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Glamorous Irish-American speed queen Lucy O’Reilly Schell was the millionaire behind the successful Delahaye motor racing team, when French racing driver Rene Dreyfus, in a Delahaye Type 145 Ecurie Bleue, won the prestigious 1938 Cork Grand Prix. The only race held in Ireland to international standards of the time, it attracted thousands of spectators and top racing drivers, the Formula One of its day. France had invented the Grand Prix in 1906. The winner of the “Million Franc Race” was the Delahaye Type 145 driven by René Dreyfus who would go on to win the 1938 Grand Prix in France and in Cork.

French advertisement (1934) for the Tatra 77

The iconic, blue Delahaye 145, on loan from the Mullin Collection USA (California) is one of the eye-catching, international vintage racing, saloon and off-road cars on show alongside the latest designer electric and flying cars, a practical bubble car and much more, at the V&A London’s imaginative new exhibition, “Cars: Accelerating the Modern World”.

Messerschmitt, KR200 Cabin Scooter Bubble Top, 1959. © Louwman Museum – The Hague (NL)

Showcasing 15 unique cars and 250 objects across three main sections (entitled Going Fast, Making More and Shaping Space), the exhibition examines how the car changed our relationship to speed, how it changed the way we make and sell, and how it altered the landscape around us, from countryside to cityscape.

Cars Accelerating the Modern World (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London (10)

As the driving force of the 20th-century, the car zoomed into action from a standing start when in 1888, the Benz Patent Motorwagen No 3, designed by Karl Benz, slowly emerged as an elegant, horse-free three-wheeled carriage, powered by an engine, the first production automobile to hit the road, at a slow, steady pace. As technology progressed, the idea of speed proved popular with the public, inspiring a worldwide motor racing culture and pushing car design ever forward, embracing fashion, glamour and style. A specially-made film for the exhibition explores the powerful role of the car in shaping local subcultures including South African spinners, California low-riders, Emirati dune racers, and Japanese truck drivers.

Patent-Motorwagen No. 3, Karl Benz, 1888

For pure luxury, the bespoke 1922 Hispano-Suiza HB6 “Skiff Torpedo” also on loan from the Mullin Collection is hard to beat. French patron Suzanna Deutsch de la Meurthe bought the H-S chassis at the 1919 Paris Auto Salon, then sent it to Henri Labourdette’s coach building workshop to be custom-made with a “skiff torpedo” body, a wooden, hand-crafted design inspired by the dynamic shape of torpedo boats.

Hispano-Suiza Type HB6 ‘Skiff Torpedo’, Hispano-Suiza (chassis), Henri Labourdette (body), 1922. Photo by Michael Furman. © the Mullin Automotive Museum

René Lalique car mascots, promotional posters and product designs are among hundreds of related objects on view. The exhibition ends with the Pop.Up Next autonomous flying car co-designed by Italdesign, Airbus and Audi. The car combines the four major innovations transforming the future of driving: electric power, autonomous driving, service-oriented, and flying.

Victoire, radiator mascot, designed by René Lalique, 1925. Museum no. CIRC.199-1972. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It is amazing to reflect how in a mere 130 years, cars have shaped the world today. Says the exhibition curator Brendan Cormier, “No other design object has impacted the world more than the automobile. This exhibition is about the power of design to effect change.”

PopUp next © Italdesign

Need to Know: The exhibition “Cars: Accelerating the Modern World” runs until April 19 at V&A Museum, London. Tickets are £18. Members go free; www.vam.ac.uk

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