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Access heads to the Design Museum to get up close and personal with the some of the rarest Ferraris of all time

Ask any motoring enthusiast to name an iconic automotive brand and instinctively they’ll blurt “Ferrari.”
The brand is synonymous with exquisite mechanical design: from the sweeping curves of the 250GTO to the wedged sharpness of the Testarossa. They’ve been poster cars for 70 years.

To mark the 70th birthday of the marque, a £140m experiential exhibition has been curated at the Design Museum in London where, under dim lighting and to a soundtrack of commentary and light opera, a jaw-dropping collection of Ferrari racers and road cars are parked.

It is the first time a collection of this nature has been on display outside the Museo Ferrari, Maranello. It’s called Ferrari: Under the Skin.

Among the collection is the 250GTO, of which only 39 were ever built. The 250GTO is indeed a rare car and in 2013 one example was sold for an eye-popping $52m (£37m). Also on display is the F40, named for the brand’s 40th anniversary in 1988 – incidentally also the year founder Enzo Ferrari died.

Along the road-goers also sits examples of why Ferrari exists in the first place: racing cars. The Ferrari F1-2000 ended Ferrari’s 21-year wait for a drivers’ title when Michael Schumacher clinched his first World Championship with the Maranello team (his third) – he would go on to win a further four in a row.

Italian cars are known for their drama: style and form over practicality and function. Screaming V12s and tyre smoke are only drowned out by the screaming tifosi (Italian ‘fans’), but it seems oddly fitting that Under the Skin should be such a quiet exhibition.

To understand more about the event, we spoke to Andrew Nahum, the exhibition’s co-curator.

How did Nahum’s passion for Ferrari come about? “My own interest is a broad one in automotive technology and automotive design,” he says, “Ferrari is a part of that as it represents virtuoso accomplishments both in exceptional engineering and extraordinarily emotive body design.”

Is an event like this marketed solely to Ferrari enthusiasts, or has there been an incentive to branch out and to entice new people? Nahum explains: “The exhibition is certainly intended to appeal to the broad audience that is reached by the Design Museum. It aims to locate automotive design within the broader history of design in general. So yes, it is intended to entice new people but also to speak to automobile enthusiasts and, we hope, tell them something they did not know about the history and especially the processes involved in creating a car like a Ferrari and a brand like Ferrari.”

As an organiser, how has Nahum created an environment of passion befitting that of the Ferrari brand? He says: “The graphics and the 3D design are carefully thought out and integrated to create a narrative environment that assists us in telling this story and which matches the power of the subject.

How much thought went in to setting up the exhibits, in terms of managing the correct lighting to show the curves of the cars off in the right way? Nahum adds: “The exhibition is designed with great care in terms of the layout and positioning of exhibits, the sight lines, the narrative and surprise. Lighting is part of this.”

How has visitor feedback been? Nahum is enthusiastic about the exhibition’s success, saying: “Visitor feedback and press comment has been excellent. Visitor numbers continue to exceed expectations and the exhibition has received extremely positive international media coverage.”

A walk through time

Upon entering the exhibit, you walk through a small installation where you are greeted by the 125s, the first Ferrari which took to the road in 1947. The car, together with a V12 engine unit, sits behind a simple rope on a platform. The lighting in this small room is strategically positioned to show the contours of the car’s scarlet bodywork.

To fully immerse visitors in what Ferrari means, black and white stills of yesteryear and schematic diagrams of early cars cover the walls.

Exit the installation and you find yourself in the main hall, greeted with design-stage examples of the 250GTO. Very much under the skin, on display is a wooden mould and wire frame pattern.

Walk past the miniature wind tunnel models and past a 458 chassis and you enter a third room. Two Ferraris are on either side on raised platforms, including another 250GTO and the famous wedge-shaped Testarossa, before finding a scarlet F40 behind.

The final part of the experience has been designed with an immersive flavour of Ferrari’s racing past. A curved banked platform, seemingly based on the famous banked Monza race circuit, offers a timeline of past glories. First up is Alberto Ascari’s F500, in which he raced in Formula 1 in 1952 and 1953, then three examples of racing GTO250s (these cars alone must account for the majority of the exhibit’s value) and leading the way a replica of the aforementioned F12000 Formula 1 car. At the end sits the La Ferrari, the hybrid supercar –the marque’s latest poster child.

Sir Terence Conran, founder of the Design Museum, is thrilled that Nahum curated the collection in London: “We have all at some point had dreams of owning a Ferrari. The brand itself has become a worldwide symbol of design success, whether it’s their road models or Grand Prix cars.

“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 the Design Museum. The depth of emotion goes far beyond the external beauty of their cars: what excites me so much about this exhibition is the rare opportunity to glimpse behind the scene and experience the dynamic between engineering, manufacturing and design, which produces Ferrari’s magic ingredient. The magic ingredient that means I am here aged 85 and still lusting after owning a Ferrari.” It was Enzo Ferrari who said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Nahum has done just that. AAA