The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) is opening its doors to an exhibition on the car – sponsored by a company fined over the diesel emissions scandal.
Auto parts and technology company Bosch was fined 90 million euros (£77 million) over the Volkswagen controversy earlier this year.
Cars: Accelerating The Modern World is a spectacular exhibition on the automobile, more than 130 years since its invention.
It shows how the car has “shaped our landscape”, featuring many models that have not been on display in the UK before.
Highlights include the first production car and an “autonomous flying car”.
Speaking before the “groundbreaking” exhibition opens on Saturday, V&A director Tristram Hunt defended the show’s sponsorship by the Bosch Group.
“Their interest in sustainable futures for motoring is why we’re interested in partnering with them around this,” he told the PA news agency.
He added: “We’re very grateful to Bosch for their support.”
The exhibition opens as the issue of museum sponsorship is in the spotlight, with the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Galleries Scotland cutting ties with BP.
As well as showcasing 15 cars, objects include a dummy of a human, evolved to withstand car accidents, complete with numerous nipples on his chest to act as “a kind of airbag”.
The exhibition examines how the car transformed the world’s lust for oil and how oil has fuelled conflict.
It also shows objects from The Dodge La Femme, a car designed specifically for women – by men – in 1955 – light pink and with its own make-up set.
There are also displays about Ford’s construction of the first moving assembly line, which transformed manufacturing, and robots overtaking human labour.
A pop-up concept car imagines a driverless, flying future, complete with electric engine.
Mr Hunt said the “groundbreaking exhibition” comes as the world “faces up to the challenge of climate crisis”.
The museum was “delighted, to the horror of purists and confusion of petrol heads, to welcome the car into the museum of Raphael, Julia Margaret Cameron and Turner”, he added.
He told PA: “It would be curious not to have an exhibition on one of the most important design objects of the 20th and 21st centuries, but you’d want to have it framed in the context of the current climate.”
The VW Group was found in September 2015 to have cheated air pollution tests for 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide, including 1.2 million in the UK.
An estimated 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK are caused by air pollution, which is linked to health problems such as childhood illnesses, heart disease and dementia.
A V&A spokeswoman said: “Bosch is at the forefront of innovation, with a focus on delivering sustainable solutions for the mobility of the future.
“The V&A’s Cars exhibition both celebrates the legacy and tackles the difficult questions about the automobile, including its impact on innovation, manufacturing and the environment.
“Corporate support and sponsorship is vital to deliver the V&A’s world-class free and paid-for activities, which both educate and are enjoyed by millions of visitors each year.”
Cars: Accelerating The Modern World runs from November 23 2019 to April 19 2020.