Discoveries: L. A.’s Petersen Automotive Museum is gearhead Valhalla

Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 0:58 AM

No, I was just whelmed enough. The fault falls squarely on me, not the museum. This space may presently be, as many in the know have raved, the country’s foremost museum committed to what undoubtedly is America’s favorite form of transportation.

Discoveries: L. A.’s Petersen Automotive Museum is gearhead Valhalla

I wasn't overwhelmed by the newly renovated Petersen Automotive Museum here on the stretch of Wilshire Blvd they call Miracle Mile.

No, I was just whelmed enough.

The fault falls squarely on me, not the museum.

This space may presently be, as many in the know have raved, the country’s foremost museum committed to what undoubtedly is America’s favorite form of transportation. The $ninety million spiffing up, including a snazzy stained-steel exterior adorned with ruddy ribbons to see love a hot rod’s racing stripes, is presently top of the line, mint condition, absolutely cherry. See below the Petersen’s hood, and you’ll discover some of the most expensive and scarce vehicles arranged lovingly on three floors, not to mention the high-tech flourishes such as to simulate the race-car driving experience.

The only problem – maybe, frankly, just my problem – is that you've to be really interested in cars, look them as distant more than merely a means of conveyance, to fully appreciate all that the Petersen offers.

Sorry, but I’m just not that into it.

Yes, I can appreciate the one thousand nine hundred thirty-four La Salle three hundred fifty 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 wish to obtain a gander at the first Jaguar ever produced, a one thousand nine hundred thirty-seven SS one hundred? After a while, though, all that shiny chrome detail, buffed bodies and tooled leather interior bears a certain sameness to my uneducated eyes.

Full disclosure, I was much more drawn to the wing committed to cars used in the movies (“Herbie the Like 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.

I tried – really, I did – to let out the clutch on my inner gearhead, embrace that fuel-injected feeling believed to be interior everyone bearing a , but I don’t love faking it.

I thought maybe if I hung around the Petersen long enough, glommed onto to the right people, something of a might get keep and I'd be transformed into that guy who not only knows what a is, but could expound on subjects such as surface-to-volume ratio.

So I 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 seldom 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.

Waiting, I eavesdropped on three middle-aged men in khakis and polo shirts engaged in a heated discussion about the relative merits of a versus a , apparently some type of ’70s AMC nostalgia smackdown. Two men on the distant side of sixty shuffled over wearing identical blue and ruddy Hot Wheels trucker hats that'd see pretentious on hipsters half their age but totally appropriate on them, given this milieu. All around me, testosterone hung in the air love so much Old Spice.

There were women on the Vault Tour, too. Oh, yes, let’s not gender-stereotype here. They seemed to be split into two camps: one) Those who are self-identifying gearheads themselves, love the blonde whose eyeliner matched her black, sleeveless Harley Davidson T-shirt; and two) Those who shifted from ft to foot, arms folded, staring into the distance, in what probably was the same body speech their husbands adopted when the couples go antiquing.

Best of all, we'd 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 wish to hear some historical nugget or amusing anecdote about specific cars.

You can probably guess which category I fell under.

Before we descended into the Vault, Miller laid the ground rules.

“It’s a working garage,” he said. “I know that some of you'd love to obtain near to the cars. We can’t authorize you to do that. A few years ago, we'd an incident. Someone was wearing a jacket and his zipper keep a kind scratch in the $16 million Bugatti. So, OK?”

Then 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.”

Fortunately for me, Miller got me hooked at the first stop in the Vault. We stood before a , black as midnight and gorgeously appointed with white-wall tires on ruddy rims, tan leather interior, a blood-red dashboard and a shiny winged angel hood decoration as an exclamation point. Others may have been rapt by the facts Miller supplied: customized exterior to delete chrome siding, a 346-cubic-inch V8 engine, how this was the latest model built before the United States entered World War II. I however, fell for the legend about the owners, a “super-couple” bigger at the time than Brangelina is today.

“It 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 one thousand nine hundred forty-two when she was killed in a plane crash. He couldn’t see 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.”

What followed was a lot of gearhead gawking at high-performance sports cars such as a one thousand nine hundred fifty-five Porsche Continental, one of only fifty made, or old-timey Model T types, the most notable being a one thousand nine hundred ten Daimler fifty-seven HP limousine used by England’s King George V.

Miller also gave a kind 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.

Every once in a while, though, Miller would toss in a grand legend to appease the automotive dilettantes.

Here’s one: “This is a one thousand nine hundred seventy-one DeTomaso Pantera. Owned by Elvis Presley. He got into a fight with his girlfriend at the time, Linda Thompson. He went out to attempt to start the car and couldn’t obtain it to start. Out of frustration, he got out, took out his revolver and shot the car three times. You can look the steering wheel, right? There’s some material missing. Caused by one of the bullets. There are two other bullet holes. One keep a hole in the floor.”

And this about a DeLorean DMC twelve, with a 24-carat gold finish, built in one thousand nine hundred eighty-first. “Cost $86.000. It'd 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 no 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 keep 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 obtain a scratch, how expensive would it be to replace it with 24-carat gold?”

The Vault Tour went on and on, a 90-minute road trip. As with any car ride, you get a small weary close the end.

But that’s just me. The dude following to me in a Dodgers T-shirt couldn’t obtain 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 like that smell.”

six thousand sixty Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

ten a. m. to six p. m. daily

Common admission: $15 (adults), $twelve (seniors and students), $7 (children to age 12). Vault Tour: $20.

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