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Taschen - Ultimate Collector Cars

Introduction Written by Charlotte & Peter Fiell

This book’s title, Ultimate Collector Cars by Taschen, sums up in just three simple words pretty much what it is all about. As a carefully curated anthology of one hundred of the most exquisite, remarkable and coveted collector cars of all time, it spans the whole history of the modern automobile.

These motoring icons — from the world’s very first performance cars of the early 1900s to today’s ultra-advanced hypercars — represent the apotheosis of automotive engineering and design. Even in their own times these exemplars of automotive art, which so skillfully balanced state-of-the-art technology with boundary-pushing aesthetics, were seen as super-special and today knowledgeable collectors continue to hanker after them for their exceptional power, beauty and rarity. Many of the cars included in this work are legendary for their especially pioneering designs such as the Mercedes-Simplex 40 hp, the Jaguar D-Type, the Maserati Tipo 61 “Birdcage”, the Lamborghini Miura and the McLaren F1. Others, like the Bugatti Type 35, the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B MM, the Ferrari 250 GTO, the Ford GT40 MK II or the Maserati MC12, are not only celebrated for the exquisite design and engineering that they embody, but also for their landmark victories at famous races, notably the Targa Florio, the Mille Miglia, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 12 Hours of Sebring, or the FIA GT World Championship Series and, thereby, their tangible association with some of the most famous drivers of their day, such as Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin, Tazio Nuvolari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss and Phil Hill. Without exception, all the cars are closely linked to the world’s most celebrated designers and constructors, including Wilhelm Maybach, Enzo Ferrari, Battista “Pinin” Farina, Ferdinand Alexander “Butzi” Porsche and Carroll Shelby.

With the aim of bringing together the best of the best, all the leading salerooms, automotive museums and manufacturers’ collections as well as top-level dealers’ former and current inventories have been scoured for the most magnificent examples in order to present within the pages of this volume what we believe to be the definitive selection of ultimate collector cars. Only the most prized variants of each chosen model have been selected, so you will find, for instance, not just any Jaguar XK-SS but instead the magnificent example that was once owned by Steve McQueen that now resides in the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Another example is the Lamborghini Miura, for which we are featuring a peerless specimen, one of only four original factory-built P400 SVJ variants. All of these remarkable cars are presented here with beautiful imagery by some of the world’s leading automotive photographers, and accompanied by the fascinating backstories of their design, development, specification, and in many cases provenance. Another common thread that ties our selection together is the fact that the vast majority of the cars that have made the final cut are either former racers with documented race histories or competition-derived models.

This is for the simple reason that motorsports have always propelled advancements in cutting-edge automotive design and engineering, and will no doubt continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Above all, the outstanding cars shown over the coming pages are physical realizations of the enduring relationship between man and machine, which in the case of such superlative models provides a unique interface that not only quickens the heart but piques all the senses, too. Yet more than this, these one hundred rare beasts also represent lifetimes of toil in the pursuit of motoring perfection. It is as though the blood, sweat and tears shed by their creators in their single-minded quest for ever-greater performance have been alchemically wrought into sublimely beautiful yet purposeful forms.

The resultant masterpieces are probably as close to art as any functional object can get, for they are exquisite expressions of design and engineering conducted at the highest levels. They are the masterworks of genius engineers, gifted design maestros and passionate, supremely skilled craftsmen for whom automotive excellence is everything — the alpha and the omega of their very existence. These are the individuals who tirelessly live and breathe, day in and day out, the creation of cars that push the outer limits of existing technology in their pursuit of ever more thrilling handling and high-speed velocity.

As the legendary “car guy” Jay Leno has rightly observed, “Any car can be a collector car, if you collect it.” 1 The examples featured here, however, represent the very zenith of the car-collecting world, insofar as the availability of imagery has allowed. Yes, there might be some other, possibly even better, exemplars out there, but invariably their ownership is either shrouded in secrecy or they are locked away in inaccessible collections whose owners are reluctant to share their imagery, or even knowledge of their existence, with the public. The selected cars are, therefore, to the best of our efforts, the paramount examples that are available to be shown. In fact, the numerous image sources we have depended on for this book have been outstandingly generous and in certain cases have even specially commissioned new photography for us. The resulting assemblage of stunning collector cars has been ordered chronologically to purposefully demonstrate not only the incredible historical evolution in form and function that has taken place over the last one hundred and twenty years, but also to show that automotive design throughout its relatively short history has been an incredible expression of each era’s zeitgeist.

As Leslie Kendall, the curator of the Petersen Automotive Museum, notes, “During periods of creative endeavor, humankind has found it irresistible to bestow on ordinary objects an artistic overlay that elevates them far above their original utilitarian purposes ... Civilized cultures always seem to have known the essential distinction between ‘getting there’ and ‘arriving’.”² And for sure, the cars found in this book are as far removed from the utilitarian “people’s car” as you can possibly get. In fact, they must be considered the auto world’s equivalent of Rembrandts, Van Goghs and Picassos.

Whatever the future may bring, however, it is highly likely there will remain a limited recreational demand for both “old” and “new” ultimate collector cars, because, let’s face it, none of the examples shown over the following pages is used as a daily runabout — they are far too valuable for that. If the truth be told, very few get out that much at all, and even fewer are raced on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t see more light of day. In fact, it is that potentiality that makes them all the more alluring. While such fantastically valuable cars more often than not function as, or are, museum exhibits, the latent possibility they present of high-octane drivability is still utterly enthralling. The ultimate collector car has throughout its short but glorious history always been a potent symbol of mankind’s relentless quest to find a better way of doing things with the technologies and materials at hand, while also being a vital medium for artistic expression. But more than this, these “immortals” are also the physical testimony of the enduring passion such beautiful and powerful machines can induce, whether you actually own one or not. The reason for this is, when you get right down to it, ultimate collector cars have always been a totally captivating elixir of status, power, beauty and speed that conjure up the freedom of the open road as well as enticing visions of epic touring adventures and thrilling on-track shenanigans, with often a pinch of wistful nostalgia peppered in for good measure. So, here’s to some very happy dream wheeling …


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