“Ooh…the Petersen Automotive Museum is amazing. They built a huge, dedicated facility I have been lucky enough to go to for events held there and it is astounding.”

               Paul Eisenstein, publisher of Headlight.News

Tinseltown’s stars take a backseat to cars at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Hollywood’s love affair with motorcars and their makers was evidenced yet again when, in December 2023, the studio system released yet another automotive-related film: “Ferrari,” starring Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz. 

The new Ferarri movie and the real cars
The new Ferarri movie and the real cars. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

There are plenty of genuine Ferraris to see at the Petersen Automotive Museum – a big, bright crimson and chrome-striped building parked at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue like an idling hot rod.

The attraction is, appropriately, just across the street from the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

In the museum’s underground “Vault,” the Legends Gallery Room is currently showing a trailer for the Ferrari movie above four-wheel examples of the “Maranello Masterpieces:” the legacy cars of Enzo Ferrari handcrafted in Maranello, Italy.

Above and Below the Street

Eye candy Bugatti - only one made
Eye candy Bugatti – only one made. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

The Petersen’s underground, earthquake-proof, 250-vehicle “Vault,” (an extra admission price but worth every penny) is the no-frills basement garage of gearheads dreams that would make Jay Leno jealous. The comedian’s car collection in Burbank has been featured on his television show “Jay Leno’s Garage.”

Award-winning automotive journalist Paul Eisenstein, publisher of Headlight.News has driven every car ever manufactured on test tracks and roads switch-backing through the mountains above Monaco and desert flats.

“Ooh…the Petersen Automotive Museum is amazing. They built a huge, dedicated facility. I have been lucky enough to go to events held there and it is astounding,” he told me.

“They have a very large, permanent collection of cars owned by automotive publisher Bob Petersen, the late founder of Motor Trend, and they have constantly changing exhibitions.”

Arriving in Style

The Rolls-Royce Phantom
The Rolls-Royce Phantom. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Petersen’s Automotive Museum begins in the attached parking deck. It was here I found myself parked next to a British Racing Green Bentley.

As I walked to the museum entrance just after the 10 a.m. opening time, I noticed many snazzy cars parked in spaces throughout the deck. I mentioned this to the attendant at the reception desk.

“The people who come here to see cars sure do drive exotic, expensive cars themselves,” I noted.

The attendant laughed and told me the Petersen Museum’s collection is so vast that some of the rotating overflow vehicles are stored in the deck. (The entire museum is full of courteous, knowledgeable and excited docents and guides.)

Presidential limo when commander in chief convertibles were acceptable
Presidential limo when commander-in-chief convertibles were acceptable. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Californian car buff Paul Cavallero shows off his custom-purple-painted 1972 Detomaso Pantera at the annual Rodeo Drive Concours d’Elegance. Plus sometimes outside Dan Tana’s Restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard. Cavallero drove me, top down, to visit the Petersen Museum in his brand new 2023 Chevy Corvette convertible.

We arrived in style. His jet-black beauty, top-dropped, dropped jaws in the museum’s parking garage as some snapped pictures of the ‘Vette.

“Paparazzi,” I joked, which was appropriate as we were about to see a display of vehicles filmed in movies. But it was Cavallero’s jaw that dropped when he saw a temporary exhibit in the Legends Gallery of Italian cars saluting the legacy of Enzo Ferrari. “There is a lot of money in that room,” Cavallero said with awe. 

There’s No Business Like Show Business

Petersen Museum
History…documented and reveled. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

In terms of showbiz, Cavallero immediately noticed a rare Pantera, like his, only yellow. “I’m pretty sure that car belonged to Elvis,” he said. A bullet hole in the car, pointed out by a museum guide, confirmed it was the King of Rock and Rolls’ ride.

They are bullet marks, not bullet holes, in the 2023 Tesla Cybertruck on display in the main lobby. Tesla tested the impenetrable truck by turning it into a shooting gallery for a variety of weapons.  

The Petersen Museum’s three floors above ground feature “Automobiles in the Movies.” The display reminds guests that a 1903 film called “Runaway Match” was the first time a car had a central role in a motion picture plotline.

Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine
Explore Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

Star cars displayed throughout the museum include the “Scooby Doo Mystery Machine” van; the stainless-steel DeLorean driven in “Back to the Future;” more than one Batmobile; the VW Bus from “Little Miss Sunshine;” “Starsky and Hutch’s” red car with the white stripe; the 1959 Cadillac ambulance from “Ghostbusters,” and the 1966 Ford Thunderbird “Thelma and Louise” drove off a cliff at the film’s end (one of them, actually.)

Created by Bob Hope and gifted to John Wayne full of cow manure.
Created by Bob Hope and gifted to John Wayne full of cow manure. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

The funniest showbiz vehicle is the wooden car created to look like a stagecoach. It was sent as a gift by comedian Bob Hope to Western film star John Wayne in 1971. He had the truck bed full of cow manure.

Historically Speaking…

Cars owned by Saddam Hussein and Nikita Khrushchev
Cars owned by Saddam Hussein and Nikita Khrushchev. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

There is much “eye candy” in this toy store of performance cars. This includes a copper-colored sports car designed by the King of Morocco. The museum has also procured cars ridden in by Saddam Hussein, U.S. Presidents, Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Plus a Pope Mobile created for the Holy Father’s visit to Mexico City. The sedan chauffeuring President Ferdinand Marcos around the Philippines featured the anti-attack measures of a military vehicle.  

PopeMobile for Pontiff’s Mexico City visit
PopeMobile for Pontiff’s Mexico City visit. Photo by Michael Patrick Shiels

My star of the show was a beastly 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom 1 Aerodynamic Coupe. It must be seen to be believed. And for some reason, I took a shine to the 1931 Ford Model A station wagon. I wish modern cars, which now resemble jelly bean-shaped appliances, had the fin-tailed flair of cars of the past.

The Petersen Museum’s toy store gift shop allows you to take some mini beauties with you.    

Read more of Michael Patrick’s work at The Travel Tattler and contact him at [email protected] Order his book Travel Tattler – Less Than Torrid Tales at https://amzn.to/3Qm9FjN 

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