John McIlroy is Deputy Editor of Auto Express
Car design is about compromise: the tolerances, materials and weights involved, the fight to trim costs, to mass-manufacture for profit. But what happens when the process is distilled down to the pursuit of a single objective: being faster than anything else?
This riddle may well be solved by London's Design Museum, which on Wednesday opened the exhibition "Ferrari: Under the Skin," devoted to one of history's best-known automotive brands: Ferrari. Museum visitors will be able to examine some of the items behind the carmaker's world-famous designs -- from rarely displayed models and engines, to original hand-drawn sketches revealing the prowess of Ferrari's design and engineering teams.
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The show is designed to commemorate 70 years since the Italian manufacturer's first car, and it will bring together £140 million ($183 million) of its vehicles in a collection that promises to not only thrill performance car and luxury lifestyle addicts, but also offer some insight into what makes a brand great.
For Ferrari is great; it remains the single biggest draw in the global sporting behemoth that is Formula One -- so much so that it is afforded a preferential cut of the revenues. And yet it has become a brand whose allure goes far beyond the two scarlet racers fighting for glory on the race tracks of the world; or, indeed, the stunning road cars that grace the most exclusive driveways on the planet. Ferrari is fashion, speed, glamour, luxury -- all wrapped up in a simple logo featuring a black "prancing horse" on a yellow background.
The cast list in London for those just wanting to drool over automotive exotica is spectacular. You'll have to make do with a replica of the first car created by Enzo Ferrari: the 125 S, created in 1947 as the Italian decided to stop preparing and racing cars from other manufacturers and control the whole process himself.
But there's real history in the shape of the 500 F2 used by Alberto Ascari to win the Formula One titles in 1952 and 1953. And vehicles used (to victorious effect) by Stirling Moss and Michael Schumacher, demonstrating how the marque's engineering and design ethos has endured, successfully, over more than a couple of generations.
On the road car side, there's a Testarossa Spider, a one-off convertible created for then-Fiat chief Gianni Agnelli, Ferrari's 40th birthday present to itself, the extraordinary F40, and a more recent limited-edition special, the LaFerrari Aperta -- an example owned in this case by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
Andrew Naham, the co-curator of the exhibition said in a press release, "Ferrari represents an ideal case study in design and development. The company uses the subtle and often unseen techniques of automobile design, but with the utmost care and precision. The exhibition provides an insight into the history and practice of the whole private world of automotive design."
Nine things you didn't know about Ferrari
But why choose a car manufacturer at all? Sir Terence Conran, co-founder of the Design Museum, admits that the glamour of Ferrari offers the facility the chance to introduce more casual observers to the merits of great design. "I think I speak on behalf of millions of ambitious people of all ages that we have all at some point had delicious dreams of owning a Ferrari," Conran said in a press release. "The brand itself has become a worldwide symbol of design success, whether it is their road models or Grand Prix cars.
"The depth of emotion goes far beyond the external beauty of their cars: what excites me so much about this exhibition is the rare opportunity to glimpse behind the scenes and experience the dynamic between engineering, manufacturing and design, which produces Ferrari's magic ingredient."
That, really, helps to peel back the layers of what the Design Museum is hoping to offer -- it's an acknowledgment that for all the glamour, money and luxury, what makes Ferrari design really great is when it exists for function, but pleases in form. For as Enzo Ferrari himself once said, "Race cars are neither beautiful nor ugly. They become beautiful when they win."
"Ferrari: Under the Skin"
is on show at the Design Museum in London Nov. 15, 2017 to Apr. 15, 2017.