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Ferrari at the Design Museum: Supercars, Steve McQueen & the Future of Racing

Ferrari’s retrospective at the Design Museum charts the brand’s speedy trajectory to supercar stardom, from its humble beginnings on the streets of Maranello to the finish line of the world’s most famous racing tracks

Mozzafiato is perhaps one of the least appreciated words in the Italian language. It translates as ‘breathtaking’ – and is the perfect word to describe the Design Museum’s newest exhibition: Ferrari: Under the Skin.

Showcasing everything you ever wanted to know (and some things you didn’t know to ask) about Ferrari – arguably the greatest motoring brand in the world – the collection embodies the spirit and forward-thinking of Ferrari’s creator. The great Enzo Ferrari once said: “If you can dream it, you can do it”; and the bringing together of unique Ferrari cars and artefacts from around the world represents a life-long dream of the museum’s founder, Sir Terence Conran.

“The Ferrari story is truly one of the great adventure stories of the industrial age and I am very proud we are able to tell it at our Design Museum. 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. It is a magic ingredient that means I am here, aged 85 and still lusting after the idea of owning a Ferrari – I want to go out with a beautiful, powerful and perfectly designed vroom.”

Obviously one of the main draws will be the selection of classic and incredibly rare Ferraris on display, including the 250 GTO and the first-ever Ferrari, the 125 S, many of which have never been housed under the same roof before. But there’s so much more to see than just the cars. Those interested in the nitty-gritty of the world of the motor maestro will be fascinated by the early design models, drawings, letters and memorabilia. You’ll even have the chance to see never-before-exhibited archival material, such as hand-sculpted models in clay and wood.

After becoming a racing driver for Alfa Romeo in 1919, Enzo Ferrari decided he could do better. His passion for racing was unmatched when he launched his first car in 1947. Despite the economic instability in post-war Italy, Ferrari produced his first 12-cylinder engine, designed entirely with performance in mind. It’s a goal that the brand has stuck to ever since; no powered-down, affordable or sensible road cars for Ferrari.

“I have yet to meet anyone quite so stubborn as myself and animated by this overpowering passion that leaves me no time for thought or anything else,” Ferrari is quoted as saying. Ferrari: Under the Skin reveals how integral the man behind the brand was, in intricate and spellbinding detail.

But cars aren’t my thing, I hear you say. When it comes to this exhibition, trust me when I say it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be a petrolhead or racing fanatic to appreciate what’s on show. Yes, if you can recite the stats of each of Ferrari’s F1 championships you’ll be in your element; but ultimately this exhibition presents the lifestyle that Ferrari brought to the forefront of modern motoring. His cars attracted the attention of the rich and fabulous around the world, from Steve McQueen and John Lennon to Elvis Presley and Nick Mason. Ferrari brought an exclusivity to the world of supercar ownership which means it still retains its title as the most sought-after of motoring brands, even in the modern era of extravagant car creativity.

The exhibition also looks to the future. Despite the fact that Ferrari has remained at its home in Maranello since its inception, the brand is not only keeping up with modern technological innovations, it is often at the forefront of them. Many credit this to the fact that Ferrari has kept its F1 team in-house, adapting the latest Formula 1 advancements and trickling them down to its road cars. The LaFerrari was a prime example of using F1 hybrid-technology to produce one of the most exciting supercars to date. Ferrari: Under the Skin offers a glimpse of what Ferrari has in store over the coming years.

So if you’re interested in finding out what makes Ferrari tick, or simply getting up-close and personal with some of the rarest and most beautiful cars in history, take a trip to the Design Museum this winter. It’s a lot closer than Maranello. 

£18, 15 November – 15 April  2018, The Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High Street, W8, www.designmuseum.org