Exactly twenty-seven years ago, the year after Enzo Ferrari died at the Forte di Belvedere, high on a hill overlooking Florence, there was an exhibition called L’Idea Ferrari, which sported nine 6m. air-conditioned glass
cubes, arranged in clusters of three on the battlements of the former summer home of the Medici family, each containing an iconic car. It was the first sanctioned exhibition of the Modena-based car firm, with its blessing and that of its parent company, Fiat. The designer was an Italian architect Pierluigi Cerri of Gregotti Associates in Milan, who, the year before, designed the Fiat exhibition at the Design Museum, when it was in Shad Thames.
This exhibition follows the same pattern, combining history, design and motor racing, but with the added all pervasive presence of celebrity. Ferrari always had ‘glamour’, right from the 1950s, attracting film stars, musicians,
footballers and sportsmen, from Elvis Presley, Bridget Bardot, Sammy Davis Jr, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Usain Bolt and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to Peter Sellers, John Lennon, Miles Davis, Eric Clapton, David Beckham, Floyd Mayweather, Cristiano Ronaldo and Hugh Grant.
As the years have passed, the cachet of owning, or being seen in one, has become paramount, and as the clientele
has become more uber-bling, so have the cars, culminating in the latest from Maranello; a LaFerrari Aperta, on loan
from, who else, but the braggadocio cook, Gordon Ramsay. The cars from the 1950s and 1960s had more than a restrained veneer of class, and reeked of quality. It was the racing that brought the beast out in them, pumping red-hot blood round the veins; as Enzo himself admitted, it was building and selling cars that allowed them to race, not the other way round.
He was nearly fifty when he built his first car, having raced and managed Alfas before and after the war. The first car to bear his name was the tipo 125, built in 1947 followed by the 166 MM, named after the Mille Miglia, the thousand mile race around Italy, which it won in 1949 with Biondetti at the wheel, and Bonetto coming second. It then went on to win Le Mans in the same year, this time with Luigi Chinetti, Ferrari’s American agent, at the wheel of a privately-entered barchetta. Ferrari were on their way.
The show will appeal to petrolheads, as well as students of design, as all aspects of automotive manufacture are covered, from sketches to working drawings, from models to a full-size, hand-crafted clay mock-up and from wind-tunnel experiments to engine parts. It could be argued that Bugatti combined engineering with art, as witnessed by the extraordinary attention to detail in any Bugatti, whereas Ferrari weds engineering with advanced technology. Even the building that houses the wind-tunnel at Modena was designed by Renzo Piano. There is a temptation to over-restore classic cars, to the point that they would never have had so many licks of paint or such shiny chromium spokes when they came off the production line fifty years ago. Squeaky-clean seems to be the order of the day, with patination erased and painted over and no scuffs to be seen. There are some owners, like Nick Mason and David Piper, who maintain the breed by racing their cars on racetracks, which is what they were designed to do. The cars in the exhibition, some ranged nose-to-tail on a banked track, are all restored per sodomia, so there is little sense of them having had previous lives.
Two of the most beautiful Ferraris ever built are on display; the 250 GTO model from 1962 and the 275 GTB4 from 1967, the former with a history of successful competition, taking the GT Championship three years running in the hands of such drivers as Stirling Moss Innes Ireland, Mike Parkes, Masten Gregory, the Rodriguez brothers, Roger Penske, John Surtees, Graham Hill and David Piper, who was still competing until recently. Michael Schumacher’s F1 car from 2000 is on the front of the grid,winning five World Championships for Ferrari up until 2004, having already secured two, driving for Benetton in 1994, where he deliberately drove into Damon Hill, when the Englishman was about to win the Championship, and in 1995. The German’s crash helmet is amongst a display which also includes those of Alberto Ascari and Mike Hawthorn. One of the most appealing exhibits is a full-size wooden ‘former’, around which panel-beaters in the 1960s used to sculpt aluminium panels, which would sit happily in any art gallery as a stand-alone piece of sculpture. At £18, this is quite a hefty admission price, matched only by the £39.95 for the exhibition catalogue, but maybe this perpetuates the belief that the Ferrari lifestyle choice is exclusively for the rich.
At the Design Museum until 15 April 2018