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  • Writer's pictureAlex

Cars: Accelerating the future at the V&A

Sainsbury gallery, V&A museum
The amazing entrance to the new Sainsbury Gallery

The post Christmas period is sometimes slightly empty in cultural or entertainment fare, or it can feel that way perhaps? The lead up to Christmas and the new year are so entrenched in a slightly manic struggle to get everything done and be everywhere and eat everything. The aftermath often needs a little filling to avoid the back-to-work blues.

1899 Benz motor car
1899 Benz motor vehicle. You could run faster than this but a new dawn of travel had arrived.

Handily, the V&A always have some excellent temporary exhibitions on and running now until the 19th of April is Cars: Accelerating the modern world.

I had been looking forward to an opportunity to visit this exhibition and post_Christmas turned out to be ideal. Situated in the new Sainsbury gallery, it charts the extraordinary rise of motorised transport through it’s relatively short 130 year history.

1953 GM Firebird gas turbine car
1953 GM Firebird gas turbine car

The exhibition has many multimedia elements and spans across most of that 130 years, perhaps concentrating less so on the current or past 20 years of development, but that’s the bit we know about. The motor vehicle industry is just in the early stages of a new revolution, with both electric vehicles and driver-less vehicles set to shortly become mainstream, and the exhibition knows that and looks at how we got here and the cultures that has arisen around cars in the meantime.

1968 Ford Mustang Fastback
1968 Ford Mustang fastback, made famous by Steve McQueen in "Bullitt" In the background is a projection of the famous chase through San Fransisco

The exhibition is held in the new Sainsbury gallery, in turn located in the new Exhibition road quarter. The new Sainsbury gallery is very modern, and has the advantage of a very large internal space that can be divided up as needed. It may be very modern but it’s not jarring. London is full of the very old neighbouring the very new, and this does the architects much credit.

Women in automotive culture
Women in automotive culture is well represented (finally!)

The exhibition takes you through the early days from an 1899 Benz three wheeler, through the clever industrialisation of Ford and his Model T, and on through the luxury cars of the 20’s and 30’sand into the beginning of automotive ubiquity engendered by the war years. Subjects like the arrival of competitive events, the development of aerodynamics and the continually high rate of development are all covered in a succinct and interesting way. Amongst the multimedia is a fascinating short film on five different people who are deeply involved in their own particular car culture around the world.

1962 Chevrolet low-rider
1962 Chevrolet Impala heavily modified and customised into a Latino low-rider. Fabulous!

As an exhibition it succeeds in drawing in all sorts of people’s interest. I could see children looking on in awe as it was explained to them that this car or that was “older than Granddad!” People with a following in design could be seen enjoying the engineering drawings, and architectural models of such places as the glorious Fiat Factory with the test track built into the roof at Lingotto, Turin. There really is something for everyone.

Messerschmitt KR200 Bubble car.
Messerschmitt KR200 Bubble car.

As far as temporary exhibitions go, some can be a little hit or miss, usually due to the availability of certain important exhibits. Cars: Accelerating the future avoids that trap-fall by being very well curated and telling a fascinating, informative story. In just 130 years we have progressed from cars that were difficult to control at a top speed of barely 10 miles per hour, to cars that drive themselves and produce no emissions.

A new micro-era in motoring is dawning, and this exhibitions sums up the journey so far very well. Definitely worth a visit if you are in London before April 19th.

Victoria and Albert museum.

Cromwell Road

London, SW7 2RL

Daily 10.00-17.45

Friday 10.00-20.00

Entrance £18, under Students or up to 17 £15, Under 11s free.


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