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Legends of Racing in The Phoenix Art Museum



1973 Porsche 917_30 s_n 917_30-004

1973 Porsche 917_30 s_n 917_30-004


Phoenix, 21st of January, 2020 

The car as a work of art exceeding the original purpose of transportation dates back a long time. What started with the numerous Concours of Elegance showing the beauty of the Automobile Design in the 1930s during the high of the coachbuilt luxury car became a common approach by some to the theme of classic cars today. Many cars share their home in collections of connoisseurs who also have a major interest in art and design. The design of a motor car in the world of art is not only accepted since cars like the Cisitalia 202 made their way into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York but already since the early 1950s when the MOMA started the first exhibition of cars with “Eight Automobiles” paying tribute to the influence of car design to the modern society. About 15 years later their next exhibition “The Racing Car: Toward a Rational Automobile” anticipated the theme we see today in the Phoenix Art Museum: the beauty of a purpose built product that does without any unnecessary flourish when form follows function.

In recent times RM Sotheby´s sold a Formula 1 Ferrari of the Schumacher era in one of their modern Art sales rather than the usual car auctions and certainly the curated exhibitions of the Ralph Lauren Collection in Boston and Paris come to mind but also the Phoenix Art Museum has a relation to the car theme since their first exhibition in 2007 about streamlined cars.

Now as intended earlier there is a current exhibition dedicated to the race cars of the last century named “Legends of Speed” featuring 22 of the most famous race cars from some of the most prestigious collections including the Revs Institute in Florida, the Indianapolis Museum or the Henry Ford Collection or various private collections of the who-is-who in the collectors car scene.

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Fortunately the exhibition coincides with the auction week in Scottsdale Arizona in January and so not few enthusiasts in the hobby had the chance to see this exhibition running since November 3rd of last year while attending the first major sales of the year.

With the offering in special cars this year a little bit down from previous years due to a hesitant market the superb collection at the Art Museum was a highlight of the week although one would have expected a higher number of visitors. We went there on Wednesday when the museum had opened in the evening and only a few typical car people could be seen within the normal attendance.

They were welcomed by a 1911 Franklin in the foyer followed by the newest exhibit, the last championship winning Lotus 79 of Mario Andretti.

Entering the main room of the exhibition the mix ranged from pre-war European GP racing car like the Alfa Romeo P3 and the Bugatti T35B famously driven by the first GP winning woman Helle Nice, early Indycar racers like the 1913 Duesenberg or the Miller 91 to the GT and Sports racers both from the old and the new world. Two of the most famous cars in the exhibition were the double Le Mans winning Bentley Old Number One and the Ford GT40 in the famous Gulf Colours. With the recently discovered history of the Ferrari 275P achieving the same this was the only double LM-winner missing.

Some say the 1950s were the golden age of racing when races like the legendary Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio or the 24h of Le Mans were ran aside the newly formed Formula 1 championship. Those were maybe the most beautiful race cars ever and the simple lines of a Jaguar C-Type or the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Prototype are great examples. The Lancia D24 is one of the most exotic examples in the exhibition and also a highlight with only two survivors of the car that not only won the Mille Miglia, the Carrera Panamericana and the Targa Florio but also was the last sportscar from Lancia before they dedicated to their F1 project. Nobody less than Fangio was one of the works drivers at the time just as he was later when the Maserati 250 F dominated the Grand Prix Sport.

The year 1957 changed the world of motorsport with the fatal accident at the Mille Miglia ending the era of road racing as well as the “big bangers” in the sportscar championship with a restriction to 3 litre from 1958 onwards and so both the Maserati 450S and the Ferrari 315S are the last of their species with the later in particular important as the very last winner of the thousand miles in Italy.

Just recently the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari was themed in the movie about Le Mans but this was only the second and final chapter of the battle between American Metal and Italian “bella macchina”. Before the GT40 duelled the Ferrari 330 Ps in the prototype class it was the GT class that saw the first clash of the American and the Italian as the Shelby Cobras challenged the Ferrari 250 GT SWB and later the 250 GTO, especially with the purpose built and extremely rare Daytona Coupé. Only six of them were built and one of them shared the room in Phoenix with its former rival, the 250 GTO.

In 1965 some legendary names brought the first Indianapolis 500 victory for a mid-engined racer, the Lotus-Ford 38 by Colin Chapman and driven by Jim Clark and Dan Gurney. This was not only the first winner of the Indy500 with the engine sitting behind the driver but after that not a single more front-engined car could be found in the winners list and so the Lotus-Ford 38 certainly was a game changer and therefore an important milestone presented in Phoenix.

Gurney is also linked to the next exhibit as the Gurney Eagle F1 was the only all American F1 car ever to win a GP with the race in Spa 1967.

An exhibition about race cars would not be complete without a car from Zuffenhausen as Porsche became the most successful race car company after the war beating the number of race victories set by Bugatti before the war. The most famous of the Porsche just celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019 with the Porsche 917 becoming their first overall winner at Le Mans . With the 917 dominating sports car racing the rules changed to get the car banned from the European circuit and so the 917 had its second career in the CanAm series in the US. The turbocharged 917/30 just dominated the American series in the hands of Donahue as it did before in Europe and with far more than 1000 hp this was the strongest race Porsche ever.

So 22 cars does not sound a lot but considering the quality of cars on display this was a major task to get them all together. There is not a single car that can be considered as a “filler” as each of them tells an important part of racing history. It is not by chance that all these are among the most sought after cars in the collectors scene being rare and successful.

The display is beautifully set up without any disturbing gimmicks giving a nice focus on the cars. All those who did not visit during the Scottsdale week certainly missed a great opportunity to see all these cars together although most of them are well known from various events in the last years, be it in historic racing, concours or museums collections.

The exhibition will run until the 15th of March so there is still some time to attend, for all those not able to make their way to Phoenix we hope that our gallery give an impression about the exhibition.


For more informations visit the Museums web-site

Text & Images ... Peter Singhof