Behind the Scenes: “The Vault” at the Petersen

Just after 7 p.m., I stood outside the elevator doors for an experience only a handful can say they have done: a tour of the infamous Peterson Automotive Museum Vault. Located beneath the museum, I was handed a hard hat to preview the area slated to open to the public on June 1, which had various parts of the ceiling crumbling and cars in disarray.

I knew this would be a night to remember.

Rows of archived literature and construction equipment loomed over me as I entered through a nondescript door.

Camera in hand, I felt overwhelmed and took off and had a semi-supervised adventure through the Vault which includes over 250 cars that represent some of the most significant moments throughout automotive history. It’s arguably one of the best, if not the best, automotive collections in the world.

I nearly missed some incredible one of a kind examples of pre-war automobiles because I was drawn to the two-time Le Mans-winning 1966 “Gulf” GT40. It’s one of two cars ever to win the Le Mans twice, and as a Ford performance enthusiast and Shelby fan, it’s entirely haunting to be in its presence.

The GT40 was nose to nose with the latest edition of the Heritage Ford GT.

The deeper I ventured into the Vault the more incredible and even outlandish the vehicles became.

Tucked away toward the back was the spectacular Ferrari 250GTO which is arguably one of the most significant Ferraris of all time with just 39 examples built. This particular GTO was purchased new in 1963 and raced four times, winning its class at the 24 hours of Le Mans and first overall at SPA.

Every car was in there for a reason, even if it was just a Ford Model A you knew there was something more to the story, everything truly was the best of the best.

Other cars that caught our eye include the famed 1925/34 “Round Door” Rolls-Royce, the French WRC Renault Alpinea 110, Porsche 934 Turbo RSR – one of the most highly evolved variants of the Porsche 911 series, the Spa-winning 1986 Porsche 962 endurance racer, a 1929 Bugatti Type 46, a 1936 Delahaye, Steve McQueen’s 1956 Jaguar XKSS, a 2015 Mclaren P1, a 1947 Cisitalia, and the Bugatti EB110.

A few of the cars I’ve only seen on the lawn of Pebble Beach so seeing them in a fluorescent lit concrete garage gives you a new perspective on how huge and intimidating they are.

The biggest take away was when I noticed a Honda Civic sitting across from a Bugatti. With the “The Roots of Monozukuri: Creative Spirit in Japanese Automaking” and “Fine Tuning: Japanese-American Customs” exhibits happening above me, even in the most secure and prestigious collection has been infiltrated by my JDM passion.

Once open to the public, docent-led tours will take visitors into the vault for a more significant look at history’s most iconic Ferraris, Bugattis, Porsches, coach-built cars, hot rods, Hollywood cars, presidential cars, race cars and art cars. Tour options include 75-minutes or 120-minutes.

Photography by Nicole Ellan James and Dimitri Lazaris 

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About the author

Nicole Ellan James

As an automotive journalist and avid car enthusiast, Nicole Ellan James has a passion for automotive that is reflected in every aspect of her lifestyle. Follow Nicole on Instagram and Facebook - @nicoleeellan
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