Friday, April 20, 2012

The Petersen Automotive Museum features '41 Buicks, Italian masterpieces, and automotive history galore

Last week I was in Southern California test driving some new cars. I really wanted to hit one of the many local car cruises that this area is known for, but there just wasn’t time at night to pursue that. Luckily, I had one more shot to check out some vintage vehicles on my way to the airport when we stopped in at the legendary Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

I’ve wanted to go to the Petersen for a long time. I mean, it was founded by the guy that started Hot Rod Magazine. Any car lover worth his salt should go there at least once or twice in his lifetime. There’s some real automotive history here

Great car museums are as much about the history and culture of the automobile as they are about the cars themselves, and the Petersen is no exception. They have all kinds of little side displays, including an old-fashioned insurance office and a speed shop. But one of the coolest was the 1941 Buick showroom, which contained “brand new” Buicks of various body styles, and mannequins brokering car deals. The fa├žade was even great, with stained glass transoms that featured stylized Buick emblems in their designs. The whole thing looked just like the old period photos that you seem from time-to-time, but there is was, in full color.

One of the revolving exhibits they had while I was there was “Masterpieces of Italian Design.” It was a pretty decent display, with lots of really rare Ferraris, Lancias, and the like. If it had a custom body by Ghia, Bertone, or Pinin Farina, it probably qualified. Heck, Pinin Farina alone had everything from a ’32 Ford, to a Kaiser, to a Cadillac Allante. The best, most interesting one of these in my opinion was the 1954 Ghia-designed Plymouth Explorer that was on display in the lobby. It was typical of the many Ghia Chrysler concepts in the 1950s, which is to say, delicate, detailed, and handsome. It’s always special to see one of them in person.

They also had a huge display of motor scooters, a small selection of modern hot rods, and a couple of Mattel toy car displays. BHo really liked the Pixar Cars die cast displays and the Hot Wheels cars, as he was able to pick out several of them that he has in his collections. And really, everybody loves Hot Wheels cars—am I right?

They also had a big section full of television and movie cars, which you know is something I’m in to if you’d spent any time at this blog at all. They had one of the original Chrysler Imperial “Black Beauties” from the Green Hornet TV show. They had the dream sequence Greased Lightning car from Grease. They had the weird “Hannibal 8” car from the 1965 movie The Great Race. And they had Batman’s 1960s Batcycle, as well as his ‘80s big screen Batmobile.

Other claims to fame included Steve McQueen’s personal ’56 Jaguar XKSS, Fred Astaire’s 1927 Rolls Royce Phantom I Town Car, and a 1976 Stutz d’Italia that was ordered by Elvis, delivered to Evel Eneivel, and later purchased by Wayne Newton. Everywhere you looked there was historic significance or celebrity provenance.

Sitting in the gift shop is Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s “Outlaw,” which is one of the most significant hot rods ever built. Roth was eventually known for his wild, bubble top creations like the Beatnik Bandit, but this was actually his first attempt at building a fiberglass body. Built in 1958 and 1959, the radical Outlaw (originally known as “Excalibur”), was featured in nearly custom car magazine of the day. With its Cadillac power plant and Larry Watson-applied fog paint, the Outlaw still influences the look of hot rods today.

They also had a 1963 Chrysler Turbine Car.  That wouldn't particularly be a big deal in-and-of-itself, but if you are a regular reader here, it carries at least a little bit of significance.  Only 50 Turbines were built, and only nine are still around today.  Of the nine, I have presented pictures of four of them in my museum slideshows right here on this blog.  In addition to the one in Los Angeles, HMC readers have seen bronze Turbine Cars at the St. Louis Transportation Museum, The Henry Ford Museum, and the Walter P. Chrysler Museum.  I just thought that was a neat little factoid.

I could go on and on about all the great cars at the Petersen Museum, but from here on I think I’ll let the photos do the talking. Check out the slideshow below, and if you ever make it to LA, check out the Petersen in person.