A little over a year after its massive renovation began, the all-new Petersen Automotive Museum is finally ready and it’s spectacular.
A total of 100 automobiles, 23 motorcycles, four scooters, one bobsled and one full-sized Lightning McQueen are on the grid as the museum throws open its doors again on Sunday, Dec. 6 in a special $200 “Preview Day.” After that you can get in for a mere 15 bucks, a pittance compared to the $90 million spent on the renovation.
And what a renovation. The 20-year-old museum was completely gutted inside and scraped clean on the outside.
What you see, what you cannot help but see, on the outside is that wild-looking stainless-steel ribbon assembly that everyone either loves or hates. It makes the Disney Concert Hall look downright Greco-Roman by comparison. That exterior finery is 100 tons of 14-gauge type 304 stainless-steel ribbon in 308 sections held to the side of the building by 25 tubular steel supports and 140,000 custom-designed stainless-steel screws. The ribbons float around the building “evoking imagery of speed and the organic curves of a coach-built automobile,” the museum says. OMG. Love it or hate it (and the only people we’ve heard say they love it are on the board of the museum), you won’t be able to ignore it, which may have been the idea in the first place.
Inside is where you want to be, though. The 132 vehicles parked inside for the opening are scattered over 133,380 square feet of museum, considerably more floor space than before. Another 60,000 square feet in The Vault underground can hold as many as 150 more cars. And what cars they are. The new museum celebrates the history, industry and artistry of the automobile.
Let’s start with the artistry. We have two favorites among the new Petersen’s many opening exhibits. “Precious Metal” in the Bruce Meyer Family Gallery features 10 beautiful silver cars on silver stands in a silver room with a silver backdrop. It includes two Pebble Beach winners — John Shirley’s coachbuilt Ferrari and Bob Lee’s Horch — as well as Corvette and Mercedes race cars and several others. Look at the photo gallery to see them all. One floor down is the Peter and Merle Mullin Artistry Floor, featuring “the most artfully designed vehicles ever built.” And they ain’t kidding. Mullin’s Pebble-winning Voisin is in a corner; other Voisins are scattered about, while Bugattis, Delages and Delahayes make you forget every other car ever made, at least while you’re in the “Mullin Grand Salon.”
The museum is also about education and to that end there are two main entities. The Disney/Pixar Mechanical Institute uses a mechanical reproduction of the parts that make up Lightning McQueen to teach kids — and adults — about what makes a car go.
“I really want this to be something where everyone can learn,” said Pixar’s Jay Ward.
Visitors can check out a Cars Pad, sort of like an iPad but with the “Cars” characters taking you through the museum and through the mechanics of the automobile. Mater helps you build a race car, Flo talks design, Luigi tells you about chassis and tires and Ramone guides you through customizing.
Then, on the north side of the second floor, Maserati brings you the “Production Gallery,” showing in four displays how a car is designed, engineered and built, ending with a finished Quattroporte.
Around the corner from that is the Art Center’s College of Design Studios, where real, live Art Center transportation design students design real cars.
“The public can walk by and actually see them create the future,” said museum chairman Peter Mullin, who is also a big backer of the Art Center.
Around another corner from that is the Forza Motorsport Racing Experience Driving Gallery, where 10 racing simulators offer a Petersen Museum-custom version of “Forza Motorsport 6.” Lap times are displayed for all to see, so pay attention and don’t crash.
Overall there are more cars, more exhibits and, perhaps most importantly, more light bulbs so you can see everything now. Greater Los Angeles built itself around the automobile, from Model Ts to Teslas. While other metropolises abandoned cars, built skyscrapers and grew up, Angelenos clung to their cars and went for freeway-connected urban sprawl.
“Southern California grew out, not up, and the car is the reason,” said Mullin.
Now LA has one of the world’s best car museums to celebrate that feat.