Ralph Lauren's Stylish Cars on Display

A sleek batch of cars has arrived at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, where fashion designer Ralph Lauren is offering the public a glimpse at one of his private passions.

While building up his brand name and commanding attention in the fashion world, Lauren was also using that eye for style in selecting Ferraris, Bugattis and other rare cars.

When museum staffers caught wind of these rare European automobiles, they invited Lauren to park his wheels in their galleries as examples of great modern design.

"You're just showing a selection of some of the best that have ever been done," said curator Darcy Kuronen. "These aren't assembly-line cars -- they're very much purposefully built for racing or for a particular client -- handmade like a sculpture."

The curved doors, swooping fenders and leather interiors will remain displayed on platforms in the exhibit "Speed, Style, and Beauty: Cars From the Ralph Lauren Collection" through July 3, 2005, at the museum. At special Thursday evening events, the cars' hoods are propped up to give visitors a peek at the engines.

The Appeal of the Ride

Some businessmen may collect Renoirs, Picassos or even rare furniture, but Ralph Lauren became interested in objects with a little more speed.

In the exhibition notes, he describes buying his first notable car in 1961. He says he didn't plan on building a collection -- he just liked driving them and kept on shopping.

In some instances, the history of the car is as dazzling as the exterior. Before embracing Humvees, SUVs and more recently the hybrid car, Hollywood stars of a different era were seen cruising around in the kinds of roadsters Lauren now owns.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall enjoyed a version of the 1950 Jaguar XK 120 Alloy Roadster displayed, while Sophia Loren and Zsa Zsa Gabor each owned a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe. James Dean fans will take note of the 1955 Porsche 500 Spyder on display; sadly, that is the vehicle in which the actor suffered his fatal car crash.

The most recently produced of the 16 cars on display would be tough to spot on the highway -- the 1996 McLaren F1 with gold wing doors can clock 230 mph.

From the Garage to the Gallery

Placing a group of black and red cars in a big room could easily have made the museum look like an exclusive parking lot, frequented by some extremely wealthy car owners.

To highlight the artistic aspect of the vehicles and help convey their impeccable design to audiences who might balk at the idea of cars as art, the vehicles are generously spaced across 10,000 feet of the museum, just like a group of sculptures.

The curator left plenty of leg room and encourages guests to walk around and examine every last detail of these handcrafted vehicles. "In fact if you look there's some asymmetry," said Kuronen. "One fender might come out a little higher than the other."

Each car was created out of a vision from its designer, and often from the client's desire to customize his ride to suit his tastes. One such client, Italian race car driver Count Carlo Felice Trossi, actually sketched ideas for his 1930 Mercedes-Benz SSK and asked for an elongated teardrop fender and a pointed tail.

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