Start Your Engines: V&A Accelerates Visitors Into A Car-Centric Exhibition

Cars, V&A ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 33 months ago

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Start Your Engines: V&A Accelerates Visitors Into A Car-Centric Exhibition Cars, V&A 4
The Ford Mustang GT Fastback was sold on its speed and that iconic scene in Bullitt.

Will anybody even own cars in the future? Or will we rely on electric driverless flying entities to come and whisk us away to wherever we wish to go?

Before we jump the lights on these questions, V&A begins its car-centric exhibition by revisiting our history with the automobile. These range from the early cars that could manage a whopping — wait for it — 10 miles per hour, to the Golden Arrow, a super streamlined beauty and a previous holder of the land speed record.

Sketches and clips from films highlight what we wanted from the cars of the future — from the the time-travelling DeLorean from Back to the Future to the slightly more realistic flying taxis from The Fifth Element. We’re still waiting on those flying cars we’ve been promised for decades.

What General Motors thought the future of driving might look like.

One selling point of cars has always been speed — definitely the case with a bright red Ford Mustang GT Fastback. It's on display here underneath footage from that iconic chase scene in Bullitt, with Steve McQueen racing one through the hilly streets of San Francisco.

On the flipside, the racing mentality was thought to encourage reckless driving, and adverts show a smiling child’s face inside a wheel, bringing home that speeding kills. Most impressive is Graham, a giant-headed, extra-ribbed human, showing how humans would need to be designed to survive car crashes — it’s an ugly monstrosity and highlights how dangerous cars can be.

Among the dozen or so cars in this show is the iconic Ford Model T — it's what established the modern assembly line when Henry Ford got the idea from a meatpacking plant. Even he wouldn't recognise the panoramic video of a modern BMW plant, where it's all robot arms at work, not a human in sight.

In 1890, the electric motor was a front runner to be adopted by most cars, but it lost out to the combustion engine when it couldn’t manage the range of its polluting alternate — an issue that car manufacturers are only just managing to address now. We can only imagine how much cleaner the air would be today if we'd chosen the electric route. Graphics show how the world is heating up, offering a shocking insight into how the climate has been impacted by gas-guzzling vehicles.

Welcome to the future with a detachable flying component.

The climate emergency is rightly one of the most important issues today but posters show it wasn't too long ago that oil was being advocated as the miracle material, with its ability to make everything from handbags to telephones. Humble, a chain of petrol stations, ironically brags in one of the posters that it sells enough oil to melt 7 million tons of glacier a day — an advert has definitely not dated well.

The exhibition ends rather abruptly with a futuristic-looking car that can be picked up by what looks like a giant drone to whisk it away. It poses lots of questions about the safety aspects of driverless vehicles and how flying cars could be regulated, but there are no answers. Perhaps we’ll have to wait for a sequel exhibition… Cars 2, perhaps. It's odd to leave visitors wanting more after such an extensive exhibition, yet we leave feeling like the victory lap is missing in an otherwise superb show.

Cars: Accelerating the Modern World at V&A is on from 23 November 2019 until 19 April 2o2o. Tickets are £18.

Last Updated 20 November 2019