Petersen Museum 2018

The original exterior of the Petersen Museum was arguably not beautiful but it was typical of the architecture at the time of the birth of hot rodding and the car culture in Southern California.

The car hobby is changing. Pickups are cool, station wagons are in and the demographics of the car collector are changing. No longer is the car hobby focused on hot rods and muscle cars just like it once was all about brass era cars and Model Ts. A good example of this is what has happened to the Petersen Museum in Southern California.

The new facade for the Museum does not have a name on it anywhere and the architecture provides no clue as to what is inside the building.

Katrina and I recently traveled to California to visit family. Having lived there for over 20 years it really is not a big deal for us to travel back there. We avoid all the typical tourist spots such as Disney Land and Hollywood etc. However, there are a couple of exceptions. We always enjoyed visiting the Wally Parks NHRA Museum in Pomona and the Petersen Museum in LA. Previous pictures and reviews of these Museums can be found on this site.

There is one sign on the outside by the entrance to the parking garage that simply says “Peterson”.

Briefly I will say the NHRA Museum was better than I have ever seen it. We had a terrific time there. I wish I could say the same for the Petersen.

As you may know, upon the death of  Robert E. Petersen and his wife Margie the Museum Board of Directors determined that the Museum needed a change. Under Robert Petersen’s leadership the museum that bares his name was about the car culture in Southern California. For many enthusiast, this was where hot rods, custom cars and the car culture were born. The Petersen Museum depicted that history through dioramas and changing car collections and displays. There were always some magnificent examples of the American Hot Rod, Muscle Cars, Sports Cars and even Low Riders and VWs. It was where the ever changing displays captured the youth of the car hobby. You might see an Art Deco French Curve car or a George Barris custom creation but you knew it was S CA inspired and an enthusiasts car.

One of the concept cars by Chrysler.

Unfortunately, it appears the current leadership of the Museum seems to believe that they must look beyond S CA and honor the World of Cars; cars from all over the World should be represented. There also seems to be a strong influence from certain manufactures who may or may not be helping sponsor certain displays.

Toyota had multiple big displays in the Museum. This is a very historic and valuable Toyota but they were not a big influence in America.

During our visit in July of 2018, there were but a very few hot rods on display, a few “Movie and TV” cars, no muscle cars and very few American cars. There were a large number of old Toyota’s and other non-American manufactured cars. It was not all a waste, there were some fabulous cars including a couple of Chrysler prototypes from the 50s and an original Ford GT40 along side a new Ford GT.

One of a very few hot rods on display.

However, the Petersen Museum has gone from near the top of our list of favorite car museums to one that we will not again visit.

As we toured the Museum we began to watch the other visitors. Then as we had lunch at a table next to the Museum restaurant it became very clear. The World is changing and the Classic Car Hobby is no longer the same. Car enthusiast are not limited to one ethnic group or one particular race. Our hobby is not shrinking, it is changing and growing. This is not a bad thing it just isn’t the same anymore.

We were impressed with the very large number of young people and young families present. The crowds were larger than we remember seeing there in the past and the visitors were far more diverse.

Low Riders were and are a big part of S CA car culture. Even these were represented by only two cars as I remember.

You and I may not take a second look at some Toyota performance car we have never seen before but there are Japanese car enthusiasts who grew up lusting over that car as much as we did our Fords, Chevys and MOPARs.

The Petersen Museum has changed. It is probably for the better of the hobby but for me and traditional collector car enthusiasts from the past 20 to 30 years it likely will leave you feeling a little empty and depressed. It did us.

I understand why the Petersen Museum has changed. It now has a much wider public appeal and is most likely more successful. But, I miss what it once represented and what it used to be!

Do you agree or disagree?

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About the Author: I grew up and lived in Iowa for nearly 40 years before moving to Southern California and now live in Tennessee. I have been into cars since I was old enough to remember. I don't have a brand loyalty although I do prefer American Muscle especially the 1969/1970 NASCAR Aero Cars. (Check our our www.TalladegaSpoilerRegistry.com page) As long as it has four wheels on it I get excited. Few men are lucky enough to be able to share their passion for cars with the woman they love. Fortunately, my wife Katriana is also a gear head and many of our activities revolve around the cars. We have a small collection that includes at least one car from each of the Big Three. Katrina prefers all original cars while I like to modify them so we have a few of each. When we aren't playing with cars we are out with our miniature donkeys. You can see more about that part of our lives at http://www.LegendaryFarms.com.

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