A Perfect Car for the Road in Los Angeles

This weekend, a number of museums opened up for Covid-weary Angelenos, among whom are Martine and me. First we ate—indoors—at Du-Par’s Restaurant at the Original Farmers’ Market at 3rd and Fairfax. Then we breezed down Fairfax to the Petersen Automotive Museum at the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire.

Unfortunately, the current exhibits were more oriented toward the bearded and tattooed grundgerati. The museum’s former emphasis on the history of the automobile has been replaced by racing cars, including Maseratis, Lamborghinis, and others. In addition, there were a number of fantasy cars such as the monster above, which was designed for some movie which I likely never saw.

A Lamborghini Racing Car for the Cash-Non-Challenged

Still and all, it was nice to go eat out at a restaurant and visit a museum—quite a change from the previous twelve months. The Petersen was packed to overflowing with visitors who had no idea what social distancing was and why it is still essential. On the plus side, the wearing of masks was de rigeur.

Finally, here is a peak of the dashboard of the original Back to the Future car:

Dash and Front Seat of the Original Back to the Future Car

The New Petersen

The Redesigned Petersen Automotive Museum

The Redesigned Petersen Automotive Museum

The new look takes some getting used to, but it seems to be an astonishing success. Martine and I have visited the Petersen Automotive Museum about once every year. Never did we see such a crowd as we saw today. We had to park on the second floor of the parking structure, for the first time ever.

I always liked the old Petersen, but it had grown a bit tatty over the years. Now both the inside and outside are all new. One starts with the historical exhibits on the third floor, comes down to see the industry exhibits on the second floor, and finally returns to the ground floor to see exhibits of the classic automobile as a fine art form, including cars painted by David Hockney and Alexander Calder.

Insofar as I know, Southern California now has three world class auto museums:

  • The Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard’s Museum Row
  • The Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar in the San Fernando Valley, a free museum that charges no admission and is easily as extensive as the Petersen
  • The Murphy Auto Museum in Oxnard, which Martine and I have not visited yet (but hope to see next monh after tax season)

Since L.A. is a city made possible by the automobile, it makes sense to study the phenomenon here.

Where the old Petersen thematically separated their vehicles in mutually exclusive areas, the new layout intermixes such items as famous cars used in movies, old horseless carriages, motorcycles, and one-of-a-kind fantasy cars so that one doesn’t just skip around. It is possible to see the same technological and design ideas cross-fertilizing the different kinds of vehicles on the road.

It is quite evident that the Petersen got a large influx of money (some $90 million I understand). The new chairman, Peter Mullin, has run his own auto museum in Oxnard, which may have merged with the Petersen.