Before the automobile, it was the horse, and for millennia life moved at a pace no faster than a gallop. With the arrival of the car the 20th century accelerated human development rapidly, shaped our cities, suburbs, economies, and cultures, as one of the most significant symbols of modern society. And just like that, the automobile’s mark on history is diminishing - the car is no longer a major feature of urban fantasists envisioning future human habitats with alternative transport ideas.
The world is going car-free, or at least fossil-fuel-car-free, with the European Union already announcing a ban on conventional combustion engined vehicles by 2035, and many cities around the globe banning cars in urban centres outright. Our transport revolution is having a positive effect on classic cars however, now considered as some of the most valuable investments by the world’s biggest collectors. Earlier this summer, a 1955 Mercedes-Benz SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé sold for more than $140 million, and cars have transcended their once utilitarian purpose to become pure objects of art.
“This is because cars have become a symbol of status and taste, an expression of personality, a proud marker of the nation’s growth, a unifying vehicle of culture and innovation, and a common thread between diverse populations and cultures,” says Alkindi Al Jawabra, Qatar Auto Museum Director.
The crossroads we found ourselves at between a world dominated by the fossil-fuel burning cars and a future of AI and driverless technologies makes the timing perfect for a new car culture hub in the region - just such a place has already been dreamed up with a scheduled opening in 2026 of the Qatar Auto Museum located in the old Doha Exhibition Centre.
“In Qatar, like anywhere else in the world, the arrival of the automobile has transformed life and culture,” says Al Jawabra. “This can be seen in almost all aspects of life. For example, the urban planning of the cities and towns had to be developed with the introduction of new infrastructures, streets, building typologies. This encouraged families to leave the crowded city centres and move to the countryside especially as it became very easy to commute between the two areas. So, we can say the automobile has influenced both the built environment of the country and the social structure. Even more, if you look at automobile advertisements in newspapers in the 1970s and 1980s you can see the influence cars had on graphic design and visual culture.”
Before the museum opens in 2026, a current exhibition is on view until January 20th, 2023, at Mawater Gallery in the National Museum of Qatar displaying several spectacular cars, including unique and ultra-collectible models such as the aqua blue Delahaye 175-S Roadster that’s considered to be a masterpiece of Art Deco design, with a body handcrafted by the masters of the Parisian coach builder Saoutchik in 1949. Other highlights include the legendary 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO, one of the most valuable cars in the world, as well as a 1939 Pontiac Plexiglass Deluxe Six known as the “Ghost Car” because of its transparent body, first displayed at the New York World Fair’s “Futurama” exhibition.
“Right now, we also have an installation in front of Al Zubarah Fort and Barzan Towers heritage site,” adds Al Jawabra. “Cars on display include the Volkswagen Race Touareg 3 that the Qatari rally champion Nasser Al-Attiyah drove when he won the Dakar Rally for the first time in 2011, and the 1990 Ford Bronco driven by Qatari rally driver Saeed Al-Hajri, one of the founding figures of motorsport in Qatar and the Arab world.”
Celebrating the automobile’s impact on modern history, Qatar Auto Museum will become a major landmark in the country, with a design led by Pritzker Architecture Prize winning architect Rem Koolhaas who is known for the Qatar National Library and the headquarters building for Qatar Foundation. Koolhaas’ connection to Qatar goes back fifteen years when he first began working in the country, and in 2019 he curated the “Making Doha 1950-2030” exhibition at the National Museum in Qatar. His firm, OMA, previously worked with car giants such as Volkswagen and BMW, and it helps that Koolhaas himself is a passionate car enthusiast.
“Developing the design of Qatar Auto Museum with Rem Koolhaas means creating a new landmark in the country, an addition to Qatar’s portfolio of unique architecture, and placing our museum on the global map of future looking institutions,” says Al Jawabra.
It’s comforting to know that one of the most symbolic artefacts of the past century-and-a-half, the automobile, will not just be discarded one imminent day as a redundant old technology, but will instead have preservationists and collectors looking after them for a long time to come.