The Petersen Museum is home to some of the most incredible and important automobiles on the face of the planet—here’s a small taste
1935 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic
Think of this as the Bugatti Chiron of the 1930s. Designed by Jean Bugatti, son of Ettore, the Type 57 series of cars were an early attempt at aerodynamics. The Atlantic was also lighter than its competitors, since its body panels were made from aluminum. Powered by a 3.3-litre inline-eight tuned to 200 horsepower, the Type 57 SC could nudge 200 km/h, an astonishing feat for the time.
Only four examples of the Atlantic were made, and three are believed to still exist. Fashion icon Ralph Lauren has one, rumoured to be valued at over US $40 million—the example at the Petersen is quite possibly worth even more.
1973 Chevrolet Aerovette
There is a lot of buzz about a mid-engine Corvette coming out in the near future, but this isn’t the first time Chevrolet had toyed with the idea. Zora Arkus-Duntov, whom many consider the “Father of the Corvette,” always wanted to build a mid-engine sports car.
In 1973, Duntov and his team came up with this concept car, which was powered by a four-rotor Wankel; however, the energy crisis of the ’70s ended the rotary program, and Experimental Project 882 was reintroduced as the Aerovette at the 1976 New York Auto Show, now featuring a 400-cubic-inch V8.
1990 BMW Z1 Art Car by Keith Haring
The BMW Z1 is already an unusual car thanks to its unique doors, which simply drop down into its rocker panels. The example at the Petersen is weirder still, since it’s an art car by the late Keith Haring, who specialized mainly in New York City underground art. However, he also used cars and motorcycles as his canvas, and the Petersen has quite a few examples of his work.
As for the Z1, it is powered by a 2.5-litre inline-six that makes 168 horsepower. Power is fed to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox—essentially the same powertrain you’ll find in an E30 series 325i.
“Impression” by Chip Foose
If you like custom cars, then you know the name Chip Foose, who is quite talented at Overhaulin’ classics. However, not all his builds start off with an existing car—sometimes they start as a doodle on a napkin!
Legend has it Foose was having dinner with enthusiast Ken Reister, and as the conversation turned to hot rods, Foose reached out for a napkin and started sketching the Impression. That lead to a build-from-scratch that took seven years to complete, but the effort has paid off, as this vehicle has won some of the most prestigious awards in the custom car world.
The Impression consists of 4,000 individual handbuilt parts—in fact, only three OEM components can be found on the entire car. Even the chassis is custom-built for this vehicle.
There are lots of interesting details on this vehicle, but the one that makes everyone smile is the integration of the classic Ford “V8” logo into its headlights.
1953 Dodge Storm Z-250 by Bertone
Italian styling with American power—what could possibly go wrong? Apparently a lot! The Z-250 was dreamt up by Fred Zeder, an engineer at Chrysler. He wanted a car for touring the city, with a stylish body that could be taken off – you needed to loosen just four bolts – and replaced by a lightweight fibreglass body for racing.
Not a bad idea, but production costs were very high, and Chrysler pulled the plug on this project. Only one example of the Storm Z-250 was ever built.
1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB
Is there a prettier car than the Ferrari 250 GT SWB? Probably not! Introduced at the 1959 Paris Auto Salon, the 250 GT SWB – as in “Short Wheel Base” – was built to be the ultimate dual-purpose car, one that would be just as happy to tour the continent as it would be to do battle on a race track.
Initial cars all had aluminum bodies and race-tuned motors. Later cars, such as the example at the Petersen, has a steel body and a de-tuned motor, which made it easier to drive on a daily basis. All 250 GT SWB featured a 3.0-litre V12 motor with dual overhead camshafts and three Weber carburetors. The motor in this one is good for 248 hp, and, flat-out, the car can achieve 242 km/h. A total 165 examples of the 250 GT SWB were produced between 1960 and ’62.
1992 Alumacoupe by Boyd
A hot rod is typically built on a steel chassis with a steel body – most likely from a 1930s Ford – with a big, powerful V8 engine at the front, and not much else. However, Boyd Coddington was no ordinary hot-rodder; that’s why his Alumacoupe breaks all the traditions.
It has a custom chassis with an aluminum body; the engine is mid-mounted, as in a Lamborghini; and it’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre inline-four from a Mitsubishi Eclipse tweaked to produce 320 hp. Its sleek body and stylish interior was designed by Larry Erickson, who actually worked for Cadillac at the time.
Coddington passed away in 2008, and the Alumacoupe was gifted to the Petersen by its owner, David Sydorick, who has owned this vehicle since 1993.
1994 Bugatti EB110 SS Le Mans
Often referred to as “The Italian Bugatti,” the EB110 came to life when this old French marque was resurrected by Romano Artioli, an Italian businessman. The car was named EB110 because it was unveiled on what would have been the 110th birthday of Ettore Bugatti.
The EB110 was offered in two guises, a luxury version called the GT (550 hp); and an all-out speed demon called the SS, as in Super Sport (611 hp). The Petersen’s is a Le Mans version built for endurance racing. Only three examples of the SS LM were ever made.
(Side note: the EB110 was the first production car to feature a quad-turbo set-up, an arrangement VW held onto when it took over the Bugatti brand.)
TV and movie cars
Since the Petersen is situated in Hollywood, it should come as no surprise there are lots of vehicles on display that have had a TV or silver screen background. In fact, an entire section of the museum pays homage to star cars. From Batmobiles of different eras; to the Mach 5 from Speed Racer. In this shot is a DeLorean DMC12 from Back to the Future, a Ferrari 308 GTS from Magnum P.I., and a Herbie “The Love Bug” VW Beetle.
1953 Fiat 8V Supersonic by Ghia
The 1950s were certainly the “Jet Age,” and it wasn’t just the Americans who adopted such styling to their cars—the Italians were doing it, too. Perhaps the best example of this styling theme is the Fiat 8V Supersonic by Ghia.
Powered by a 125-hp 2.0-litre V8 motor, this stylish coupe was capable of reaching a top speed of about 192 km/h. Its styling proved so popular that wealthy customers asked Ghia to make similar bodies on Jaguar XK 140 and Aston Martin underpinnings.
Why is it called an “8V” and not a “V8”? Because Fiat mistakenly thought Ford had the rights to the “V8” moniker, and hence switched it around.
The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California has about 175 cars in its main section, with another 175 cars in its secret underground vault.
A lot more than ten cars got our attention at the Petersen, but here is a list of the cars you really need to see with your own eyes.