The Petersen Automotive Museum is located on Wilshire Boulevard along Museum Row in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles. One of the world’s largest automotive museums, the Petersen Automotive Museum is a nonprofit organization specializing in automobile history and related educational programs.
Founded on June 11, 1994 by magazine publisher Robert E. Petersen and his wife Margie, the $40-million Petersen Automotive Museum is owned and operated by the Petersen Automotive Museum Foundation. The museum was originally located within the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and later moved to a historic department store designed by Welton Becket. Opened in 1962, the building first served as a short-lived U.S. branch of Seibu Department Stores, before operating as an Ohrbach’s department store from 1965 to 1986. Six years after Ohrbach’s closed, Robert Petersen selected the largely windowless site as an ideal space for a museum—allowing artifacts to be displayed without harmful exposure to direct sunlight.
In 2015, the museum underwent an extensive $125 million renovation. The building’s façade was redesigned by the architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, and features a stainless-steel ribbon assembly made of 100 tons of 14-gauge type 304 steel in 308 sections, 25 supports and 140,000 custom stainless-steel screws. Designers at The Scenic Route configured interior spaces to accommodate changing exhibits. The remodeled museum opened to the public on December 7, 2015.
Vehicles now considered “alternative power” have existed since the automobile’s creation. In 1900, steam, electric and gasoline powered vehicles could be seen on the roads of major American cities. For example, in New York, Boston and Chicago, 34% of cars were powered by electricity and nearly half were run on steam.
Following the discovery of significant reserves of oil in Texas and California, the price of gasoline dropped substantially in the 1920s. As a result, gasoline-fueled internal-combustion engines became wildly popular, although many engineers believed that alternative power sources still held promise.
Experimentation continued with alternative fuels, electric power and even steam throughout the twentieth century. Contemporary alternative power vehicles are designed to use fuels more efficiently than typical gasoline-powered cars, reducing or eliminating emissions. These vehicles contain state-of-the-art, often experimental, technology that may form the blueprint for future automobiles.
Forza motorsport racing experience
Visitors get behind the wheel and experience the dynamic feeling of racing a car in one of eight specifically curated experiences. Ten racing simulators offer a custom version of Forza Motorsport 7.
The exhibit also features artifacts and information that explains how these immersive elements of automotive culture are created.
The Forza Motorsport Racing Experience closes at 5:30pm or 30 minutes prior to the museum closing.
Cars mechanical institute and carspad experience
Through a ground-breaking partnership with Disney/Pixar, visitors of all ages can now be a part of an amazing experience found only at the Petersen. The Cars Mechanical Institute, inspired by the animated film, immerses visitors in different interactive stations where they learn about the mechanical systems that make cars work. Visitors can also paint and personalize virtual cars as well as race and color their own Cars character to take home, and our littlest car enthusiasts can zoom toy cars around a racetrack.
In the Cars Mechanical Institute visitors can participate in the CARSpad Experience, an iPad game where visitors design their own virtual racecar.
Artcenter design studio
ArtCenter College of Design’s impact on the world of transportation dates back to its founding in 1930. The Pasadena, California institution is a leader in art and design education that challenges students through a transdisciplinary curriculum that explores socially responsible, creative and design-based solutions to real-world issues. ArtCenter offers undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as a wide range of open-enrollment art and design courses for individuals at every stage of their educational or professional development. It remains focused on its core educational mission—encouraging students to learn to create and influence change.
The College’s transportation and industrial design programs offer rigorous courses of study that emphasizes technical capability and creative thinking. Students benefit from an alumni network well-connected in the automotive industry, proximity to more than 20 advanced automotive design studios, and the beauty and temperate climate of a region that has inspired generations of designers before them.
The museum has over 100 vehicles on display in its 25 galleries. The remaining half of the collection is kept in a vault, located on the basement level of the building. Age restrictions and an admission premium are in effect to view the vault collection. The ground floor focuses on automotive artistry, showcasing an array of extravagant automobiles. The second floor is principally concerned with industrial engineering—including design, performance, and a collection of interactive teaching exhibits. Special displays on the industry floor cover racing, motorcycles, hot rods and customs. The third floor chronicles the history of the automobile with an emphasis on the car culture of Southern California.
Some of the cars, automotive memorabilia, and exhibits include:
An extensive Porsche exhibit (until January 2019), including the rare 1939 Porsche 64, one of only two in existence.
A unique exhibit on the history of the Japanese automotive industry, with many cars on view from Japanese collections
An exhibit on powered children’s racecars
The NASCAR Herbie used during filming of Herbie: Fully Loaded.
Lightning McQueen from Disney Pixar Cars and Cars 2
1967 Ford MKIII GT40
1956 Jaguar XKSS formerly owned by Steve McQueen
2011 Ford Fiesta from Ken Block’s Gymkhana 3
1992 Batmobile from Batman Returns
Ferrari 308 GTS Targa used by Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. In order for the 6’4” Tom Selleck to fit comfortably in the Ferrari, they had to lower the driver seat.
De Tomaso Pantera which belonged to Elvis Presley
The museum received a $100-million gift from Margie Petersen and the Margie & Robert E. Petersen Foundation in April 2011, which includes cash and the property the museum was leasing, as well as many of the vehicles belonging to the Petersens.
Museum in popular culture
On March 9, 1997, after a party at the museum, The Notorious B.I.G. got into an SUV with his entourage and drove fifty yards to a red light where he was murdered by an unknown assailant.
Ohrbach’s department store is featured in a lengthy sequence in the 1988 film Miracle Mile.
The museum is destroyed in the 1997 film, Volcano.
In a scene from Who Killed the Electric Car? a previous General Motors EV1 owner visits their car in the museum.
On March 10 2019 Adam Carolla held his 10th Anniversary Celebration for the The Adam carolla Show (podcast) at the museum.