I’ll kick off the post with what I wore, with photos and information about the museum after.
The Petersen Automotive Museum was founded in 1994 by Robert E. Petersen, publisher of Rod & Custom, Car Craft, MotorTrend and more. Alongside his wife, the couple collected cars, and the Petersen became the place for to see amazing cars, as well as learn about automotive history and innovation.
Originally a department store, the Petersen underwent a massive, multi-million dollar remodel in 2015, and got quite the different exterior, designed by Frank Gehry, which despite being hated by many in the area, has won awards. I can say I’m not a fan, and liked the original exterior much more. But let’s get down to what is inside, which is what really matters.
The Petersen is not just a place to look at classic and rare cars, but also a place to learn about the history of the automobile. Above is a replica of the 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen, which is regarded as the first practical self-propelled vehicle. It had a top speed of ten miles per hour, and less than one horsepower!
One of the biggest draws to the Petersen is its collection of movie vehicles.
I loved seeing one of the Plymouth Furys that was used in the 1983 film adaptation of Stephen King’s book Christine. Not only do I love the film, but 1958 Furys are one of my favorite cars, as they have amazing fins. All together there were 24 Furys that were acquired for the film, this one was a stunt car, and originally slated to be crushed, but was saved by Martin Sanchez, who used parts off of the other Christines to restore this one.
In Baz Luhrmann’s version of the The Great Gatsby, he famously took a lot of creative license with the music and clothing, but he also did so with Gatsby’s car. In the book, Gatsby is described as driving a 1922 Rolls-Royce, but Luhrmann loved the look of an early 30s Duesenbergs. He opted for a 1984 reproduction of the Model SJ, which was cheaper, more reliable, and much easier to maintain during filming.
My favorite vehicle to see in person was the Bat-Cycle used in the 1960s Batman series, and film,
Dan Gurney is a legend in the world of auto racing, and one unique piece of history that is housed in the Petersen is this champagne bottle.
After winning La Mans in 1967, Gurney was handed this bottle of champagne, and kicked off a tradition that continues to this day in all forms of auto racing, by shaking it and spraying those around him to celebrate his victory.
For an additional admission charge, visitors can also take a guided tour of The Vault, located beneath the museum, where many other vehicles are stored, some of which they say may never be shown publicly. We opted for this additional tour, and while it was amazing, and I highly recommend it, I was crushed because you were not allowed to take pictures! Some of the highlights were Grease‘s Grease Lighting (the end of the film version), Black Beauty from the original Green Lantern television series, a Lincoln once owned by Jayne Mansfield, The Outlaw, built by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the last car Bobby Kennedy ever rode in, and Preston Tucker’s personal Tucker, among many other unique cars.
One car that I know calls the Petersen home, but was not on display (on the regular museum floors or in the Vault), despite having a booklet for it on display was The Dale. And I was kind of bummed not to see it.
February 2022 Update: The Dale is on display! See it here!
The Dale is one of those bizarre anomalies in automotive history. In the mid-1970s America was in the crux of a pretty terrible oil crisis. Massively long lines at the pump, and laws that made you allowed to get gas only on certain days based on your license plate made America prime for a miracle car like the Dale. Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael, known as Liz, a robust, dominating figure of a woman, standing at 6 foot 2 inches and over 200 pounds created Twentieth Century Motor Car Company. With an office in Encino, California, several employees, she claimed her three-wheel, two seat sports car would sell for under $2,000, weigh under 1,000 pounds, and get an astonishing 70 miles to the gallon. Quickly she had amassed over $30 million, rented a hanger at the Burbank Airport for manufacturing, and had three prototypes. She gained national attention, and her personal story made her all the more likable. A farmer’s daughter, Liz said she built her first car at age 18, earned a mechanical engineering degree from Ohio State University, and was now a widow of a NASA engineer and raising five children as a single mom. Liz even convinced the game show The Price is Right to offer the car as a prize on an episode. After the murder of one of Twentieth Century’s salesmen, the company got even more attention, and soon investigators found out the prototypes were not much more than a fiberglass body with a generator engine, doors put on with house door hinges, and pieces of wood. Twentieth Century Motor Car Company was ordered by the California Superior Court to produce a working model, and that is when Liz fled. When police arrived at her home they found wigs, padded girdles and other items that indicated that Liz, to at least the officers, was a man, and Liz’s fingerprints matched that of a man named Jerry Dean Michael, a known counterfeiter who had been on the run from the FBI since 1961. Liz was in fact a transgender woman, who had been undergoing hormonal treatment and surgeries to become a woman. Returning to see her children, Liz was arrested and then in 1977 went on trail, and after being found guilty of multiple counts of grand theft, fraud and conspiracy and posting a $50,000 bail, she disappeared. It wasn’t until a 1989 episode of Unsolved Mysteries aired that she was found. A viewer recognized Liz as a woman who had a flower business, and was arrested. The tale is one prime for a film, and I hope the Petersen puts their Dale on full display if and when that happens.
The Petersen Automotive Museum is located at 6060 Wilshire. For further information, please visit the Petersen’s website.