LOS ANGELES — Car lovers rejoice! Start your engines and head to The Petersen Automotive Museum on L.A.’s Miracle Mile. It is back open following a $90 million renovation that lasted 13 straight months. Everything is brand new from the inside to the outside.
A special grand opening ceremony was held on Thursday, December 3rd just a few days after the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show closed for the season.
“We thought, you know what, we need to keep up,” said Leslie Kendall, a curator at the museum. “We need to do something different. We need to communicate our message in ways that we’ve not been doing for a while. Instead of gigantic dioramas, we’re kind of taking that car out the context. We’re putting cars in a place where they can be studied individually. They can take as deep of dive as they want into any particular topic. It’s how people learn today and that’s what we wanted to do.”
One of the first things you’ll notice when you arrive at the Petersen Automotive Museum is the building’s striking exterior. It is wrapped with 308 undulating, steel ribbons. During the day, you’ll see the chrome. But at night, you’ll also see the red light behind the chrome designed to resemble your car’s stop light.
“The exterior of the music, we think, conveys the excitement of what people are going to see when they come inside,” he added. “For 20 years, we’ve been kind of a plain looking museum. We really haven’t had any architectural splash and now we can’t say that anymore. There’s nobody who’s going to drive by who’s not going to know that we’re here. We want to make it very clear that we’re here, we’re open for business and people are welcome to come in and see what gets us so excited.”
When you step inside the museum, you’ll recognize the gem that the Petersen is. Most visitors will take the elevator to the third floor, then walk down the steps to the second floor, and finally end their trip on the first floor.
The third level is known as the “history” floor. It features cars such as the 1886 Benz motorwagen, a 1900 Smith runabout, a 1915 Ford Model T, the General Motors EV1 electric car, and a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible. The third floor also features a Hollywood section with cars that were used in the filming of movies and television shows.
“We talk about history chronologically, of course, but we do break it out into five different themes,” the curator explained. “We want people to understand Los Angeles as well as the rest of the world in five different areas. For example, innovation, styling, that sort of thing. We’ve got a very good collection of Hollywood cars. All of which will rotate over time. We want to keep things interesting enough so people will want to keep coming back.”
The second level is known as the “industry” floor. It includes automobiles like the 2012 Fisker Karma plug-in vehicle, a 2016 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 V6, as well as a bright yellow 2017 Ford GT that was the standout of the 2015 North American International Auto Show.
“When people get down to the second floor, they’ll learn about the people behind the car,” Kendall added. “The gigantic companies that make these vehicles. How they are made, the technology behind them and also the styling behind them. Part of that styling is a tribute to the Art Center College of Design, which is in nearby Pasadena. The Art Center graduates more people who have an influence on the world automotive industry than any other institution on the planet. That’s a story that we want to communicate. They come to the Petersen Automotive Museum. They’ve set up a satellite campus so that their students can be close to their potential source of inspiration.”
My favorite part of the museum is the alternative power gallery. It includes cars such as the 1914 Galt from Canada, the 1915 Detroit Electric model 61, a 2008 Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle and a 2016 Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle. The gallery also includes charging stations from past and present. My only question is…why isn’t the Chevrolet Volt part of this gallery?
“We have four cars down there right now,” the curator explained. “We have the world’s first compressed natural gas vehicle, a 1939 Fiat that we got from Italy. We have a very early gas-electric hybrid built during the teens up in Canada. We have an early battery electric car, the Detroit Electric, built in 1915. We have the world’s first fuel cell electric vehicle, the 1966 General Motors Electrovan that we borrowed from the GM corporate collection in Detroit.”
Why did fuel-powered vehicles become so popular if electric vehicles were being manufactured as early as 1915?
“Electric cars were more popular at the turn of the 20th century than any other kind of automobile,” Kendall answered. “They were cleaner, easier to start, they were quiet, they were easier to maintain. Gasoline won the day because it’s more energy dense. It’s easy to refuel. The gasoline engine is an approachable science. There are plenty of people out there who can fix it. Electrics were a lot easier for the ladies during the 20th century. But they couldn’t go very far. They could go 30-50 miles than you had to bring it back home and put it on the charger overnight. Gasoline cars offered a much greater convenience. That’s why gasoline is still popular today even though that may very well soon change.”
Officials at the museum are doing research on autonomous vehicles–or ones that can drive themselves. One day, the museum will add these cars to the exhibit once they begin to take off.
The first level is known as “artistry.” It features cars built before World War II including a Bugatti gifted to the Prince of Persia. In addition, there are vehicles from the BMW Art Collection housed on the ground floor.
Fortune magazine calls the new Petersen Museum the “ultimate man cave.” Go check it out for yourself!
The Petersen Automotive Museum is located at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. For tickets and more information, visit www.petersen.org.