The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles is a much-celebrated place. It claims to be at the epicenter of the US car culture due to its location in southern California. On the one hand, it is hard to argue that, given the sheer number of vehicles on the road in and around SoCal. Even getting to the museum on the weekend via I-5 and I-10 was a disaster. Six lanes each way choked with traffic for miles. On the other hand, this is probably the worst place to have a cool car. I passed many convertibles hastily putting up their hydraulically and electrically operated tops so as not to be sucking smog. I passed Bentleys at 12 MPH, and a neon green Lambo, and an Ariel Atom at 20 MPH. I found myself feeling sorry for these guys! This is a good place to have a Rolls Royce and a chauffeur. Or a motorcycle. Every time I visit California, I wonder why all states don’t allow lane splitting (or filtering as the British call it). I watched with envy as sportbikes and scooters moved along as we sat motionless or we crawled along at 10 MPH. I eventually got off and made my way over to the museum.
As one might expect, the museum has a heavy emphasis on the Hot Rod culture from the postwar to today. I lost count of how many ‘32 Fords were present, but it was quite a few. Bruce Meyer, Chip Foose, George Barris, and Boyd Coddington are all well represented, and the spartan elegance of some of them was impressive. There were also a lot of ex-Steve McQueen vehicles and memorabilia. His 1927 Indian, his Jaguar XKSS, his Winton, his V8 VW bug, to name a few. However, what makes the museum impressive is the way it is broken up into smaller areas which each possess a theme or tell a story. The alternative fuels section once again outlined how long we have been dabbling in other forms of motivation for cars and trucks. I was surprised by a couple of 70s and 80s attempts that I knew nothing about. A stretched Chevy Vega steam car ??!! My brother had a Chevy Vega, and it also produced steam due to the engine design !! There were a couple of exquisite low riders on display, and in the vintage gas station area it was interesting to see how the pumps have evolved. The Indy 500 area documented all of the winners through the 1980s of that race, and I was surprised by how involved McLaren was in that race at one time. There was a great example of an Austin 7, around the corner from a 1959 Cadillac. Talk about David and Goliath!
The motorcycle area was small, but excellent. They have clearly gathered interesting bikes rather than just examples of popular collector items. A 1904 FN with beautiful craftsmanship on the engine, a 1955 Matchless, a Jawa dirt tracker, a Gurney Alligator, There were also some interesting vehicles that did not make it like the 1947 Jordan motorcycle, and the 1947 Gregory compact car. I guess 1947 was a tough year for alternative ideas. In fact, there was a whole section entitled “What were they thinking” which was pretty interesting. Last but not least, a museum in this location has to have movie cars, and the Petersen had cars from the great race, the gumball rally, Herbie the love bug, Speed Racer, and the Green Hornet. I’ll take the Mercedes 300SL and the Ferrari Daytona from the Gumball Rally, thank you.