The Petersen Automotive Museum, June 2019

David G. Fox

Monday morning after Father's Day and the L. A. Roadster Show, I drove west to Wilshire and Fairfax and the Petersen Automotive Museum. I was there last in January 2016, not long after the reopening of the museum from the extensive remodel of the facility. That experience rewarded with the Precious Metal and Rolling Sculpture exhibits.

All information below was derived from plaques presented with the cars in the exhibit.

Winning Numbers

The official title of this exhibit is Winning Numbers: the First, the Fastest, the Famous. It features a selection of cars from enthusiast Bruce Meyers' collection, and, indeed, is presented in the Bruce Meyer Family Gallery of the Petersen through January 19, 2020. As the group is viewed, there is informative video and voice-over from Bruce. Must of the cars come with a one-word superlative: first, fastest, winningest, etc. His collection is not enormous, but the typical car in Bruce's collection is, beyond any obvious desirability or beauty or quality and technicality of the restoration, unique in some way.

1962 Cobra, Chassis #CSX2001. This is the first production Cobra and the first entered into competition. It was continuously upgraded to keep up with the Shelby team cars and was successfully campaigned in Europe. Afterward, Mr. Meyer obtained the car and he still drives, shows, and rallies it.

1957 Ferrari 625/250 Testa Rossa. "The winningest Ferrari ever" was privately campaigned to eleven wins in the 1957 racing season by John von Neumann and Richie Ginther. This is one of two Testa Rossas originally constructed with Tipo 625 four-cylinder Grand Prix racing engines. In 1958, von Neumann created the "ultimate Ferrari hot rod" by replacing that engine with a 250 Testa Rossa V12 ordered from the factory works. The three-liter Colombo twelve yielded 285hp and a top speed of 170mph. Ken Miles won with the car at Santa Barbara in 1962.

1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB, Chassis #2689. Five special short wheelbase 250 GTs were created by Enzo, intent on winning the manufacturers championship and specifically the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GT class. Light-weight chassis, thin alloy bodies, and engine improvements (306hp) did the trick. Chassis #2689 was first in class at Le Mans, first overall at Monza, second at Spa, and had another fist place class finish at the Monterey 1000km.

1965 Iso Bizzarrini A3/C Competition. Competing with purpose-built, factory-backed race cars from Ford and Ferrari, a 400hp 327ci Chevrolet V8 powered this A3/C from the small automobile-manufacturing shops of Giotto Bizzarrini to first in class and among the top ten overall at the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was third fastest, behind two Ford GTs, in top speed (186mph) on the Mulsanne Straight.

1960 Chevrolet Corvette. Ostensibly without factory backing (but Duntov lent a hand) Briggs Cunningham took three Corvettes to the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans. These were the first Corvettes to participate. They managed a class win and finished eighth overall. With 315hp 283ci fuel injected engines, the cars ran upwards of 125mph.

1962 Greer-Black-Prudhomme Top Fuel Dragster. "The ultimate example of a pioneering-era dragster" Greer-Black-Prudhomme racer was one of the most beautiful and successful ever. With 1000hp from its 392 Chrysler Hemi V8, it dominated drag racing with 237 wins versus four losses, trap speeds over 190mph, and elapsed times consistently under eight seconds. In 1964, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme set a world record quarter mile elapsed time with the car at 7.77 seconds.

The Pierson Brothers Coupe, a highly modified 1934 Ford, was a standout in the early days of hot rodding. It stood out not only for its professional appearance, but also for its performance in out running the roadsters, which dominated the racing scene at the time. After a year of record-level runs by the Pierson coupe, the SCTA opened a class for coupes and sedans. The innovative top chop, with the windshield severely laid back, met the minimum for glass height and greatly lessened wind resistance. In 1950 the car ran 150mph at Bonneville with its 200hp, 267ci Edlebrock-equipped Ford V8.

So-Cal Speed Shop Special. Converting a war-surplus part from a P-38 fighter plane into a body shell, Alex Xydias created the "most famous belly tank." "American ingenuity at its best" shattered A, B, and C Lakester class records at Bonneville in 1952, using (one at a time) three different Ford flathead V8s. The fastest time slip was 198.340mph.

1929 Ford Altered Roadster. Although he was already in the "2 club," Mr. Meyer had Mike Cook prepare this car to realize his Bonneville Salt Flats dream of driving an open roadster over 200mph. In 2012, the 1000hp Chevrolet V8 pulled Bruce and the car over the salt at 204mph.


Legends of Los Angeles

The Legends exhibit, which remains through November 2019, is a celebration of Southern California race cars and their builders.

All American Racers 1966 Eagle. Legendary driver Dan Gurney, with collaboration from Carroll Shelby, formed All American Racers in Santa Ana in 1965. AAR constructed six Eagles for the 1966 Indianapolis 500.

1964 Shelby Cobra 289 FIA. This is one of five FIA-spec factory team cars built in Venice to compete for the 1964 World Championship.

The Balchowsky Ol' Yaller Mark IX from 1963 used 401ci Buick power in "prevailing over expensive exotics in many races around the country." We saw an earlier version racing at the Goodwood Revival in 2012. Max Balchowsky's shop was in Hollywood.

1929 Ford Roadster. Hollywood auto upholsterer Tony Nancy collaborated on building numerous street hot rods and dry lakes racers. This particular 22 JR was primarily a drag race car.

1964 Mercury Marauder. Bill Stroppe was instrumental in developing Ford racing programs, beginning in the early 1950s. The 427-powered Merc shown here first appeared at Daytona, 1964, and was built in Stroppe's Long Beach shop.

1975 Edmunds "Tamale wagon" sprint car. Built by Don Edmunds in Santa Ana, this is the fourth in a series of Tamale Wagons constructed for race car owner Alex Morales "and named after the specialty of the family's Anaheim-based food business." A highly successful builder of sprint and midget race cars, Edmunds trained under Eddie Kuzma and Bill Thomas.

(Below left) 1924 Miller 122 Championship Car. A two-liter, inline, eight-cylinder engine develops 250hp (supercharged) in this example from the prolific Harry Miller. Built in Long Beach, it placed fifth in the 1924 Indianapolis 500 and was a winner elsewhere.

(Below right) The 1947 Kurtis Kraft "Leader Card" midget race car won the AAA Championships at Soldier Field 1948. Built in Frank Kurtis' Glendale shop, it is powered by a 110ci Offenhauser four. Kurtis-Kraft built hundreds of midget and larger race cars. KK Championship cars won five of the six Indianapolis 500 races, 1950-1955.

(Below left) King & Hansen Streamliner. An aluminum under-wing fuel tank from a P-38E fighter plane forms the aerodynamic shell of a land speed racer. Powered by a small (140ci) but heavily modified Ford V8/60 engine, the tanker turned a top speed of 118.89mph at El Mirage in 1948. It was built in Glendale.

(Below right) 1956 Watson-Debisschop "HOW Special." A. J. Watson's shop, also in Glendale, produced "Champ" cars that won the Indianapolis 500 six times in the period 1956 to 1964. The shorter "dirt champ" racer shown was highly successful using an Offenhauser engine.


Other Items in the Museum

1953 Nash-Healey by Pinin Farina.

1953 Bosley GT Mark I. The Chrysler Hemi powered prototype is the only one ever produced.

1954 Plymouth Explorer by Ghia.

1967 Ford GT40 Mark III. Only seven street legal versions of the successful racer were constructed.

The first mass-produced four cylinder motorcycle, the 1904/05 FN has shaft drive and was capable of 35mph.

1951 Ford Country Squire.

1957 Ford Thunderbird.

1963 Studebaker Avanti R-2 Coupe with a supercharged 289ci engine and a four-speed transmission.

Bangert Teverbaugh-Kirkland Bonneville Special. With a fiberglass body and chrome-moly steel tube chassis, this was the first Bonneville car to use a parachute to supplement the regular brakes. It was campaigned on the Salt Flats 1957 to 1959, with a top speed of 175mph.

The Ray Brown Roadster. A true barn find, the 1932 Ford roadster sat untouched in dry storage for nearly 40 years before being uncovered in 1991. It has since been restored to Ray Brown's original racing configuration. Ray was seventeen and employed at Eddie Meyer Engineering in Hollywood when he began building the car in 1945. He sold it in 1948.

1951 Mercury. The Hirohata Merc is one of the most influential and highly regarded custom cars ever created. It was customized by George and Sam Barris in 1952 for Bob Hirohata.

1948 Cadillac Sedanette. "Cadzilla" was completed at Hot Rods by Boyd in1988 for guitarist Billy Gibbons. Upgrades include a 500ci Cadillac V8.

X-34 Landspeeder from 1977's Star Wars: A New Hope.


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