Cars: accelerating the modern world exhibition

Published: 03 December 2019

► A zoomed out look at the automobile
► More about the car's impact than the machine
► It's worrying yet insightful

For the past 57 years, CAR magazine has focused on the automobile from both an enthusiast and consumer viewpoint, with a nod to its cultural import. And the chances are that if you enjoy reading our website and magazine, then you’ll enjoy a new motoring exhibition at the V&A Museum in London.

Called ‘Cars: Accelerating the Modern World,’ the new show looks at the car from a wider, more socio-economic viewpoint and charts its impact on the world around us. The exhibition is open until 19 April 2020 – and we went to take a look at it. Read on for our preview guide.

What vehicles will you see at Cars: Accelerating the Modern World?

If you’re interested in looking at some rare and exotic machinery, you’d be better of saving up for the Goodwood Festival of Speed. There are just 15 cars on display at the V&A, but there is some exotic stuff here: from a pristine Firebird 1 concept car – think jet and car combined – to an Italdesign-penned flying car, but really this exhibition is about the effect of the automobile on humans and our environment. 

Artefacts from the early twentieth century show the car seen through a hopeful, futuristic lens: concept art looks more Fritz Lang than anything else, and even fashion and household items ride the shockwaves created by the automobile. Clothing is more streamlined than before, and the minimal aero-friendly design style trickles down to everything from alarm clocks to telephones. 

The jet age has a profound effect on the styling of cars too, with the tech-crazy optimism of the 1950s and 60s dripping from every chrome fender, pointy brake light or fighter jet-style dash. Then it comes full circle, with gritty dystopias in films such as Bladerunner and The Fifth Element. It’s a grubbier, dirtier look at the future of the car – and one significantly less hopeful. 

Cars: Accelerating the Modern World also explores the less glamourous side of the automobile, and society’s attempt to deal with it; from crash safety regulations to large-scale manufacturing. It’s sobering stuff and reminds you of the price we pay for our four-wheeled freedom.

Is it worth going to see the exhibition at the V&A?

If you’re interested in the purely mechanical side of the automobile, this probably isn’t the exhibition for you – but there are hundreds of museums out there like that, anyway. It’s not one about the future either; you’ll be hard-pressed to find the industry’s connectivity, autonomous, sharing or electric buzz keywords here. This exhibition is worth going to if you want something different: to understand the car’s cultural impact on society and the changing tides of consumer behaviour.

Cars: Accelerating the Modern Worldzooms back through the history of the car in its entirety, and its impact on human society – good and bad. It’s an exhibition about an invention that has fully immersed itself in human culture in just 130 years, and one that is still being understood. 

It’s both hopeful and worrying; we can imagine the curators of its sequel in five decades’ time having an even harder task to make sense of whatever became of the modern motor car...

Get tickets here

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast