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Barcelona Motor Show, 1919-2019: Past and future one-stop shop
STANDING right where his great-granddad King Alfonso XIII did exactly a century ago, Spain's reigning monarch Felipe VI opened Automobile Barcelona yesterday, ready for it to kick off in earnest today (Sunday).
Normally, the huge motor show in Spain's second-largest city is a window onto the future of driving – but for the first time ever, this year's will also allow visitors to step back in time as well as forward. Whilst this is only the 40th Automobile Barcelona, 2019 marks its 100th anniversary and the organisers are determined to get as much mileage out of this big birthday as possible.
Of course, back in 1919, it was rare for the ordinary human to own a car. In fact, even 20 or 30 years later, car ownership was out of reach of the working and much of the middle class, and knowing how to drive was a minority skill and almost exclusively the prerogative of men. But cars were indeed being manufactured and bought by individuals and companies – and you can actually see three original century-old motors in the Road to 100 section of the exhibition complex on Barcelona's Montjuïc mountain.
One hundred years of solitary transport
The Elizalde T48 on display was a classic and tax-exempt long before most of us were born, having first hit the road in 1918, and was followed a year later by the David 4 Cyl and the Ford T. And these are not the only cars at Automobile Barcelona which are older than most people: the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost first 'rolled' out of the factory in 1923, and the Hispano Suiza H6B Binder is 95 years old this year.
Others pre-date World War II – the Mercedes Benz 500K and the Rénault Nerva Sport were launched in the same year as Spain's civil conflict started, and the Cord 812 Cabriolet hit the highway the following year, in 1937. Plus the Buick 76C Roadmaster, registered in 1941, is the same as the one used in the epic film Pearl Harbour, whilst the Willys MB was also born during wartime, in 1943.
From the 1950s, check out the Pegaso Z-102 Rabassada and the Cadillac El Dorado Convertible, and action cinema fans will be queuing up for a selfie next to the 1964 Aston Martin DB5 from the James Bond films.
Electric cars may seem to be the last word in pollution-free motoring and a daunting new concept (for those worried about finding battery chargers in time), but the Fervelectric at the Road to 100 exhibition was actually registered in 1967 – before the Seat 1500 (1970), the Maserati México (1971) and the BMW M1 (1979).
The Fervelectric was not a one-off, either: the Seat Toledo Olímpico, from 1991, ran on this type of green fuel, but is perhaps lesser-known than the two on display which will delight children of the 1980s – the Ferrari Testarrosa and the Porsche 911 Carrera Cabrio.
As the display showcases a full 100 years of motoring, more modern cars rub shoulders with that iconic Elizalde, David 4 Cyl and Ford T: the Jaguar XKR (1996), the BMW Z8 (1999), the Bentley Continental GT (2003), the Guzzi 65, the Montesa Impala – and, given that four wheels aren't always necessary to cover ground safely and quickly, the final showpiece and one of the stars is the Sherpa 350, one of the six Bultaco motorbikes that conquered the Himalayas.
All of these have featured at Automobile Barcelona, and can be found in Hall 7.
Step into yesterday
As if the century's worth of cars on show wasn't time-travel enough, you can now actually dive into scenes from history and experience them as they were back then.
Back to the Future fans will be in their element as they plunge into a 30-minute time capsule where they can walk the streets of Barcelona from 100 years ago to the present, check out the cars on the road each decade of the last century, visit Automobile Barcelona shows that took place before you were born, and take a sneaky peek into the motoring of tomorrow. The 3D display, complete with holograms, surround sound and contemporary music to give you a real feel for life on the street from 1919 onwards, the Espectáculo Imersivo del Centenario (which roughly translates as 'Immersive Centenary Show') is open today (Sunday) and from May 17-19 inclusive, running from 10.00 to 17.00.
It's not all old hat, though. Shifting forward to the present day, a visit to the Motorshow section means you can get plenty of inspiration for next time you decide (or need) to change your car: with 45 makes on show, a hike of 50% on the 2017 edition, a wander round the exhibition centre beats trailing around forecourt after forecourt; instead, you can do your homework under one roof.
Check out electric and hybrid cars, prototypes of self-drive cars, stands on car-sharing, in-car internet and car-buying guides, and tour the latest sets of wheels to grace the roads.
You'll also find plenty of ready-to-release makes and models that you probably wouldn't be considering buying for the daily commute and grocery shopping, but which are fabulous just to look at – among the typical Volvos, Volkswagens, Fords, Fiats, Dacias, Citroëns, Seats, Nissans and the like, quite a number of Maserati, Lotus, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche will be in pride of place for you to fantasise about.
Cars might fly
Get on the upwardly-mobile freeway and leave all that nostalgia behind in the third section of this fascinating petrolheads' paradise – the Connected Street pod, where you can see how the future is panning out on the road ahead. Six 'levels' of driving with the least possible effort slope skywards in front of you, although the first one – Level 0, 'No Automation', is a bit of a cheat, really, because that's what we've already got and had for the last 100 years. Level 1, 'Driver Assistance', is already a 'thing' in some of the most recent models, with everything from reverse-parking and interactive mirrors to speed-limit control, and it gradually rises from there. By Level 3 you've got road-sign recognition technology; by Level 4 you're into 'High Automation' and part-time self-driving vehicles, and by Level 5 it starts to get a bit space-agey: the PAL-V can be converted into a helicopter at the touch of a button and literally take off.
In truth, it does seem odd that with the speed at which technology has advanced to date in all other areas, we still don't have flying cars, but from what you'll be able to see at Barcelona Automobile, it seems they are not so far ahead as it looks at the moment. Imagine a future with private vehicles running on renewable, pollution-free energy sources, able to be programmed and controlled without driver intervention, and to fly: we might one day have a planet where we only breathe healthy air, where roads are dug up and carpeted in grass, and deaths in car crashes sound dark, archaic and mysterious.
Barcelona Motor Show runs until next Sunday, May 19 inclusive, and you can buy your tickets online from Automobilebarcelona.com, which can be viewed in Spanish, Catalán or English.
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