Petersen Automotive Museum Opens Vault to Public for the First Time


  • 1939 Bugatti Picture

    1939 Bugatti Picture

    A 1939 Bugatti given to the Shah of Iran as a wedding present is one of the treasures in the Petersen Automotive Museum's vault. | December 14, 2012

2 Photos

Just the Facts:
  • The Petersen Automotive Museum, for the first time in its history, is allowing the public to tour its famous vault, which houses more than half of the museum's collection.
  • Tucked into the vault are such vehicles as a rare Jaguar XKSS formerly owned by Steve McQueen and a Volkswagen Beetle driven by Lindsay Lohan.
  • Guided tours will run through January 6, after which the vault will once again remain accessible only to museum staff and special guests.

LOS ANGELES — The Petersen Automotive Museum, for the first time in its history, is allowing the public to tour its famous vault, which houses more than half of the museum's collection.

Tucked into the vault are such vehicles as a rare Jaguar XKSS formerly owned by Steve McQueen and a Volkswagen Beetle driven by Lindsay Lohan in Herbie Fully Loaded.

Other noteworthy vehicles include a one-of-a-kind 1925 "Round Door" Rolls-Royce Phantom, a 1939 Bugatti given to the Shah of Iran as a wedding present and a Ferrari given to Henry Ford II by Enzo Ferrari.

Guided tours will run only through January 6, after which the vault will once again remain accessible only to museum staff and special guests.

The main floors of the museum are able to hold only about 150 vehicles at any given time, but the entire collection comprises more than twice that number, with most of them stored underground in the vault, which runs the entire length of the 300,000-square-foot building.

The vault has become legendary among regular museum-goers, who have often asked for tours, but until now it has been strictly off-limits, except to employees and special guests.

The Petersen Automotive Museum, one of the largest in the world, was founded by publishing giant Robert E. Petersen, whose stable of 36 monthly magazines included Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Rod & Custom, and Car Craft.

Petersen, a Los Angeles native, returned home from service in the Army Air Corps in World War II and quickly became swept up in the burgeoning California car culture. He published the first issue of Hot Rod in January 1948, and rode his motorcycle to racetracks and retail outlets around the state, selling the magazine for 25 cents.

Other publications followed, and as his empire grew, so did his collection of vehicles and automotive memorabilia. In June of 1994, he and his wife, Margie, along with a group of supportive friends, opened the museum to house both Petersen's private collection and vehicles on loan from various institutions and individuals.

The treasures include a collection of vintage Southern California hot rods, a Popemobile, a Hot Wheels toy display and Elvis Presley's 1971 De Tomaso Pantera.

The vault will open for tours on December 15. An additional ticket purchase of $25 is required and includes access to the vault.

Edmunds says: The only downside is that photography is not permitted.

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