The Automobile as Art – The Ralph Lauren Car Collection Goes on Show
[pullquote]For me, cars are real works of art. In my collection, some of the oldest were actually handmade. Finishes and metal works were made by artisans. I always loved these machines created by people who bring their passion for manufacture to give birth to beautiful shapes or sounds that give pleasure.
Ralph Lauren -2011[/pullquote]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.
Seventeen of the world’s most amazing classic sports cars from Ralph Lauren’s legendary personal collection will be on show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris through to 28 August.
“The Art of the Automobile” exhibition features select cars from the designer’s private collection, one of the most extensive in the world. Here’s a sample of four of the cars that really stand out for me, although all 17 would be worth a closer inspection.
1929 Bentley Blower
The Bentley Blower stands out from the other cars in the Ralph Lauren Collection thanks to its massive bodywork. Ettore Bugatti even referred to it as “the fastest truck in the world”.
Despite its size, the car is formidably fast due to its 4.5 litre engine, fed by an enormous compressor mounted up front. The bodywork of the car exhibited here is partially made of imitation leather, intended to reduce any excess bodyweight.
The Bentley Boys drove these cars in many races, but never managed to carry off the expected victories. Ralph Lauren’s Bentley participated in the Le Mans 24 Hours on three occasions: in 1930, when it was forced to abandon due to a piston problem; in 1932, Jean Trévoux sent the car into the ditch during the first lap; and in 1933, it went off track during the 25th lap.
1930 Mercedes-Benz SSK “Count Trossi”
Put together by the young British coachbuilder, Willy White, the SSK was based on a design suggested by its aristocratic owner-cum-industrialist Count Carlo Felice Trossi, himself a racing driver.
The SSK, the archetypal Mercedes of the 1920s, built on a short chassis, is dominated by a colossal hood with a trio of exhaust pipes emerging from each side – a hood encompassing over half the car’s length with a radiator projecting out front as a windbreak.
Its flamboyant rear end, dramatically tapered, adds a touch of civility to this extraordinary model, contrasting with the hieratic image of its front end. The supercharging gives the Mercedes SSK its fiery temperament, as well as the legendary noise of its seven litre straight 6 cylinder engine enabling a flat-out speed of 235 kph.
1938 Bugatti 57 SC “Atlantic”
Powered by a straight 8 cylinder engine fitted with twin overhead camshafts and a compressor, this beauty is also incredibly fast, capable of reaching 200 kph.
As the aluminium alloy used for the coachwork did not lend itself to shaping and soldering, Jean Bugatti was obliged to make the wings and roof in two parts and then assemble them with rivets. His talent lay precisely in the art of transforming this inconvenient technique into a stylistic advantage.
Power and speed are suggested by the doors which are cut out of the roof and the ellipsoidal windows reminiscent of airplanes.
1955 Porsche 550 Spyder
The 550, showcased at the Paris Motor Show in 1953 was one of Porsche’s first race cars and continued to be produced until 1956. Its name, Spyder, adopted by Ferry Porsche, was a good description of this open two-seater light sports car.
Fitted with a flat 4 cylinder air-cooled 1,498 cc engine developing 110 C, coupled to a four-speed gearbox, the 550 proved to be easy to handle and very fast, capable of reaching 218 kph.
Indeed, in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, Hans Herrmann came in third, winning his category, while in 1956, a 550 A took a magnificent victory at Targa Florio, outstripping the Ferraris and Maseratis with their substantially bigger and more powerful engines.
Ralph Lauren’s version was the 61st car to leave the factory out of 90 produced. Since the accidental death of James Dean at the wheel of a similar brand new car, the Spyder has become legendary.
Others in the Collection
In all seventeen of Laurens collection have been selected for the exhibition. In addition to the four that I have mentioned, expect to see these other pristine condition models:
- 1931 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 “Monza”
- 1933 Bugatti 59 Grand Prix
- 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 “Mille Miglia”
- 1950 Jaguar XK120 Roadster
- 1954 Ferrari 375 Plus
- 1955 Jaguar XKD
- 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing”
- 1958 Jaguar XKSS
- 1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa
- 1960 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB
- 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO
- 1964 Ferrari 250 LM
- 1996 McLaren F1 LM
Where to See (and Hear) the Cars
The show runs through 28 August 2011 and is open to the public for a small fee of €9 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. If you happen to be in Paris anytime between now and the end of August, make a point of visit the museum which you will find at 107 rue de Rivoli.
As for hearing the cars, the official Ralph Lauren Car Collection web site has more details on each of the cars, and each ‘biography’ page also includes a sound file recording of the vehicles’ engine at work during a drive. The recordings show that all the cars in this collection are in working order and sound fantastic – even over 80 years later in some cases. Listen, for example to the Bentley Blower on start-up and you’ll hear why Bugatti referred to it as a truck! My favourite? The 375 Plus revving up, pulling off and then on a drive-by = awesome!
Image Sources: Ralph Lauren Car Collection