This has changed somewhat over the years as I have learnt about the significance of many cars - in terms of influence, rarity or racing success - something that has helped me start looking at cars based purely on the aesthetics of their design as an automotive object. Owning a Ferrari for the first time has made me more interested in those cars that went before it and I love spotting a design cue that has been carried through over decades. But even so, the idea of simply collecting cars for the way that they look or for the value that they hold still doesn't make sense to me as each car has been designed to be driven.
Having visited Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris yesterday, I was really pleased to learn that Ralph Lauren feels exactly the same about cars. He loves the way that they drive, feel, sound, and even smell. Of course, he is a designer and the way a car looks is something that he could never ignore but when you begin to understand the types of cars that he owns you realise that he is more than a collector - he is an enthusiast. The cars representing his collection are each highly regarded for the way that they drive, many of them being significant racing cars or road-orientated derivatives of racing cars.
He has built a significant collection of cars that date from the 1920s to the present day. This exhibition brings together 17 "masterpieces" from his collection, cars that have had a notable influence on the automotive world through their aesthetics and their performance. The exhibition begins with, arguably, one of the world's most highly regarded and beautiful classic cars - the 1938 Bugatti 57 S(C) Atlantique (above). It sits near the entrance, separated from all the other cars as if to highlight its importance. From here you climb a small staircase and all but five of the remaining cars are visible in front of you. These are the racing cars, beginning with the 1929 Bentley "Blower" and ending with the gorgeous 1964 Ferrari 250 LM (below). In a side room, the four grand touring cars are sat on turning plinths, including the iconic 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL "Gullwing" (or "Papillon" as the French call it). Finally, in another side room sits the 1996 McLaren F1 LM (below), the only modern supercar to have been included in this exhibition.
A nice touch were the other side rooms, two of which ran through the sounds of the car - from start-up, on the move inside the cabin, drive-bys, and finally stopping - alongside images of the respective car. The other room had old film footage of the various cars from over the decades, including racing footage where available. You can actually listen to the cars and see details and history for each of them at the excellent Ralph Lauren Car Collection website.
Having read some of the interview with Ralph Lauren from the book that accompanies the exhibition, I was interested to learn that his first car was a Morgan. He apparently had to sell it so that he could afford to get an apartment with his wife. The next car he bought when he could afford one was another Morgan, something I'll certainly keep that in mind during my visit to the Morgan factory tomorrow!
The show runs until 28th August 2011 and only costs about €10 to enter. If you find yourself in Paris this month and have any interest in cars I strongly recommend that you visit, though it is worth pre-booking tickets to avoid the queues.