Steer café or wine-bar conversation towards the subject of art, and it will generally veer in the direction of paintings, sculpture, or, perhaps, architecture. Do the same with anyone who has a passion for the automobile, and chances are you will enter into the realm of the art of the car. The art of the what? Some purists might try to argue that a car cannot be art in itself, but that argument becomes moot the second you acknowledge the presence of various cars in some of the world’s greatest art and culture museums.
We’ll return to the idea of the individual car as a work of art, but what about cars that become art? A prime example can be found in Nebraska in the US.
I don’t know about you, but Nebraska is not high on my list of places to visit; in fact, it is not even high on my list of places to know anything about. I was happy in my blissful ignorance of the place until I discovered that the state is home to a recreation of the famous, prehistoric Stonehenge monument in Wiltshire, the UK. The new iteration, called Carhenge, is not made of massive stones, though, but from cars. The installation is an accurate representation of the UK landmark and the wrecks are even perfectly aligned for the summer solstice.
Carhenge is a rather extreme example of automotive art, but perhaps the most famous car artworks are those commissioned by BMW. The BMW Art Car was first created in 1975 by Alexander Calder using a BMW 3.0 CSL; in 1991, South African artist Esther Mahlangu was commissioned to create a work of art on a BMW 525i. The latest creation comes from Chinese artist Cao Fei. Rather than create her artwork on the car itself though, Fei used virtual and augmented reality to create her installation around the car, a M6 GT3 racecar. The canvas has become virtual.
Then there is South African wire artist Conty Fonane, who has created a number of car-themed sculptures — including a Rolls-Royce, which sits at the company’s head office in Goodwood, UK; and more recently, a life-size McLaren that was auctioned for charity.
Cars can be both the inspiration for, and the subject of, art. Charly Molinelli, an artist based in Los Angeles, once spent months trying to find a Ferrari that had been crushed so badly in a crash that it could be used in a coffee table. Slightly morbid, but the result now sits in someone’s lounge.
The famous sculptures created every year for the Goodwood Festival of Speed are always a big talking point, too. For 2017, the theme was Bernie Ecclestone. It was a controversial theme, because, let’s face it, the former Formula One supremo has as many critics as fans, but the sculpture itself was mighty impressive, with some iconic F1 cars mounted high in front of the beautiful home of Lord March.
So far, we have looked at the literal conversion of cars into art; let’s return to the idea that cars can be artworks in themselves. Dangerous territory this: there are people in the world that think the Austin Allegro is beautiful (seriously, there are). The Bugatti Type 57C Atlantic is definitely art, as is the Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, and the Jaguar E-Type. Art takes many forms, and is defined by the adage of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, so what about a 1950s Cadillac with its massive fins, or the dramatic lines of a Lamborghini Countach?
And what about inside the car? Now imagine for a moment that you could hang a Jean-Michel Basquiat or a Jackson Pollock in your car. Obviously, most of us would not have the space, but Rolls-Royce has just revealed the eighth generation of the most luxurious car in the world: the Phantom. It boasts a feature called The Gallery, a glass panel that runs the entire width of the dashboard. Giles Taylor, head of design at Rolls-Royce, said he wanted to create a space that owners could personalise with their favourite work of art. You can actually commission a designer to imitate your favourite master or create something entirely new. You don’t get much more of an art-and-car fusion than that.
And what of the future? With many countries discussing plans to ban the internal combustion engine, are the days of beautiful cars numbered? Will we all be in pods that resemble shoeboxes? Automotive designers around the world are working hard to make sure there is some level of creativity in our future vehicles, as well as a bit of brand identity, but there is a chance that the priority might be less about beautiful design and more about bare functionality.
Fortunately, a world where no one cares what their car or transport vehicle looks like is many years away. For now, as individuals, we still get to decide what is art and what is not. And if the world of shoebox transport happens, hopefully there will still be space on the road for a classic car, so we can remember what art in motion once looked like.
RANGE ROVER VELAR
Land Rover recently launched the new Discovery in South Africa. Hoorah! you say. But wait. Later this year it will bring in the Range Rover Velar, and the pricing will be extremely similar. Discovery, what Discovery? The Velar promises to have off-road DNA wrapped in a luxury package, and, to make it worse for the beloved Disco, the Velar will have loads of the new tech that the Disco promised but does not have. Possible own goal by Land Rover.
Jaguar is a company long renowned for great sports cars and sedans. It still is, but the advent of the F-Pace SUV has changed the nature of the brand. It is building on the massive success of the F-Pace with the E-Pace, which will arrive in South Africa early in 2018. It promises new styling, Jaguar dynamics, and a range of engines. It is likely to be yet another game-changer for the British marque, which will follow it up with the all-electric I-Pace and, we are assured, a larger J-Pace.
PORSCHE PANAMERA TURBO S E-HYBRID
We recently travelled to Canada to drive the new Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-hybrid, which arrives in South Africa in the fourth quarter of 2017. Yes, we initially yawned too, and not just because of the long flights and massive time difference. But then we drove it. 507kW and 850Nm is impressive, but not as impressive as 0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds, in a car that has claimed consumption of 2.9l/100km and can travel 50km in electric mode only. Plug us in.
KNIGHT FRANK REPORT
Did you know that there are more than 18 000 dollar millionaires in Joburg? We learnt this while listening to Andrew Shirley, editor of the Knight Frank Wealth Report, who spoke at the Historic Automobile Group Index, Value in the Classic Car Market Conference recently. The reason he is so interested in classic cars? Well, the value of classics has risen a phenomenal 404% in 10 years. Compare that to watches at 65%, art at 130%, and wine at 256%.