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Don’t Miss This Groundbreaking Exhibit at Phoenix Art Museum

“Legends of Speed” brings iconic and historic racing cars to the Valley.

By Rebecca L. Rhoades

Sleek and elegant, powerful and fast: Racing vehicles have long been the subject of fascination, reverence and obsession. From the first recorded match between two self-powered carriages in 1867 to modern-day IndyCar and Formula One series to such grueling endurance races as the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the historic Mille Miglia, the winning cars often receive as much recognition as the people behind the wheel.

Beginning in November, Phoenix Art Museum will celebrate some of motorsport’s most illustrious speedsters with its first major exhibition of racing cars. Spanning six decades, “Legends of Speed” features more than 20 vehicles admired not only for their sexy silhouettes but also for their prowess on the road.

“All of the cars are just incredible,” says Gilbert Vicario, deputy director for curatorial affairs and the Selig Family Chief Curator. Included in the show are landmark machines by Maserati, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo, Ford and Bugatti, among others. There’s the 1953 Lancia D24 that won the 1954 Targa Floria in Sicily, the 1967 Eagle Mk1 in which American Dan Gurney won the Belgian Grand Prix, the 1977 Lotus 79 that Mario Andretti drove to Formula One victory, and even a 1911 Franklin that came in second in the 1910 Desert Classic—also known as the “Cactus Derby”—a 500-mile off-road race from Los Angeles to Phoenix. “The fact that these are the actual cars, not just the same type of car, that won is pretty amazing,” he adds.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the fact that there’s gender diversity. It’s not just about the boys,” Vicario continues, noting the inclusion of a 1929 Bugatti Type 53 that was driven by “The Bugatti Queen,” Hellé Nice. Considered the fastest female racing professional prior to World War II, Nice, whose real name was Helene Delangle, “was an incredible figure,” Vicario explains. “She was also a burlesque dancer, and she had a very colorful life. We have the actual car that she raced at the time.” IndyCar driver and part-time Valley resident Lyn St. James also contributed her perspective on racing to the exhibition’s catalog.

This new exhibit was inspired by the museum’s landmark 2007 show “Curves of Steel,” which focused on automotive styling in the 20th century and explored its effect on everything from home design to fashion, and builds on the idea of automobile as art. “In thinking about Arizona and our love of cars, we thought it was a great time to do another of that type of exhibition. It’s a way of bridging art and life. I mean, we all use cars; they’re extensions of our bodies. So there’s a natural connection, curiosity and appreciate for them,” notes Vicario.

“Legends of Speed” opens November 3 and runs through March 15, 2020. Entrance is included with general admission tickets. For more information, visit


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