For travelers, museums are a primary attraction. The big ones — Louvre and D’Orsay in Paris, Uffizi in Florence, Smithsonian in Washington, DC — are must-sees.
Tens of thousands of others represent art, design, crafts, technology, science, history and recondite, sometimes obscure collections devoted to specific inventions, artists or innumerable oddities. If there is some field of human study or endeavor that does NOT have at least one museum devoted to it somewhere in the world, I can’t imagine what it is.
Americans — our culture inextricably woven with traveling a vast continent — have a wealth of museums devoted to transportation: ships and shipbuilding, railroads, aviation, mechanized transportation of all varieties, especially automobiles. Probably every American city of even moderate size has some collection of old, curious or valuable automobiles. Los Angeles, the undisputed American capital of car culture, is replete with them.
As an American Guy, I’m required to like cars; it’s in my contract. I even worked in a service station when I was in high school, mostly pumping gas and washing cars, but I learned a few things about what makes cars work.
Still, I’m just a fan of cars, not an expert, and not all that concerned with technical details. Self-taught as I am — an auto autodidact — I enjoy hearing about top speed, horsepower, innovations in ignition and aerodynamics, but mostly I like to see cool-looking cars.
I recently toured the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Let’s look at some cars, starting with a few from a long-ago era.
A 1936 Bugatti Type 57C, a wedding gift from his government to Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, Prince of Persia, later Shah of Iran.
Another Bugatti from the same year, a 57SC Atlantic, perhaps one of the most iconic of all classic automobiles.
I’ve always admired the “boattail” designs of cars from that era, and this ’37 Delage D8-120S epitomizes the look.
From after the war, a 1948 Talbot-Lago 26-GS.
All these classics boast innumerable fascinating details, some of them works of art in their own right: handles, grilles, headlamps, fairings, wheels. We’ll let one sparkling detail stand for all from this 1935 Hispano-Suiza.
For young blaknissan, the glory years were the ’50s and ’60s: Stirling Moss and Juan -Manuael Fangio tooling around the tracks at Le Mans and Silverstone in gleaming rockets of steel. There were plenty of examples from that era at the Petersen, including this 1953 Fiat V8 Supersonic …
… and this ’54 Mercedes-Benz W194, a model both Fangio and Moss drove to multiple victories:
(that’s one of my brothers, Chief Nixon, shooting a close-up).
Memorable from that halcyon time, a 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa 625/250:
THAT is the epitome of what a race car should look like. For car geeks, it’s a unique 625, retrofitted with a V12 engine, and is considered the winningest Ferrari in history. Cool.
For my younger self, though, the ne plus ultra of groovy cars was the Jaguar X-series. Someone a bit more notable than I liked them, too. Here’s the favorite car of Steve McQueen, a 1956 XKSS:
Cars and car culture are intrinsically tied to what we see on the screen, from Buster Keaton to Fast and Furious. The Petersen is, in fact, a stone’s throw from Hollywood, and always has a number of cars made famous in film on display, including one many of you will recognize at first glance:
Yes, the DeLorean driven in all three “Back to the Future” films by Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Fire up the Flux Capacitor and let’s go forward, into the past! Here’s the dashboard display, still alight:
What was my favorite? Impossible to say, but life’s about choices. Therefore, I choose to drive home something that’s sure to turn heads as I wheel into the driveway at Rancho Retro: a 1939 Delahaye model 165.
Anyone care to ride along? I’ll cruise by, pick you up, and we’ll hit the drive-through at In-N-Out Burger.
© Brad Nixon 2016
Note: Although the photos are mine, the automobiles are the property of the Petersen Automotive Museum and a variety of other collections. These images may not be used for any other purpose without express permission from all parties.
The Petersen is at 6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, conveniently across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the LaBrea Tar Pits, for anyone in your party who wants to tour another type of museum while you’re gawking at hardware.
My brother, who was with me, is a car aficionado. You can read his own blog about the Petersen HERE.
© Brad Nixon 2017