From cityscapes to oil wars: how the automobile shapes every aspect of our society

the car changed everything. it always stood for the future. And today? The victoria& albert museum explores its cultural history in a giant show.

This is how the future was imagined in the seventies. The Firebird from General Motors

What is the most beautiful car in the world? The jaguar E-type, at least found racing driver and car maker enzo ferrari. The racer is streamlined and fast, and the British are still proud of its elegant design from the 1960s. A new version of the jaguar E-type in classic winter sun steel blue stands in the foyer of the victoria& albert museums in london and marks the start of the "cars" exhibition.

The jaguar E-type is cordoned off with a cord. You are not allowed to sit in it. Prince harry and duchess meghan used this car as their wedding carriage. What makes it special. But the really surprising thing about this car is: it is supposed to run on electricity.

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The discussion about electric or gasoline is almost as old as the car itself. It was already led in the 1880s and 1890s. Back then most cars ran on battery power. Now the electric car is coming back as a future technology.

A strange time for a car exhibition. The car is in danger of becoming uncool. Just before we no longer drive it ourselves and the vehicle disappears into high-speed tubes, tail fins and chrome bars are celebrated once again. The V& A supplies the necessary material.

A good two dozen car models have been wheeled into the showroom, many of which have never been seen before, at least in the U.K. Included is the very first car: a three-wheeled "benz-patent-motorwagen" from 1886, still strongly reminiscent of a carriage, and which only drove ten kilometers per hour.

Or the 1927 lasalle roadster, the first car to be assembled in a factory rather than by hand. The subculture of tuners and wrenchers is represented by a tuned chevrolet impala lowrider, painted yellow, with aerodynamic stripes, where everything from the brightly polished engine to the door handle has been individualized. even the inside of the trunk lid is decorated – with a woman in a skimpy top.

The V& A shows the car mainly as a design object. The house specializes in arts and crafts, and is currently showing an exhibition on the miniskirt inventor mary quandt; next year, the design of kimonos and handbags will be analyzed. Pop culture has long been a theme here. the david bowie exhibition in london was later shown in berlin as well. But the london museums, especially the V& A, are ahead of other metropolises.

In the long tradition of the house, cars have never been the issue. Not only car design itself is the subject, but also how people have dressed in cars since 1900, how they have been advertised, how they have planned filling stations. Several photos remind us that the neon signs were developed specifically so that drivers would see them.

Brendan cormier, who curated "cars" with lizzie bisley, wears an overall to the opening. it looks much too clean to give you the idea that cormier has been under a car body with it before. Nevertheless: the car seems anything but uncool in this show.


Nor does the V& A celebration of a fetish object. Designed as a tour, the exhibition shows how much the car has shaped our lives over the past century, economically, culturally and socially. What cities look like, how we spend our free time, how we define speed, how factory work is organized – everything has to do with the car. The car has changed a lot in the last 130 years, but it has always stood for the future.

It doesn’t work now. The car may be sustainable, but it is not progressive. It is striking how much today’s radical new designs, from the E-type to elon musk’s "boring project," recycle and repeat the visions of the last 150 years.

These include the high-speed highway and autonomous driving. A 1956 general motors commercial imagines automobile traffic in 1976. An american family sits in an autonomous vehicle, a sleek fire bird model, hands off the wheel, of course, gleaming highway. They’re a bit freaked out by the idea of speeding through the future without traffic jams.

The dream of a flying car also persists. Drawings and illustrations across the epochs show 20s dandies flying to the opera in an art nouveau car. Or drawings of luc besson’s science fiction blockbuster "the fifth element", in which police cars cruise in the air.

Once you’ve had your fill of great cars, flying vehicle designs and funny 1960s volkswagen commercials, it’s time to move on to the harder issues: the greedy development of road land from europe to australia and the ruthless hunt for oil.

the car industry has created a huge demand for oil, gasoline and plastic, defined geopolitics and the economy, wars and crises, made some countries rich and others dependent on them.

You can see beautiful finds, such as slides of roads and gravel paths around the world, which found their way into an early michelin road atlas. Or maps showing the interconnectedness of the oil industry.


You also learn that the car was a global product almost from the beginning, with a strong local identity. example iran: in the 1960s, the shah ordered parts for an angular hillman hunter from the british carmaker rootes. In their own country, these were assembled to form the "paykan.

The paykan has become the most popular car in the country. The birthday song that an advertiser invented for the car is now the standard birthday song in iran.

At the end, a graph with thick and thin lines shows how the auto industry has developed: traditional carmakers of the first hour no longer exist or have been absorbed by multinational corporations.

Cars are always about more. It’s supposed to be faster, bigger, more convenient, cheaper, safer, and now, more climate-friendly. Because of the radical changes that are coming, it’s worth looking over your shoulder, they say in the V& A. The show is stimulating and well thought out, but in the end sobering.

One is dismissed with a glance at the concept car from italdesign, airbus and audi. " pop.Up next" is a flying car that looks like omi’s small car. It can drive and fly.

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Electric mobility in a field test a week on the road in an electric car

nevertheless: it remains a capsule, in which one sits down to change the place, isolated from the outside. Is this really the solution? For all we’ve learned about cars, all we want is one again – a car? And as has just been announced: jaguar has canceled the electric e-type runabout.

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