The Petersen Auto Museum is an experience unlike any other. The museum has an interesting history and a dedicated mission to help share information about automobile history, design, and culture with the world.
The Petersen Auto Museum was opened by Robert E. Petersen and his wife, and since its inauguration, it has remained the most central location to help celebrate the development and history of the automotive industry.
The museum is based in Los Angeles, which is one of the most car-centric cities in the world. This is an ideal location for a venue displaying some of history’s most impressive, innovative, and interesting vehicles.
The Petersen Auto Museum’s mission statement is quite simple: “to explore and present the history of the automobile and its impact on global life, using Los Angeles as the prime example.”
Much like the automobile itself grows and changes at a rapid pace, so too does the Petersen Auto Museum. While there are a number of permanent exhibits on display at the museum, throughout the year the museum is host to a variety of different temporary exhibits.
The Petersen Auto Museum Vault
One of the most interesting aspects of the Petersen Auto Museum is the Vault. The Vault is where important and special cars are stored when they’re not on display in the museum itself. It is also home to cars that are being loaned or repaired.
Petersen Auto Museum’s Renovation
The vault used to be inaccessible to the public. However, in 2015 the Petersen Auto Museum underwent a massive restoration. During this time, much of the museum and its exhibits were jam-packed into the Vault, providing visitors with an unprecedented look at large numbers of priceless vehicles.
The Renovation, which was quite extensive and cost more than $90 million, led to a complete redesign of the whole museum. The exterior was redesigned by the Kohn Pedersen Fox architectural firm. The exterior design was fashioned, according to KPF architects, based upon vehicular motion itself.
Head architects decided that the new-and-improved Petersen Museum would be a reflection of how air moved throughout the body of a vehicle while it was in motion, and now the Museum is said to represent a car moving forward. Symbolically, this also represents the continual progress of the automotive industry.
The interior was redesigned by the Scenic Route, a famous interior decorating company. This led to the redevelopment of a number of exhibits to help encourage customers to revisit the museum.
Another result of the renovation was that the Vault more than doubled in size. The Vault now sits at close to 60,000 square feet and s home to more than 250 cars that were delivered from different places throughout the world.
In the Vault, you’ll be able to bear witness to trucks, cars, motorcycles and other forms of automobiles. These vehicles range in age from relatively recent to more than 120 years old. The variety of vehicles and sheer space of the Vault make this the largest guided car tour in the U.S.
Opening the Vault
For most of the time that the Petersen Auto Museum has been around, the Vault has been an exclusive-only area. On June 1st, 2018, the Petersen Auto Museum Vault was finally opened to the public in the form of the World Vault Tour.
The World Vault Tour improved the experience of the Vault by adding more than 100 new cars. The Tour, which is presented by Hagerty (a famous company known for offering insurance on rare and collectible cars) and the Petersen Museum, represents the two groups’ dedication to preserving and promoting automotive history.
Terry L. Brooks, the Petersen Auto Museum’s Executive Director, couldn’t have said things better.
“As the world’s preeminent automotive museum, we constantly strive to educate our guests about automotive history, technology, and design and how it has impacted both local and global culture,” he said, affirming the Museum’s dedication to providing accurate and informative experiences to its guests.
Commenting on the Vault specifically, he said that “The Vault presented by Hagerty will offer the public an opportunity to now select their tour experience and see compelling new content that has never been displayed before at the Petersen.”
The new Vault Tours offer a whopping 40,000 additional square feet of space compared to the pre-renovation Vault. This is nearly triple the size of the previous venue!
What’s In a Vault Tour?
If you are planning to check out the Vault, you’re going to want to take a guided Vault tour. These tours help visitors understand and explore the themes, ideas, and innovations that led to the development of some of history’s most important vehicles.
Guides will share knowledge regarding these vehicles: development history, legends and myths surrounding certain vehicles, and exciting ideas will be imparted upon visitors. Furthermore, high-tech modern vehicles will be explored allowing visitors to get a glimpse into the probable future of the automobile industry.
Other attractions that you’ll get to see and learn about in the Vault include:
- The chance to check out and learn about modern supercars
- Vehicles owned by heads-of-state and other important officials or celebrities
- Classic American vehicles that played important parts in history
- Cars that won a number of different awards
- Some of the most innovative and exciting vehicles ever to grace the Earth
Cars On Display In the Vault
There are a huge number of culturally significant cars and vehicles that can be seen in the Petersen Auto Museum Vault. Here are a few examples of some of the more famous automobiles on display here.
The Nash-Healey is a 2-seated sports car that was produced in America during 1951 and 1954. Of the 1953 model, only a few hundred were made. The cars, which were marketed by the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, were mainly used as a flagship car to promote the sales of other vehicles made by Nash.
The car was described as America’s second post-war sports car, and it was one of the first sports cars introduced into America since the Great Depression.
The Gold-Plated Delorean might sound like a myth, but a number of these vehicles were actually made. The vehicle, which was produced as part of an American Express promotion in the early 80s, was a limited edition car. There were only 100 of them made and they were sold for $85,000 apiece.
A few different models of the Gold-Plated Delorean were made. The VIN 4300 was a manual transmission with a tan interior. The VIN 4301 (which is on display at the Petersen Auto Museum) is an automatic transition. Before being moved to Petersen, it was held in a glass case for many years in the Snyder National Bank lobby in Texas.
’86 Jawa Speedway
The Jawa Speedway Racers are fairly simple bikes that use a 500cc single-cylinder that can go from 0-60 in about 3 seconds.
’52 Ferrari Barchetta
The ’52 Ferrari Barchetta is an interesting piece of history. The car was first purchased by Henry Ford II so that designers at the Ford Company could study the styling and create vehicles with comparable specs and design.
It’s believed that the Barchetta was used to help inspire the design of the Ford Thunderbird.
’59 Corvette Italia
The Corvette Italia from 1959 was built by Scaglietti Coachbuilders. The vehicle was made in conjunction with Carroll Shelby during the time that was eager to take part in European racing.
Shelby decided that he wanted to have a vehicle with a suave Italian body. However, he didn’t want to lose out on the sheer torque and power behind an American engine.
’54 Plymouth Explorer
The ’54 Plymouth Explorer is one of the few concept cars from the 1950s that has managed to survive. The car was designed by Luigi Segre at Carrozeria Ghia.
The Ghia-bodied Explorer, which is fantastically preserved, now sits in the Vault at the Petersen Auto Museum.
Barris XR6 Roadster
The Barris Experimental Roadster, also known as the XR6, was named America’s Most Beautiful Roadster in the 1963 Oakland Roadster Show. The experimental vehicle, developed as a project by LeRoi “Tex” Smith, was made with the intention of improving the development of roadsters and hot rods by using components that had never been used before in hot rod design.
By retaining the standard roadster shape while combining a race car nose, Tex was able to design a low-cost build-up that could be easily emulated by other fans of hot rod racing.
Pre-Production ’92 Viper
The Viper held in the Vault at the Petersen Auto Museum was the fifth pilot production model ever built. Generally, most pre-production models are destroyed due to the safety hazards that they present. However, this particular pre-production Viper was preserved by the manufacturers and now resides in Petersen’s Vault.
1967 Ford GT40 Mark III
There were only seven Ford GT40 Mark IIIs ever built. Of these, four were made with left-hand drive – making them entirely street legal in the United States. It is one of these four left-handed varieties that are on display in the Vault at the Petersen Auto Museum.
The car, which was first owned by Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, is a bit different than other versions of the car. It has round headlights rather than the oblong variety found in other vehicles. The deck is extended, offering more storage space, and the suspension is a bit less rigid. Overall, the vehicle is more comfortable.
The car is powered by a 306-horsepower Ford V8 engine which is attached to a 5-speed manual transmission box. The car accelerates quite quickly, reaching from 0-60 in just over 5 seconds. It can reach about 165 miles per hour at its top speed.
The 2001 M-Pulse was featured in the American Solar Challenge of 2001 and had quite the experience while it was there. The M-Pulse actually crashed during a test just 17 days before the Challenge was scheduled.
Not only were the builders able to successfully rebuild the car in time, but they also managed to win the race afterward. Proceeding to the World Solar Challenge, the M-Pulse then came in third. The M-Pulse can now be found in the Vault at the Petersen Auto Museum.
1955 Porsche Continental Cabaret
The Continental Cabaret, which is derived from the Porsche 356, was designed by Max Hoffman of New York. One of the reasons he chose to name the vehicle as he did was because he thought that Americans would be more susceptible to the allure of a vehicle that boasted a strong name.
Unfortunately, Porsche was met with some difficulty. They discovered that Ford has already trademarked the name, and as a result, they weren’t able to produce many of the vehicles under the same name. A few of the cars were produced – one of which sits in the Petersen Auto Museum – but the rest were rebranded as European and, eventually, returned to their original name (the 356).
Tickets to Vault Tours
If you want to have the best experience possible in the Vault at the Petersen Auto Museum, then you are going to have to book a tour. Tickets sell out quite quickly, and it’s generally recommended that you try to book your tickets several weeks or months in advance.
Tickets vary in price, depending on the age of the individuals attending and the dates of the tour. At present, tickets are only available for tours between the dates of March 1-15th and between March 16th-31st.
Tours on these dates can be booked for either 10:15 AM, 12:00 PM, 1:45 PM, 3:30 PM, and 5:15 PM. Tours are available on any day of the week, and the date of your preferred tour can be specified when you’re purchasing the ticket.
The prices of tickets are:
- Children (ages 10-17) $39.00
- Adults, $44.00
- Seniors, $42.00
These tickets all include general admission and allow you to take full advantage of the rest of the museum. Children under the age of 10 are not permitted on Vault Tours, nor can you bring in backpacks, food, or drink. It’s also important to note that photography is not allowed in the Vault.
Online ticket sales end the same morning of the tour date, so you’ll have to make sure to book your tickets at least one day in advance.