades by the fashion designer in a quest for speed and performance, it includes some of the most extraordinary jewels in the crown of European automobile history, with beauty as its common denominator.
Within the collection are some of the most elegant and innovative cars in automotive history, from the “Blower” Bentley (1929), the Ferrari 250 GTO (1962), the famous Mercedes 300 SL (1955) and the unforgettable Jaguar “D type,” whose shark fin blazed a triumphant trail at Le Mans in 1955, 1956 and 1957. But the grand tourer, the Bugatti Atlantic (1938) of which only four models were produced, represents the ultimate in luxury while showcasing the evolution of styles and techniques on the road. Each of these exceptional vehicles was designed as a masterpiece blending technological innovation and boldness of style.
For its first presentation in Europe, the Ralph Lauren collection will be put on display by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who has opted for an intimate visual approach as these vehicles stand out both for their overall design and detail, as well as for bodywork, chassis and engines.
The kinetic and sound of the vehicles will be reproduced by means of several films and recordings. A seminar on automobile design will also be held during the exhibition.
Among the cars on display for the Ralph Lauren Car Collection Exhibition:
Bentley Blower, 1929 – This car was designed by W.O. Bentley, but it was Sir Hilary Birkin, one of the “Bentley Boys” (a group of British gentlemen, all of them drivers and lovers of fast cars) which led Bentley to equip it with a compressor, hence its nickname “Blower.” With massive bodywork embellished with the English flag, the Bentley Blower was created for a single purpose: to win races. This is the car Ian Fleming chose for James Bond 007 in his first novels.
Mercedes-Benz SSK Count Trossi, 1930 – With its shark profile, the design of this Mercedes-Benz can be attributed to the talent of its owner, Italian aristocrat Count Carlo Felice Trossi, also a racing driver. The SSK is the archetype of the Mercedes of the 1920s, dominated by its colossal bonnet encompassing more than half of its length, with the radiator projecting out front as a windbreaker and exhaust pipes stemming from the sides.
Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe, 1938 – This is one of only four models ever built, and today only two are left. This fantastic car has visible seams and round-headed rivets running the length of its spine and mudguards. Power and speed are suggested by its doors cut out of the roof and ellipsoidal windows taken from the aeronautics register.
Ferrari 375 Plus, 1954 – Like all the Ferraris of the time, there were no specific plans for this design. Highly qualified and talented craftsmen created this magnificently rounded shape following the verbal instructions of Ferrari’s official car designer, Pinin Farina. Thus they were able to produce a magnificent spyder which won Le Mans 24 Hours in 1954.
Jaguar XKD, 1955 – No car from the ’50s embodies speed better than the XKD Jaguar, with three consecutive victories between 1955 and 1957 at Le Mans 24 Hours, and another at Nürburgring in 1956. It’s this car that enabled the driver Patricia Coundley to become the fastest woman in Europe in 1964. From the aileron at its tip to the elegantly rounded bonnet, its shape harks back to that of a fighter plane.
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe, 1955 – The Gullwing owes its name to the doors which open upward, like wings. It was the darling of many celebrities including Sophia Loren, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Glen Ford and musician Skitch Henderson.
Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, 1958 – This car bears the mark of Sergio Scaglietti, one of Ferrari’s most talented coachbuilders. The Testa Rossa (red head), which takes its name from the red camshaft covers of its V12 engine, bears Scaglietti’s characteristic signature – a long chassis with a torpedo-like body, a headrest emerging from the bodywork and streamlined headlamps.
For more information, visit www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr.
[Source: Musée des Arts Décoratifs; photo credit: Tim Scott / Fluid Images]
A couple of points about the blower Bentley entry.. It was Sir Henry Birkin (known as Tim) who pioneered the use of a supercharger, not Hilary; and the “flag” you see on the car is the Union Jack – the flag of the United Kingdom. The “English” flag is the St Georges cross, a red cross on a white background.