By on July 18, 2013


Starting back in March, the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles started to quietly sell off parts of its ~400 car collection. When a lot of more than 100 cars was announced to go on the block at Auctions America’s Aug. 1 sale in Burbank, California, it caught the attention of collectors and curators across the world of collector cars, and the museum made a public announcement to the Los Angeles Times this week that the sales are to raise money to renovate and reconfigure the museum. Also announced was the fact that the museum, which was originally endowed by Robert Petersen, who founded an enthusiast magazine empire including Hot Rod and Motor Trend, and Peterson’s wife Margie, would be changing its focus to include more motorcycles and prewar French cars from the Art Deco period.

The museum says that many of the cars they are selling are duplicates or not suitable for public display, critics, though, aren’t happy with the changes and say that the changes reflect the personal tastes of Executive Director Terry Karges, who owns Champions Moto, a motorcycle company, and new museum board Chairman Peter Mullin, whose own museum in Oxnard, CA is one of the world’s finest collections of Bugattis and other French classics.

“The idea was to breathe some life into the museum,” Karges told the LA Times. “We want to be a world-class automotive museum. We want to become an art museum featuring rolling sculpture and tell stories about the art of speed and the art of design.” Karges described the vehicles being sold as either surplus or cars that could easily be borrowed if needed for an exhibit. Others were characterized as not exhibit-quality vehicles that would be expensive to restore and were just taking up space in the museum’s crowded “vault” in the building’s basement.

Former employees, though, say that the changes are not consistent with the museum’s mission statement: “to present the history of the automobile and its impact on American life and culture using Los Angeles as the prime example.”

“They have sold a lot of wonderful cars that Bob Petersen was very fond of,” said Buddy Pepp, who retired last year and was replaced by Karges.

The Petersen sold 12 cars for a combined $8.5 million at Gooding & Co.’s Amelia Island Auction in March. They included a 1995 Ferrari F50 that went for $1.375 million, a 2006 Bugatti Veyron (the first sold in the U.S.) that brought $924,000, and a 1990 Ferrari F40 that fetched $715,000.

The August auction in Burbank will include the 1963 VW Beetle that starred as Herbie in the 1968 Disney movie, The Love Bug. More distressing to some of the critics are the hot rods being sold, saying that the museum is walking away from California’s hot rod culture at the heart of the mission statement. A ’32 Ford highboy that did 142.97 at Bonneville in 1954, and a Boyd Coddington built ’33 Ford Custom Victoria are among the cars for sale.

While the sale may distress some enthusiasts, it’s also an opportunity for serious collectors to buy significant cars that have the provenance of one of the world’s great car collections, something that doesn’t happen very often.


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31 Comments on “Petersen Museum Selling Off 1/3rd Of Collection...”

  • avatar

    Guys, it’s “Petersen” with an “e.” You’re welcome.

  • avatar

    It is not uncommon for museums to be used to assist it’s directors, owners and others regarding their personal collections in a way to help suppliment themselves.

    Imagine if you have spent millions collecting an impressive assortment of hood ornaments and are watching the value of that collection decrease in value. If you can somehow get the general public excited once again in the beauty of hood ornaments, your millions wouldn’t be losing value. But to do that you have to get an organization like a museum to showcase hood ornaments.

    So you do what you can to get a museum of which you are a contributing member to highlight your collection. Everyone benefits – especially you. Your collection will be worth more and folks get a chance to gander at that one-of-a-kind hood ornament of Eugene Debs that Studebaker issued for it’s Dictator limousine.

  • avatar

    I visited last year and did the vault tour as well. I see both sides of this argument on one hand this place should serve as the So-Cal / HotRod curator, on the other hand it should also for it’s size have a bit wider appeal to a general car enthusiast. French pre-war classics and moto’s seems very narrow to grow an audience.

    I loved the vault tour but the no pictures rule irked me a bit.

    • 0 avatar
      TTAC Staff

      Museums can be a bit proprietary about images from their collection, particularly with very rare cars.

    • 0 avatar

      +1. I was also at the vault tour and thought they had something for everyone. I really wish I could have been able to take pictures. Plus I also felt a bit rushed.

    • 0 avatar

      One, Hemmings blog has an ongoing comment section on this very issue. Comment here, and then search the Hemmings site. Two, while there is a no-photos requirement for touring the ‘vault’, some visiting clubs have posted pictures of what was down there.Google those while you can see what is/used to be in their basement before more auctions. Three, the genesis for the start of the Petersen Museum was the small collection that used to be found in the LA County Natural History Museum in Exposition Park. Among cars I saw there as a kid were a Chrysler Turbine Car and a rather dusty MGTC during the early 1970’s. I don’t know if the Petersen still has those cars. Finally, the museum is closed on Mondays, but it’s surely worth a visit any time of the year otherwise, if you’re visiting Los Angeles. Folks I know who live in town say you could visit four times a year and generally see different exhibits each time. Their website is

  • avatar

    “The August auction in Burbank will include the 1963 VW Beetle that starred as Herbie in the 1968 Disney movie, The Love Bug. ”

    The auction listing says, “This Herbie is from the 1997 television movie, where he gets a new owner and battles the devil-car Horace, an evil twin.”

  • avatar

    I don’t really care too much what happens to Herbie but I really don’t care at all about early French cars. You can label me whatever you want for those feelings but I think this just really reeks. What I do care about is the collection of old cars that represent Hot Rodding history. Have read Hot Rod since about 1956. Had to stop because old eyes don’t do a good job with modern printing techniques and they don’t have a control/+ button on the magazine.

  • avatar

    Might want to get cracking on the correction

  • avatar

    Hot rodding wasn’t born in LA or Socal. It just became the focus for it due to the influence of the movie industry and magazines like HotRod, Hop Up, etc., and the cultural impact of California on the post war American culture.

    To follow the thread to the early history of Hot Rodding, one has to look at the early Speedsters for road and track. Built from factory cars and raced at fair grounds and purpose built tracks, even wooden board tracks. Most of that originated in the East and Midwest, and migrated West.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    As long as the musueam doesn’t become start becoming a “Modern Art” fest i can sort of see what they’re trying to do, at least after reading the Jaloponik article.

    I say to stick with the original mission though, the new ones sounds a bit too much like ‘We’re going to change things and say things so we look fancy”.

    For the record, that Herbie was one of few used in the ’97 Lovebug remake, it was a hardtop with a sunroof tacked on top of it. I’ve spoken with an owner of one of the “Horace” Bugs from that movie and he mentioned that most of the movie cars were assembled from scrap cars.

  • avatar

    $50 says this is an attempt to keep the Lemay Museum from stealing Petersen’s thunder as America’s premier car museum. They probably feel that by shaking up the collection they can steal some of Lemay’s publicity away, what with them being the exciting new thing and all.

  • avatar

    Hmm. Read the LAT piece yesterday and read TTAC’s today. I then went to Jalopnik for their second story on this. LAT story disturbed me. I visited the Petersen in 2004 and enjoyed it. Oddly enough, there was an Art Deco exhibit at the time that most likely featured a lot of Mullins cars. They were, of course, beautiful, but I don’t see Fenchies as a major draw. Some of the cars were hokey (not as bad as the Imperial Palace) and could be gotten rid of. The TTAC article looked like a cut-n-paste of the LAT story. Does this mean that a TTAC byline signals a thrown together quickie. The Jalopnik piece was good journalism, check the sources and get as many sides of the story as possible. But, that was after running their quickie in the first story (but still better than TTAC’s).

    That said, I think that these two guys are going to do whatever they want. Why do endowments always go off the tracks after the benefactors die? The museum could use some judicious culling, the old department store interior could be improved upon, and cars should be visible from the street. We do want to attract visitors, right?

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens. TTAC, let’s do a little research before going to print.

    • 0 avatar

      Gawker Media and credibility definitely do not belong in the same sentence. I’m glad this story was posted here, especially since I don’t have the Los Angeles Times delivered to my door in Idaho…but I still listen do listen to KNX at night.

    • 0 avatar

      Reg; “stealing Petersen’s thunder as America’s premier car museum.”

      Too late for that. The LeMay, is the premier car museum, maybe for the world for multi make vehicles

      I made a substantial contribution to help get ‘The LeMay_ America’s Car Museum’ built, money well given. Years back Harold bought several of my cars, and I always had an invitation to his annual party.

      The LeMAy, is spectacular in its stature, collection, presentation, and physical presence.

      The Petersen, while a worthwhile visit, is lacking in presentation and somewhat in the quality and diversity of its collection, something The LeMay doesn’t suffer from.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks for your response. I confess that I haven’t had the chance to make it to either one, but with two world-class museums on the West Coast now, I’m champing at the bit to go. I’d love the chance to check them both out and judge for myself.

        • 0 avatar

          The West Coast has some great Automobile Museums, J.

          I’m particularly fond of the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, Ca(Bay area). >

          Saw my first Cisitalia coupe there. The Cisitalia was among the first automobiles to be put on display at the MOMA, and the only automobile to be put permanent display in the Museum of Modern Art/NY.

          If you all don’t know the significance of Pinin Farina’s Cisitalia design on modern car design, check it out. >

          Greatly missed is the Cunningham Museum, but there are a few events around the country that celebrate that American sportsman and his cars, and the Blackhawk, is featuring some of the notable cars and the man himself till August fourth as part of their 25th anniversary. Catch it while you can.

          • 0 avatar

            Another great west coast car museum is the Nethercutt in Sylmar, CA, not far from Petersen’s. They have cars from about the first 70 years of the 20th century. It also has an interesting collection of musical instruments.

            Entry is free, but part of the collection is seen via a guided tour only and reservations are recommended.


  • avatar

    Are these new “directors” both gay? Nothing wrong with that …until they take an iconic hot rod/musclecar/California beachboysandbabes car collection assembled by devout heteros and turn it all artsy fartsy. Go expand your own collections with flair.

  • avatar

    I have never been to the Petersen museum, but with their new plan in mind, that saves me a trip.

  • avatar

    Well, let me chime in as a long-time member and a frequent museum visitor.

    There are LOTS of car that the place really doesn’t need. On the second floor of the parking structure, for example, there are a whole bunch of museum-owned cars parked there, mostly covered up, and all with a layer of dust on them. Why? They’re out of space in The Vault and on the show floors.

    If you look at any of their exhibits, most of the cars on display aren’t the museum’s cars, but on loan from private colletors or other museums. They couldn’t possibly have every car they’ll ever need in their own collection, and probably “most” of the cars they own aren’t really display-worthy. Run-of-the-mill old cars that were donated over the years, with every widow thinking their late husband’s pride-and-joy would be perfect to display in the museum. More often than not, they aren’t.

    And for some of the newer cars – let’s take the Bugatti Veyron or some of the Ferraris that were sold earlier this year as examples – there are costs involved in just owning them. Servicing has to be done, whether the cars are driven or not. Timing belts, fluid changes, etc., and no, the museum’s volunteers can’t do those things. They have to be taken to dealerships’ service departments. I can’t even imagine what the 24 or 36 month service costs on a Veyron.

    If the museum ever does need a Veyron for an exhibit, they can borrow one. Same goes for probably every other car they’ve sold or are planning on selling.

    Of course, certain one-of-a-kind vehicles like the famous Round Door Rolls, Steve McQueen’s Jaguar XK-SS, the Rita Hayworth Ghia Cadillac, and so on, shouldn’t and likely won’t ever leave the collection. But random cars that can easily be borrowed or replaced are just taking up space.

  • avatar

    Death watch for the Petersen anyone?

    Museums are notoriously hard to fund. The taxes on the land and building absorb nearly all the turnstile revenue. Labor, utilities, and general expenses push it over the brink. Do you honestly believe all those vehicles sit there not taxed by some government entity? Think again.

    In any event, the current crop of boneheads running the museum are in total denial that their “thinking out of the box” will crash the museum in less than three years.

    Make it a world-class hot rod museum with rotating hot rods they do not have to own or service. Pay to transport them in and out, insure, and advertize the hell out of each month’s exhibits. Petersens will still rock five generations from now.

    By the way, a “no-photos” policy is Bull Sh!t. Alienating your customers (visitors) is extremely short sighted. If you don’t want people to take pictures of it, don’t charge them to see it.

  • avatar

    Thanks for commenting on the realities of running a museum and some of the particulars effecting the Petersen, West-Coaster/CarPerson.

    Getting, The LeMay, up and running was a huge effort. At times I didn’t think it was going too happen.

    Along with Hot Rods, they could include the sports cars that were significant to the sports racing culture that grew in California during the post war era.

    Regards … Tre

  • avatar

    What caught my eye was the auction price of that Ferrari F50: $1.375 million! WTF? What dumba$$ rich f**kers decided that ugly piece of sh!t is worth twice as much as an F40? Never mind that Clarkson nominated it for Worst Car in the World on Top Gear (although I’ll take his word for it). It’s ugly, it’s cheap-looking, it lacks any distinctive history, and in the pantheon of Ferrari supercars, it’s a bottom-dweller. Burn, F50, burn, no tears shed for you.

  • avatar

    This change sounds scary ~

    I missed the ‘Vault Tour ‘ and wish I’da had the time .

    The Petersen is a great museum no one museum can please everyone but they do try , or at least they used to .

    Back when I was running an Indie VW Shop ,I passed on buying one of the _many_VW Beetles Disney used in the original Herbie movie , the one where Buddy Hacket welds on the interior roof as they’re driving , it was $250 , a 1962 and had the Disney pink slip .

    It was pretty rough having been crashed in the left front , needed prolly a whole new clip from the dash forward , I did that once on my own ’60 # 117 and it was a nightmare althoguh the car came out quite well .

    Will there be links to the actual auctions ? .


  • avatar

    You should be more careful choosing those pictures for articles. I thought they were selling Herbie!

    But seriously, folks, this is why the rich need to be very careful of their endowments to organizations. Chances are, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller would be aghast at what the directors of their foundations are financing. Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s chairman Ray Kroc, chose to leave a modest amount to a foundation, and liquidated the rest of Ray’s fortune with bequests in her will.

    It took executors over two years to sell off the assets and give away over $3 billion to charities, and Joan had already given away nearly $1 billion while she was alive. It’s a bit different with collections, but eventually, there will be directors who have no faith in what the collector/donor wanted.

  • avatar

    So the Peterson dumped some stuff that was rote and not terribly interesting to car people.

    This is news why?

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