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Reliving History

Car museum

In an emotional dialogue with visitors, the exhibition in Turin that opened in March describes over two centuries of social and cultural revolution through the technical development and design of the automobile

Mino de Rigo

 In the over 19,000 square metres of the current building, almost double the original building, the itinerary covers three floors in a wide descending spiral through 30 display areas.


After four years of work and an investment of 33 million euros, 22 of which for the renovation and expansion of the building and the remainder for fixtures and fittings, the Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile in Turin has been given a new lease of life and was reopened to the public last March. Completely new displays, settings and interactivity, pleasantly suspended between fiction and reality, describe the vehicles in the collection. Almost 200 original examples by 85 different makers, the protagonists of a history that spans two centuries of passions and excesses, tragedies and triumphs, of social and technical evolution and the development of design. "The car" - said director Rodolfo Gaffino Rossi - "is not just an expression of what is beautiful to look at and touch, it is also, and above all, the principal symbol of the great historical and cultural events in Europe and overseas, it weaves an emotional and engaging dialogue with visitors on their journey of knowledge". In the over 19,000 square metres of the current building, almost double the original building, the itinerary covers three floors in a wide descending spiral through 30 display areas. Next to the exhibition is a conference centre, a restaurant with terrace and, on the ground floor, a cafeteria, bookshop, teaching area, a library of 20,000 books and online connection with Cineteca Rai, in addition to a large glassed-in courtyard where visitors enter and can meet, study or relax at the end of the visit.


Precision and show
There is even a 2,000-square-metre basement which will host a school of restoration, from mechanics to chassis, from body panels to leather work. A fascinating synthesis of scientific precision and show. The layout was created by stage designer François Confino: "In most museums, the cars are lined up like dead bodies. The aim here was to convey their dynamism in a story that will engage and excite even those visitors who are not enthusiasts, but are curious about reliving the historical events that are intertwined with the great protagonists of progress, art and tradition". The visit begins on the second floor in the section called "Genesi" where there are displays of the first examples of transport that were not drawn by animals: from the reconstruction of Leonardo da Vinci's self-propelled cart to a copy of the steam-powered cart built in 1769 by Nicolas Cugnot of France, an invention that paved the way for the automobile industry. Images of the studies of the period are shown on large screens mounted on the walls, where horse racing effectively morphs into the deafening whistle of the steam locomotive. The search for speed is the next stage. In a dedicated area there is a copy of "La Jamais Contente", an electric vehicle in which Camille Jenatzy of Belgium was the first to go over 100 km/h (1899). The "Large Garage of the Future" is a reconstruction of an early 20th century workshop, with handmade components, ingenious equipment and designers working shoulder to shoulder with the artisan, driver and entrepreneur.


The legends of speed and luxury
The vehicles on display range from a Peugeot Type 3 of 1892 to the Bernardi 3.5 CV of 1896, a three-wheeled forerunner with numerous avant-garde solutions, from the Benz Break, the taxi ante litteram of 1899, to the 8 HP DeDion&Buton of 1903, the Oldsmobile Curved Dash of 1904, and the Florentia of 1903, the only example of this make. A quartet of Fiats includes the 4 HP, the manufacturer's debut vehicle, the 8 HP, the 12/16 HP, and the 16/20 HP torpedo. The itinerary continues to the fervour of the futurist period in an area with enormous coloured panels that conjure up the strong lines of Boccioni and Balla to represent the dynamism symbolized by the automobile, the thrill of speed, and a taste for taking risks. The iconic vehicle is the Itala, the winner of the Beijing-Paris in 1907, which is surrounded by a group of cars of the following year: the Brixia Zust, the Legnano and the 18/24 HP Fiat Laundalet. Leaving behind the Fiat Zero, the progenitor of the Turin city car, we come to the stateroom setting for the "luxury cars", the travelling salons of the period, from the elegant and sumptuous 20-30 HP Isotta Fraschini An of 1909 to the prestigious Delage Ab-8 of 1913. The scene drastically changes for the First World War, but cars still play a leading role: the symbols are the Renault Fiacre of 1910, the taxis that were requisitioned to take French soldiers to the front, and the 1911 Fiat 4 used by the Italian army. Conflict is followed by the "Roaring Twenties and Thirties" and a collection of vehicles that were all the rage: the Isotta Fraschini 8 of 1920 and the 8A of 1929 (Rudolph Valentino's favourite), the Spa 23 S of 1922 and the Diatto 30 of 1928.


Creativity and experimentation
The evolution of automobile technology exploited aeronautical applications and aerodynamics became the subject of research that revolutionized the lines and shapes of vehicles. These are represented in the area dedicated to exercises in style and scale reproductions by the Chrysler Airflow and Fiat 1500 of 1935, the first to be studied in a wind tunnel. During the rise of Nazism in Europe, new vehicles entered the scene, from the Fiat Balilla 508, the engines for which were the first to be mass produced in Italy, to the Mercedes Benz 500 K, the car preferred by the German hierarchy. The icon of the Liberation that ended World War II was the Ford Jeep of 1941, whereas post war reconstruction was epitomised for the Italian automobile sector by the creativity of home-grown car designs, the most striking of which was the Cisitalia 202 of 1948; in Italy, Fiat was carrying out new experiments, such as the prototype of the Turbina of 1954, and in France, Citroën had launched the DS 19, which soon became a cult vehicle. "The Years of Recovery" come next. The economic boom conjured up in TV commercials and films of the period coincided with the success of the Fiat 600 and 500 (the red one in the display belonged to President Pertini) and the dream was the Giulietta Sprint of 1954. In Great Britain, the icons were in the shape of the Mini Morris and, a decade later, the E-Type Jaguar. Representing the cultural revolution and the hippy movement are the cars that symbolized the period: the Citroën 2CV and the Volkswagen Bulli, which was kitted out with everything needed for long journeys. The petrol crisis extinguished enthusiasm but not innovation: the Bertone ISO Rivolta Lele F and the NSU R0 80 with the Wankel rotary combustion engine.


The past that moulds the future
The museum itinerary continues with the "Good Bye Lenin" section about the fall of the Berlin Wall with a reconstruction of a GDR check-point and the inevitable Trabant. The next area dedicated to sustainability with electric cars, recycling and renewable energy, ends the display on the second floor. Stairs lead down to the mechanics and design area: from a collection of engines, with the first Barsanti and Matteucci internal combustion engine, to the development of the wheel illustrated with real models, hypertexts and animations; from the display of chassis up to the most recent with electronically-controlled suspension, to the "AuTorino" space with the map of the city showing the locations of the cars and components factories. Then comes an assembly line of the early 1900s, with the Model T Ford in pride of place, followed by the latest-generation robots. If the exploded diagram of a Cinquecento symbolizes the complexity of the product, then the "Folly" section is a pop art visualization by artist Mimmo Laganà of a house furnished with pieces of bodywork and a car interior. After passing through "Advertising" and "Regulations", the journey through the history of the car comes to an end with "Formula" and the celebration of "Design". Here, the cars are lined up at the starting grid, with silhouettes of drivers against the background of a long wall animated by the radiance of competitions: the Itala 11 of 1925, the Bugatti 35B of 1929, the Alfa Romeo P2 of 1930 and the 159 of 1951, the Cisitalia 202 Smm Spider Nuvolari, the Ferrari 500 F2, world champion in 1952 and 1953, the Mercedes W196 of 1954, and even Gilles Villeneuve's Rossa 312 T5. Then come the admirable examples of design and creativity, such as the Alfa Romeo Rl Ss of 1926, the 8C 2300 of 1934 and the Disco Volante of 1952, the Lancia Lambda Torpedo of 1930, the Aurelia B20 of 1958, and the Maserati Mexico of 1968. A truly fascinating and instructive full immersion that is well worth visiting.

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