1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 Mille Miglia

This was the first of four Alfa Romeos designed by coachbuilder Carrozzeria Touring to compete in the 1938 Mille Miglia. Powered by a twin-cam, supercharged straight-eight engine, it was capable of almost 120 mph, with a rear-mounted 4-speed transaxle and hydraulic brakes. Driven by Carlo Pintacuda and Paride Mambelli (who won in 1937), this car finished 2nd in 1938, behind a similar Alfa driven by Clemente Biondetti with mecahnic Aldo Stefani. Biondetti would win three straight Mille Miglias after WWII. (June 8, 2011)

Developed from the 356 and introduced at the Paris Motor Show in 1953, the 550 proved the old adage "if you want to go fast, go light". The combination of light weight, power and handling often outstripped more powerful cars and it won the Targa Florio in 1956 and finished third overall in the brutal 1954 La Carrera Panamericana, easily winning its class. Sadly the 550 is remembered as the car in which James Dean was killed — on his way to a race.

"Ralph has owned this car since the late 1970s. I think it's the purest of all the Porsche Spyders. It has a modest tubular frame and the body shape is so clean and pure. It weighs 1,200 pounds, has 130 horsepower and it has great performance."

1956/58 Jaguar XKSS

After success at Le Mans in 1955 and 1956, Jaguar developed a road-going version of the D-Type, which was renamed the XKSS. It was aimed at the American market, with a civilized cockpit that would resemble the E-Type but a blunter nose and no wing. Only 16 XKSS's were built between December 1956 and February 1958, when the factory burned down. Two more cars were created from existing D-Type racers in 1958 and this car is one of them, originally being XKD533. Steve McQueen drove an XKSS for several years.

"I love the look of this car in silver, which you never see. The Pebble Beach Concours lined up 16 of the 18 cars last year. They were such great cars, a racing car you could drive on the street every day. I prefer the shorter nose on the XKSS; it looks more purposeful."

1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

The ultimate 1950s Ferrari is an ageless design, which owes its "red head" name to the color of the valve covers. Built by Carrozzeria Scaglietti from a Pinin Farina design, it's characterized by a long hood, pontoon fenders to cool the brakes and its streamlined headrest. The Testa Rossa won Le Mans in 1958, 1960 and 1961 and this car is the 14th of 34 built.

"This is the Count Volpi car. I think it's the only car to win (12 Hours of) Sebring back-to back. Volpi saw it when Ferrari was racing it in 1961. He was only 24 years old, but he had money, so he walked across the track and bought it. He came back and won the next year."

1960 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB

Another Pinin Farina design built by Scaglietti, the Ferrari 250 GT SWB (short wheel base) is considered to be the last great sports racer that you could drive to an event and win. It was available with a steel body and luxury interior or aluminum body, like this one, stripped for racing, with no bumpers and disc brakes. The SWB dominated the Tour de France race from 1960-62 and the GT category of the Le Mans 24 Hours. This car is the 31st of 165 built.

"The 250 SWB symbolizes the grand tourer par excellence. The alloy-bodied competition SWB was the precursor to the GTO but much more user-friendly. You could hop in your car in Milan, drive to Le Mans, win your class and drive home."

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO

Considered to be the ultimate Ferrari, the GTO was designed in secrecy and is one of the most expensive Ferraris, with sales reported around $30 million. It was extremely successful in competition, winning the manufacturer's championship in 1962, '63 and '64, with a top speed of 180 mph. Only 39 GTOs were built and this car is the 21st of 36 Series 1s produced, and won numerous races in the hands of Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez, Roger Penske, Augie Pabst, Richie Ginther and others.

"This is the pinnacle. I had my first opportunity to drive this car in the 1980s. It was brought to Ralph in Montauk. 'What's it like to drive?' I said. 'Here,' he says and throws me the keys. So I'm doing about 100 and I see a speck in the distance. It's a police car and I've got no plates — nothing. They go by, frantically waving hello at me. This car deserves all its accolades."

1964 Ferrari 250 LM

The 250 LM was designed to replace the 250 GTO, as the change to mid-engine design was sweeping through the racing world in the mid-1960s, with the engine directly behind the driver. Never built in enough numbers for GT racing, the LM competed as a prototype and won Le Mans in 1965. This car is the 31st of 32 LMs built and was raced widely in Australia, driven by future Formula One World Champion Jackie Stewart.

"I think this shape is the best-looking Ferrari. It was Ferrari's first mid-engine car and it was very successful. It's one car I just don't fit in. I had a customer who wanted one, but whatever we did with the seat, he just couldn't get into it."

1996 McLaren F1 LM

Five McLarens finished the 1995 Le Mans race and McLaren decided to mark the event with a special prototype. Five LM — for Le Mans — cars were built, weighing 165 pounds less than the road cars, with aerodynamic changes and unmistakable Papaya Orange color, in a nod to Bruce McLaren's Formula One cars. The BMW V-12 produces 691 horsepower.

"The LM is so fast that the central driving position makes you feel like you're piloting a spaceship. It's the top of the heap in technical development and it's not that large an engine. I think this is one of the few cars built in the last decade or so that will be collectible forever. It's already worth $3 million-$5 million."


WHAT: The Art of the Automobile: Masterpieces from the Ralph Lauren Collection

WHERE: The Arts Decoratifs Museums, 107 Rue de Rivoli, 75001, Paris

WHEN: Through August 28. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m Thursdays

ADMISSION: 9 Euros ($13)

SPECIAL TOURS: In-depth tour with experts: 6:30 to 8 p.m. June 9 and 23, July 7, Aug. 25. Reservations: adac@lesartsdecoratifs.fr