Sunday, February 2, 2020

A Car Trip Down Memory Lane

When I was in Los Angeles, I paid my first visit to the Petersen Automotive Museum.  I have always liked cars but never learned much about them.  At school all my friends could identify the cars on the road but all I could recognize was the Cadillac or the 1950’s, the Volkswagen Bug and when I became a teenager there was the Corvette.  Other cars, not at all.

The Petersen is a great museum for kids. I love that the first thing you see when you walk in is what came to be the Ice Cream Truck!  It greets the multitude of kids who come through that front door.  The school group of teenagers that was there during my stay had piled their knapsacks on a cart before entering.

Several smaller children were engaged in a playroom where you could build your own Lego car and then race it down a ramp.

The museum of course displays early vehicles. We all know what a Mercedes Benz should look like but who would have thought that Karl Benz’ first car patented as the “Motorwagon” looked like this.  It was the first petroleum powered vehicle.

As I walked through the museum, however, I found myself reminiscing about cars I had seen and been driven in.  Funnily enough the museum rarely had the exact model, but they were close enough to jog my brain.  I could not find my parents cars, for instance.  In my youth, they had a used 1949 grey Buick, then a 1953 green bulbous Oldsmobile and a sleek maroon 1959 Chrysler with fins.

I do remember my “school bus” which was actually a station wagon, one of my school’s small fleet.  Of course, I wanted to take public transportation and be on the public bus with all my schoolmates.  Unfortunately, when I was old enough to do so I found out I lived on the wrong side of town to take their bus.  But it is nostalgic enough to remember that my all wood station wagon was “school bus #9”.

The first car I owned, in spite of having German refugee parents was a 1959 Volkswagen Bug.  It had tiny taillights, the trunk was where we expect to find the engine and the engine was in the rear.  I remember one hill on Long Island that I had to drive up every afternoon where I felt that I should open the door and put my foot out to help the car with a couple of pushes.  Here is the museum’s example of the car, though I could tell from the larger taillights that it was a 60’s model.

In the early 1960’s I went to a number of Formula 1 races at Watkins Glen and in the mid-60’s I even went once to Silverstone in England.  The big names in racing then were Jimmy Clark, Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby.  The latter was the first person to drop an American V-8 engine into a lightweight British roadster and the museum has Shelby’s 1962 Cobra from the collection of Bruce Meyer.

Who remembers Knight Rider, one of my favorite TV shows of the 1980’s?  David Hasselhoff played the part of crime fighter Michael Knight, who was assisted by his car K.I.T.T. that was at his beck call and had all kinds of special protection and weapons.  It was an early example of Artificial Intelligence and a take-off on the James Bond films which started two decades earlier. There were twenty prototype K.I.T.T.s which were based on the 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.  Pontiac later demanded that these cars, which were actually built by Universal Studios, be destroyed and the museum’s example was one of the few to survive.

There were other fantasy cars such the Batmobile and The Alligator car. If you want to see the Batmobile you can go to the movies, but the Alligator car will be hard to find anywhere else.  This was a replica of one used in the 1975 film “Death Race 2000”.

If you are a car buff you will not be happy with me having left out so many details about the cars themselves, so if you wish to learn more, do go visit the museum when you are in Los Angeles.

I will end with an image which I find priceless.  The museum has a glass wall between the galleries and the garage. It showcased the lineup of visitors’ cars. For me it was the perfect statement of LA’s car culture. Frustrated as they may be by the parking lots called freeways, no one in Los Angeles can possibly survive without a car!

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