American fashion designer Ralph Lauren has a collection of cars that includes some of the most prestigious sports cars from the 1930s to present day. It is now is on view for the first time in Europe, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. It comprises 17 outstanding cars, chosen by curator Rodolphe Rapetti, with installation design by Jean-Michel Wilmotte.
The show was designed with the intention of demonstrating that a car can be a work of art. Patiently assembled over several decades by the fashion designer in a quest for speed and performance, it includes some of the most extraordinary jewels in the crown of European automobile history, with beauty as its common denominator.
Important pieces on show include the Bentley “Blower” (1929), the Ferrari 250 GTO (1962), the famous Mercedes 300 SL (1955) and the unforgettable Jaguar “D type,” whose shark fin blazed a triumphant trail at Le Mans in 1955, 1956 and 1957. The grand tourer Bugatti Atlantic (1938), of which only four were produced, represents the ultimate in luxury while showcasing the evolution of styles and techniques on the road.
The cars can be seen, and heard, in action, in the form of films and recordings.
Here are some of the highlights:
Bentley Blower, 1929
This car was designed by W.O. Bentley, but it was Sir Hilary Birkin, one of the “Bentley Boys” (a group of British gentlemen, all of them drivers and lovers of fast cars) which led Bentley to equip it with a compressor, hence its nickname “Blower.” The Bentley Blower was created for a single purpose: to win races. This is the car Ian Fleming chose for James Bond 007 in his first novels.
Mercedes-Benz SSK Comte Trossi, 1930
With its shark profile, the design of this Mercedes-Benz can be attributed to the talent of its owner, Italian aristocrat Count Carlo Felice Trossi, also a racing driver. The SSK is the archetype of the Mercedes of the 1920s, dominated by its colossal bonnet encompassing more than half of its length, with the radiator projecting out front as a windbreaker and exhaust pipes stemming from the sides.
Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic Coupé, 1938
This is one of only four models ever built, and today only two are left. This fantastic car has visible seams and round-headed rivets running the length of its spine and mudguards. Power and speed are suggested by the design of its doors and the aeronautical-style elliptical windows.
Ferrari 375 Plus, 1954
Like all the Ferraris of the time, there were no specific plans for this design. Skilled and talented craftsmen created this magnificently rounded shape following the verbal instructions of Ferrari’s official car designer, Pinin Farina. Thus they were able to produce a magnificent spyder which won Le Mans 24 hours in 1954.
Jaguar XKD, 1955
No car from the 1950s embodies speed better than the XKD Jaguar, with three consecutive victories between 1955 and 1957 at Le Mans 24 hours, and another at Nürburgring in 1956. It was this car that enabled the driver Patricia Coundley to become the fastest woman in Europe in 1964. From the aileron at its tip to the elegantly rounded bonnet, its shape recalls that of a fighter plane.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing Coupé, 1955
The Gullwing owes its name to the doors which open upward, like wings. It was a favourite amongst celebrities, including Sophia Loren, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Glen Ford, and musician Skitch Henderson.
Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, 1958
This car bears the mark of Sergio Scaglietti, one of Ferrari’s most talented coachbuilders. The Testa Rossa (red head), which takes its name from the red camshaft covers of its V12 engine, bears Scaglietti’s characteristic signature â€’ a long chassis with a torpedo â€’ like body, a headrest emerging from the bodywork and streamlined headlamps.
The Arts Décoratifs Museum
107 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris. Tel. +33 01 44 55 57 50 Métro: Palais-Royal, Pyramides, Tuileries Open Tuesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (late opening Thursday until 9pm: Temporary exhibitions and jewellery gallery only)
Adults: €9. Reductions, €7.50
Musée Nissim de Camondo
63 rue de Monceau, 75008 Paris >phone +33 01 53 89 06 40 Open Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5.30pm Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Adults: €7. Reductions, €5