Tour the Petersen Museum: LA's premier automotive 'time machine'

Will Kinton

If you have even a passing interest in cars, the newly revamped Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. Having recently undergone a $90 million dollar renovation, the Petersen reopened in December 2015 with a polarizing new exterior that invokes the work of Frank Gehry. The interior was redesigned to allow for easily rotating exhibits to keep the museum fresh and to allow for optimum lighting of the cars on display.

Inside the Petersen Automotive Museum

1925 "Round-Door" Rolls Royce Phantom

When you walk inside, you're immediately greeted by a black behemoth of a car, a 1925 "Round-Door" Rolls Royce Phantom coach built by Jonckheere Carrossiers of Belgium. The Rolls completely overshadows the rest of the lobby's spectacular occupants: a Bugatti Veyron, a 1950s Ferrari, Toyota 2000GT, McLaren P1 Hypercar finished in bare carbon fiber, and a Land Rover Defender from "SPECTRE," the latest Bond Flick.

Once you pay your modest $12 entry fee, the Petersen museum staff recommends you start on the third floor and work your way down. Taking the elevator up, you are dropped off next to a Steve McQueen's 1956 Jaguar XKSS, which was his favorite of all of his cars. The video playing on the screen behind the Jag asks the question, "What do you love about your car?" From there you move to some of the earliest cars made, like a 1886 Benz Motorvagen, or a 1913 Mercer Raceabout, one of the first sports cars.

Steve McQueen's 1956 Jaguar XKSS

Also on the third floor is an exhibit about movie cars, with icons like the Batmobile from the Tim Burtan "Batman" movie, Dom's off-road Charger from "Furious 7," and the Aston Martin DB10 and Jaguar CX-75 from "SPECTRE." There is also an exhibit on the unique car culture of Southern California, with cars such as a Chevy Bel-Air, a Model T, and an International Scout.

Moving down to the second floor, you are greeted by a bright Orange McLaren Can-Am race car and a collection of motorcycles. Just past the McLaren is a room of more racecars, with four famous Porsche endurance racers taking the center stage. Several other racers like the Alfa Romeo Guilia TZ and Lancia D24R make up the rest of the room.

The Porsche lineup

Across the hall from the racecars is the "Precious Metal" gallery. The cars in this gallery have only two things in common: their silver paint job and their incredibly high price tag. From a semi-modern McLaren F1 to a Ferrari 625/250n Testarossa, the cars in this exhibit are both beautiful and rare.

McClaren F1

The Precious Metal gallery flows into a gallery for modified cars. Two hot-rods are lifted up on jacks so you can see under them. Ken Block's Ford Fiesta World Rallycross car sits on display, with the famous Gymkahana stunt-driving video playing behind it. Boyd Coddington's incredible "Cadzilla" hot rod also shares the gallery. On the wall is a handy Hot Rod and Custom's spotter's guide that helps you identify what particular style a car may fall into.

Fast lane: A Petersen Museum photo gallery

Beyond the hot rods lies an exhibit on alternative fuels and power sources. A new Toyota Mirai and the chassis of a Tesla Model S complement alternatively fueled vehicles like a pre-war Fiat that ran on compressed gas.

As you walk around the corner, a 1967 Ford GT40 Mark III sits nose to nose with it's modern successor, a 2017 Ford GT. Both of these cars are road cars based on racecars, and it is interesting to see the similarities and differences between these two cars that span 50 years. The second floor finishes off with automotive concept studios for aspiring car designers, and an exhibit involving Pixar's "Cars" where kids can design, build and race their own cars.

Making your way down the spiral stairs to the first floor, you find yourself in a gallery aptly named "Rolling Sculpture." The room is filled with some of the most beautiful specimens that highlight a period when a car's design was it's biggest selling point.

Bugatti 57SC Atlantic

The gallery features a variety of these cars such as an ultra-rare Bugatti 57SC Atlantic, Voisin Type C37 Roadster, a Delahaye 135, and a giant Mercedes-Benz 540L Autobahnkurier. Around the corner from "Rolling Sculpture" is an exhibit dedicated to BMW Art Cars, featuring the famous 3.0 CSL "Batmobile" racecar with a paintjob by Alexander Calder.

The Petersen is not just a museum for enthusiasts; there's something for everyone. The automobile has become such an integral part of our lives that most could find something to gawk over. Travis Dennis, another attendee of the museum the day we attended, said, "The museum feels like a time machine. Anybody would enjoy seeing rare cars like that in perfect condition. It's basically art."

We would have to agree.

About the writer: Will Kinton thinks life is too short to drive boring cars, and enjoys sharing his passion for them. For more, follow him on Twitter: @willkinton2

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