Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
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Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
Petersen Automotive Museum ... special display dedicated to the life of Phil Hill
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Los Angeles, December 2011

During our visit to Los Angeles in October we took the opportunity to visit several museums in the area, two of them we reported earlier on. Last but not least we take a look at the Petersen Automotive Museum that is located directly in Los Angeles on the famous Wilshire Boulevard about half way from downtown LA to Santa Monica.

The Museum was founded by Margie and Robert E. Petersen in 1994 not just as a place for their personal collection but also as an education centre for all things automotive with a focus on the local history, so it is not a surprise that it started as part of the Los Angeles Country Natural History Museum. Robert E. Petersen was very well known in the American car scene being the founder of the Hot Rod Magazine and several other motor related publications.

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With further donations over the years the Museum became an independent non-profit foundation that was guided by Petersen until he passed away in 2007, his legacy was retained by his widow. Unfortunately Margie Peterson followed her husband just a few weeks ago in November but not before securing the museums future by another big donation that includes the museums building and parts of the private car collection making sure that the foundation can fulfil its educational mandate as intended in the years to come.

The layout of the museum is very different from many other museums as it does not try to show the biggest possible number of cars lined up on a given space but to show cars of different eras in a contemporary diorama. This room consuming layout shows the development of the motor car over the decades and its influence on the culture in the city, especially in Southern California.

The journey starts in the beginning 20th century when many people started to motorize their carriage, either with small combustion engines or steam. With the following years the automotive manufacture became an important sector of the American industry but the infrastructure was very different from today. The horseless carriage had to share the unpaved roads with the conventional coaches and the mudguards still lived up to their name, travelling outside the city was an adventure and not few cars broke down on their Sunday excursions. In wet conditions the cars were stuck in the mud of the country road just as the displayed American Underslung in the Malibu hills overseeing the ocean and the gentlemen drivers had to help themselves due to the lack of roadside assistance.

But not just the regular transport was affected by the road conditions but also the early racing and different road surfaces were tested to make the high speed trials safer. The Indianapolis raceway became famous for the millions of bricks used, other attempts included wooden ovals but one could imagine how slippery the mixture of engine oil and water might have been on this surface so this was a short episode. The museum exhibits a 1915 Stutz Racer that was part of the “White Squadron” of four team cars challenging the European Mercedes, Delage and Peugeot in Indianapolis back then. Celebrating the centenary both of the Indianapolis Raceway and the nearby Stutz Motor Company this car was displayed at this year's Pebble Beach Concours were it was awarded class winner in one of the featured Stutz classes.

During the following years the road system was extended and with the increasing mobilization thanks to affordable cars like the Ford Model T the cities grew to the typical suburbs with the small single-family homes and an own car in the driveway. But the automobile also changed the look of the inner cities as displayed an the main display of the museum. On the way to the city centre one had to pass the big billboards and the increasing traffic was overseen by the highway police just as visible here. The museum features a tenderly detailed petrol station typical for the access road of the 1920s and a nice collection of contemporary petrol pumps and advertising globes. The street scene just over the road does not only show the illuminated main street with the cars parked in front of the pavement but also the less glamorous backyards of the industrial areas. One of the centrepieces of the ground floor is the car sales show rooms with changing exhibits, during our visit a 1941 Cadillac dealership with the new Series 62 both as convertible and sedan.

Further down the road is a display of the upcoming concept of the shopping mall were the cars parked directly in front of the different shops. As this concept started in the USA in the 1930s the cars in front of the butcher, grocery store and the pharmacy match with a mixture of 30s convertibles, sedans and a “Woody” Station Wagon. These popular station wagons are very typical for California as they started a second life after being a family car to become the favourite transport for the surfers culture in the 1950s carrying the surf boards to the nearby beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu.

As in Europe the first big cut in the development of the automobile was the second WW. Just after the war there were not many new cars available so people started to modernize the existing cars of the pre-war era. This was the birth of the Speed Shops were people could buy parts to make their cars faster, the beginning of the very popular hot rod culture. As mentioned above Robert E. Petersen was the founder of the Hot Rod Magazine so it is not a big surprise that there is an own Speed Shop display. In the 1950s the American cars became bigger and bigger, the era of the road cruiser like the displayed 1959 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible. Because of a lack of pure American Sportscars the tuning scene started to chop limousines like the displayed 1950 Mercury to make them look faster. But also many European roadsters could be found in the suburban garages as the GI´s brought them over with their return from the military service in Europe, most of them Britain like the displayed Triumph TR3.

One of the last displays on the ground floor is the typical American drive-in diner with neon sign, open 24 hours and a short history about the legendary Indy 500 and especially on the cars build in the region to compete there.

This round on the ground floor is very informative, especially for young visitors and the museum is very popular for guided tours of school classes. Furthermore one can see that even smaller kids are very welcome in the museum as it has an entire floor dedicated to them with the May Family Discovery Center on the second floor. The kids are led to the technology of the automobile while playing, a concept that is rarely found in other car museums as these are usually more designed for the “big child”.

The first floor is more common in its concept featuring a few permanent exhibitions and the changing special displays.

As Los Angeles is the centre of the film industry it is obvious that one of the permanent exhibitions is dedicated to movie cars. Several important cars known from big movies or television series are exhibited and the museums fundus seems to have even more in spare so the exhibits are changing from time to time. During our visit the display featured the Beetle “Herbie” from the “Love Bug” remake, one of the Batmobiles, the original film car from the television series “Green Hornet” and the Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spyder driven by Raul Julia in the movie “The Gumball Rally”.

Less glamorous but maybe more up to date than ever is the theme of alternative drive technology. Although the theme is more important today in times of the changing climate it is not entirely new. Especially in the beginning of the automobile development different attempts were done to motorize the carriage, the oldest exhibit is a electric driven coach dating back to the year 1897 to be one of the first cars in Los Angeles, later electric vehicles include the Detroit Electric displayed at the ground floor. Other technologies include the steam engine that was never that popular due to its uncomfortable handling, the exhibited late attempt from 1974 stayed a prototype. Some of the concepts started from necessity, during and just after WW2 some cars were equipped with coal gas due to the lack of fuel for civil usage on both sides of the Atlantic. Fuel crises in the 1970s started the research in bio fuel that just reappears in Europe today. Newer technology is displayed with modern fuel cells and latest electric concepts.

Beside these permanent exhibitions the first floor gives room for several special displays, three at the time of our visit.

One display is dedicated to the development of the scooter. When people are talking about scooters most of them have the Lambretta and the Piaggio Vespa in mind, others think of the movie “Quadrophenia” and the Mods in Great Britain. This display shows the history of the scooter ranging from a cheap transportation to a question of lifestyle. Many different concepts and marques are displayed in this superbly composed selection with many curiosities including portable examples, even Harley-Davidson built a scooter named “Topper” in the 1960s.

A little bit faster is the theme of the “Supercars”, the special exhibition in the Grand Salon that runs until the 5th of February 2012. With the slogan “when too much is almost enough” this display features some of the most powerful cars of their era ranging from a 1923 Mercedes 28/95 Targa Florio to the latest Bugatti Veyron. Although the name “Supercar” just became popular with the introduction of the Lamborghini Miura in the 1960s, cars that match the definition of a Supercar were built since the beginning of the motorcar, Supercars are reduced to a driving machine without compromise in comfort, using high performance engines in the latest development chassis superior to anything else on the market, basically road legal race cars. Although these were never reasonable and most of them were never sold in large quantities they were always every boys dream and many of them spent their time on a poster in a teenage room.

Beside the already mentioned Mercedes the second pre-war Supercar on display is the Bugatti T57C Atalante. In the 1920s and 30s Bugatti has formed a reputation building some of the most successful racing cars of this era and the technology was transferred to the street cars. The Type 57 was the top model of the time with a vary of different body styles ranging from Limousines (Galibier) to the more sportive and less heavy Atlante coupé. Especially with the attached supercharged and the lower S chassis this was the ultimate transportation of this era. After the war Enzo Ferrari was responsible for several Supercars, the displayed 400 Superamerica might be one of the last of them with the engine installed in the front. Surprisingly one of the icons of the 1950s is missing in the display as for many the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing is the Supercar of its time being spectacular in its design and unrivalled in its road performance in 1955.

In the 1960s the appearance of the Supercar changed very much as most of them are mid-engined sports cars down to the present day. This concept established itself on the racetracks as in Le Mans in the mid 1960s with the battle of the Ferrari 250 LM and the exhibited Ford GT40. This concept was taken over by the Lamborghini Miura despite this was a pure road car instead of a road legal race car. With the fuel crises in the 1970s a few Supercars were build as they were not politically correct at this time. This changed with the 80s when Ferrari reintroduced the name GTO in its line-up and Porsche launched the cutting-edge technology leader 959. Since then Ferrari introduced the F40, F50 and the Enzo, smaller companies have batch productions of high performance cars when Bugatti launched the Veyron as the epitome of today´s Supercars with 1001 hp.

Finally a small but very interesting special display is dedicated to the life of Phil Hill who became the first American race driver to win the Formula 1 World Championship 50 years ago in 1961.

One part of the display is dedicated to his racing career that certainly is deeply linked with the name Ferrari. Phil Hills racing career started in 1948 in a small MG TC before he worked for Jaguar in England. After his return to the States he bought an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B MM to win the race at Pebble Beach, then a Ferrari 212 Inter that introduced him to the marque on which he celebrated his biggest successes later. The first race car on display is the Ferrari 375 MM (chassis 0286AM) that he placed second in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana together with Richie Ginther. In 1955 he raced the Ferrari 750 Monza (0510M) with success in several American races in American racing colours but also became a works driver for the Scuderia Ferrari in Le Mans. After several attempts he won the first of his 3 Le Mans victories in 1958 teamed with Olivier Gendebien in the famous 250 TR, a car he drove in all stages of development including the exhibited 1959 version with a win in Nassau. His best year was without doubt 1961 when he did not just win Le Mans in the 250 TRI/61 but also the Formula 1 Championship in the Tipo 156 Sharknose. After a successful career with Ferrari he drove some of his last races in the Chaparral on display before ending his career in 1967.

Being a skilled mechanic Phil Hill started his second career restoring classic cars, one of the first restored cars was the 1931 Pierce-Arrow of his aunt, the very same car he learned driving in. Exactly this Pierce-Arrow was the first classic car to win the Concours d´Elegance in Pebble Beach, the same place were he won some of his first races. Phil Hill became and stayed judge at PB for 40 years, in 2006 he was also reunited with the Alfa 2.9 in Goodwood during the Phil Hill tribute just after the cars restoration by Paul Russell for its new owner Ralph Lauren.

Unfortunately Phil Hill passed away in 2008 but he is still one of the most successful American racing driver.

So we have visited three Museum in the expanded Los Angeles area and fortunately they are all different so one does not need to compare them. The strength of the Petersen Museum is the attention to detail in the presentation of the cars in their diorama and the informal part of the history of the automobile in the Los Angeles era. The fundus of the museums has enough cars to change the exhibits even within the permanent exhibition so a repeated visit should be interesting as well. The museum is recommended to introduce the next generation in our passion. As one can see on the special exhibitions these are done with a lot of attention as well making them a great addition to the permanent displays.

For more information on the museum and the special exhibitions please visit

Report & images
Peter Singhof

Petersen Automotive Museum (2011-12-30)
1897 Anthony Battery Electric
1900 (ca.) Motorized Wagon
1901 Breer Steam Car
1904/05 FN Four
1911 American Underslung Model 50 Traveler
1912 Indian Single ex Steve McQueen
1912 Packard Model 30
1915 Autoped Scooter
1915 Stutz White Squadron Racer
1917 Detroit Electric Brougham Model 61
1918 Packard Twin Six
1921 Ford Model T Center Door Sedan
1921 White Tanker Truck
1922 Chevrolet Series 490 Coupe
1922 Ford Model T Touring as despicted in "Hog Wild" 1930 with Stan Laurel ad Oliver Hardy
1922 Willys-Knight
1923 Mercedes 28/95 Targa Florio
1927 Indian Big Chief ex. Steve McQueen
1927 Packard Convertible Sedan by Murphy
1929 Chevrolet Model AC Imperial Landau
1929 Cleveland Century
1929/32 Ford In-Process Hot Rod
1930 Ford Tudor Sedan Model J
1930 Nash 482R Coupe Twin Ignition Six
1931 Pierce-Arrow Convertible Sedan by LeBaron
1931 Twin Coach Delivery Truck
1932 Ford Model BB Tow Truck
1934 Edsel Ford Model 40 Special Speedster
1935 Ford Pheaton
1935 Hanks-Offy Midget Racer
1936 Plymouth P-2 Two-door Sedan
1938 Powell Streamliner
1939 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante
1939 Lincoln Zephyr "Scrape"
1939 Moto-kar and Moto-scoot
1939 Packard Super Eight Phaeton by Derham
1939 Pontiac Station Wagon
1939 Salsbury Motor Glide Model 70 with and without Trunk
1941 Cadillac Dealer Show Room
1941 Cadillac Series 62 Sedan
1941 Indian Dispatch Tow
1945 Bell Special Midget Racer
1946 Doodle Bug Standard
1947 Mohs King O´the Road
1947 Powell Challenger C-47
1948 Chevrolet Coal Gas
1949 Delahaye Type 178 DHC ex. Elton John
1950 Mercury Custom
1950 Pranafa Playboy
1952 Ferrari 212/225 Touring Barchetta s/n 0253EU
1953 Chevrolet Ice Cream Truck "El Chavez Ravine" by Ry Cooder
1953 Ferrari 340/375 MM Vignale Spyder s/n 0286AM
1953 Norton Manx
1954 Ferrari 750 Monza s/n 0510M
1954 Pegaso Z-102 Convertible Saoutchik
1955 Cobra Motorama Custom
1957 Lambretta Model D
1958 Triumph TR3A
1959 Bentas Raven
1959 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible
1959 Ferrari 250 TR59 s/n 0768TR
1959 Ol´Yaller Mark III
1960 Grasshopper
1961 Harley-Davidson Topper
1961 Lambretta with Watsonian Sidecar
1962 Chevrolet "Slampala"
1962 Greer-Black-Prudhomme Dragster
1963 Chrysler Turbine
1963 Ferrari 400 Superamerica s/n 5115SA
1963 VW Beetle "Herbie: Fully Loaded"
1965 Hannibal 8 from the movie "The Great Race"
1966 Chaparral 2e Continuation
1966 Chrysler Imperial "Black Beauty" in the TV Series "Green Hornet"
1967 Ford GT40 MKIII
1968 Bizzarrini Manta
1969 Lamborghini Miura S
1969 Shelby Mustang GT350
1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429
1971 De Tomaso Pantera
1972 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spyder from the Movie "The Gumball Rally "
1974 Dutcher Steam
1975 Stutz "Bearcat" by John D´Agostino
1976 Stutz d´Italia Convertible
1978 Hybricon Centaur II Gas-Electric Hybrid
1982 Jawa Speedway
1985 Lamborghini Countach
1988 Mana LA Solar Vehicle
1988 Porsche 959
1989 Batmobile from the movie "Batman Returns"
1990 Ferrari F40
1992 Jaguar XJ220
1995 Ferrari F50
1996 GM EV1
1998 Gurney Eagle
1998 Vector M12
1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR
1999 Plymouth Prowler "Kisscat"
2005 Maserati MC12
2005 Nissan X-Terra FCV
2005 P.E.T. Land Glider Fuel Cell
2006 Bugatti Veyron 16.4
2009 Ford Focus EV
Alternative Fuel Display
Butcher and Fruit Shop
Child Scooters
Cop hiding behind the board
Design now and then
Foldable Scooter
Groceries Store
Hot Rod Garage
Hot Wheels Display
Indy Car Display
Johnny Rockets Original Hamburger Bar
May Family Discovery Center
Petersen Automotive Museum 2011
Petrol Station
Phil Hill Racing Suit
Phil Hill related Automobilia
Scooter Accessories
Scooter Toys
Scooters Special Exhibition Display
Speed Shop
Suburb Garage
Supercars Display
The classic Vespa
The Dog Cafe
The gift shop
The Otis Chandler Gallery
The Petersen Automotive Museum
Tribute to Phil Hill Display
US Mail Scooter