At these institutions, rpm stands for revelations per minute.
While many of the world’s greatest car collections are privately held, a handful of museums bring the majesty of the automobile to life via carefully curated vehicles and materials that best illustrate the automobile as art, an avatar of technology, design—even anthropology. Here is our pick of the most spectacular.
Mullin Automotive Museum, Oxnard, California; Rita Hayworth’s Cadillac in the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California; exterior of the Petersen Automotive Museum; the 1925 Bugatti, exhumed from Italy’s Lake Maggiore, on display at the Mullin Automotive Museum.
Widely considered the premier car museum in the United States, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles boasts a world-class collection of vehicles while also devoting space to presenting the impact of the automobile on the culture and infrastructure of Southern California. Classic production models, racing cars, vintage motorcycles, and concept vehicles populate the museum’s four floors. Of course, no Los Angeles–based car museum would be complete without a collection of famous cars from television and film, which are also represented.
About fifty miles northwest, legendary private collector Peter Mullin has created a stunning museum, decorated like a Paris salon, celebrating the vehicles influenced by the sleek, streamlined styling of the art deco movement of the 1920s and ’30s. The collection includes automobiles ranging from the storied 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic to the 1938 Talbot Lago T150 SS and a stunning Delahaye T165 from 1939. Widely considered to have some of the most elegant cars ever built, the collection evokes a bygone era when bespoke coachwork was as integral to a car’s creation as was its engine.
6060 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90036
$10; open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
1421 Emerson Avenue, Oxnard, California 93033
$12; open scheduled days (check website), 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Mercedes-Benz race cars, also known as “Silver Arrows,” inside the Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart, Germany; exterior of the Porsche Museum; Porsche 917s housed inside the Porsche Museum.
Perhaps no automaker deserves a museum as much as Mercedes-Benz, which traces its lineage back 126 years to the world’s first internal combustion vehicle, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. The museum’s structure, designed by the architectural firm UN Studio, utilizes an overlapping cloverleaf layout, creating open space for a towering floor-to-ceiling atrium and 178,000 square feet of exhibition space. The airy rooms showcase the badge’s incomparable history throughout the 9 floors that house more than 160 vehicles—from classics such as the 1921 Mercedes Knight touring car and the 1958 Mercedes-Benz 190SL to the futuristic C111 experimental vehicle of 1969.
Several miles north, another legendary Stuttgart automaker, Porsche, has its own museum, a $124 million, Delugan Meissl–designed space with a “floating” exhibition hall. The high-concept museum is not just about horsepower and handling; here, the Porsche Archive documents the brand’s business, technical, social, and cultural heritage, and the building includes a private event area, as well as world-class on-site dining at the Christophorus Restaurant.
49(0)711 17 30 000
Mercedesstrasse 100, 70372, Stuttgart, Germany
€8; open daily, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
49(0)711 911 20911
Porscheplatz 1, 70435, Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Germany
€8; open Tuesday–Sunday, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
Cars on display at the 2012 opening of the Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari, Modena, Italy.
The name Ferrari conjures vehicles that push the blistering edge of performance while remaining intimately connected to the marque’s past. Fitting, then, that the new Casa Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena interweaves the historic with the futuristic. The structure combines company founder Enzo Ferrari’s boyhood home—a simple redbrick and wood building—with a sweeping frame of metal and glass sporting a yellow aluminum roof (the same shade as the Ferrari emblem) shaped to resemble a sports car’s bonnet, air vents and all. Inside, the selection of vehicles represents not only Ferrari’s storied manufacturing history (including the 1947 125S, the first to bear the Ferrari name) but the Alfa Romeo, Fiat, and Maserati vehicles its founder helped build and race before creating a legendary namesake of his own.
Of course, any automotive pilgrimage to Italy should include a stop in Brescia to experience the Mille Miglia Museum; not every curated selection of vehicles, after all, is located inside a stunning eleventh-century monastery. The edifice has become a historical tribute to Italy’s fabled thousand-mile open-road endurance race, held from 1927–1957, which put names such as Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Porsche, and BMW on the map.
39 059 4397979
Via Paolo Ferrari, 85, 41121, Modena, Italy
€13; open daily, 9:30 a.m.–6 p.m.
39 030 3365631
Viale della Bornata, 123, 25135, S. Eufemia, Brescia, Italy
€7; open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Josh Condon is the editor of the MSN Autos blog Exhaust Notes.
- © Porsche Museum
- © Sylvia Mautner/Mullin Automotive Museum; © Petersen Automotive Museum; © Petersen Automotive Museum; © Derek Gardner/ Mullin Automotive Museum
- © AFP/Getty Images; © Murat Taner/Corbis; © Porsche AG
- © Getty Images