Skip
Back to overview

130 years of cars

Accelerating the modern world

In its short, 130-year history, the car has become one of the most influential, popular and competitive innovations in the world. It has revolutionised production and changed our patterns of movement, our cities, environment and economy forever. The V&A in London is currently showcasing this eventful history in the form of the exhibition ‘Cars: Accelerating the Modern World’

The car has changed the world like few other inventions, including the way in which we move around, our cities, environment and economy. It has revolutionised production and even inspired radically new approaches to design and sales.

The V&A Museum in London will be illuminating the 130-year history of the car in the exhibition ‘Cars: Accelerating the Modern World’ and how it significantly quickened the pace of the 20th century. The exhibition brings together 15 historic cars and 250 objects, each of which tells a specific story about the impact of the car on the world. These include the first mass production car, an autonomous flying car, a converted lowrider and a concept car from the 1950s.

Patent motor car no. 3, Karl Benz (1888)

Photo: Photo of the Benz patent motor car, model no. 3, 1888. Image courtesy of Daimler
Photo: Photo of the Benz patent motor car, model no. 3, 1888. Image courtesy of Daimler

Engineer Karl Benz's patent motor car was the first mass-produced car in the world. The car made its début in the summer of 1886 with an engine that could barely achieve 16 kilometres an hour. In 1888, Benz's wife Bertha took motorcar no. 3 for the first long-distance drive of almost 100 kilometres. Shortly afterwards, long-distance racing became an increasingly popular sport that put the reliability of the car as much to the test as its speed.

(Foto: Photo of the Benz patent motor car, model no. 3, 1888. Image courtesy of Daimler)

Hispano-Suiza Type HB6 ‘Skiff Torpedo’/Hispano-Suiza (chassis) Henri Labourdette (body) (1922)

Photo: Hispano-Suiza Type HB6 ‘Skiff Torpedo’. Hispano-Suiza (chassis) Henri Labourdette (body) 1922. Photo by Michael Furman © The Mullin Automotive Museum
Photo: Hispano-Suiza Type HB6 ‘Skiff Torpedo’. Hispano-Suiza (chassis) Henri Labourdette (body) 1922. Photo by Michael Furman © The Mullin Automotive Museum

The French patroness Suzanna Deutsch de la Meurthe bought this Hispano-Suiza HB6 chassis at the Paris Motor Show in 1919. She then sent it to Henri Labourdette's workshop to be fitted with a ‘skiff torpedo’ bodywork. The handmade wooden body was inspired by the torpedo shape of boats.

(Foto: Hispano-Suiza Type HB6 „Skiff Torpedo“. Hispano-Suiza (chassis) Henri Labourdette (body) 1922. Photo by Michael Furman © The Mullin Automotive Museum)

Victory mascot, René Jules Lalique (approx. 1925)

Photo: Victoire mascot, designed by René Jules Lalique, c.1925 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Photo: Victoire mascot, designed by René Jules Lalique, c.1925 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In earlier times, the radiator caps on bonnets were a symbol of wealth and fashion. Between 1920 and 1931 the French designer René Jules Lalique produced a series of hood ornaments made of glass. These ‘accessory mascots’ were designed to glow from within. The rarity of these objects probably testifies to the fact that life on the road was too dangerous for these fragile glass sculptures, even with the most cautious of drivers.

(Foto: Victoire mascot, designed by René Jules Lalique, c.1925 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Cloche hat, Miss Fox (1928-1929)

Photo: Cloche Hat. Miss Fox, 1928-29 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Photo: Cloche Hat. Miss Fox, 1928-29 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The passion for driving and speed shaped new fashion trends in the 1920s and 30s. The modern and streamlined vehicle designs were reflected in the figure-hugging sports fashion and tight-fitting cloche hat.

(Foto: Cloche Hat. Miss Fox, 1928–29 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Tatra T77, Hans Ledwinka and Paul Jaray (1934)

Photo: French advertisement (1934) for the Tatra 77
Photo: French advertisement (1934) for the Tatra 77

The Tatra T77 was the first mass production car designed according to the principles of streamlining developed by engineer Paul Jaray. Together with the Czech car manufacturer Tatra and its chief designer Hans Ledwinka, the T77 was developed, whose features include its low, slim body and the unusual fin that runs across the back.

(Foto: French advertisement (1934) for the Tatra 77)

Poster ‘Fight Automation Fallout’, Union of Automotive Workers (1950s)

Photo: Fight Automation Fallout with Fewer Hours of Work and No Loss of Pay – poster © Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labour and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Photo: Fight Automation Fallout with Fewer Hours of Work and No Loss of Pay – poster © Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labour and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Trade unions were an effective means for workers in the automotive industry to defend themselves against exploitative labour practices. After the landmark Flint sit-in strike against General Motors in the winter of 1936/37, which lasted 44 days, the Union of Automotive Workers grew from 30,000 to 500,000 members within a year. Posters like this one show how committed the trade union was to defending workers' rights even in the 1950s, for example with the increasing automation.

(Foto: Fight Automation Fallout with Fewer Hours of Work and No Loss of Pay – poster © Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labour and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University)

Firebird 1 Concept Car, Harley Earl / General Motors (1953)

Photo: General Motors Firebird I (XP-21), 1953 © General Motors Company, LLC
Photo: General Motors Firebird I (XP-21), 1953 © General Motors Company, LLC

In the 1950s General Motors designed a series of four concept cars under the ‘Firebird’ label. With their fluid silhouettes, cockpit seats and jet engine technology, the vehicles were directly inspired by the fighter jets of the time. They therefore suggest a future in which driving becomes an experience similar to a flight. And long before the technology was even available, later models of the Firebird already envisioned a future of autonomous driving.

(Foto: General Motors Firebird I (XP-21), 1953 © General Motors Company, LLC)

Hydraulic unit for ABS anti-lock braking system, Robert Bosch GmbH (1978)

Photo: Hydraulic unit for ABS Antilock Braking System, Robert Bosch GmbH, 1978. Image courtesy of Bosch
Photo: Hydraulic unit for ABS Antilock Braking System, Robert Bosch GmbH, 1978. Image courtesy of Bosch

Safety innovations made a major contribution to drastically reducing the number of road deaths in the last century. Bosch, for example, introduced electrical systems in cars at an early stage, and it would be impossible to imagine life without them today. These include ABS, which, with its sensors and automated functions, also functions a major pioneer in automated driving.

(Foto: Hydraulic unit for ABS Antilock Braking System, Robert Bosch GmbH, 1978. Image courtesy of Bosch)

Pop.Up Next, Flying Electric Vehicle, Italdesign with Airbus and Audi (2018)

Photo: Pop.Up Next © Italdesign
Photo: Pop.Up Next © Italdesign

The Pop.Up Next is a conceptual electric vehicle that meets current mobility challenges in cities and can move both on the ground and in the air. The design combines a passenger capsule optionally with an electric chassis or a drone. The joint development by Audi, Airbus and Italdesign thus combines four of the biggest future topics of mobility: autonomous, electric, service-oriented and flying.

(Foto: Pop.Up Next © Italdesign)

Tags

Messe Frankfurt uses cookies to provide you the best possible browsing experience. By using our services, you consent to our use of cookies. More information