Petersen Museum opening the 'vault' to tours

Like any museum, the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard owns many more treasures than it can ever display in the public gallery. The Petersen keeps its special reserve downstairs in a section of the garage that has come to be known as the vault. Starting this month, museum visitors who take a guided tour on weekends and pay an extra $25 will get to walk around in the vault. From Larry Edsall on the New York Times website:

“It’s a part of the museum that has become almost legend,” said Chris Brown, a car designer turned museum information and marketing manager. “If you’re an enthusiast, you’ve heard about the vault of great cars at the Petersen. We get more and more people who keep asking, ‘Hey, how do I get down in the vault?’”

I recently was part of a small private tour Mr. Brown led through the underground section of the museum’s garage area. In the vault were cars with star power, including Jayne Mansfield’s pink Lincoln, Audrey Hepburn’s Imperial, a Cadillac owned by Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Steve McQueen’s Hudson Wasp (a relatively nondescript car he used as a daily driver), and the Magnum P.I. Ferrari with a specially built seat and roof to provide room for the tall star of the series, Tom Selleck.

Also there were cars with political provenance, including the Bugatti given to the Shah of Iran as a wedding present from France, Saddam Hussein’s Mercedes and the first bulletproof car ordered new by the White House (and ordered the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor).

Of particular interest to auto enthusiasts are the huge and spectacular “round door” Rolls, the Ferrari given to Henry Ford II by Enzo Ferrari before those two quit speaking to each other and the red Bentley with “HOT ROD” license plates driven daily by Robert E. Petersen, the magazine publisher and founder of the museum.

If the weekend tours prove popular, they could expand to other days, Brown said. The Petersen staged an exhibition, Treasures of the Vault, in 2008-2009.

Photo: 1937 Delage D-8 by Letourneur et Marchand / Petersen

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