Down in the Vault – A Tour of the Petersen Vault

It’s rare, but the Petersen opens its vault every so often to allow the media a chance to photograph automotive history that isn’t present in the main exhibits. This was one of those times and Carbage was there to get it.

The Petersen Automotive Museum Vault is legendary due to the amount of automotive history it holds. However, more recently, the Vault was expanded to an additional 40,000 square feet and added over 100 new historic vehicles to hold on to. Movie cars, race cars, and vehicles of importance, the Vault has something for everyone to view. Though, you normally only can see it by taking one of the tours ranging from 75-minutes to 120-minutes and you’re guided the whole time. Thanks to Hagerty, those of us in the media were allowed a nearly unrestricted look and I got some amazing cars in my time there.

The Importance of the Vault

While it holds cars, the Vault is also home to thousands – probably more than that – of old magazines from the archives of TEN (formerly The Enthusiast Network) and the Petersen Publishing Company. These references are kept alive by the Petersen staff for future generations of automotive writers and researchers to view digitally. While that means it’s not open to the public, the history they are preserving will allow accurate reporting and documentation of Hot Rod and other publications of the 1950s and up.

Racing History

Of course, if you have a need for slick tires, insane horsepower, and anything racing related, the Vault has it. Old Formula One cars, CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) open-wheel cars, Ken Block’s Fiestas, SCCA racers, classic Midget race cars, there are some amazing racing cars down there.


Show Cars and Hot Rods

However, if custom is your calling, its down there, too. From comedic to jaw dropping, the cars housed here are certainly something you can’t help but stop and stare at for hours. Makes me wish I had hours to do so.

Movie Cars

Remember the Jaguar from “Die Another Day”? The one with the mini-gun and stud-on-demand tires? It’s there and it turns out it’s on a 2002 Ford Explorer chassis. The “New” Herbie is down there, too. The Ferrari from Magnum PI? You’ll see it there.


For me, though, was seeing cars I would never have seen before because of their age and not being from this country. I got to see the first ever example of a Ferrari production car, the Auto Avio Costruzioni (AAC) 815. Looking at it, you knew that Enzo Ferrari just wanted to make race cars.

That also included the 1963 winner of the 24-Hours of Le Mans 250 GTO. It’s a car that’s hard to see its true beauty until you see it in person. For something built in the 1960s, its round curves and spectacular features are just so hard to convey in photographs.

The French Connection

Then I found a Citroen. Not just any Citroen, but a 1919 Citroen Type A. This was the first ever mass-production car in Europe, and I was just inches away from this unrestored masterpiece. I have a weird fascination with French cars, especially Citroen, thanks to rally cars like the DS3, Xsara, and CS4. However, to be this close to what was essentially the French equivalent of the Ford Model T is astounding.

Then I got to see a 1913 Peugeot Bebe BP1, or Baby Peugoet. Not only was this the first Peugeot to reach 3000 models sold (despite World War I), this car was designed by Ettore Bugatti. It was originally designed for Wanderer, a German car firm, but Peugeot got the license to produce them in France and displayed it as their own at the 1912 Paris Motor Show. These came with a two-speed gearbox, but the French brand would install their own three-speed box and use a 10-horsepower 855-cc engine of their design. Top speed was 37-MPH and a Bebe won the small car class of the 1913 Mont Ventoux Hill Climb.


Gag Gift That Gags You

Finally, I want to close out with a rather amusing as well as a bit off the cuff history. This, dear readers, is the Texas Bullshit Scraper. A gag gift commissioned by Bob Hope through famous Hollywood hot rod builder, George Barris, around 1971 for fellow actor John Wayne. It is supposed to have a cloth cover to look like a Conestoga-style covered manure spreader wagon, but it wasn’t on when I got to photograph it. Yes, it even features seat belts and disc brakes so it can be driven on the road.

The engine is a Chevrolet 283-cubic-inch V8 with classic Edelbrock valve covers and what looks to be like a modified Hilborn mechanical injection or one I’ve never seen before. Sending power to the fat rear wheels is a Powerglide transmission. Officially, it’s listed as a 1900 Overland chassis, which is the last bit of automotive history I want to leave in this article. Overland was a manufacturer that was founded in 1903, so that does bring up the legitimacy of the car’s “Overland” roots.

Though, that part of the “1900 Overland” could just be a funny name Barris came up with. Overland, though, is significant as it was owned by Claude Cox while he worked for the Standard Wheel Company. However, the Overland company was purchased in 1908 by John North Willys, before it was renamed the “Willys-Overland Motor Company” in 1912 and fathered the original MA “Jeep” in 1941. Unfortunately, Willys would not live to see the Jeep’s birth as he passed away in 1935. Other than being a Wild West lawman or cowboy, John Wayne was also known for portraying American military heroes driving MB Jeeps.

Carbage Host

Justin Banner
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