The New Petersen Automotive Museum Look: Simply Wow


The Petersen Automotive Museum, referred to as simply “The Petersen” by the staff and crew, opened up its doors for a special preview for the automotive media on December 3, 2015. Media members from around the world were treated to the results of a 14-month transformation from the basement up to the penthouse floor, including a complete exterior remodel.

The Petersen Automotive Museum reopened to the public as a modern, world-class auto museum, with one-of-a-kind cars and interactive activities that will keep this attraction as a “must-see” for every auto enthusiast.

The ribbons of stainless steel that shroud the building have been a talk of the town as the process was exposed to the public. The time lapse video of the work shows what everyone else in the city has been keeping an eye on this past year. The museum, which contains many of automotive history’s greatest cars from a design perspective, along with collector cars, championship winning race cars, groundbreaking art cars, famous Hollywood vehicles, motorcycles, and even an Olympic bobsled.

“I am proud to announce that the new Petersen Automotive Museum is open on schedule, on budget, and with interior and exterior designs that are even more stunning than the concept renderings – and that is a rare feat in both the architecture and museum worlds,” said Executive Director Terry Karges.

The museum’s collection even includes one BMW designed bobsled used by Team USA in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“Thanks to the efforts of Kohn Pedersen Fox, Matt Construction, A. Zahner Company, The Scenic Route, and our incredible Petersen team, we have transformed a building that was once an old department store into one of the most groundbreaking structures in Los Angeles. What’s inside is just as stunning, including a three-story spiral staircase that transports visitors through 25 galleries representing the history, industry and artistry of the automobile.”

The Petersen Quick Facts

  • The building opened in 1962 as a luxury department store, Seibu.
  • The Petersen Automotive Museum opened to the public on June 9, 1994.
  • The museum is one of the most significant and unforgettable structures in Los Angeles.
  • The first floor has 52,190 square-feet with 27,883 square-feet of gallery space. The first floor also includes the museum store and restaurant.
  • The second floor has 52,690 square-feet with 43,790 square-feet of gallery space.
  • The third floor has 28,500 square-feet with 22,573 square-feet of gallery space. Relocating the offices from the third floor to the lower level helped add 12,040 square-feet of exhibit space.
  • The gallery content consists of: 100 automobiles, 23 motorcycles, four scooters, one bobsled and one full-sized Lightning McQueen model
  • In the Vault, 125-150 vehicles are stored on any given day. Approximately 40 of these will be viewable during Vault Tours.
  • The permanent Petersen collection consists of approximately 300 vehicles, motorcycles, and scooters.
The design crew somehow found new space in the building and the museum staff has filled the three floors – over 90,500 square feet – with more content than the old museum layout could only dream of. The lobby floorplan is designed so that visitors enter the building through the entrance from Wilshire Boulevard, or from the parking structure doors and pass by key display vehicles in the Grand Concourse that is now named after world-class car collectors David and Ginny Sydorick. In the center of the concourse, guests can purchase tickets and take an elevator ride to the third floor to begin their magical experience.

The Third Floor, History Of The Automobile 

Touted as the floor that examines the history of the automobile, visitors can walk through the different galleries that capture automotive history from the beginning. Other sections of the third floor include galleries that display what the future looked like to enthusiasts in the 1950s and 1960s, or the Hollywood gallery that houses the Batmobile, Magnum P.I. Ferrari, and several vehicles from Spectre – the James Bond anti-hero organization. The Pontiac Aztec from Breaking Bad, and other big and small screen favorites are also on display.

Perhaps the most exciting gallery on the third floor is the exhibit “Southern California: A Region in Motion” in the Southland Gallery, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California. This gallery uses interactive video content to show how Los Angeles grew out, instead of up, like most cities.

The third floor is an amazing array of historic automobiles, from Hollywood to industry favorites.

The Second Floor, Design And Technology

Dedicated to the science of automotive design and technology, the second floor features cars that have been modified for speed and efficiency. This includes the hot rod culture that The Petersen Museum was built from. These galleries show what is is like to work inside the car industry and in the automotive design profession.

Visitors can watch as students from the Art Center College of Design Studio sketch and mold new vehicles as the rest of the floor showcases how automobiles go from design to reality. This will surely stoke the fire of anyone that dreams of becoming a car designer.

Displays in the technical area of the second floor show the inner workings of car design. If you have ever dreamed of becoming a car designer, this is the place for you.

The Precious Metal Exhibit, in the Bruce Meyer Family Gallery, hosts some of the most exotic and rare cars, all finished in silver. From the 1995 McLaren F1, the 1959 Chevrolet Corvette XP-87 Stingray (designed, driven and raced by GM President of Design Bill Mitchell), the 1964 Aston Martin DB5 (driven by James Bond in the movie Goldfinger), to the stunning 1953 Fiat 8V Supersonic by Ghia.

Other timeless and rare silver classics in the display include the 1967 Ferrari 625/250 Testa Rossa by Scaglietti (one of the most winning Ferraris of its time), and a 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 Streamliner driven by Juan-Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss.

The precious metal exhibit features cars clad all  in silver. These are cars that are on everyone’s wish list.

One of the most anticipated new interactive displays in the newly-renovated museum is the Pixar Cars Mechanical Institute. This gallery hosts a life-size Lightning McQueen and uses augmented reality technology to teach children how cars really work, starring their favorite characters from the “Cars” movies on Carspad tablets.

The interactive and educational Pixar Cars Mechanical Institute is destined to be a favorite for young and old kids alike.

Other galleries and features located on the second floor include the Alternative Power Exhibit, High Performance Road Cars Exhibit (presented by Ford Motor Company), the Motorsports Exhibit and the Driving Gallery.

The second floor is host to a new brand of groundbreaking technology in museum displays with the Forza Motorsport Racing Experience. This is where fans can get behind the wheel of a variety of vehicles and try their hand at racing and driving rigs running the latest version of Microsoft’s racing simulator. This is racing as real as you can get without spending millions of dollars.

The Forza Motorsport Racing Experience is a one-of-a-kind interactive experience for drivers without having to travel to Europe or other world venues to race at legendary tracks.

Finally, the second floor features a gallery that bears the name of the brand that got Robert E. Petersen his start – the Hot Rod Gallery. This exhibit celebrates Hot Rod Magazine, Petersen’s first publication, along with the cars featured in the magazine over the years, artifacts from Petersen’s life, and a selection of iconic customized cars – from wild customs like the Hirohata Merc and Billy Gibbons’ “CadZZilla” to lowriders, roadsters, and race cars.

The hot rod section of the second floor covers examples of the best hot rods of all time. From 'CadZZilla' and the 'Hirohata Merc' to the 'Possessed' 1933 Ford and 1964 'Sinful Sin' Impala.

First Floor, The Peter And Merle Mullin Artistry Floor

Designed to showcase automobiles as works of art, this floor houses several galleries that display vehicles throughout history as fine works of art. Fans of Art Deco era cars will be in awe at the Mullin Grand Salon with works such as the 1936 Type 57SC Bugatti Atlantic to the 1938 Talbot-Lago T150C SS Figoni et Falaschi Teardrop, and many, many, more.

Art Deco cars fill the Mullin Grand Salon. True to the exhibit's subtitle, these are superb examples of 'rolling art.'

The Ken and Dayle Roath Gallery features a display of cover art from the 106-year history of Westways Magazine, the print publication of the Automobile Club of Southern California. It represents the greatest collection of these prized works that have been assembled and displayed at one time.

No detail was overlooked in this redesign and renovation. From the front desk and the signage to every gallery and display, the new Petersen represents modern class.

The lobby houses several fine exhibits that greets visitors as they enter the museum. The Petersen Automotive Museum is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission prices are as follows: adults – $15, seniors and students – $12, children – $7, active duty military and educators are admitted free, and children under three are free. To learn more about The Petersen, its latest exhibits, rotating galleries and special events, please visit

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About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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