There has been a constant stream of parties and events to mark Ferrari’s 70th birthday celebrations this year, which is a good thing for those of us with an insatiable hunger for anything Prancing Horse-related.
One of the best events, however, comes right at the end of the calendar: a special Ferrari exhibition at the Design Museum in London, which opens on November 15.
Plenty of shows have claimed to provide “unique insights into the world of Ferrari and its founder, Enzo Ferrari”, as this exhibition is described, but this particular display, called Ferrari: Under the Skin, has been two years in the curating, and seems to have hit the nail on the head, assembling early design models, famous cars and wonderful personal artefacts such as Enzo Ferrari’s hairbrush, for the public to see.
Ferrari is one of the tightest controllers of brand and image, so this exhibition has been staged in collaboration with the company HQ at Maranello, where a forerunner to the exhibition is currently on display at the Museo Ferrari.
The cars on display will, of course, be very special indeed: the 166MM (1950), bought by Gianni Agnelli, future head of Fiat, who said at the time “I shall always remember my first Ferrari”.
Or how about the Ferrari Tipo 500 Grand Prix car in which Alberto Ascari won the world championship in 1952 and 1953? Or the 250 GT SWB which Sir Stirling Moss drove to victory in the 1960 Goodwood TT?
Then there’s Michael Schumacher’s F1 2000 car, a 250 GT Sperimentale (1961), 275 GTB/4 (1973), 365 GTB/4 (1973), Testarossa Spyder (1986), F40 (1988), and LaFerrari (2015).
Alongside the cars, full-size design and wind tunnel models in wood, wire and modelling clay will be displayed (the GTO was apparently modelled with thin steel rods in 1960 as a fast way to establish the form). The curator, Andrew Nahum, says that these models “are a window into the fascinating and private world of car design - one of the greatest and most complex industrial arts.”
And yet, despite all these historic cars, it seems to me it’s the memorabilia and accessories that are most fascinating in exhibitions such as this, because they bring the brand and the people behind the cars alive: they provide the history and emotion behind the metal, and Ferrari, above all other brands, oozes history and emotion.
Nahum has done an excellent job of teasing unseen stuff out of Maranello’s dusty cupboards and giving it an airing. “The aim of the exhibition was to examine the whole phenomenon of Ferrari,” he tells me. “How did it come to exist as a brand with so such power and resonance? How do Ferraris come to be designed and created, both in lingering terms and aesthetically? We look at the techniques and process of design both in the early years and of course today.”
The personal memorabilia include the aforementioned hairbrush from the barber Enzo Ferrari visited every morning, his driving licence, racing helmets worn by Ascari, Mike Hawthorn, Gilles Villeneuve, Schumacher and countless others, Ferrari documents signed by Miles Davis and Steve McQueen and original drawings of the 250 GTC and Superamerica Coupe Speciale.
“The personal memorabilia are fascinating,” says Nahum, “but they gain special power from their display together with the cars, the design artefacts, drawings, film and photography. There have been few car exhibitions with this range and scope.”
That may be, but do these exhibitions leave us with any greater insight into what is already one of the world’s most discussed and dissected car brands? Nahum concedes that “the brand is well understood as a global presence today”, but says that “its emergence in a still unsteady post-war world and its steady growth in achievements and reputation, based on its engineering, its design and on Enzo Ferrari’s skilful performance, is a fascinating story that is less well known.”
Ferrari: Under the Skin opens at The Design Museum on November 15 and runs until April 15, 2018; designmuseum.org