The Petersen Museum

Another one of my must-see stops in LA was the Petersen Automotive Museum. I’ve been hearing about this place for years, all the amazing cars and motorcycles they have, as well as rotating special displays. Unfortunately, Carolyn wasn’t feeling well, so she told me to go have fun and visit on my own. She lives here, so she can see it another time.

I’m glad I took the motorcycle. Even on a Saturday afternoon, the roads were jam-packed with traffic, and lane splitting was the only way I could get anywhere. I had a little trouble when I arrived because the gate to the parking garage refused to open for me. No less than three different people who worked there told me to just ride around the gates and park for free. If I lived in LA, I’d probably forget about having a car at all. The benefits of a bike are so great.

Los Angeles is now requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test from the past 72 hours before letting you inside most places. I snapped a picture of my card on my phone, which satisfies this requirement. Back in March, I foresaw things coming to this point. This is why I dropped everything in the middle of saving what I wanted from the apartment after the fire to go get my first shot, and then returned to New Hampshire in April to get my second one. As soon as they introduced these cards, I knew they’d someday be used to limit access to people who had them. Now it’s become reality, at least in some major cities. Fortunately, since I took care of it at the time, it’s not a problem for me, despite my mobile lifestyle.

The nice woman at the ticket counter suggested starting on the third floor of the museum, then working my way down, which is what I did. Up there is a wide variety of classic cars, too many to show and name here. There’s a replica of Karl Benz’s first car, as well as an FN four-cylinder motorcycle from 1904. (And you thought the Honda CB750 was the first four-cylinder bike.) They have a genuine Shelby Cobra, signed by Carroll Shelby himself. The Lamborghini Miura was their very first car, quite a leap from the tractors they built before. And a Deusenburg is always a showstopper with its ultimate class and style.

This Ferrari Barchetta had the least likely owner you can imagine: Henry Ford II. Anyone who knows automotive history knows that Ford and Ferrari were fierce rivals. They made a movie about it that was pretty accurate. Before that, Ford and Enzo were friendly. In fact, there was a very real chance that Ford would buy Ferrari. It was this deal going sour on one of Enzo’s whims that led to the rivalry instead.

The Barchetta was designed for the American market, which is has styling details like chrome and whitewall tires that typically don’t appear on Italian cars. Ford and his designers studied this car in great detail. It strongly influenced the design of one of the most famous cars Ford ever made, the original Thunderbird. You can read the full story here.

On the second floor, I walked into a display celebrating overlanding. This is quite relevant to my interests. The first overlander I saw was literally out of this world — the rover from the original Lost in Space TV series. The robot was even in the back.

This specially modified Harley-Davidson Livewire is the very bike Charley Boorman rode with Ewan McGregor in Long Way Up, from the tip of South America all the way to Los Angeles. I don’t know much about the classic Indian below it, but it went around the world, too.

A couple of years ago I read Lone Rider by Elspeth Beard, the story of the first British woman to ride around the world. This is her bike. The actual bike. Wow. I think some of the trails I hit on my KLR are pretty cool, but compared to her, and this bike, I really am a #klrdelusional.

Next door was Metallica guitarist James Hetfield’s collection of custom cars. While I can appreciate the artistry that goes into them, and the skill of the builders, these definitely fall into the “more than you can afford, pal” category. I like looking at real cars more than these one-off creations that don’t even get driven.

A perfect example is this GM EV1, the second one of these I’ve seen on this trip (the first was at the Heart of 66 Auto Museum in Oklahoma). That means I’ve seen two out of 40 surviving examples. No, I don’t think I’m going to begin a quest to see them all, now that my Space Shuttle quest is complete.

This Tesla Model S looks a bit off, doesn’t it? Particularly the front end. That’s because this is a pre-production prototype that was shown off in 2009, three years before it was available to the public. This is the car that basically started the modern electric car revolution.

This is the Dale. Liz Carmichael promised an automotive revolution with this thing, a car that could get 70 mpg, go 85 mph, and cost just $2,000. If that sounds too good to be true, it’s because it was. The whole thing was a giant scam and a fascinating story. This prototype is one of only three ever made.

Then it was down to the first floor for the literal star of the show: a gallery of screen-used James Bond cars. This is not the original Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger, but the recreation used in several of the more recent movies. It’s even more beautiful in person than on the big screen.

This was a hero car, meaning that the exterior and interior were kept in perfect condition, with stunt cars doing all the dirty work. This may not be the original car, but all of the gadgets and gizmoes are just like the original, right down to the red button on the gearshift that Q told Bond to never touch (and of course he did anyway).

It’s not all glitz and glamour, though. This wrecked Aston Martin DBS is the actual car crashed in this scene from Casino Royale:

It rolled over seven times, setting a new world record after Top Gear did six. I like how they’re willing to show the ugly side of these cars as well as the pretty ones.

The display included most of the cars James Bond has driven over the years, in various stages of gadget deployment.

There’s even room for the AMC Hornet X and the… whatever this boat is that performed some of the most famous jumps in movie history.

If you have any interest in cars at all, I’d highly recommend a visit to the Petersen Museum if you happen to be passing through LA. There’s something for everyone here, whether you’re a hardcore enthusiast like me, or a casual “oh, that one’s pretty” admirer. My only disappointment was that I missed one of the original screen-used Knight Rider cars being on display. I grew up on that show, and as cheesy as it is I still love it today. I may have missed the car, but I took the opportunity to put a little piece of KITT on my van.

My real license plate is on the motorcycle carrier, so you can actually see it when the bike is on the back. I’ve had nothing but an ugly black spot here where the plate normally goes, which the bike blocks the view of. I think this fills it in nicely. Now I just have to see about installing turbo boost and super pursuit mode…

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