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Cars: Accelerating the Modern World Exhibition at the V&A Museum

Frances has many years' experience writing about exhibitions in art galleries and museums.

Karl Benz Patent-Motorwagen No. 3 1888

Patent-Motorwagen No. 3 Karl Benz 1888. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

Patent-Motorwagen No. 3 Karl Benz 1888. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

"Cars: Accelerating the Modern World"

Cars: Accelerating the Modern World, an exhibition at London's V&A Museum in 2019, asked how the car, in barely 130 years, shaped the world we live in today.

Supported by Bosch, a leading global supplier of technology and services, the exhibition was curated by Brendan Cormier and Lizzie Bisley.

Speaking at the time Brendan Cormier said, “The V&A’s mission is to champion the power of design to change the world, and no other design object has impacted the world more than, the automobile. This exhibition is about the power of design to effect change, and the unintended consequences that have contributed to our current environmental situation.”

The exhibition was structured in three sections: Going Fast, Making More and Shaping Space.

Vehicles Streamlined for Speed Influenced all fields of Design from Cloche Hats to Radios and Food Slicers

Tatra T77 1934. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

Tatra T77 1934. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

Cloche by Miss Fox 1928-29. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

Cloche by Miss Fox 1928-29. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

"Going Fast"

Going Fast revealed how cars have changed our attitude to speed through 20th-century concept car designs, posters, magazine illustrations, archives, and specially commissioned films. The display called on science-fiction, popular culture, and innovative technologies to imagine the place of the car in a rapidly accelerating future.

The display showcased the world’s first production car, the Benz Patent Motorwagen 3 dating from 1888. With a top speed of 16km/h, the Benz wasn’t exactly fast, but the technology developed at great speed. Drivers soon became addicted to the thrill of speed and the rapid growth of a racing culture forced design/manufacturing techniques to develop even faster.

One such technology, streamlining, was developed to reduce drag. The sleek curves and style of the Tatra T77, from the Czech Republic, have influenced all fields of design from cloche hats and radios to food slicers.

Utilitarian Ford Model T Versus the Luxurious Customised Hispano-Suize H6B'Skiff Torpedo'

Ford Model T Tourer. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

Ford Model T Tourer. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

Hispano-Suiza HB6 'Skiff Torpedo'. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

Hispano-Suiza HB6 'Skiff Torpedo'. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

"Making More"

Making More examined how developing mass-production methods made cars available to the masses.

The display featured a Ford Model-T from 1925 and explored the development and growth of the Ford assembly line. The automotive industry, which hitherto had built individually hand-crafted vehicles, now manufactured mainly utilitarian machines at affordable prices purchased by millions the world over.

However, at the other end of the market, the demand for luxury vehicles such as the Hispano-Suiza Type H6B ‘Skiff Torpedo’ was growing. In 1919 wealthy patron of the arts Suzanne Deutsch de la Meurthe purchased a chassis at the Paris Auto Salon. She sent it to Henri Labourdette’s coachbuilding workshop to be custom built with a ‘skiff torpedo’ body. This conversion would have been a hugely costly undertaking reflecting the owner’s status as a person of wealth.

Ford Nucleon Concept Car and Pop-Up Next – The Response to the Oil Crisis of the 1970s

Ford Nucleon Concept Car (Model). Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

Ford Nucleon Concept Car (Model). Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

Pop-Up Next Flying Car 2018. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

Pop-Up Next Flying Car 2018. Image by Frances Spiegel 2019 with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved.

"Shaping Space"

Shaping Space looked at how cars have changed the landscape from countryside to cityscape. The display included global surveys of road conditions published by Michelin as well as an examination of the geography of petrol extraction. Petrol was initially hailed as a miracle resource through products such as Tupperware and nylon. But the oil crisis in the 1970s showed the need for the development of alternative environmentally friendly fuels.

In the 1950s, both Messerschmitt and Ford tried to address the problem with the Messerschmitt KR200 bubble car and the nuclear-powered Ford Nucleon.

The exhibition concluded with the Pop-Up Next autonomous flying car. Co-designed by Italdesign, Airbus, and Audi, this fantasy image of a future world, was on show for the first time in the UK. The display drew our attention to the unintended results of motoring – the pollution and the traffic jams and certainly gave us food for thought!

V&A Museum

© 2019 Frances Spiegel