The Petersen Automotive Museum — 100-Point Collection

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 05/2012
  • posted in: Great Garages

The 300,000-square-foot Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles features 350 rare and classic cars, trucks and motorcycles. About 15 to 20 vehicles are added every year.

A 501 (c)(3) nonprofit educational foundation, the museum was founded by benefactors Margie and Robert E. Petersen, who, beginning in 1994, the year the museum opened, donated $140 million including the building and a 150-vehicle collection. Petersen founded Hot Rod Magazine, the beginning of the Petersen Publishing empire. He died in 2007, she last year.

“We are not publically funded. Our revenue is generated from holding private events, membership, parking, store sales, admissions and donations,” explains Chris Brown, Information and Marketing manager.

The four-floor Petersen Automotive Museum is dedicated to exploring the automobile and documenting its impact on American life and culture — focusing on Los Angeles.

The first floor features exhibits tracing automotive history, and the second has five rotating galleries with state-of-the-art displays of racecars, classic cars, vintage motorcycles, concept cars, celebrity and movie cars and auto design and technology.

On the third floor, the 6,500-square-foot May Family Discovery Center is an interactive “hands-on” learning center designed to teach children the fundamental functions of a car. On the fourth is a penthouse conference center and the Founder’s Lounge.

Chris recently invited us to the museum and selected five cars that represent the diversity of the collection:

1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Aerodynamic Coupe by Jonckheere — “This exotic ‘Round Door’ Rolls-Royce was delivered new in 1925 with a Hooper Cabriolet body to its first owner, Mrs. Hugh Dillman of Detroit. Apparently, it never left England and was resold when still virtually new to the Raja of Nanpara.

“In about 1934, a subsequent owner sent the car to Jonckheere of Belgium to be fitted with fashionably aerodynamic coachwork with twin sunroofs, round doors, a large fin and a sloping radiator shell.

Once thought to have been owned by the Duke of Windsor, the concours-winning car then passed through the hands of several other owners before being discovered in New Jersey in the early-1950s in near derelict condition.

“Max Obie later acquired the unusual Rolls-Royce, had it painted gold and charged curious individuals a dollar to enter a special enclosure to look at the car. The Phantom I then spent time on the east coast of the United States and in Japan before coming into the possession of the museum in the spring of 2001.”

1939 Bugatti Type 57C by Vanvooren — “Originally owned by Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the prince of Persia and future shah of Iran, this supercharged Bugatti was a gift from the French government on his first wedding. The dramatic body was constructed by Vanvooren of Paris in the style of Figoni & Falaschi, one of the most progressive coachbuilders of the day.

“Advanced features are the fully skirted fenders, a top that conceals beneath a metal panel when down, and a windshield that can be lowered into the cowl by means of a hand crank mounted under the dashboard. In 1959, the Bugatti was sold out of the shah’s garage for approximately $275,000. It was subsequently owned by a succession of Bugatti enthusiasts but was never publicly shown until a complete restoration was finished in 1983.”

1956 Jaguar XKSS — “Formerly owned by Steve McQueen, this XKSS is a road-going version of the successful Jaguar D-Type racing car. It was originally owned by noted Riverside Raceway designer James Edward Peterson and was later sold to TV personality Bill Leyden before being acquired by McQueen.

“One of just 16 built, it was originally white with a red interior. After purchasing the car, he had it repainted a favorite shade of green, polished the Dunlop wheels and had the interior retrimmed in black by renowned upholsterer Tony Nancy. McQueen enjoyed driving the car fast and is reported to have received so many tickets that his driver’s license was almost suspended twice during his first year of ownership. He was a capable mechanic, so he did much of the maintenance work himself.

“Eventually, he came to consider the car too rare and valuable to race and sold it in the early 1970s to famed collector Bill Harrah. However, he later reacquired the XKSS, keeping it until his untimely death from cancer in 1980. It was purchased at auction in 1984 by a local collector who refurbished the low-mileage car and carefully preserved several of its unique features such as the glove box door specially fitted by hot rod artist Von Dutch.”

1989 Batmobile — “This is the car driven by Michael Keaton in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). It’s almost 20 feet long and is based on a 1967 Chevy Impala found in a London junkyard. It’s powered by a 327-cubic-inch V-8 Chevrolet engine mounted low in the frame in order to drop the hood line and enhance the sleek profile. Rolls-Royce jet engine components were used for the hood-mounted intake, and the turbine blades in the nose piece were scavenged from a British Harrier fighter jet. Two Batmobiles, this car and a stand-in, appeared in the movies. Three studio-authorized Batmobiles were later constructed for publicity and promotional use after the film’s release.”

2006 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 — “It’s named after Pierre Veyron, a Bugatti racecar driver of the 1920s and 1930s and is designed to capture the spirit and romance of the cars built by leading French automotive engineer Ettore Bugatti prior to World War II. Priced at $1.26 million, it is equipped with a 1,001-horsepower W-16 engine and four turbochargers and can get you from from zero to 60 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 253 miles per hour, making it the fastest production car of all time.

“This car was the second one sold to the public and was the show car for the LA and Geneva auto shows. Petersen purchased it at the LA Auto Show but didn’t take delivery until after Geneva. Clearly, it’s one of the most exotic cars ever built to drive — and just to look at.”

For information about the Petersen Automotive Museum, 6060 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax), call 323.930.CARS or visit the Museum’s Web site,

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