Alfa Romeo - sustaining beauty - 90 years of art in engineering
Story and pictures by Adam Jefferson - December 2001.
Last Saturday saw the opening of a new exhibition at the Science Museum in London. A large part of the second floor has been filled with some of the most beautiful, interesting and historically important cars from the past 90 years of Alfa Romeo. This is perhaps a well timed exhibition for Alfa - a company now at an all time high in the UK since the remarkably successful revamp of their range in the late '90s.
The 17 cars on display are all from the Alfa Romeo Museum near Milan. Taking centre stage in the entrance of the museum is the 1952 Disco Volante (flying saucer), one of three ever built. Among the cars in the main exhibition area are the 6C 1750 Gran Sport in which Tazio Nuvolari won the 1930 Mille Miglia, the 1959 GP159 Formula 1 car, the awesomely aggressive 33.2 Stradale and the TVR-esque 1996 Nuvola concept car. The (apparently) famous 159 Grand Prix chassis is suspended impressively from the ceiling of the East Hall, and forms a subtle centre of the exhibition.
Several video clips are on display around the exhibition including (what I assume to be - there was no information) Nuvolari driving the 6C 1750 Gran Sport in the 1930 Mille Miglia. These help to give a feel for the time, but aren't quite enough to make one fully appreciate the significance or purpose of the cars.
The walls of the exhibition are lined with technical drawings of cars, engines and instruments, but apart from decoration these don't add anything to the exhibition. There are several engines on display, but again one doesn't really gain much from seeing them as nothing is adequately explained about their evolution.
The style display towards the end of the exhibition is laughable - it consists of little more than a full scale nose-study for the 147 and a strange video display with different films of styling work showing simultaneously - a shame as this is a such a fundamental part of the Alfa Romeo ethos.
Overall the show is slightly disappointing, despite the selection of cars on display. There is scarcely any information available apart from the bare minimum - a few figures for each car and a very brief summary of its history. Even these appear to have been written by someone who is not particularly familiar with the subject and has merely quoted from books.
Even more disappointingly there's absolutely nothing to give one any feel for the cars. An integral part of Alfa Romeo is the gorgeous exhaust note, yet there is not a single reproduction of this. Furthermore it's impossible to experience the smell, or even to touch any of the cars. This is understandable considering the value of what's on display, but it would have made a big difference to at least have had a couple of cars available to sit in and explore. This is a shame as a lot of effort has gone into setting up the exhibition - the cars are well displayed and there's a superb selection on show.
If you want to pay homage to some fabulous cars, and already know your Alfa history then it's well worth the visit. Otherwise you may well leave the exhibition feeling that you haven't really learnt as much as you'd like to have done.
Entry is free, and the exhibition is on until 30 April 2002.
Alfa Romeo UK site
The Science Museum
Official exhibition site - an excellent resource