Top Automotive Museums
SoCal is the World’s Car Capital

Most car lovers and driving enthusiasts agree, Southern California is the automotive capital of the United States! I even state it in the opening of every iDriveSoCal Podcast.

But what makes Southern California the automotive capital of the United States, actually? The short answer is lots of things. And we’re producing a mini-series to share all the characteristics and destinations that make Southern California the automotive capital of the United States, and of the world!

In this iDriveSoCal Podcast we begin making our case by highlighting an array of World Class Automotive Museums located in SoCal. If you haven’t been to them, I sincerely hope this podcast will inspire your first of many future visits.

As promised in the podcast here are links to each of these automotive treasures:

  1. Mullin Automotive Museum, Oxnard, California

  2. The Nethercutt Collection, Sylmar, California

  3. Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California

  4. The Automobile Driving Museum, El Segundo, California

  5. Marconi Automotive Museum, Tustin, California


Recording date – June 19, 2018 at in Los Angeles, CA

Tom Smith: Southern California is the automotive capital of the United States and automotive capital of the world. Sorry, Detroit. Sorry anybody else that thinks you are, you’re not, we are. One of the reasons we deserve that moniker is because of our plethora of world-class museums, automotive museums. We’re going to do the top five starting with five, and then moving up to my very favorite car museum.

Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California. Tom Smith here with the Professor, Mr. Clinton Quan. Say hello, Clinton.

Clinton Quan: Hi, Tom.

Tom Smith: Hey, hey, hey. So, today’s podcast — and thank you for joining us as always — is about … And we started to cover … We slid off topic. We did a podcast about the checkered flag malfunction with the supermodel about a week ago or so.

Clinton Quan: Yes, at the F1 race.

Tom Smith: Yeah, yeah. And we started talking about museums. And the concept that I say,.

As we open each podcast, the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California, right? Arguably, automotive capital of the world. And one of the things that you said, Professor, was, “Yes, it is the automotive capital the United States and the automotive capital the world.” You did say the world too, right?

Clinton Quan: Yes.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: Definitely, the world. Right.

Tom Smith: So, you heard it Tom and the Professor, Southern California is the automotive capital of the United States and automotive capital of the world. Sorry, Detroit. Sorry anybody else that thinks you are, you’re not, we are. That said, one of the reasons the professor said that we deserve that moniker is because of our plethora of world-class museums, automotive museums. So, with that in mind, we’re going to talk about the top automotive museums through the expert analysis and vision of the Professor. So, take it away, Professor.

Clinton Quan: So, we’re going to do the top five starting with five, and then moving up to my very favorite car museum.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: Number five is the Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: Now, this is the only Automotive Museum in Orange County.

Tom Smith: Right.

Clinton Quan: It’s open Monday through Friday, unless there’s a special event on the weekend. And there is one open house during the summer where the general public can view the museum on a weekend. And that’s coming up very soon.

Tom Smith: Open house meaning?

Clinton Quan: It’s open to everyone, and it’s open on a weekend, as opposed to a weekday.

Tom Smith: Oh okay.

Clinton Quan: Because, normally, it’s only open Monday to Friday.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: So, this is special.

Tom Smith: So, one weekend a month.

Clinton Quan: Well, no. It’s one day for the whole year.

Tom Smith: What? One weekend day for the whole year, they’re open?

Clinton Quan: Yes, unless there’s some special event.

Tom Smith: Okay,gotcha.

Clinton Quan: I think they do have fight night and there’s some other special events.

Tom Smith: Yeah.

Clinton Quan: And they have private events as well.

Tom Smith: And they do. They do.

Clinton Quan: Yes.

Tom Smith: I interviewed Bo Marconi, who’s one of the co-founders. Her husband founded it. And I know all about fight night. I haven’t done a piece on that yet. But I didn’t know the times, the specifics about their opening.

Clinton Quan: Yeah. It’s generally open to the public Monday to Friday.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: So, as I was saying, this open house that’s coming up on Sunday, July 22nd, that is the only day it’s just open to everyone on a weekend.

Tom Smith: Yeah. And the organization is for a good cause for kids.

Clinton Quan: Yeah, their profits go to children’s charities.

Tom Smith: Yes.

Clinton Quan: So, that’s a fantastic thing. And their fight night, I want to say is in the fall. And it’s a big fundraiser. And they have-

Tom Smith: One of their biggest events.

Clinton Quan: Yeah. They have … And I want to say they’ve done some boxing there too.

Tom Smith: Yeah.

Clinton Quan: But girl MMA, guy MMA, and really high-class event, and significant ticket price, I believe, as well. But, hey, it’s all for a good cause. Yes.

Tom Smith: All right. So, sorry to jump in. I had a little bit to add there to the Marconi. And the cars that you see there are-

Clinton Quan: A lot of sports cars and race cars.

Tom Smith: Lambos, Ferraris.

Clinton Quan: A number of Ferraris. Quite a collection of Ferraris-

Tom Smith: Yes.

Clinton Quan: … on display at the Marconi Automotive Museum.

Tom Smith: Yeah. And Bo Marconi, as well as her husband, I believe his name is Dick Marconi.

Clinton Quan: Yes.

Tom Smith: Some of the cars that they raced themselves personally are part of the collection.

Clinton Quan: Yes.

Tom Smith: And they have some neat stuff. So, check out the Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin. The Professor said, when are they open?

Clinton Quan: Open Monday to Friday.

Tom Smith: Monday to Friday. And it’s for a good cause. So, definitely check that one out. What do you got for number four?

Clinton Quan: Number four is the Automobile Driving Museum in the South Bay in El Segundo. That museum was originally located in the West Los Angeles. And when they outgrew their space, they moved down to the South Bay.

Tom Smith: Yup.

Clinton Quan: And what’s really special and unique about this museum, and that’s why it’s called the Automobile Driving Museum, is that on Sundays, on any given Sunday, they’ll bring out three different cars, and you can go for a ride in one of the classic cars, the docents that will take you around the neighborhood.

Tom Smith: Yup, yup. And that’s another one that I did a podcast. I’m excited because, actually, I think, I have most of your top five covered and done podcasts with already.

Clinton Quan: Yeah.

Tom Smith: But the Automobile Driving Museum, we’ve done a podcast with. And they have a bunch. I mean, the other thing is their museum is in a garage; whereas, any of those cars are driven at any given time. So, I mean, it’s in a garage, garage; whereas, the fluids aren’t drained. I mean, you can smell the fluids, you know, the gas, and oil, or whatever. So, I mean, you’re in a garage that’s also a museum. And the cars are phenomenal, and it’s a wide range.

Clinton Quan: It is a wide range of cars. They specialize mostly in Packards, but they have a wide variety of cars. And they’re constantly rotating their cars. If you talk to their docents, they may allow you to sit in some of the vehicles as well. And they have events throughout the year as well, and numerous events. One of my favorite events and something that I like to bring my son to is the Hot Wheels Garage Event, which I think they’re going to monthly again. They were doing it monthly. And then, they went bimonthly. But I think they’re going back to doing it monthly. And it’s extremely popular with the kids.

Tom Smith: And the Hot Wheels event is basically?

Clinton Quan: Well, they have a whole another building.

Tom Smith: It’s a partnership with Mattel, right, because Mattel’s based right here in-

Clinton Quan: Oh, it’s within walking distance of the museum.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: Yeah. So, they actually have another building with real life-sized Hot Wheels vehicles.

Tom Smith: Right.

Clinton Quan: And they set up these tracks in the outdoor area where kids, if they participate in each activity, then they get … I believe it’s a sticker, or they get a stamp. And then, they get a hot wheels. Then, they also do this raffle drawing where they get all the Mattel toys donated from Mattel. So, they give away some really, really cool prizes. I remember one time, I went, and I won five prizes.

Tom Smith: I hope you had the Associate Professor with you, and you weren’t just winning these prizes for yourself.

Clinton Quan: Well, I gave them-

Tom Smith: Clinton’s in his late 20s, mid 30s, winning prizes from the little kids who are seven and eight years old. In your face, little kid, I stole your prize. No, that wasn’t the case, right?

Clinton Quan: No, no.

Tom Smith: Professor.

Clinton Quan: I won it fair and square.

Tom Smith: Okay. So, that is a really cool museum. And I mentioned this the last time that we brought that up, I’m surprised you haven’t applied to be a docent yet because they do take applications to be a docent, but it is a long-waiting list from what I heard.

Clinton Quan: Oh.

Tom Smith: Because you get to drive these classic vehicles that are literally part of the museum.

Clinton Quan: Yes.

Tom Smith: Okay. So, that was that was number four, the Automobile Driving Museum. And that museum, I guess, all of them are in kind of interesting places. And the Marconi’s down there in Tustin, and kind of like an industrial type area. And this one is really close to LAX really.

Clinton Quan: Very close to LAX.

Tom Smith: So, we’re talking of another industrial area, but industrial area that that serves LAX, but in an interesting spot because it’s like you’re driving, and you’re driving, and all of a sudden, like, “Oh, there is a really cool-looking museum that, I think, I want to stop in.” So, what’s next, unless there’s anything else about the Automobile Driving Museum?

Clinton Quan: I think that’s it.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: So, number three is the Petersen Automotive Museum-

Tom Smith: Another one I did.

Clinton Quan: … which is an probably the one that most people are familiar with.

Tom Smith: Yeah. Everybody knows Petersen.

Clinton Quan: Yes. This is the largest car museum in Southern California and probably one of the largest in the US.

Tom Smith: And they have a deep … I mean, they have a deep collection. And I say deep literally because, I believe, they’re expanding downward.

Clinton Quan: Well, there is a vault.

Tom Smith: But when I did a podcast with them many months ago, I believe, Terry Karges, I want to say, is the Executive Director’s name. And I believe he was stating that they’re in the process of expanding. I said, “Where the heck do you expand, you know, here in LA?” “Yeah, you expand downward.” So, yeah, the vault is where they have some … but they have a really cool collection that they have. But then, they have collections that come and go-

Clinton Quan: Yeah.

Tom Smith: … like art exhibits. Well, you tell me.

Clinton Quan: They’re always coming out with the new exhibits, and that’s what’s great about this car museum. They have so many events and so many exhibitions.

Tom Smith: Yeah.

Clinton Quan: You’ll never get bored of visiting the museum because there’s always something new to see-

Tom Smith: Yeah.

Clinton Quan: …. and so many different exhibit spaces. It was just about a couple of years ago, they did a complete renovation at the museum. In fact, they shut down the entire museum for one full year, and they were able to complete the renovation on time. And it is completely different than what it was before.

Tom Smith: Well, the building itself sticks out like crazy. I mean, you see that from a few blocks away like, “What is that?”

Clinton Quan: Well, they wanted to make this place a destination.

Tom Smith: Yeah.

Clinton Quan: And it is a destination landmark in Los Angeles.

Tom Smith: Yup.

Clinton Quan: And since Southern California is the automotive capital of the world-

Tom Smith: Right.

Clinton Quan: … that was that was definitely one of the goals. And I think they definitely succeeded in that. And inside is just spectacular as well.

Tom Smith: And they’re doing something … You know, the Marconi funds children’s charities. The Automobile Driving Museum has kids programs to get kids or they’re in the process of getting the programs going to get kids working on and rehabbing cars. And I know Petersen has some programs such as that or in the process of developing programs for kids to get kids into the automotive field. So, you know, lots of good things coming out of these museums. It’s not just, “Hey, come and look at these beautiful cars.”

Clinton Quan: Yeah.

Tom Smith: It’s, “We’re really creating an ecosystem.” They’re getting-

Clinton Quan: There is an education component to it as well.

Tom Smith: Okay. Anything else about Petersen?

Clinton Quan: Well, one of the newest exhibits features some incredible Japanese classic cars.

Tom Smith: Oh really?

Clinton Quan: Yeah. And I went to that recently. So, I highly recommend checking that out. You’re going to see some Japanese cars that you normally wouldn’t see, unless maybe went to the Japanese classic car show or some other classic companies.

Tom Smith: Did that take the place of the one that was with the low riders?

Clinton Quan: No. This one is on the second floor.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: And it’s in the same space where the Seeing Red exhibit, the Ferrari exhibit took place.

Tom Smith: Okay, gotcha.

Clinton Quan: Yeah. So, that is a beautiful space.

Tom Smith: All right. All right. So, that’s the Petersen Automotive Museum. That is-

Clinton Quan: And that’s located, you could call it Miracle Mile. That’s-

Tom Smith: On Wilshire, right?

Clinton Quan: Yes, on Wilshire, Miracle Mile, Museum Row, corner of Fairfax and 3rd. So, you could say it’s in the center of LA, the heart of LA.

Tom Smith: Okay. But for the Petersen Museum, there is a hard ticket cost, right?

Clinton Quan: Correct, or you could sign up as a member, and you’ll get complimentary admission throughout the year.

Tom Smith: Okay. This membership, I would imagine, is significant, but I don’t know.

Clinton Quan: Yes. There’s varying levels of membership from, I believe, individual all the way to the highest level, which is the checkered flag.

Tom Smith: Okay. Put your name on stuff.

Clinton Quan: Yeah. And you’ll get invitations to exclusive events as a checkered flag member.

Tom Smith: Of course. Okay. So, that’s the Petersen. What’s next?

Clinton Quan: Number two will be the Nethercutt Collection-

Tom Smith: Nethercutt.

Clinton Quan: … which a lot of people don’t know about. I consider this one of the hidden gems of Los Angeles. I first heard about this museum when I was watching the show, California’s Gold, the Huell Howser Show, many many years ago.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: And since then, I’ve visited the museum numerous times.

Tom Smith: All right.

Clinton Quan: And this is just an incredible collection of cars. I believe, about 200 plus vehicles on display. And, I believe, they’ve won Best of Show at Pebble Beach more than any other collector.

Tom Smith: I was going to say most of their cars are Concours d’Elegance caliber, if not all of their cars are of the caliber.

Clinton Quan: Yeah.

Tom Smith: Yes?

Clinton Quan: Yes. I would say almost all of their cars are.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: And there’s actually two buildings. So, in the original building, which you would call the collection, you have to make reservations. You can’t just go in there, and browse the cars by yourself. And it’s only open, I believe, Thursday and Friday. And they do one tour on both of those days. And then, Saturdays, there’s two tours. And the tours, I believe, it’ll take about 90 minutes to two hours, but it’s done-

Tom Smith: And that’s a guided tour? Somebody is-

Clinton Quan: It is a guided tour. And let’s see. There’s the basement. That’s where you meet when you go on the tour. Then, you go up to the Grand Salon. That’s probably the most impressive part of the tour-

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: … where you’ve got these marble columns and marble ceilings, 15 feet high, and marble floors.

Tom Smith: So, the museum itself is an architectural masterpiece. It’s what it is like.

Clinton Quan: Yeah. And you wouldn’t know because this is in Sylmar and from the outside. But when you go inside, it really is stunning.

Tom Smith: Okay. It’s on my to-do list. I haven’t done it yet.

Clinton Quan: And then, you go up to the mezzanine, and you get this beautiful view of all the cars on the Grand Salon. Then, you walk up the spiral staircase. And they have these musical instruments they demonstrate as well. So, it’s not just cars. They have furniture and musical instruments on display.

Tom Smith: Come check out the super, super, super high life.

Clinton Quan: And then, you go across the street, and that’s the newer museum. That one is is a self-guided tour.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: Yes.

Tom Smith: All right. So, that’s the Nethercutt. And I-

Clinton Quan: And for those of you who don’t know where Sylmar is, that’s located in the San Fernando Valley, on the northeastern side of the valley.

Tom Smith: Okay. And what do we have for number one?

Clinton Quan: Number one is the Mullin Automotive Museum in-

Tom Smith: All right.

Clinton Quan: … Oxnard, which is in Ventura County.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: And that’s my very favorite museum. This museum is only open two days a month to the general public. They do have other special showings, which, I think, if you are willing to pay double the price, then you can go on a weekday. All of the cars in this museum are French automobiles. So, most people don’t know much about French automobiles.

Tom Smith: Wago. French, right?

Clinton Quan: Well, when you-

Tom Smith: It’s the only French manufacturer I can even think of.

Clinton Quan: Well, Bugatti is actually French.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: Yeah.

Tom Smith: I didn’t know that. I thought it was Italian.

Clinton Quan: Yeah. You would think Italian, but it’s actually French.

Tom Smith: Is Wago-

Clinton Quan: There’s there’s a huge display of Bugattis on the second level-

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: … of the museum. And this museum is in the former space of Otis Chandler’s Museum. For those who still remember that museum, he was one of the publishers for the Los Angeles Times. And when he passed away, they auctioned off his cars, and they took over the space, and did a complete renovation of the space. And it is beautiful as well. I love the way the cars are laid out in this museum because in a lot of museums, a lot of times, there’s not enough space for the cars where you can really enjoy and appreciate the cars, and ride around, and take really nice photos. The cars here, they’re really, really spread out.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Clinton Quan: So, you can really enjoy and appreciate the cars. And these are some of the finest cars in the world. And you’ll see them in a number of car shows. They bring them out for events such as the San Marino Motor Classic.

Tom Smith: But, again, all concours d’elegance level vehicles?

Clinton Quan: Yes, absolutely.

Tom Smith: Just one more valuable than the other.

Clinton Quan: Yes, it’s a stunning collection of cars.

Tom Smith: Okay, fantastic. Well, there are a lot more automotive museums, and hot spots, and whatnot, but we wanted to identify the top five as part of our ongoing podcast, of course. But the conversation of … I guess, a justification of Southern California being the automotive capital of the United States, automotive capital of the world, our awesome museums are definitely a factor in that statement. So, as always, Professor, thank you so much. Anything else to add about these museums or perhaps others? We want to save others for another talk.

Clinton Quan: Well, I would recommend checking out the websites for the museums-

Tom Smith: Sure.

Clinton Quan: … because there’s always a lot of special events that takes place in the museum.

Tom Smith: Yeah.

Clinton Quan: So, you might want to go when they have a special event. So-

Tom Smith: Good point.

Clinton Quan: … you know, check out something else. And with the Mullin Automotive Museum, I do highly recommend making reservations in advance because it is only open twice a month. You might be able to just go there and walk into the museum, but it’s best to reserve tickets online.

Tom Smith: Good point, Professor. Good point. What we’re going to do is on this post, everybody, if you want to just go to, and go to this post, we will include links to all the museums that we just covered, or you can just google them. They’re out there.

Clinton Quan: Yes.

Tom Smith: But, all right, fantastic. Professor, thank you so much. As always, always a pleasure talking all things automotive with you, my friend. And for iDriveSoCal, I’m Tom Smith. Thank you very much for listening.

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