The Vault: A behind-the-scenes look at The Petersen Automotive Museum


The Petersen Automotive Museum is known worldwide for being one of the world’s premiere automotive museums. Its collection spans from the earliest of automobiles to modern day exotics. They have everything from a  Benz Patent-Motorwagen to a Bugatti Veyron. With such a huge collection it’s hard to display everything all at once. Plus, it’s always nice to see cars from outside of the Petersen collection on display.

Since they can’t display everything all at once the museum stores a lot of the cars inside its “Vault.” The vault has always been known to exist but only a privileged few have ever know what’s inside. Many of the cars stored inside of it have not been seen in years and with such shroud of secrecy there have always been rumors that this or that car was stored inside.

Luckily for us car aficionados The Petersen Automotive Museum recently opened the doors to the vault and allowed visitors to gaze upon the magnificence of the vehicles in its vault.  The tours run twice a day on weekdays, and four times a day on weekends. You can either call in advance and book a reservation or take a gamble and hope there’s still spots open when you show up. The tour is an additional $25 fee and lasts 90 minutes in which a brief history of each and every vehicle is given.

“Is the tour worth the fee?” you may ask. To this I say…YES! Why haven’t you done it already?


I must admit I am a pretty jaded individual. I’ve been to so many different car shows that you show me a Bugatti Veyron, a Ferrari 250 GT ‘Lusso’, or a 300 SL Gullwing and I’ll say “that’s nice is there anything special here?” But when I first stepped out of the elevator and into the vault at The Petersen I was overwhelmed. I stopped and just gazed at what was upon me, so many cars to see, so many cars to drool over. I didn’t even know where to start! It was like car guy heaven! It literally took a minute or two to take it all in before I could even begin my tour.


So what do they have down in the vault? For starters we have a 1952 Ferrari 212/225 Barchetta given to Henry Ford II by Enzo Ferrari. The car was parked inside Fords design studios while Ford worked on the 1955 T-bird. It is said to have inspired many of the T-birds design elements. Down the row you will find a real Ferrari Daytona Spider which was used in the Gumball Rally movie. Then as you move down you will find a 1982 Ferrari 308 GTSi which was used in Magnum PI and had to be modified in order to fit Tom Selleck. Close to that very famous Ferrari you will find  a Ferrari F40, Ferrari F50 and Ferrari 550 Superamerica all facing the legendary Toyota 2000GT.


Some curious automobiles that you will find down in the vault are a 1998 Cadillac Pope Mobile made by GM of Mexico. The pope never rode in the car however as there where security concerns due to it being an open top car. Next to it you will find Jack Nicholson’s Mercedes SWB 600 from Witches of Eastwood. Next to which you will see a Mercedes 600 Laundet which belonged to Iraq’s infamous ruler Sadam Husein. Quite the combo if you ask me. Then as you turn the corner gazing at you are some true legends such as a pair of 300SL’s in Gullwing and Roadster form. A Kirkland Teverbaught Special which was the first car to run Boneville with a parachute sits parallel to them. Then you see one of the true gems of this collection, Steve McQueens 1956 Jaguar XKSS which is 1 of 16 ever built. This is the only one with polished wheels. What makes it even more unique is the upholstery by Tony Nancy and a custom glove box by Von Dutch.


Then you get to the Hot Rod row which is lined with many legendary Hot Rods many of which have won the prestigious AMBR award. There’s also muscle cars in this collection which include a ’67 Dodge Coronet 440 WO23, 427 tri-power Biscayne, and a ’57 Plymouth with a funny car motor out of a Parnelli Jones car.


The collection is divided into two sections, and when you walk into the second section prepare to be amazed once again! The first cars that will grab your attention area a ’67 Ford MkIII GT40, and a Ford GT both of which were Mr. Petersen’s cars. The MkIII is 1 of 7 built and 1 of 4 left hand drive models. It is also the only one which was never converted to a race car. They also store an XJ220 here which is quite the rare sight anywhere.


But never mind the GT40 and the XJ220 (Ed.’s note – Say what now?), you will forget about everything else in the vault once you notice the 1925 Rolls-Royce Jonckheere Aerodynamica Coupe. This car has had quite the life, it was originally a Hooper Bodied car and belonged to the Raja of Napara. It passed through a few hands before it was rebodied in Belgium in 1934. It features a slopped grill shell, disc covers over the wire wheels, twin sliding sunroofs and signature round doors. The presence this car has is incredible, it pretty much steals the show wherever it goes. However, even with its stunning elegance this car hasn’t always lived a glamorous life. It once resided in a junkyard in New Jersey before being “rescued” by a carnival owner and painted in gold flake. He toured around with the car inside a trailer just big enough to carry it and charged people a buck a piece to walk inside and look at the car. Then the car disappeared once again and resurfaced in a showroom in Japan this time painted white and not looking so fresh. In 2001 by the museum it underwent a restoration and brought back to luster.


There are many, many great cars in the collection, but I don’t want to write a book and I don’t want to give up everything I learned during the tour. If you want to learn every cars story and you want to see everything in the collection. Book an appointment at The Petersen Automotive Museum by calling (323) 930-2277.

Images copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Leonard Mayorquin

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24 responses to “The Vault: A behind-the-scenes look at The Petersen Automotive Museum”

  1. Maxichamp Avatar

    Magnificent write-up. I think I know what I am going to do when I'm in LA this coming weekend.
    Here is another warehouse full of old cars.

    1. SVT2888 Avatar

      That's one I've been meaning to visit, but just haven't gotten around to.

  2. engineerd Avatar

    Holy buckets that's rad! I'm glad to see that the Vault tours have been extended indefinitely. Hopefully they are still doing them this Christmas when I'm in SoCal. I'll have to sneak away to the Petersen just for this tour!

  3. OA5599 Avatar

    "There’s also muscle cars in this collection which include a ’67 Dodge Coronet 440 w302, 427 tri-power Biscayne, and a ’57 Plymouth with a funny car motor out of a Parnelli Jones car."
    Typo in the Dodge's description. It's a WO23 (the first four characters of the VIN). That's a factory Super Stock car.

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      Thank you

    2. SVT2888 Avatar

      oooops! Thanks for the correction 🙂

  4. Wolfie Avatar

    Looks a lot like my garage,except for the size and the content.

  5. longrooffan Avatar

    I totally get the whole "jaded" feeling. Having said that, this is one damn nice collection. Thanks for sharing.

  6. krazykarguy Avatar

    I'm headed to the Petersen Museum on 2/16, but there is no mention made of these underground garage tours still being available. The Autoblog article about this says that it only ran through the end of the month of December.
    Is this still a current thing that is available to do? How do I get in if this is something that is still available. As a certified Ferrari nut, I might very well collapse in the presence of an F40, F50, and 575 SuperAmerica all in the same place…

    1. David M Avatar
      David M

      The tours are still going. They've been extended indefinitely.

      1. krazykarguy Avatar

        Thanks! Hoon-tastic!

    2. SVT2888 Avatar

      Are you going there for the Ferrari Cruise-In?

  7. SSurfer321 Avatar

    As stated by a commenter last week (whose name escapes me and I apologize)
    THANK YOU for the tasteful placement of the watermark on the photos.
    Also great write up!

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      There's no chance I'm covering up these cars with our logo.

  8. Jay_Ramey Avatar

    Niiice! Another auto museum basement collection I want to see is the Lane Museum's in Nashville. I hear there's unbelievable stuff there. And by unbelievable I mean Eastern Euro microcars.

  9. tiberiusẅisë Avatar

    Field trip.

  10. jeremy![™] Avatar

    but… the website says no photos allowed!

    1. SVT2888 Avatar

      I'm awesome like that 😉

      1. jeremy![™] Avatar

        do explain. i wanted to go, until i saw that sentence.

        1. SVT2888 Avatar

          I was asked to go shoot and write a story for Hooniverse 😉

          1. jeremy![™] Avatar

            thats… what you told petersen then.
            fyi, i *used* to be the staff photographer. lol.

  11. Alff Avatar

    Eastwick … Witches of Eastwick.
    I'm sure Clint's ladies have all been very nice.

  12. gamecat235 Avatar

    Is the 2000GT really as short as it seems to be pictured, or is this just a weird angle and the photog is rather tall?
    Beautiful photos and great watermarking.

    1. SVT2888 Avatar

      C. All of the Above 😉