1965 Lincoln Continental used by the cast of
"Entourage" is on display at the Petersen
Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
ANGELES — I was not overwhelmed by the newly renovated
Petersen Automotive Museum here on the stretch of Wilshire
Boulevard they call Miracle Mile.
I was just whelmed enough.
fault falls squarely on me, not the museum.
place may now be, as many in the know have raved, the
country’s foremost museum dedicated to what undoubtedly
is America’s favorite form of transportation. The $90
million spiffing up, including a snazzy stained-steel
exterior adorned with red ribbons to look like a hot rod’s
racing stripes, is now top of the line, mint condition,
absolutely cherry. Look under the Petersen’s hood, and
you’ll find some of the most expensive and rare vehicles
arranged lovingly on three floors, not to mention the
high-tech flourishes such as Microsoft Xbox Forzas to
simulate the race-car driving experience.
only problem — maybe, frankly, just my problem — is
that you have to be really interested in cars, see them as
far more than merely a means of conveyance, to fully
appreciate all that the Petersen offers.
but I’m just not that into it.
I can appreciate the 1934 La Salle 350 Coupe for purely
aesthetic reasons: its voluptuous art deco body with
bullet-shape headlights, vertically endowed grille and
Ruben-esque fenders. And, sure, who wouldn’t want to
take a gander at the first Jaguar ever produced, a 1937 SS
100? After a while, though, all that shiny chrome detail,
buffed bodies and tooled leather interior bears a certain
sameness to my uneducated eyes.
disclosure, I was much more drawn to the wing dedicated to
cars used in the movies ("Herbie the Love Bug,"
the Volkswagen van from "Little Miss Sunshine,"
the black ’65 Lincoln Continental convertible used in
"Entourage") than the vaunted Bruce Meyer Family
Gallery ("Presented by Rolex") featuring some of
the world’s most outrageously expensive cars all
finished in gleaming silver.
tried — really, I did — to let out the clutch on my
inner gearhead, embrace that fuel-injected feeling
believed to be inside everyone bearing a Y chromosome, but
I don’t like faking it.
thought perhaps if I hung around the Petersen long enough,
glommed onto to the right people, something of a Stockholm
Syndrome might take hold and I would be transformed into
that guy who not only knows what a Hemi V8 engine is, but
could expound on subjects such as surface-to-volume ratio.
plunked down another $20 and signed up for the Vault Tour.
It was advertised as a "behind the scenes tour of
some of the most unique cars in the collection … some of
which have rarely been seen by the public." The
Vault, I figured, would draw the hardest of the hardcore,
and things looked promising as I waited by the front desk
for the docent to lead us into the bowels of the building
— really just the mechanics’ garage, but
"Vault" sounds so much more regal.
I eavesdropped on three middle-aged men in khakis and polo
shirts engaged in a heated discussion about the relative
merits of a Gremlin vs. a Pacer, apparently some type of
’70s AMC nostalgia smackdown. Two men on the far side of
60 shuffled over wearing identical blue and red Hot Wheels
trucker hats that would look pretentious on hipsters half
their age but totally appropriate on them, given this
milieu. All around me, testosterone hung in the air like
so much Old Spice.
were women on the Vault Tour, too. Oh, yes, let’s not
gender-stereotype here. They seemed to be split into two
camps: 1) Those who are self-identifying gearheads
themselves, like the blonde whose eyeliner matched her
black, sleeveless Harley Davidson T-shirt; and 2) Those
who shifted from foot to foot, arms folded, staring into
the distance, in what probably was the same body language
their husbands adopted when the couples go antiquing.
of all, we had a docent, Saul Miller, who clearly knew his
stuff, could rattle off obscure performance statistics,
enthuse about monocoque or unibody chassis structure and
weigh in on the rise, fall and maybe rise again of the
American auto industry. But — and this was crucial —
he also could relate to those functional automotive
illiterates out there who just want to hear some
historical nugget or amusing anecdote about specific cars.
can probably guess which category I fell under.
we descended into the Vault, Miller laid the ground rules.
a working garage," he said. "I know that some of
you would like to get close to the cars. We can’t allow
you to do that. A few years ago, we had an incident.
Someone was wearing a jacket and his zipper put a nice
scratch in the $16 million Bugatti. So, OK?"
I could’ve sworn he looked straight at me when saying,
"We’re going to be talking about cars for 90
minutes, so I hope everybody’s interested in cars. If
not, bummer for you."
for me, Miller got me hooked at the first stop in the
Vault. We stood before a 1941 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe
convertible, black as midnight and gorgeously appointed
with white-wall tires on red rims, tan leather interior, a
blood-red dashboard and a shiny winged angel hood ornament
as an exclamation point. Others may have been rapt by the
facts Miller supplied: customized exterior to remove
chrome siding, a 346-cubic-inch V8 engine, how this was
the last model built before the United States entered
World War II. I however, fell for the story about the
owners, a "super-couple" bigger at the time than
Brangelina is today.
was purchased by Clark Gable and given to his wife, Carole
Lombard," Miller said. "He had just completed
filming ‘Gone With the Wind.’ She drove it until 1942
when she was killed in a plane crash. He couldn’t look
at it after that, let alone drive it, so he sold it to Roy
Del Ruth, a Hollywood director. Roy gave it to his
17-year-old son to drive to school. Lucky kid."
followed was a lot of gearhead gawking at high-performance
sports cars such as a 1955 Porsche Continental, one of
only 50 made, or old-timey Model T types, the most notable
being a 1910 Daimler 57 HP limousine used by England’s
King George V.
also gave a nice hat tip to recently deceased Sacramento
native George Barris, who made a career by designing cars
for Hollywood, including "Greased Lightning,"
the hot rod John Travolta drove in "Grease,"
given a prominent spot in the Vault.
once in a while, though, Miller would throw in a great
story to placate the automotive dilettantes.
one: "This is a 1971 DeTomaso Pantera. Owned by Elvis
Presley. He got into a fight with his girlfriend at the
time, Linda Thompson. He went out to try to start the car
and couldn’t get it to start. Out of frustration, he got
out, took out his revolver and shot the car 3 times. You
can see the steering wheel, right? There’s some material
missing. Caused by one of the bullets. There are two other
bullet holes. One put a hole in the floor."
this about a DeLorean DMC 12, with a 24-carat gold finish,
built in 1981. "Cost $86,000. It had a stock body
(made of) stainless steel. … The idea was that stainless
still didn’t require you to wax it. … Three people
actually purchased it. One was the president of the Snyder
National Bank in Dallas. It sat in the bank’s lobby for
a number of years before it was donated to the museum.
When the museum received it, there were only 7.4 miles on
the odometer. They never put any fluids in it. Never
started the engine, never driven on the road. Think about
it, if you were to drive it on the road and get a scratch,
how expensive would it be to replace it with 24-carat
Vault Tour went on and on, a 90-minute road trip. As with
any car ride, you get a little weary near the end.
that’s just me. The dude next to me in a Dodgers T-shirt
couldn’t get enough. At one point in the Vault,
mechanics drove a vintage dune buggy in for repairs. The
only thing more sensory-assaulting than the noise
reverberating off the walls was the noxious exhaust. The
guy turned to me and said, "God, I love that
6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
General admission: $15 (adults), $12 (seniors and
students), $7 (children to age 12). Vault Tour: $20.