26 02 2018

This Design Museum: Beneath The Skin Of Ferrari

‘Ferrari Fatigue’ is the new in-phrase in the classic car world. It’s a reaction to the flood of races, events and shows dedicated to the prancing horse marque that is now entering its eighth decade of life. The Tifosi have definitely been out in force over the last twelve months, celebrating anything and everything Ferrari. For many, it seems too much, even if that is the apotheosis of the First World Problem.  Sometimes, you need a focused reminder of what makes a marque great, and luckily the new exhibition Ferrari: Under The Skin at the Design Museum delivers that in spades.

I dropped by to drool over this wonderful display and found plenty to make me fall in love with Ferrari all over again. Honestly, I’m thankful, because as a car enthusiast, surely this marque demands respect, however else it is perceived.

Ferrari is far from a stranger to the museum scene - their 641 Formula 1 car has hung on a wall at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for decades, and rightfully so. Now the Design Museum, nestled in the picturesque London neighbourhood of Kensington are pulling out all the stops, displaying a wonderfully curated collection of machines, memorabilia, and stories that have made il Cavallino Rampante the most iconic automotive logo, and Ferrari arguably the greatest car brand, in the world.

With the 1973 Le Mans Ecurie Francorchamps 365 GTB/4 Daytona racer perched in the centre of the vast main atrium there’s little doubt that this will be a special exhibition. Besides, is there any better greeting on a cold, grey London day than the radiance of Giallo Modena? Visitors then pass through stunning red cuboid entryway to the exhibit and become acquainted with the superhumanly-talented Enzo Ferrari. Gorgeous engineering drawings and documents, interspersed by automotive examples of his work, lead you through his time at Alfa Romeo and eventually to the founding of his own marque. There’s even the only existing Ferrari 125S – the 1947 car that started it all. It is almost a spiritual experience for any fan of il Commendatore, or frankly anyone who values sheer ambition and pure, unfiltered determination – the man is an inspiration.

Moving deeper into the exhibit, and now fully absorbed in the magical aura of Ferrari, you’re presented with some of their most beautiful machines, deconstructed. The full-size wooden buck of the streamlined Dino racer sits beneath the panel-beaten aluminium shell of a 250 LM, both looking as though they were plucked right out of the Scaglietti factory in the 1960s and through some period-correct science fiction teleportation device, brought directly to the exhibit. They called the exhibit Under the Skin, and they definitely mean it. Wind tunnel sculptures, deconstructed models, exploded engines, and a gorgeous wireframe 250 GTO model are spread throughout the gallery. Side note to Ferrari - start selling a 1/4 scale version of the 250 GTO wireframe, I desperately want one in my office.

Further through the exhibition and the unique, magnificent Testarossa Spider - built for the iconic Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli, stares you in the face. With its brutally angular design softened by the purity of the silver paintwork (itself a statement of ownership by Agnelli, with the first two letters of his surname being Ag - the periodic abbreviation), you have to wonder if this is the greatest Ferrari Testarossa on the planet. Perfection. Other automotive gems include the wonderful 250 GT Passo Corto Sperimentale and the Bamford 250 GTO.

Even as an enthusiast, it’s quite easy to look at these classic Ferraris simply as beautiful machines while forgetting the ground-breaking engineering behind them. Spend some time ogling the fine details of the metalwork, the evolution of brakes, engines, and chassis manufacturing that have sprung from the heads of the great minds at Ferrari over the decades, and it becomes hard to ignore. Even at the scale that Ferrari builds cars - as an artisanal, handcrafted marque, the pace of change is utterly astounding. Take a moment to reflect that this has happened over the course of only a couple of generations! The greatest example of this is towards the end of the exhibit, where a mid-80s F1 engine - a hulking mass of metal -  is placed next to the tightly-packaged 2016 F1 engine. It’s dainty in comparison, with eight fewer cylinders, but guess which makes the most power? You truly have to wonder what Enzo would think about the evolution of technology. If Ferrari were winning, do you think he’d care?

The final hall culminates with a timeline of iconic racing cars, from Ascari’s Tipo 500 Grand Prix car and the ex-Stirling Moss Ferrari 250 GT SWB in which he won the 1960 Goodwood Tourist Trophy to Michael Schumacher’s 2000 Formula 1 World Championship-winning car. Because ultimately - what’s the point of building cars if you’re not building them to win races? As the Great Old Man himself said in 1958, “I want to build a car that’s faster than all of them, and then I want to die.”

Ferrari: Under the Skin is being held at the Design Museum, London until 15th April 2018. Advanced booking is advised.

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