When Ralph Lauren Went To MAD
Images: Serge Cordey
If you have visited Paris, then you must have spent some time at the Louvre Museum. And chances are that those hours were spent in the Southern wing of the museum, where the painting of Mona Lisa is located. No less interesting is the Northern wing, which houses fascinating sculptures from ancient times, mostly Etruscan, Greek, and Roman. Further ahead along that wing is another lesser-known museum, Musée des Arts Décoratifs (MAD), or the museum of art and design. As a fan of historic vehicles, it may interest you to know that MAD was crazy enough to exhibit automobiles within those magnificent halls not once, but twice.
The first time was in 1970 when the museum managed to gather a set of cars from the world of motorsport. With the exhibition named ‘Bolides Design’, the cars chosen reflected ‘art and technique, each at their level, as an expression of man and his relationship with mechanical creations’.
More than four decades later, MAD brought to Europe and had on display for four delicious months some of the finest cars in the world—that of the rarely seen automotive collection belonging to luxury clothes maker Ralph Lauren.
Amongst the greatest automobile collections in the world, one that stands out is that of Ralph Lauren. And a selection of his most prestigious sports cars from the 1930s until the 1990s was presented for the first time in Europe at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs: 17 exceptional cars, chosen by Rodolphe Rapetti, who now is the director of the museum at the Chateau de Compiegne (the world’s oldest automotive museum).
Patiently assembled for several decades by Lauren, the exhibition brought together some of the most extraordinary jewels of European automotive history, with the common denominator being beauty, produced by the quest for speed and performance. Beauty of line and colours, materials, and design, as well as mechanical excellence resulting from the search for efficiency and precision.
Racing, the laboratory of all innovations, has been the common thread of Ralph Lauren’s passion, and this was reflected in the cars on display, ranging from a 1929 Bentley ‘Blower’ to an as-good-as-brand-new McLaren F1 LM from 1996. Within these 67 years there were high performance representations from marques such as Alfa Romeos, Bugattis, several Ferraris and Jaguars, a couple of Mercedes, and a Porsche.
The oldest of the lot—the 1929 Blower Bentley—was a car that had taken part three times at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, although without distinguishing itself. It was not until 1930, at the Grand Prix de France in Pau, that ‘HR3976’ finished in a very honourable second place, behind the redoubtable Bugatti Type 35C of Philippe Etancelin.
One of two vehicles by Mercedes-Benz on display was a gullwing 300 SL from 1955. The other was the astounding SSK, known as the ‘Count Trossi’, from 1930. This SSK, chassis number # 36038, made in 1928 remained unsold, when it was shipped to Japan in 1930, before returning to Europe. Eventually the car received a body designed by a young Englishman Willy White, penning the suggestions of the owner, an aristocrat and Italian industrialist, Count Carlo Felice Trossi, who was also a racing driver.
The SSK, typical of Mercedes from the 1920s, is dominated by a monstrous bonnet from which a triad of exhausts emerge laterally, the bonnet taking up more than half the length of the car. Supercharging gave the Mercedes SSK its fiery temperament, as well as a legendary sound to its 7.1-litres six-cylinder engine, developing over 300bhp and giving it a top speed of 235 km/h!
Two Alfa Romeos from Ralph Lauren’s collection were on display: a 1931 8C 2300 Monza and an 8C 2900 Mille Miglia from 1938. Both racing bolides, the 8C2300 Monza was the factory car driven by French racing ace Jean-Pierre Wimille, and then by Giovanni Battaglia, one which had taken part in several races such as the Grand Prix de Lorraine in 1932, at Pau in 1933, Monaco in 1933, and then the ‘34 Targa Florio, a vehicle that embodied the pre-War Grand Prix car par excellence.
The 8C 2900 Mille Miglia was the car that was driven by Carlo Pintacuda and Paride Mambelli, winning a brilliant second place at the Mille Miglia, wearing number 142. With its teardrop profiled fenders, this extraordinary car was one of the most prestigious of Alfa Romeo GTs from before the war.
Matching the Alfa Romeos for style, class and pace were the two Bugattis on display. The older one was a Type 59 Grand Prix, from 1933, with impeccable history. Chassis number # 59122 had taken part in the most prestigious of circuit races—Belgian and Spanish Grand Prix from 1933, the Monaco Grand Prix and at Montlhéry in 1934, and so on—and had been raced by the likes of Achille Varzi, Tazio Nuvolari and Robert Benoist.
The other Bugatti was one of the ultimate: a Type 57 SC Atlantic! Chassis number # 57591 is the last of the four Atlantics produced, encapsulating sport and luxury taken to the ultimate. An automotive masterpiece, no doubt!
The three Jaguars that MAD featured from the Ralph Lauren collection were an XK120 (an early aluminium-bodied one, which was raced by Clemente Biondetti at several races, including the 1950 Targa Florio and Mille Miglia), a ‘long nose’ D-Type (one of ten produced), and an XKSS, from 1958, derived from a D-Type. The latter took part in the Six Hours of Forez in 1957, driven by Edouard Monnoyeur and B Dupuy, finishing a creditable seventh, behind an armada of D-Types.
The only Porsche on display was a 550 Spyder, from 1955, the 61st car produced out of a total of 90 made. Even rarer was the McLaren F1 LM—one of five limited series baptized F1 LM as a tribute to the 24 Hours of Le Mans winning cars.
For Ferrari fans, the Ralph Lauren exhibition was the one to visit in 2011. Some of the rarest and finest were on display: a Ferrari 375 Plus (the last in the series, from 1954, which enjoyed a racing career in Argentine), a 250 Testa Rossa from 1958 (the 14th of 34 made), a 250 GT SWB from 1960 and a 250 LM from 1964, which campaigned in several Australian races, such as Sandown Park, Perth, and Warwick Farm.
Of course, the star amongst all the Ferraris was Lauren’s 250 GTO, the 21st car produced amongst a total run of 36. Ralph Lauren’s car was the one which had won several competitions, driven by the likes of Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez, Roger Penske, Augie Pabst, and Richie Ginther. No wonder enthusiasts had their tongue hanging by the yard in front of the GTO, as much as the other cars too.
Sign in or become a deRivaz & Ives member to join the conversation.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.