The Petersen Automotive Museum Would Love To Show You Its New Supercar Exhibition

The Petersen Automotive Museum Would Love To Show You Its New Supercar Exhibition

Illustration for article titled The Petersen Automotive Museum Would Love To Show You Its New Supercar Exhibition
Image: Rob Emslie

Whether it be a man, a car or a fast-food combo portion, adding “super” to any name implies that it is something extravagant. The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has a new supercar exhibition, and to say the least, it’s pretty super.

The pandemic has been tough on many business categories, but while some can pivot to carryout or home delivery service, it’s generally the rule that museums don’t take kindly to their wares leaving the building.

That’s been a special challenge for the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. After all, their exhibits are all about getting out and going places. The museum’s latest show, “Supercars: A Century of Spectacle and Speed,” was conceived and launched under the cloud of the pandemic. With the museum constrained by enforced closure, visitors cannot enter the display.

That’s a shame, but we can still give you a virtual look at some of the highlights. Before we get started, however, we have to establish — at least on the Petersen’s terms — just what a supercar is. For the purposes of this show, the museum came up with a set of criteria that was subjective and objective. First and foremost, any car chosen had to represent the pinnacle of its era’s performance and audacity of style.

Next, the car had to maintain an air of exclusivity. That’s why you won’t find a Corvette among this exhibit’s showpieces. Sorry, Chevy fans, they’re just too common. The last requirement was that the cars needed to be older than the 2005 model year. The reason for that: the Petersen is planning a hypercar exhibit to follow, and they have set the 2005 introduction of the Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 as the starting point for that show. With that all in mind, let’s look at some Supercars.

Advertisement

2 / 24

1988 Lamborghini Countach 5000QV

1988 Lamborghini Countach 5000QV

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

The museum describes this 1988 Lamborghini Countach 5000QV as the supercar poster child. That’s an apt description since more than a few of us actually had posters of the Marcello Gandini-penned Lambo on our bedroom walls. Here it stands in juxtaposition to a replica 1885 Benz Patent Motorwagen, which just goes to show how far the automobile has advanced in 103 years.

Advertisement

3 / 24

1913 Mercer Type 35-J Raceabout

1913 Mercer Type 35-J Raceabout

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

By the second decade of the 20th Century, the automobile had established its primary role as personal transportation, and people started looking at ways to make them go faster and compete with one another in contests of speed and endurance. Along with the contemporary Stutz Bearcat, this 1913 Mercer Type 35-J Raceabout represents one of the earliest “race cars for the road.” The stripped-down, bare-bones Mercer made the most of the idea of weight savings equating to performance. This one, in unrestored but wonderful shape, was once owned by legendary racer Phil Hill.

Advertisement

4 / 24

1913 Mercer Type 35-J Raceabout

1913 Mercer Type 35-J Raceabout

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

Through the looking glass, Alice.

Advertisement

5 / 24

1923 Mercedes 28/95 Targa Florio

1923 Mercedes 28/95 Targa Florio

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

The 1923 Mercedes 28/95 Targa Florio was built to celebrate the marque’s win at the epic Italian road race the year before. The big two-seater features a huge engine cowl behind its V-shaped radiator grille. Beneath that lies a 7.2-liter inline-six that was derived from a WWI aircraft engine. This car was owned by racer and NBC Radio Orchestra leader Don Ricardo from 1986 until his death in 2001.

Advertisement

6 / 24

1923 Mercedes 28/95 Targa Florio

1923 Mercedes 28/95 Targa Florio

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

You can never have too many stars.

Advertisement

7 / 24

1938 Delahaye Type 14S Coupe

1938 Delahaye Type 14S Coupe

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

This 1938 Delahaye Type 14S Coupe is one of four to feature bodywork by Chapron. Beneath that lies a Grand Prix chassis. Originally commissioned in 1937 by Ecurie Bleue Racing Team founder Lucy Schell, the car competed on Grand Prix circuits around Europe prior to the war. A decade later it was re-bodied as a road car by the French designer Henri Chapron. Beneath those gorgeous lines beats the car’s heart, a 4.5-liter V12 engine fed by a trio of Stromberg carburetors.

Advertisement

8 / 24

1938 Delahaye Type 14S Coupe

1938 Delahaye Type 14S Coupe

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

This Delahaye is a prewar chassis with postwar bodywork. Nothing this old should be quite this sexy.

Advertisement

9 / 24

1952 Ferrari 212 Barchetta

1952 Ferrari 212 Barchetta

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

A Ferrari with whitewall tires? This 1952 Ferrari 212 Barchetta was presented as a gift to Henry Ford II from Enzo Ferrari. Perhaps to appeal to what the Italian imagined American tastes would prefer, the car was fitted with white sidewall tires, through-the-fender exhausts and a black-over-gray color scheme. Those, and the Barchetta’s long, flowing lines are thought to have inspired Ford while developing the 1955 Thunderbird.

Advertisement

10 / 24

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

If you think 1950s and supercars, you’re likely going to picture something along the lines of this 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing. Another “racer for the street,” the 300SL’s iconic doors were born of necessity. The tube chassis demanded high sills for structural integrity, and that required doors that opened in a way that offered access over the high and wide sill. Another interesting feature is the steering wheel which, at the flip of a column-mounted lever, folds up to allow easier egress. The Gullwing has the goods under its double-bubble bonnet too. There you’ll find a 215 horsepower 3-liter inline-six.

Advertisement

11 / 24

1967 Ford GT40 Mark III

1967 Ford GT40 Mark III

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

While Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II may have once been chummy enough for il Commendatore to gift the American one of his sports cars, by the early 1960s their relationship had soured following Ford’s ill-fated attempt to buy Ferrari’s automaking and racing concerns. That feud spilled over onto the racetrack, with Ford vowing to beat the Italians on French soil. Ford was successful, and having beaten Ferrari at Le Mans, Ford set its sights on a road-going edition of the mid-engine racecar with the 1967 GT40 Mark III.

Advertisement

12 / 24

1967 Ford GT40 Mark III

1967 Ford GT40 Mark III

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

The road-ready GT40 MK III had a number of changes from its pure-race brethren. Most notable among those was the longer tail providing a modicum of storage and the move of the shifter for the five-speed ZF transaxle to the center console from the right sill panel. The addition of mufflers and a street tune for the 289-cubic-inch V8 brought 306 horsepower to the show. Only seven road cars were built before Ford pulled the plug. Just two years later the company would extend a deal with Alejandro de Tomaso to provide 351 V8s for the Lincoln Mercury-supported Pantera. That let Ford lay claim to a mid-engine sports car, if only through adoption.

Advertisement

13 / 24

1967 Ford GT40 Mark III

1967 Ford GT40 Mark III

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

Beyond the GT40 MK III, the museum pivots to a different generation of supercars — ones where mid-engine placement would be the rule rather than the exception and to marques that might not have always been household names.

Advertisement

14 / 24

1968 Lamborghini Miura P400

1968 Lamborghini Miura P400

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

Lamborghini intended the Miura, which made its debut in 1966, to be a racecar that was civil enough for the road. The two-seater was designed around a folded steel frame that carried a transverse V12 engine. The packaging is so tight in the Miura that the engine and manual gearbox share a common sump. On top of that was laid one of the most achingly beautiful bodies ever commissioned to metal. Remarkably, the Gandini design looks just as powerful and relevant today as it did when the Beatles were topping the charts. The 1968 Lamborghini Miura P400 on display is part of the Petersen Collection.

Advertisement

15 / 24

1968 Lamborghini Miura P400

1968 Lamborghini Miura P400

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

The Miura’s “fake lashes” are an ostentatious but iconic element of the car’s design.

Advertisement

16 / 24

Lancia Stratos HF Stradale

Lancia Stratos HF Stradale

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

There are supercars and then there are spaceships. The Lancia Stratos HF Stradale epitomized such audacity in its every aspect. Much like a modern Subaru WRX STi or Mitsubishi EVO, the Stratos was a thinly veneered rally car for the road. It may not have been the fastest car in the world, nor the most powerful, but having its aggressive Bertone styling and Ferrari Dino engine show up on the podium of the WRC circuit certainly made it one of the most iconic cars of the 1970s racing world.

Advertisement

17 / 24

BMW M1

BMW M1

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

BMW’s M1 was always intended to showcase the company’s new M-Group M88 straight-six engine. The car wrapped around that, however, shifted from Group 5 race entrant to street car over the course of its development. The project was a partnership with Lamborghini to develop the platform and Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign for the styling. The M1 was never widely successful in either sales or track exploits, but it remains an important piece of BMW’s history as the company’s first mid-engine production car and the first car to carry the lauded M badge.

Advertisement

18 / 24

CTR Yellowbird

CTR Yellowbird

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

For a time, Porsche’s 959 held the title of the fastest car in the world. That title was usurped by the CTR “Yellowbird” by RUF. Both of these cars demonstrate just how far the original Porsche 911 platform could be taken. The 959 melded a center section from the 1960s with a wide, aero body that seems contemporary to this day. The RUF CTR looks less audacious, but with a Group 5 racer as its role model it offers even more performance.

Advertisement

19 / 24

Jaguar XJ220

Jaguar XJ220

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

The Jaguar XJ220 is an amazing car. In fact, what’s most amazing is that it exists at all. A joint effort of the British carmaker and Tom Walkinshaw Racing, the Jag supercar was originally intended to carry AWD and a 48-valve edition of the company’s V12 engine. It was expected that the drivetrain would push the production car to a top speed of 220 miles per hour, hence the name. Engineering issues led Jaguar to dump both the AWD system and the V12 for the production car, choosing instead RWD and a heavily re-worked twin-turbo version of the Austin-Rover V64V V6. As fitted, the XJ220 didn’t live up to its name. It did, however, earn one speed record, achieving 217.1 miles per hour, a Guinness World Record for the fastest speed of any series-production model at that time.

Advertisement

20 / 24

Colorful Supercars

Colorful Supercars

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

One of the most important factors of the Supercar lifestyle is the embrace of bold, expressive color palettes. The Saleen S7 in front is notable for being one of the few American-built supercars.

Advertisement

21 / 24

Maserati MC12

Maserati MC12

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

The 630 horsepower Maserati MC12 was derived from the Ferrari Enzo and provided the marque with its first mid-engine offering since the 1978 Bora. Intended to campaign in FIA’s GT class, 50 Stradale MC12s were also built over the course of the 2004-5 production run. Most of those were painted in a traditional white-and-blue livery. This particular car is an exception, painted in a glittery charcoal metallic. That was intended to set it apart from the other Stradale MC12s as it was Maserati’s gift to racing legend Michael Schumacher for his work in aiding the model’s development.

Advertisement

22 / 24

1985 Ferrari 288 GTO

1985 Ferrari 288 GTO

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

Ferrari’s supercars have never been short on performance, and they have always been long on tradition. This 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO is no exception. The car pays homage to the legendary GTO 250 of the 1960s, through both its slat-heavy style and its naming convention. The 2.9-liter V8 sitting longitudinally behind the cabin sports twin turbos and 295 horsepower. Brutal and with almost no compromises, the 288 GTO rectified that situation and earned the right to wear its venerated moniker.

Advertisement

23 / 24

McLaren F1

McLaren F1

undefined
Image: Rob Emslie

The 1990s McLaren F1 may not be the most modern supercar in the world, but for many, it’s still the greatest expression of the form. Yet another supercar that took performance to unheard-of heights, the V12-powered F1 may even have supplanted Lamborghini’s Countach as the most ubiquitous bedroom wall decoration for car-crazy teens. Here, it faces off against the original McLaren race car for the street, the 1969 M6 GT. The earlier car started out as a Can Am contender, but when homologation demands far outstretched McLaren’s production capabilities, the car was reimagined as a road-going supercar. Sadly, Bruce McLaren’s untimely death at 32 put an end to the M6 GT and shuttered the prospect of a road-going McLaren for more than two decades.

Advertisement

24 / 24

DISCUSSION