The car and the XX Century


This floor is where the visit starts. 21 rooms, over an area of 3,600 square metres, tell how the car was born, was developed and became popular, keeping pace with the evolution of the 20th century. The itinerary is circular and takes visitors from the Library in “Genesis”, the first room, where information about the origin of locomotion is given and homage is paid to the many ingenious precursors of the mechanical engine, to the “Destiny” room, the last on this floor. Here, an attempt is made to get us to imagine the world we will find ourselves living in tomorrow. In between, there are nineteen other rooms telling the story of the twentieth century, taking in Futurism, the First World War, the advent of the utilitarian car, the Italian school of body work, the discovery of aerodynamics, female emancipation, the race towards mass production, the fall of the Berlin Wall, American advertising slogans, consumerism and ecology. It’s a story with many different threads, the guiding principle being to make us understand how far the motor car influenced, conditioned and favoured the most distinctive historical, economic, artistic and social events of the last century.


A homage to the many precursors who, over the last five centuries, have searched for a way to move and transport people and goods, that was not tied to the physical strength of animals. On the shelves of the large Genesis library there are some of the thousands of ideas that have preceded and, in some cases, made possible the advent of the real motor car (or rather, of an object that could move on its own), which would make its appearance at the end of the nineteenth century.

Vehicles on display: self-propelled wagon imagined by Leonardo da Vinci nel 1478 (reconstruction); Carro di Cugnot (Francia 1769).


Steam was the main driving force in the nineteenth century industrial revolution and it is thanks to the steam engine that the carriages of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which had enabled the creation of a considerable communications network between the largest European cities and within the countries themselves, were gradually accompanied by horsepower, while all the time maintaining their appearance intact. But this would soon change completely.

Vehicles on display: Carrozza di Bordino (Italia 1854).


It was soon realised that the shape of carriages could not easily be combined with speed, and we were soon to see the dawn of a new century. New shapes, such as the torpedo shape, were devised, and unheard-of speeds were reached – even over 100 km per hour, like the record set by the Belgian Camille Jenatzy’s Jamais Contente (the “hard to please” car) on 29th April 1899. Speed came to be a part of life, altered the concept of space, time and distance and changed relationships between people, exchanges of ideas, and trade.

Vehicles on display: la “Jamais Contente”, made by Belgian Camille Jenatzy (reconstruction).


We are in a large garage-workshop at the beginning of the twentieth century, maybe in Turin or maybe in Germany, France or Great Britain. Top-level workers, very fine artisans, clever designers, mechanics, drivers, test-drivers and businessmen worked side by side on the motor car - the object that embodied the future, progress and novelty. At the back of the room was a laboratory, “the magician’s workshop”, for designs, projects, tools, various parts and layouts.

Vehicles on display: Benz Victoria (Germania 1893), Peugeot Tipo 3 (Francia 1892), Bernardi 3,5 HP (Italia1896), Benz 8 HPBreak (Germania 1899), De Dion & Bouton 8 HP (Francia 1903), Panhard Levassor B1 (Francia 1899), Renault 3,5 HP (Francia 1899), Ceirano 5 HP (Italia 1901), Darracq 9,5 HP (Francia 1902), Florentia 10 HP (Italia 1903), Oldsmobile Curved Dash (Stati Uniti 1904), Fiat 4 HP (Italia 1899), Fiat 8 HP (Italia 1901), Fiat 12/16 HP(Italia 1902), Fiat 16/20 HP turismo (Italia 1903).


The large, colourful image that makes up the backdrop is reminiscent of the works of futurism, a revolutionary artistic and cultural movement that came into being in Italy in the early twentieth century. Symbols of this movement, which reached out to the future, progress and modernity, were the automobile, the aeroplane, the motorcycle and the thrill of speed (“a motor car racing is more beautiful that the Victory of Samothrace”) - the taste for risk and danger. It was one of the rare moments when art and industry blended harmoniously.

Vehicles on display: Fiat 24/32 HP (Italia 1905), Fiat 24/40 HP (Italia 1906), Fiat Zero (Italia 1912), Brixia Zust 10 HP (Italia 1908), Stae elettrica (Italia 1909), Legnano A 6/8 HP (Italia 1908), De Dion & Bouton BG (Francia 1907), la Fiat landaulet 18/24 HP appartenuta al Conte Biscaretti (Italia 1908), la sagoma (ricostruzione) dell’Alfa Romeo Ricotti del 1914.


The motor car became the means with which one could measure oneself against the impossible; in 1907 the idea was launched for an expedition to cross Asia and Europe, from Peking to Paris, over lands where there were no roads nor possibilities for refuelling. That modern Marco Polo, the Italian Itala, completed the incredible journey in 60 days of travelling, surpassing all the other vehicles taking part. For the motor car industry, the Italian car was a triumph.

Vehicles on display: Itala 35/45 HP “Pechino-Parigi” (Italia 1907).


The beautiful, desirable automobile was in these years a very luxurious and very costly item, affordable by the very people apart from aristocrats and reigning monarchs. Cars were very expensive to buy and very expensive to maintain. They were real travelling drawing rooms: some of them even had flower vases. And the “showcases” for cars, that is, the first Motor Shows, organized in Paris, London, Turin, Milan and in all the major European cities, were very splendid.

Vehicles on display: Isotta Fraschini AN 20-30 HP (Italia 1909), Delage AB-8 (Francia 1913), Itala 35/45 HP “Palombella” (Italia 1909).


The First World War caused civil motor car production to come to a halt, but at the same time it led to a great acceleration in the spread of the internal combustion engine. Troops were motorized, and in the shows of force between states, technology also came into the field. The bright, triumphant, futuristic colours of just a few years before became muted in dull black and white, signifying the death and destruction that every war brings with it.

Vehicles on display: Renault AG- Fiacre Paris (Francia 1910), Fiat 4 (Italia 1911).


War had been left behind and life had never been so good for those lucky enough to belong to “high society”. A taste for modernity spread; they danced to the rhythm of the Charleston and jazz became fashionable. Art Nouveau style evolved into Art Deco, ladies’ skirts got shorter, and female shapes established themselves in the most disparate fields including those traditionally reserved to men, like aviation and cars. These were the Roaring Twenties and the crazy 1930s.

Vehicles on display: Rolls Royce 40-50 HP (Gran Bretagna 1914), Isotta Fraschini 8 (Italia 1920), Isotta Fraschini 8A (Italia 1929), Spa 23 S (Italia 1922), Diatto 30 (Italia 1925), Citroen C3-5CV (Francia 1922).


For the first time in the design of mass-produced cars, one science, which had up to that time been an accessory of aeronautics, started to be taken into account. This was aerodynamics, the study of the behaviour of the air when penetrated by moving bodies. With this science, performance and road holding were improved, and the line of the car revolutionised, as we see in the many models that almost “flew” through the town sky, designed by the aeronautical engineer, Gabriel Voisin.

Vehicles on display: Lancia Aprilia (Italia 1948).


The gilded world of the jet-set, of the great European entrepreneurial aristocracy, of luxury cruise liners and sumptuous banquets, was about to be turned upside down by a set of events that would affect the whole of society, starting with the grave economic crisis triggered off by the collapse of the American Stock Exchange in October 1929, and extending up to the second world war ten years later. New figures appeared on the political scene, new cars were put on the market in a world where the old and the new had a turbulent coexistence.

Vehicles on display: Mercedes Benz 500 K (Germania 1936), Fiat 508 “Balilla” (Italia 1932), Austin Seven (Gran Bretagna 1932), Packard Super-Eight 1501 (Stati Uniti 1937), Citroen 11 CV “Traction Avant” (Francia 1934), Fiat 500 (Italia 1936), Ford Jeep (Stati Uniti 1941).


The reconstruction of Italy began with creativity and skill in designing. In spite of the huge problems we were left with after the Second World War, the car industry in Italy got back on track thanks to industrialists, engineers, designers and mechanics who started again almost from nothing. The art of creating car bodywork went through one of its most fertile periods, so that it became a “school” and dictated the law to world car design, as the two vehicles on display demonstrate.

Vehicles on display: Cisitalia 202 (Italia 1948), Fiat Turbina (Italia 1954).


At the 1957 Milan Triennale exhibition, a showcase for world design, visitors were greeted by a sort of space module suspended in the air. This was the revolutionary Citroen DS (Déesse) presented at the Paris Motor Show two years previously and from then on taking centre stage in car construction because of its extraordinary features that made it different from any other car in production and that caused it to seem at least ten years ahead of its time.

Vehicles on display: Citroen DS 19 (Francia 1955).


The first, timid signs of wellbeing started to spread in Italy. The Fiat 600, here in the Multipla version, the first mass-produced monovolume car in the world, gave mobility to classes of the population who had hitherto been excluded from it: this was the Italian Ford Model T, forty years on. The first “August outings” started up – mass migrations towards the beaches in the weeks of summer heat. These were also the years of the Giulietta Sprint - not a car for the masses, certainly, but a symbol of beautiful Italian line.

Vehicles on display: Fiat Multipla 1955 reiew by IDEA Institute (1995), Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint (Italia 1954).


American style against European style, or vehicles with overloaded, Baroque lines, with very high consumption needing wide, open parking spaces, against small cars designed to cost very little, consume less, be extremely useful and allow populations exhausted by five years of war to start to live again. There could be no more blatant contrast between American designs and European ones at the end of the Fifties, as the vehicles on display tangibly demonstrate.

Vehicles on display: Acma Vespa 400 (Francia 1958); Cadillac 62 (Stati Uniti, 1947); silhouette reconstruction of Cadillac Eldorado and della Chevrolet Impala.


This is the happiness of consumerism: two showcases, inspired by those of the famous “Rinascente” Italian department store chain, offer items from the “economic boom” years (1958-1963) that finally became affordable to many, if not to all. The first electric household appliances - washing machines and fridges - arrived, television became popular and advertising got to be an integral part of our daily lives; Polaroid photos abounded .... we are moving into the modern age.

Vehicles on display: Fiat 1900 B Gran Luce (Italia 1958), Fiat 600 (Italia 1955), Fiat 500 (Italia 1962), Morris Mini (Gran Bretagna 1969), Jaguar E 4.2 (Gran Bretagna 1969).


Not the world, perhaps, but youth certainly conquered a different awareness of itself. The world of young people became a world apart, light years away from the adult world, with its own rites, utopias, dreams, aspirations and languages. And also cars: the Citroen 2CV and the Volkswagen Transporter became universal symbols of freedom and lack of prejudice, adventure and non-conformity. These were the years of the flower people, who sang along with the “Giganti” “Put flowers in your cannons”.

Vehicles on display: Citroen 2 CV (1948); Volkswagen Transporter Bulli (Germania, 1949).


The oil crisis of the early years of the 1970s, which, in Italy, was addressed with the solution of “pedestrian Sundays”, but without a serious, responsible energy policy, hit a world that until that time had lived as if oil were inexhaustible. And so on the one hand, we had the glamour of extraordinary, classy Italian cars while, on the other, fuel shortages upset whole sectors, such as the large-scale retail sector, linked industries, tourism and show-business.

Vehicles on display: Iso Rivolta Lele F (Italia 1972), Ferrari 308 GTB Carburatori (Italia 1980), NSU Ro 80 (Germania 1966).


We’re at Checkpoint Charlie, the famous border post leading from East to West Berlin at the time of the Berlin Wall, separating the free, democratic Western world from the Soviet-style totalitarian regimes. On the one side, therefore, were small cars like Trabants and Syrenas, two small utilitarian vehicles of the Eastern bloc with an antiquated design and, on the other, one of the jewels of Western capitalism, the red Ferrari. The fall of the Wall on 9th November 1989 finally reunified the German capital.

Vehicles on display: Ferrari 365 GT4 (Italia 1973), Trabant 601(Germania 1987), Syrena L 105 (Polonia 1973).


A globalized world is a world that has no frontiers, at least from the market and finance point of view - one where each of us is dependent on all the others, and where an internal crisis in one country can trigger disastrous repercussions on the world economy. What are the real economic relationships between continents and nations? What “specific weight” do the different countries in the world have on the global world economy, and how did we get to this point? These are the questions that this area attempts to answer.

Vehicles on display: none.


We have arrived at a crossroads: on one side there is a dark, grey, dirty world – the world of oil, traffic, pollution, environmental deterioration and destruction; on the other, a light, bright world where energy comes from renewable sources and our lifestyle is not incompatible with safeguarding the environment. It’s up to us to decide if we want to continue along the road we have been going along up to now, leading to total disaster, or gradually modify our habits and our consumption.

Vehicles on display: Phoenix II  elettrosolare (Italia 1987); Fiat Ecobasic (2000).