So, I’m going to level with you here; I’ve gone a little bit rogue in our magazine about Colorado car culture. Yes, I sat in all the meetings where the point of the magazine was explained to me. Yes, I also signed the affidavit that explained that I understood them; No matter. I recently started a new job, which landed me smack in the middle of the Los Angeles metro area, and I couldn’t help myself but to share a bit about this incredible museum. 

I enjoy visits to California-all kinds of motorsports events like Formula D and the Grand Prix in Long Beach, various racing at Sonoma and Laguna Seca, well known driving spots like Angeles Crest and the Pacific Coast Highway, the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles, The Portofino and other iconic automotive attractions, and even other transportation-forward spots like Dockweiler State Beach, where you feel like you can almost touch planes taking off from Los Angeles International Airport’s runways (where I took the title image). There are plenty of compelling reasons to visit, but make no mistake, the Petersen Automotive Museum is a worthy attraction on its own. 

As you approach from the front entrance, the cars adorning the Lobby of the museum serve to tease the level of interesting sheet metal you’ll get a chance to look at here (given there is a Ferrari Enzo sitting in the hallway to the Lobby) before you even get a chance to pay your admission. It’s $19 to enter the main museum, but you’ll also have a choice to make at this point. One of the main attractions of the Petersen is its extensive Vault, an underground parking garage that covers the entire length of the museum’s two-square-block footprint, with over 250 rare and interesting vehicles crammed into every available inch of it. These include multiple race cars, a popemobile, star cars from film and television, and the cars of a dictator or two, to give you an idea of the variety in the vault. Vault tickets range from $25 for a self guided tour in the Vault, to $35 for a guided tour. Its important to keep in mind that the Vault does open later than the main museum, and closes earlier. The staff at the desk recommend getting through the Vault as early as possible. 

On this trip, and every other time I have been, I opted to wander the Vault. I prefer the self-guided experience but your mileage may vary. After walking down a subtly labeled staircase to the vault (and walking past Magnus Walker standing around in the hallway, whom I am just going to assume just lives there), you check in at the Vault’s front desk, and get a quick rundown of the rules; no kids under 10, no touching vehicles (and they request that you maintain at least two feet of distance), and no videography. 

The mix in the Vault is truly difficult to represent in words; plenty of turn of the century through WWII era vehicles are perched near the entrance to the room, which is laid out in a large grid, however I don’t think at the time I was there, there was much intentional ordering. A gorgeous coach-built ’60s Alfa Romeo met me at my first turn, and at my second turn, just sitting in the middle of foot traffic, was a Vector W8, windows open, asking to be geeked out over. A grail car to be sure; it always shocks me how much access you have to look at cars here that are absolute unobtainium. 

Off to the right of the entrance was a small separate room containing several gorgeous low-riders and Boyd Coddington custom cars (the level of detail to which a Southern Californian low-rider is built to is completely mind boggling). Neither of those really your thing? Not to worry. Something in the Vault likely is. Do you like Formula 1? How about several Lewis Hamilton Mercedes? How about one of the three factory gold Deloreans? Fan of Youtube? Freddy Hernandez’s (or Tavarish, formerly of Jalopnik and now of Youtube) Veilside Lamborghini Murcielago, which appeared in “Fast and Furious 8”, is tucked into a corner against a wall. It borders on absurd how much cool stuff can be crammed into a basement in Los Angeles. 

The Vault also houses the museum’s vehicles that are not currently on display in any other exhibit. As the exhibits change regularly, so do the vehicles in the Vault, which makes it a new experience each time you go. Other cars of note but not pictured due to space constraints in the article include the Yellow VW Microbus from “Little Miss Sunshine”, a screen used K.I.T.T. from “Knight Rider”, or Saddam Hussein’s Mercedes Benz 600 Landaulet. It got to the point where a regular roadcar 1967 Ford GT40 Mk.3 actually felt a bit pedestrian compared to what it was surrounded by. 

The self guided Vault tour is a timed ticket, and I believe its good for one hour. I had arrived at the Museum within 45 minutes of the Vault shutting down for the afternoon, so I hastily stumbled through row after row after row of cars with hugely impressive pedigrees, performance capabilities, race resumes, film careers and more. As the clock approached 3PM, I thanked the docents, and found my way to the elevator, taking me to the third floor, to start walking through the main museum. 

Even the more “business as usual” exhibits for the museum are filled with really impressive cars in a gorgeous setting. The Vault elevator will take you to any floor; I usually start “the rest of the museum” at the third floor and work my way down the large spiral staircase in the middle of the exhibit halls. 

The third floor houses several exhibits which each take a look at the history of the Automobile through a different lens; including a display on the specific importance of the automobile to Southern California’s development, and conversely Southern California’s influences on car culture as well. The vehicles on display here include multiple older vehicles which show the development and progression of cars over time, including a gorgeous Jaguar E-Type and a Messerschmidt microcar. 

I am often drawn in by the other far more flashy third floor exhibit, which is Hollywood: The Cars of Film and Television, which contains several fantastically interesting cars, including Black Beauty from the “Green Hornet”, “Thelma and Louise”‘s Thunderbird, Ecto-1 from “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”, and several other really cool screen used vehicles. 

All of the above however pale in comparison to the “Back to the Future” “A” Car to me, pictured below. For some context, I was born in 1986, and “Back to the Future” was one of my favorite movies of all time, like many people in my demographic. I loved it so much I bought a DeLorean in 2013. 

Happening upon the real “A” car is on a whole other level for me, made cooler by the story around this car. This is one of the fully detailed “A” or hero cars used for scenes where the car was not at risk throughout the film, among 5 others, which were distributed across “A” cars, filming jigs and the car that was actually blasted by a train at the end of the third movie (Sorry, the statute of limitations on spoillers runs out when the film has almost hit public domain). 

This car was used after the film at the Universal Studios backlot for some time, and effectively discarded, looted by park guests, and left in really rough shape. A group of devoted fans, mechanics and propwrights undertook a monumental restoration to bring the car back to its screen used shape. 

Moving down from the Third floor, the second floor houses another large special exhibition hall. During my trip, the exhibit was focused on hypercars, featuring a group of unfathomably crazy and equally expensive cars, tastefully lit and elevated to eye level on pedestals. Most of the hypercar royalty was represented, with featured cars ranging from the Rimac Concept One (some of you will remember this as the car that Richard Hammond obliterated on one of the last seasons of Top Gear), to the Lamborghini Centenario, a naked carbon fiber McLaren P1, A Ferrari La Ferrari Aperta, a Koenigsegg Jesko, and of course representation from the Volkswagen that made Hypercars cool, Bugatti. Interestingly present was a Devel 16, a 1,500 Horsepower fever dream from the United Arab Emirates that enthusiasts have debated the vaporware status of for years. While unattainable cars usually are not my forte, its hard not to look at and be fascinated by the craftsmanship on some of these cars, for example, the Jesko’s naked carbon wheels. 

Moving through the rest of the second floor, I passed through a more general display of some of the museum’s cars including a lovely DeTomaso Mangusta, among other interesting quirky vehicles. This display gives way to another interesting exhiibit containing several vehicles spanning the coming of the Electric vehicle. Given Tesla’s significant presence in California, its not surprising to encounter a prototype Model S. Whats interesting here is how little it changed from the prototype to the production car. A stones throw from the Tesla sits the Alpha Motors Wolf pickup, which looks like a modern reimagining of an 80’s mini truck a la Toyota’s Hilux or Nissan’s Hardbody. It’s a sensational looking thing. 

The remainder of the second floor includes the Discovery Center, an exhibit for families with interactive hands on activities, The Art Center College of Design Studio, showcasing the work that goes into designing production vehicles, and even a Microsoft-sponsored sim racing hall that allows you to jump into a sim rig and try your hand at Forza Motorsports 7. I managed to complete a clean race in first without putting a scratch on my Miura in the sim rig. The attending docent did not seem to realize the gravity of my achievement. Such is life. 

Moving down the spiral staircase one final time to the ground floor, I was met with two more large halls dedicated to rotating exhibits. 

One of these exhibits was Bond in Motion, an exploration of the various modes of transportation glorified in the James Bond franchise. As you might expect, this was Aston Martin heavy, though the Mustang Mach 1 from “Thunderball”, the BMW 750Il from “Tomorrow Never Dies”, and the Cagiva Dirtbike from “Goldeneye” all make an appearance. Other notable oddballs on display include Elon Musk’s Esprit submarine from “The Spy Who Loved Me”, and the bizarre jet boat used in the Thames chase that opened “The World is not Enough”. The collection has some deep pulls, to say the least. 

But truly the Astons are where its at for Bond. The DBS which set a record for number of consecutive rolls in “Casino Royale” is present on what’s left of its four wheels. The Gunfight DBS from the opening of “Quantum of Solace” is also there, and it wouldnt be a proper study in the Bond franchise without a DB5, of which one of the original film used cars is proudly displayed at the front of the exhibit. 

The second exhibit on the first floor was a tribute to pininfarina, featuring some of their lesser known coachbuilt cars under their own branding, and a variety of art and design sketches of their more famous cars. True; the Petersen is not in Colorado, but it is important. 

A place that goes to the extreme lengths that this museum does to not only curate an interesting and compelling collection of vehicles, but to present them and make them interesting to a wide audience, fostering the next generation of enthusiasts, cannot be ignored. 

If you find yourself in Los Angeles and looking for a car-related thing to do, a visit here stands out among a crowded and distinguished list of car-related things to do in LA. If you’re an enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to visit this love letter to the automobile and car culture at least once!