The Petersen Automotive Collection Combines History With Elegance

Southern California’s sun-drenched landscape is infused with bustling nightlife and filled with plenty of glitz and glamour; this visualization is what inspires many vacationers to pack their bags and head west for a Los Angeles getaway. But beyond the typical tourist traps like Disneyland and extravagant shopping sprees in and around Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles is actually a gold mine for those looking to satisfy their automotive cravings. Just a quick drive outside of the sprawling Hollywood lights lies the Petersen Automotive Museum, one of the world’s largest automotive museums.

There are few places in the world where you can get up close and personal with some of the most historic cars ever crafted. The Petersen Automotive Museum features over 100 years of automotive history through 25 interactive exhibits, and offers visitors one of the most unique car collections of any museum in the United States. Earlier this year we had the opportunity to tour some of its vast exhibits before they were switched around.

The museum takes its responsibility to the car community seriously by representing the various automotive brands, and recounting the tales of the automotive industry’s past and present with its ever-evolving car collections. In celebration of Porsche’s 70th anniversary, the museum had recently unveiled its newest exhibit entitled ‘Porsche Effect’; the exhibit consisted of 50 racing and road cars, such as the 939 Type 64 Berlin-Rome race car, ’64 901, and ’55 550 Spyder. We’re told this was the most comprehensive historic Porsche collection ever assembled outside Germany.

As I walked through the entrance doors into the main lobby, I was immediately greeted by a powerful pairing of two iconic vehicles, a ’97 Porsche 911 GT1 and 911 GT1 Strassenversion. The red and white machine competed back in ’97 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is credited with 21 podium finishes with eight overall wins over its race career.

The 911 Strassenversion was designed as a street version model and was produced for racing homologation combining both the 911 and 962 race car designs. The engine was detuned from the race model, it wears carbon fiber body panels, and features a full interior to create a more civilized driver for the streets.

The 904 Carrera GTS was Porsche’s first fiberglass car and first to feature a ladder-type chassis design.

The ’60s era was dominated by the Porsche 910 supercar as it took a 1-2-3-4 podium finish in the Nürburgring back in ’67. Their dominance gave Porsche their third consecutive win in the World Sportscar Championship event that year.

Nicknamed the Can-Am Killer, this 917/30 is one of six built by Porsche and Penske Racing which clocked an impressive 221.120 mph at the Talladega Speedway in ’75. This 1,500-horsepower, turbocharged 5.4-liter flat-12-powered machine won all but two races in the Can-Am series before being forced to retire in ’74 due to sanctioning rules.

Documented as the only survivor in existence, this ’51 Sauter 356 roadster was designed with reverse-hinged doors for Le Mans-style racing which gave the driver and car a split-second advantage when jumping into the cockpit.

The ’15 918 Spyder hybrid is a great example of present day Porsche engineering. The 918 is propelled by an 887-horse gas/electric powerplant with a top speed of 211 mph, and it was the first production car to lap the Nürburgring in under seven minutes.

The Petersen is divided into three levels with the top level known as the History Floor. A quick ride in the elevators time-warped us to an era of cars from the early 1900s, mixed in with some classic Hollywood icons.

This 1900 Smith Runabout is the oldest surviving gasoline-powered vehicle built in Los Angeles.

Motorcycles are also part of the Petersen’s exhibits, including this ’12 Indian Single formerly owned by Steve McQueen.

The 1904/05 FN was the world’s first mass-produced motorcycle with four cylinders.

The Hollywood Gallery is comprised of many iconic film vehicles. I grew up watching many of these cars on TV and on the big screen, including the infamous ’58 Plymouth Fury known as Christine. To this day, this car still creeps me out!

Herbie from the movie Fully Loaded back in ’05 as it competed as a NASCAR contender.

The ’66 Ford Thunderbird launched off the canyon cliffs in Thelma and Louise.

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious ****.” Dr. Emmett Brown, Back to the Future circa 1989.

I always thought the Batpod used in the movie Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises was the coolest thing. But nothing compares to the Batmobile!

Gary Davis built this ’48 Davis Divan post-WWII using aircraft as his inspiration. Only 16 were built before production was suspended due to finance and management issues.

On the second level—the Industry Floor—the showcase features various automotive design and technology concepts, including modified vehicles.

Back in the day, auto manufacturers weren’t afraid to push the limits, designing vehicles like this ’55 Mercury D-528 concept car. The D-528 featured bulged rear fenders to conceal spare tires. The concept was revolutionary at the time, but unfortunately this particular model never made it into production.

Another vehicle that never saw production due to manufacturing costs was the ’53 Dodge Storm Z-250. Built on a tube-frame chassis, the vehicle was intended to be dual-purpose. The shell was easily removed by unscrewing four bolts, then replaced with a lightweight fiberglass body for racing.

The Petersen Museum teamed up with Disney to host the Cars Mechanical Institute. The idea was to create a breeding ground for the next generation of thinkers and shakers in the automotive industry. The clever minds behind the program designed it to teach the fundamentals of automotive engineering to the youth minds in a fun and exciting way.

Bragging rights of the world’s fastest Jaguar belongs to this XJ220 as it topped 217.1 mph at Italy’s Nardo Ring.

The ’14 Galt built by a Canadian company wasn’t the first hybrid vehicle. This vehicle is only one of two ever built and appeared 13 years after Ferdinand Porsche developed the world’s first hybrid, the Semper Vivus.

Interested in what the underpinnings of a Tesla S looks like? Well, here you have it.

A hall dedicated to Hot Rods and Kustoms provided an extensive collection of muscle cars ranging from Ford Roadsters to the infamous Boydster, donated to the museum by the late Boyd Coddington.

Founded by Enzo Ferrari in ’47, the Italian powerhouse celebrated 70 years as the Petersen group pulled numerous vehicles from around the world to display.

Displayed inside a special room sat various Ferrari models, all uniformed in Rosso Corsa (Racing Red).

The ’47 125 S was the first ever Ferrari equipped with the now-legendary V12 engine.

Emblazoned with the famous number 24, this ’63 250 GTO dominated the European racing circuit, winning the FIA GT World Championship from ’62 to ’64. Only 39 GTOs were produced, which makes the 250 GTO the most desirable collector car in the world today. One sold for $80 million recently, making it the most expensive car ever sold at auction.

We returned back to the main floor, which housed a stellar collection of Porsche vehicles of past and present.

There aren’t too many places in the world where you’ll find a Porsche Continental. Porsche was forced to rebadge the Continental when Ford informed them that they already trademarked its name. As a result, only a few Continentals were produced as the name was eventually changed back to 356.

The Type 912 flat-12 engine built for the 917 during the ’69 race season and generated up to 650 horsepower in naturally aspirated form. The 5.0 and 5.4-liter turbocharged version engines were developed to produce 1,000 horsepower, with top speeds in excess of 240 mph.

Porsche developed the ’69 917K with improved aerodynamics, which delivered its first of 19 wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Porsche’s first front-engine family car was a one-off 928 based concept dubbed 942. This four-door model was never intended for production but was regarded as the precursor to the modern Panamera.

A descendant of Porsche’s first flat-six engines of the ’60s, the Type 935/76 powered the famous 935 “Moby Dick” race car of 1978. This twin-turbocharged quad-cam engine was used in the later model 956 race cars that propelled them to a 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans in their first attempt.

This 956 needs no introduction. It was one of the most successful race cars in history, winning Le Mans four times in a row.

A true testament to the engineering prowess of Porsche, this early-model 959 was converted to an all-wheel-drive setup, and includes a sequential turbocharging system. The result was a 1-2 and sixth-place finish in the 1986 Paris-Dakar Rally.

To preserve traces of its participation in the ’85 Rally, the vehicle remained in its original beat-down condition including the smashed windshield.

My all-time favorite among the hundreds of cars on display would be the ’79 935 K3. Overall winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979, the K3 completed in the Group-5 production class and was considered the ultimate 911-based race car of its era. It was one of the very few production cars to win Le Mans overall.

The 935 K3’s aero might seem a bit overkill for the average enthusiast, but that’s what makes this vehicle such a unique race car.

If you’re traveling to the Los Angeles area or simply passing though, we highly suggest you make an effort to take a few hours of your time and check out the Petersen Museum. You won’t regret it!