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Worshiping at the auto shrine

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In L.A., not all the stars are on the big screen, or bumping around Montana Avenue boutiques. Some of our finest performers are in the museums and private collections put together by Southern California's biggest car enthusiasts. Whether you're interested in seeing a primo Karmann Ghia or an elegant Talbot Lago, you can find it in one of the following auto collections open to the public. No autographs, please.


FOR THE RECORD:
Automotive museum: A story on car museums in the June 21 Cars Commemorative Edition said the Petersen Automotive Museum was open Tuesday through Saturday. It is open Tuesday through Sunday. —


Justice BrothersRacing MuseumNevermind that plane hanging from the ceiling. Race cars rule this 110-car collection — including a vintage midget raced by A.J. Foyt and a 1933 Smith Master Valve Special prototype.

Step in and check out the 200 or so sloganeering gas pump globes ringing the corporate headquarters for Justice Bros. Inc., an automotive additive company.

Co-founder Ed Justice never intended to open his car collection to the public. The many midgets inside what is now the museum entrance were intended only as office decoration. But one car became two, two became four, and before he knew it, his offices had been pushed to the side and the cars were front and center.

Today the cars continue to be decoration, in more varieties and in many more rooms than originally intended. An adjoining building shows the breadth of the collection. There's a 1955 Corvette, a 1957 T-Bird and a 1950 Crosley 4-cylinder station wagon that used to be sold out of the Sears catalog. There are also numerous vintage Fords, including a 1932 Phaeton once owned by Louis B. Mayer and the early roadsters that took the Justice brothers from Florida to California in the '30s.

It was during the '40s that Ed Justice and his brother Zeke first entered the racing industry, working for the famed builder Kurtis Kraft, in Glendale. Zeke built engines; Ed worked on the bodies. When they set up their own shop, their brother Gus joined in and ran the business.

Ed, the only surviving brother, is often at the museum, where he is known to give impromptu tours.

Location: 2734 E. Huntington Drive, Duarte. (626) 359-9174,

http://www.justicebrothers.com .

Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Marconi Automotive MuseumCaution: Speed thrills. And what a tempting entourage of speed-burners you'll find here: Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Formula 1 racers.

There are about 75 vehicles in the space, valued at about $30 million collectively. All of them were donated by Dick Marconi, who came to California in 1959 with just $500 and went on to co-found the supplement company Herbalife. He is now so wealthy that in 1994 he purchased the building, moved in his cars and established the Marconi Automotive Museum and Foundation for Kids.

The foyer of this former warehouse showcases a dozen motorcycles, many of them Ducatis. And the main room is home to rare Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches, including a one-of-a-kind Ferrari FX built for the sultan of Brunei.

In a smaller room known as the "race shop," two gargantuan Indy cars hang from the walls, holding court over the only Porsche-powered Indy car, the first rear-engine Indy car with a Cooper-Climax engine and Keke Rosberg's Chevron B39 Formula Atlantic, to name a few.

Location: 1302 Industrial Drive, Tustin.(714) 258-3001,

http://www.marconimuseum.org .

Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., by appointment.

Cost: Free

Murphy Automobile MuseumMeet Dave Colvin, 77, the genteel and dapper docent who wiles away his Saturdays and Sundays in the glassy lobby designed to emulate a grand car palace of the early 20th century. He is accompanied by a 1903 Oldsmobile Runabout and a mannequin dressed in period-appropriate attire.

Stroll a little farther into the main room, and the presentation isn't nearly as fancy. The building is, for the most part, a garage. The 60 cars displayed in this former trucking company office represent the collections of 32 owners. That makes the museum's offerings more eclectic than most, featuring a variety of makes and models dating from 1903 to the present, and a constantly changing inventory as owners buy and sell.

The first exhibit featurescars from the '50s, '60s and '70s, including a '68 Hurst/Oldsmobile and a '74 Karmann Ghia. From there, the cars are only roughly categorized, with Murphy's collection of 13 Packards lined up in a row, and Cadillacs, Fords and other cars sprinkled throughout.

Several of the exhibits are marked with signs indicating a car's year, make, model, significance and owner's name. Visitors are welcome to touch the exteriors, but they can't get in any of them — except the 1929 Packard Roadster, which has been relegated to a "play car" for kids.

Location: 2230 Statham Blvd., Oxnard.(805) 487-4333,

http://www.murphyautomuseum.com .

Hours: Saturday- Sunday,

10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Cost: Free

The NethercuttCollection museumsBefore his death in 2004, Merle Norman cosmetics co-founder J.B. Nethercutt said he hoped to be remembered for leaving beauty behind wherever he went. With San Sylmar, the opulent assemblage of 60 antique, classic and special-interest cars, and the Nethercutt Collection, across the street with an additional 130 cars, he has certainly succeeded.

The cathedral ceiling, gargantuan crystal chandeliers and polished marble floors in the San Sylmar's Grand Salon already seem over-the-top. But throw in the piano belting out Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and you've got Liberace-level flamboyance.

Among the cars displayed in the Grand Salon: the Duesenberg created for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair and a 1932 Maybach. At the Nethercutt Collection, where the 1937 Talbot Lago sport coupe and numerous other rarities proudly display ribbons from the crème de la crème classic car show the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the Packards, V16 Cadillacs and celebrity-owned cars seem endless.

Visitors to these "treasure houses of beauty" are encouraged to dress accordingly.

Location: 15151 and 15200

Bledsoe St., Sylmar.

(818) 364-6464;(818) 367-2251,

http://www.nethercuttcollection.org .

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday,

9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Petersen Automotive Museum Welcome to the Louvre. Say "auto museum" to anyone in L.A., and "the Petersen" will mostly likely be the response. It's the biggest museum of its kind in Southern California.

Smack dab in the center of the city, with a Dodge NASCAR mounted to the side of the building, it's difficult not to notice. Established by Hot Rod magazine and Petersen Publishing founder Robert E. Petersen in 1994, it is one of the oldest auto museums in L.A. and the largest in terms of sheer size. There's 300,000 square feet of exhibit space.

More than a fancy parking lot, the Petersen strives to give cars context in its permanent and temporary exhibits. That starts on the first floor, which is devoted entirely to a streetscape showcasing automobile history complete with appropriate backdrops, i.e., a blacksmith shop, an old-time car dealership, a vintage gas station and a hot rodder's garage.

But there's more, of course. Take the escalator up to the second floor and its seven exhibit spaces. Permanent exhibitions include the Otis Chandler Motorcycle Gallery — with cycles dating from a 1903 Orient all the way up to a 2005 Glasster custom chopper by Alan Lee with a glass fuel tank — and a Hot Wheels exhibit with a wall of more than 2,000 miniatures and six full-sized renditions.

Location: 6060 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. (323) 964-6356,

http://www.petersen.org .

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday,

10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Cost: $10; 62 and over and

students, $5; ages 5-12, $3; ages 4 and younger, free.

Vintage MuseumLions. Wild boar. An ox. The big game Otis Chandler hunted seem incongruously situated among the Packards, Porsches and vintage Harley-Davidsons displayed throughout the Vintage Museum founded by the late L.A. Times publisher.

Step into the lower level of this two-story, custom-built complex that is home to 50 cars and 43 motorcycles, and that strategy is clearly evident. The first vehicle on display is a '31 Duesenberg LeBaron. Along a wall to the left are antiques, including a 1916 Crane-Simplex and a 1906 American Napier. Among the cars to the right, a series of nine Packards and a 1931 matte-black Cadillac designed by Harley Earl.

For 18 years, Chandler's legendary vehicle collection and the big game he hunted have been available for public viewing through occasional open houses. It will be open to the public just one more time, in September, before the entire building and its contents are auctioned or donated. When Chandler died in February, no money was provided to maintain the collection.

Location: 1421 Emerson Ave., Oxnard. (805) 486-5929, http://www.chandlerwheels.com .

Hours: Sept. 25-30, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Wally Parks NHRAMotorsports MuseumLong before the fast and the furious inspired a movie, street racers and smoking tires filled the streets of Southern California. By 1951, street racing became so endemic that Wally Parks formed the National Hot Rod Assn. to help offer alternatives to the wide-open races.

The first major drag race sanctioned by the NHRA took place in an L.A. County Fairgrounds parking lot 53 years ago. That same space has since become home to the NHRA Motorsports Museum, which was renamed to honor Parks.

About 80 vehicles from all walks of motorsports are on display. Two rooms are devoted to drag racing, one to land-speed racing and another to road racing. The museum is arranged in rough chronological order, beginning with a 1923 Ford Model-T street roadster to the longer, lower and slimmer cars that progress over time.

While the museum is currently filled with "200 mph cars that are parked," Executive Director Tony Thacker hopes to make the museum more vibrant and interactive.

"Drag racing is about noise, smoke, sound and earth shaking," he said. "The museum needs to impart some of that."

Location: Pomona Fairplex, 1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona. (909) 622-2133,museum.nhra.com.

Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Cost: $6; 55 and older and ages 6 to 15, $4.

Astor Classics Event Center"Isn't this kinda yummy?" asks Art Astor, who opened his Astor Classics Event Center to private events a year ago. "If you're ugly and look like Frankenstein, you'd probably still get a date in that car."

The 81-year-old is referring to a '38 Packard convertible in butter yellow, but the same could apply to many of the cars Astor began acquiring 35 years ago.

His collection, open through private events only, is a sleepy office with a small, unhurried staff. But walk farther and there are 270 classic and vintage automobiles stored there.

The selection dates from a 1925 Dodge Coupe to a 1989 Chrysler New Yorker Mark Cross Edition — some of them restored, others entirely original. All of them work and are regularly exercised by Astor, who doesn't consider himself a collector so much as a driver. Every weekend, he takes about 20 of them out for a spin.

Astor, who made his money in radio and continues to operate three AM stations, started collecting with a 1959 Jaguar XK 150 Fixed Head Coupe. He's since filled out his collection with the only 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS known to exist in the U.S., Gary Cooper's 1938 V16 Cadillac convertible and other premium vehicles.

He opened the Astor Classics Event Center a year ago to help offset the costs of housing his cars and other collections. Events can be booked starting at $25 per person.

Location: 1045 S. East St., Anaheim. (714) 502-9494, http://www.astorclassics.com .

Hours: Open to the public through private events only.

Cost: Varies by event.

Joe's GarageSome of the wildest machines to ever hit the road — street rods, hot rods, race cars, classic American-made motorcycles — are on display at Joe McPherson's garage, where he displays 73 of them in a space designed to make visitors feel as if they're traveling back in time.

The cars and motorcycles on the floor are, for the most part, fully restored. The early- to mid-20th century collection — including four Miller race cars and a No. 25 Dragster — features the Chevy Lumina Dale Earnhardt raced in his last national championship, an off-road Baja 1000 Toyota Trophy Truck and various customized novelties.

McPherson, 77, made his money owning various car dealerships. From 1968 to 1996, he also co-drove trucks in off-road races. He started collecting cars 30 years ago.

Like Astor Classics, Joe's Garage is an event center. It's open to the public only through private events.

Location: 36 Auto Center Drive, Tustin. (714) 832-1717, http://www.joesgarage.com .

Hours: Open to the public through private events only.

Cost: Varies by event.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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