Cars. Those sleek, sexy beasts. They’re a mode of transport, sure, but they are also symbols of taste, status and human ingenuity. Their dreamy names come imbued with all the promise of the open road: La Salle, Dodge Viper, Bugatti, Hudson Wasp, Mongrel T, Cadillac Coup de Ville, Tesla.
The very first automobile is credited to the French, who, at the end of the 18th century, drove a three-wheeled, steam powered military tractor a whopping 2.5 miles per hour. It was virtually impossible to control and, during a demonstration, crashed smack into a wall.
The auto has made rip-roaring strides since then, and the Petersen Automotive Museum documents that progress with their collection of beautifully maintained automobiles.
The collection is really a love song to the art that goes into making an automobile, from the mechanics to the aesthetics.
The gentleman at the front desk advised us to begin our tour on the third floor, where there is a collection of mostly older model cars. Some of the cars will look familiar, some look like they’re a sic-fi writer’s vision of what the future might have been. There’s a car the color of spearmint that looks like a spaceship. Another one screams steampunk and has what appears to be a giant monocle on the front.
There are two famous Volkswagens on the third floor. The Volkswagen Transporter, driven by Greg Kinnear in Little Miss Sunshine and the Volkswagen Beetle (#53), driven by Lindsay Lohan in Herbie: Fully Loaded. The tiny Beetle is equipped with a 200 horsepower engine that can propel it a remarkable 138 miles per hour.
Fun Fact: The term horsepower was coined as a marketing tool in the 1780s by Scottish inventor, James Watt. At the time, breweries used horses, harnessed to a mill, for grinding the mash that made beer. Watt wanted to convince brewery owners that they should buy his steam engine and ditch their horses. To do this, he devised a mathematical equation that compared how many horses would be needed to complete the same amount of work as his invention.
Down the stairs to the second floor, the car collection gets a bit more modern. There’s a kid’s playroom, a collection of motorcycles and a room where you can see clay models of cars that have yet to hit the market.
Rounding the corner on the second floor is the silver room. This room bows its head to the impact the color silver has had on the design of cars throughout history. Every car inside the room is a shiny, bodacious silver.
The first floor is where you get the cars that are all about aesthetics and style. The cars made, often as one-offs, for the people with discerning taste and deep pockets. For whatever reason, there is a projection on the first floor of soothing wave-like squiggles (reminiscent of the exterior of the museum building) and maudlin music that plays over the speakers.
Neither of us can brag to be car people, but the museum is still cool. Don’t expect to spend an entire day here. If you really take your time, it’s probably a 1.5 hour endeavor.
The museum seems to be kid friendly. The Monday we went, there were a lot of families. You can’t touch any of the cars, though you can take as many photos as you’d like. There were even a few people, sitting cross legged on the floor, doing sketches of the cars. On the third floor, there is a car you can sit in for a photo op.
Monday- Sunday: 10AM - 6PM
Under 3 Free
Active Duty Free
6060 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036