10th March 2020

High Octane exhibition for even non-petrol heads

For all of us in the modern world, with or without an interest in motoring, it is all too easy to take cars for granted. For anyone who may be even slightly jaded through overfamiliarity, an exhibition has opened at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum which will reawaken their excitement in the wonders of cars.

'Cars: Accelerating the Modern World’, both celebrates and explores the 130 years of the automobile, in which it has rapidly become loved, hated and influential in equal measure, shaping our cities, societies, the environment and the global economy.

The exhibition has been supported by Bosch, and it seems a fitting partner to the exhibition when the key automotive products developed by this German company are considered in the context of how they have helped to shape our cars. While the wonders of autonomous driving and electrification feature heavily, the glamour of the future cannot eclipse the technology that was once equally exciting, but which is now ‘a given’ on today’s vehicles. Electric headlights, electrical horns, windscreen wipers and wiper blades, and then latterly, anti-lock brakes and Electronic Stability Program ESP® form the bare minimum of safety of cars today. When this tech was introduced it was a revolution. Now it is just part of the automotive furniture.

Perhaps one of the most arresting features of the exhibition, by a substantial margin, is Graham. A haunting, life-sized model which interprets the evolution of the human-being if it were solely concerned with the survival of vehicle accidents, Graham has ankles half way up his legs, an ‘airbag’ chest, a rather strange head shape with inset ears, and recessed eyes. Graham is a visual reminder of how ill-suited the human body is to withstanding impacts in a car crash, but also of just how much crash protection has improved since the 1950s.

This exhibition details not only the evolution of the car, its technology, design and impact on society, but also how it has transformed industrial processes along the way. From hand-built cars, to mass production, the vehicle has literally driven change on a global scale.

Filled with enough interesting material to capture the heart of even the mildest petrolhead, a comprehensive history of the motorcar is mapped out around the exhibition, via the various highlights of the T Patent-Motorwagen No. 3 of Karl Benz in 1888, the Ford Mustang, a Hispano-Suiza Type HB6 ‘Skiff Torpedo’ and a stunning 1937 Tatra 77, all of which are displayed in the most mouth-wateringly good condition

In a world that is content rich, it is easy to become jaded with exhibitions but this one that took two years to complete, is definitely worth a visit. From young children, to the older petrolhead and via anyone with even a passing interest in 20th century society, ‘Cars: Accelerating the Modern World’ is highly recommended.