The Petersen Automotive Museum should be on every car guy's bucket list
Trust us: Just skip Hollywood
by Drei Laurel | Jul 25, 2018

'I could spend a thousand more words describing my trip to Petersen, but only being there would actually do the experience justice'

A piece of advice for anyone traveling to Los Angeles: Don't go to Hollywood. It is, for a lack of a better pair of words, extremely boring. A waste of time, unless watching tourists abuse Donald Trump's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is your idea of a day well spent.

Instead, make a 10-minute drive down south toward the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax. Here resides the Petersen Automotive Museum.

"But, but what about the Chinese Theater? What about the La Brea Tar Pits?" Shhhhh. Leave them be. Car guy or not, entrance to Petersen is a mere $16 per head, with Vault tickets going for between $20 and $30 a pop.

PHOTO: Drei Laurel

If you're into automobiles, you'll need no convincing. If not, well, choose between access to one of the most extensive automotive collections on the planet or milling about your typical tourist trap. Me and my companion (who isn't by any means a car nut) did both, and trust me when I say you're better off paying the $16.

There's a lot to take in, but I suggest starting from the top floor and making your way down. There, you'll find a collection of movie cars—everything from the Dr. Emmet Brown's time traveling DeLorean DMC-12 from Back to the Future, (pictured up top) to Suki's lively pink Honda S2000 from 2 Fast 2 Furious.

PHOTO: Drei Laurel

For obvious reasons, the DMC-12 is the standout. One of its gullwing doors is left open for the public, too, giving visitors an excellent view of the iconic film car's interior. The flux capacitor is right in plain sight, as are the digital counters indicating destination time, present time, and last time departed. The unit was beginning to show signs of wear at its former home in Universal Studios before making its way to Petersen. It's a treat for anyone who's seen the movie, and it alone is well worth the price of admission if you're a die-hard fan of the franchise.

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Another one of my favorites from the film section, though not as prominent, is the early-1930s Duesenberg II SJ from the 2013 Baz Luhrmann film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. The thing is massive. It's sort of a cheat though, as the car used in the movie was a reproduction and not the real vehicle. Using an era-accurate unit would have been too expensive, apparently, and production needed a reliable unit for shoots.

PHOTO: Drei Laurel

One of five Batmobiles used in the 1989 Batman film, as well as 1992's Batman Returns, was also present alongside the flame-job Ford Flathead Roadster from the original Iron Man movie from 2008, and the 1958 Plymouth 'Furious Fury' from Christine.

Also on the same floor is a 1972 Suzuki LJ20 Jimny. The grandfather of everyone's favorite miniature off-roader was brought to life packing a humble 360cc engine. In a strange coincidence, official news and images of the next-gen Jimny broke onto the internet the same day I came across the LJ20 inside Petersen.

PHOTO: Drei Laurel

Down below you'll find a life-size Lightning McQueen with movie-accurate livery all over. I'm not exactly a fan of the film, but kids ought to love it. I was more drawn toward the handful of JDM representatives in one corner of the floor: A customized 1974 Mazda RX-3 by DNA Garage with enlarged fenders and eye-popping green and yellow livery; a lowered 1973 Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-X (which has been featured on Speed Hunters and shot by none other than Larry Chen); and the fiberglass shell of the 1993 Mazda RX-7 concept.

PHOTO: Drei Laurel

Several tiny offices housing designers at work litter one side of the building, too. And there's a small section at the center of the floor dedicated to teaching kids about the wonders of automobiles.

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Now unfortunately, a large part of the second floor was closed to the public to make way for a private gathering during my visit. I would have been bummed out, but I noticed that there was a bit of a commotion near the entrance connecting the building to its parking garage. I exited to check it out and found that Petersen is just as interesting outside as it is inside.

PHOTO: Drei Laurel

There, by the entrance, sat a current-gen Ford GT surrounded by car enthusiasts and museum visitors alike. And nearby sat a Porsche touched by Rauh Welt Begriff founder Nakai-san, a Ford F-150 Raptor, and a trio of attention-grabbing BMWs. I noticed a familiar car in the corner, too: Angie King's purple McLaren 675LT. Philippines represent! I'm guessing all of these cars belonged to whoever was part of that private event.

Finally, the first floor. Here, two special exhibits were taking place: The Porsche Effect, which was, well, dedicated to Porsches, and The High Art of Riding Low featuring some of the finest low riders in the country.

PHOTO: Drei Laurel

The 'Riding Low' standout, at least for me, was El Rey--a deconstructed 1973 Chevrolet Impala covered in blazing-red and orange candy paint, chrome and metal. Even the engine compartment featured this out-of-this-world paint job. Nearby was a Day of the Dead-inspired vehicle, the El Muertorider, which featured haunting black and white Dia de los Muertos paintwork resembling a "negative" transfer technique of woodblock printing--a specialization of the car's creator, the museum description says.

PHOTO: Drei Laurel

In the Porsche Section, the 1979 935 K3 which won the 1979 Le Mans overall was proudly on display, alongside several other rare Germans. A 1969 Porsche 917K sat nearby in Gulf livery, as well as the first-ever production car from the manufacturer, the 1949 Porsche 356-2 Coupe. The most interesting piece here, in my opinion, was a 1987 Porsche study dubbed the 928 H50. This was based off the one-off 928 concept which was supposedly the carmaker's initial attempt at a "family car." The company's come a long way since then, with larger offerings like the Cayenne.

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PHOTO: Drei Laurel

By the team we'd completed milling about the entire building, I'd wished I had availed of the 75-minute Vault tour (yes, your time inside the Vault is limited, and visitors must be accompanied by a guide at all times) for $20. The section has more than doubled in size since it was renovated, and now houses more than 250 rare cars.

I could spend a thousand more words describing my trip to Petersen, but only being there would actually do the experience justice. If any of you guys plan to drop by, remember that Vault tickets--which you should definitely opt for--must be bought in advanced and scheduled, and that you should free up an entire day for your visit.

PHOTO: Drei Laurel
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