One of Los Angeles' hidden treasures is the Petersen Automotive Museum. Unlike many of its kind, this museum is privately owned and built out of sheer fascination for everything automotive. Robert E. Petersen was the founder of Hot Rod and Motor Trend magazines and publisher of automotive books. Together with his wife, Margie, he dreamed of putting up a museum to share the rich and exciting breakthroughs in the automotive industry.
In June 11, 1994, shelling out $15 million dollars, this dream was realized and the Petersen Automotive Museum was opened to the public. The site was an historic 1960's department store on Museum Row along Los Angeles' Miracle Mile. A few years after, the couple donated an additional $24.8 million and made it an independent, non-profit foundation, called the Petersen Automotive Museum Foundation.
The lifelong dream was not complete until the Petersen Automotive Museum could permanently call its 300,000 sq. ft. facility home. Early in 2011, the Petersens finally acquired the property through the Margie & Robert E. Petersen Foundation, with the help of $100 million donation from the Margie and Robert E. Petersen Foundation and Margie's own pocket. The amount consisted of cash as well as vehicles from the Petersens' collection.
A Guided Tour
The first floor of the museum is dedicated to the beginnings of the automobile in the US as early as 100 years ago. Called The Streetscape, you will find life-size dioramas showing actual scenes in Southern California in the 1900s. More than 30 displays detail how cars changed the economic landscape of America from gasoline stations, bakeries with delivery service, and supermarkets. Be awed by realistic replicas of vintage cars, and at the end of the tour watch an actual automobile designer at work.
Star Cars and Cars of the Stars
The second floor is divided into several areas. One of the most exciting exhibits feature famous cars that appeared in Hollywood, be they movies or music videos. Some vehicles of note are the Mach 5 of Speed Racer, the Batmobile, Black Beauty, Green Hornet's weapon-laden Chrysler Imperial Crown and The Great Race's Hannibal 8. Speaking of Hollywood, also expect to see celebrities' taste when it came to cars and how far they went in extravagance. A 1939 Delahaye formerly owned by Sir Elton John is on display, as well as a 1941 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe once owned by the late Clark Gable.
Racecars, Hotrods, and Hotwheels
You can almost hear the roaring engines and screaming crowds as you get to the section of top-fuel dragsters and custom hotrods. Try to pick out the record holders in the National Hod Rod Association (NHRA), and admire those that have been honored in major car shows like the renowned SEMA.
Hotwheels has a special place in the museum. Here you will find an array of scaled-down vehicles of amazing precision. A video presentation educates audiences on how each Hotwheels car is meticulously assembled by hand, part by part.
When Too Much Is Almost Enough
A crowd favorite, undoubtedly this section makes the trip to Petersen Museum worth every effort. The Supercars Collection showcases some of the most powerful and most expensive cars on the planet. As the museum's highlight, the collection is displayed in the Grand Salon area which allows visitors to get as close as possible to the rare beauties.
Each vehicle steals one's breath, so be sure to allow plenty of time for recovery and further gaping. Of note are the historic Mercedes-Benz 28/95 Targa Florio (1923), Bugatti Type 57C Atlante (1939) and the bizarre triple seater Bizzarrini Manta Concept (1968). And what would a history of supercars be without the more familiar Bugatti Veyron 16/4, Ferrari F40, Ferrari F50, Ford GT-40, Lamborghini Miura, Jaguar XK-220, Porsche 959, and a Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR DTM Racecar?
The Supercars Collection is tangible evidence of man's boundless imagination and, sometimes, madness. Also on display is a rare 1996 Vector M12, a $189,000 creation when Megatech owned Lamborghini and Vector Motors during the 1990s. Megatech was a company owned by Tommy Suharto, the son of former Indonesian strongman Suharto.
Fueling the Future
From history to the future, the Alternative Power section exhibits the important periods of alternative propulsion used in cars from steam engines, turbines, electricity, fuel cells, hybrids, alternative fuels, and the sun.
Art and the Automobile
Having an appreciation for fine automobiles go hand in hand with an appreciation for art. Make sure to view a remarkable collection of car-inspired oil paintings by LA-born Tom Fritz. On the opposite wall, well-respected Southern California photographer Scott Williamson's work is also featured on permanent display.
Updated April 2020
The Petersen Automotive Museum underwent a major renovation in late 2014, we were fortunate to see the 50th-anniversary tribute to the Ford Mustang just before it closed. It reopened in December 2015 with a fresh, modern makeover by Kohn Pedersen Fox after 20 years.
The museum is located at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm, the admission price for adults (18-61) is $16 while children from 4-17 only need to pay $11, senior citizens (62+) pay $14.