The Petersen Museum is Back!

In Blog by Abhi1 Comment

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3-21-2018 Update: I’m bringing this one back from the archives (I originally shared this back in December of 2015) because the Petersen has just announced a new motorcycle exhibit that will be opening on April 14. It will be guest curated by none other than The Vintagent – Paul d’Orleans. More details to come tomorrow. For now, here’s your reminder about what the Petersen currently has to offer if you haven’t had a chance to check it out yourself yet.

After a nearly year-long renovation, the Petersen Museum is re-opening on Monday. Hopefully you remember my visit before it closed, where I got to spend some time checking out the motorcycles. Somehow, little ol’ me got an invite to last week’s media day to check out the museum in advance of the grand opening, so I went back to see how they’re displaying motorcycles now.

The remodel wasn’t just for the interior – the exterior got a highly-publicized revamp as well. While I’m still not sold on it, I did like the redesign more once I got to see it from up close and on the inside:
Petersen Museum Inside of the Exterior

Either way, this video is worth a watch for a quick update of how the exterior has changed:

In the last iteration, the Petersen had motorcycles all over the place but the focus was in one gallery. That’s still the case, though the new gallery (the Richard Varner Family Gallery) has made a huge improvement in that it finally allows attendees to see around the bikes instead of just viewing one side. I was also impressed with how few of the bikes currently on display were holdovers from before the renovation. The main motorcycle gallery is dominated by a platform that’s reminiscent of a wave of pavement:

The bikes are displayed chronologically, with the newest motorcycle (a Kawasaki H2R) at the back and the oldest bike (a Thor Camelback) in the front:

I’ll highlight a few of my favorites:

Brough Superior “Old Bill”. A Brough Superior SS80 is cool enough by itself. But this is Old Bill, built specially for none other than George Brough himself. For all the information you’d ever want on this special bike, check out this excellent profile on The Vintagent, but I have to pick out a certain line because it’s so good:

‘Old Bill’ was George Brough’s ultimate sprint weapon, and he bested the most famous sprinter of the day – George Dance on his Sunbeams – many times, winning 51 sprints in a row in 1922/23. ‘Old Bill’ crossed the finish line on race #52 in first as well, but George was elsewhere, busy scrubbing the flesh off his buttocks 100mph on gravel, ‘Bill’ having bucked him a few yards before the finish…an experience which ended his racing career, and meant several months of painful skin grafts in those pre-penicillin days…

When it sold for $469,763 at an auction in England on October 23, 2012, it set a record for most expensive motorcycle sold at auction. According to The Vintagent’s list, it currently sits at #6. Thanks to the Petersen, you can now ogle it up close. What I don’t understand is why the ‘info plaque’ at the museum fails to mention any of the above, but that’s a story for another day.

Ducati 916

Honda CB750 #97

A Vincent Black Shadow that was getting some last minute touches:

There were also some cool scooters, including a Fuji Rabbit:

and a Rumi Formichino (“Little Ant”) prototype:

Part of the gallery was also a section dedicated to showing off different motorcycle engines with more than one cylinder. Representing twins is a BMW R90S:

For four-cylinders, a Munch Mammoth:

Set of six, a Benelli Sei:

They even had a eight cylinder – possibly my favorite bike in the entire museum, a Morbidelli V8.

This is one of just four prototypes that were ever built by Giancarlo Morbidelli. The company had some serious racing success in the past, winning the 125cc World Championship in ’75, ’76, and ’77. Fast forward to 1994, when Morbidelli decided to build the ultimate luxury street bike. The powertrain was a 90 degree 847cc V-Eight hooked up to a shaft drive through a 5-speed transmission.

Obviously, it didn’t do particularly well in the market. I’d blame that on two things. One, it was expensive – the second generation had a projected price of $60,000 (in 2001, Guinness declared it the world’s most expensive motorcycle). It was also fantastically ugly. Well, at least the first generation was.

photo from

Here’s what the second generation looks like:

Designed by Pininfarina…what is it with this bike and the Bimota Mantra and wood dashboards?

Sorry, fans of triples. Your engine got no love.

Another amazing bike was actually tucked away in another gallery, as part of the Nearburg Collection. In a separate galley near the main motorcycle section lies none other than one of the ten Britten V1000s!


Obviously, the Petersen is not just motorcycles. There’s all kinds of automotive goodness there, and you’ll spend hours getting lost in little details like the turn signals of this 1914 Galt (a gas-electric hybrid of which just two were built):

Here’s the rest of the photos I took, if you want to see more. Or, if you want to see more photos of the cars, check out this preview from Autoblog. Then do yourself a favor and just go see it in person!

Or…if you want to see what it was like before the renovation, you can check out my previous story here.

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