1952 Mercedes 300 SL

1952 Mercedes 300 SL, from the collection of Bruce R. McCaw.

In early November, the Phoenix Art Museum opened their Legends of Speed exhibit, showcasing some of the greatest and most iconic cars in the history of racing. The exhibit features 22 cars from the most well-known companies and makers in the business, dating all the way back to the 1920s.

The cars were loaned to the museum by collectors, and many of them have won historic races, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500. Rachel Zebro, the assistant curator for contemporary art at the museum, helped to bring all of these incredible cars together.

The museum thought the exhibit would be a good idea after a previous display about early 20th century vehicles was hugely successful.                                                                                             

“We decided to do another exhibit about cars, specifically race cars, but it is also dedicated to the stories behind the cars,” said Zebro. “It starts from 1911 to 1978 and begins with a very boxy Franklin, to a very sleek and modern 1978 Lotus.”

The collection is housed in a large room outside the front lobby of the museum.

Next to each car is a paragraph detailing the history of the cars, including where they raced, who designed them, who drove them, and what years they were active. There are also videos playing with historic racing footage and pictures of the cars in action.

Some of the more interesting vehicles in the exhibit are a rectangular-looking 1927 Bugatti Type 35B, driven by pioneer female French driver Mariette Helene Delangle, more widely known as Hellé Nice.

From the glory days of Ferrari racing, the sleek 1957 Ferrari 315 S Scaglietti Spyder and the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, which is considered by many to be the greatest car Ferrari ever made, are also part of the exhibit. The 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO is also the most expensive car ever sold at an auction, selling for $48.4 million in 2018.

Also showcased are two cars crafted by iconic American car maker Carroll Shelby. Shelby himself won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. The museum has two of his cars, a 1964 Shelby Cobra, which was driven by legendary driver Ken Miles, and a 1968 Ford GT40 that won that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

Miles and Shelby are the subjects of the recent film Ford v Ferrari, which has strong connections to the collection of cars at the museum. When asked if the exhibit was intentionally conceived to coincide with the release of the film, Zebro said it was “a very happy coincidence.”

The Legends of Speed exhibit will continue at the Phoenix Art Museum until early March. For more: phxart.org.


Legends of Speed

When: Through March 15

Where: Phoenix Art Museum, Steele Gallery

1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix