Car-guy’s paradise: Los Angeles, CA

Jan 19, 2010   //   by Emmy   //   Places, Reviews, The Blog  //  3 Comments

Hot Wheels display at the Petersen. Yes, they’re mounted on that awesome orange plastic track!

Of course, Los Angeles is a car-guy’s paradise.  The weather’s friendly to old vehicles, and there are twisty mountain roads and speedy freeways and slow-n-low cruising spots within an hour of one another.  The streets are filled with equal numbers of everyday exotics and awesomely-preserved daily drivers, and if I tried to shoot them all we never would’ve gotten anywhere, and sometimes even if you can’t move your car you can use towing services from sites as that are great at this .  This is one of the few places where you’ll see a Maserati Quattroporte or Lamborghini Gallardo in the wild, however.  It’s definitely one of the few places where you’ll see those cars sharing space at the traffic light with original Austin Minis and Volkswagen Microbuses.  Mercedes is a common nameplate in the area, both old and new.


We visited two wonderful automotive attractions while we were in town as well.  The Petersen Automotive Museum you may have heard of.  Located in downtown Los Angeles, this museum of American (and especially California) car culture displays vehicles in elaborate dioramas that help to put things into context in a way that most car museums don’t bother with.


The GM showroom from 1939 doesn’t just have a brace of contemporary products; it includes the whole Art Deco showroom complete with advertising, sales desk and customers, the picture windows and front door, and a sidewalk out front with some older vehicles parked outside.  Other dioramas show a hot rod shop, a design studio and a typical 1960s suburban garage, including the Studebaker Lark Wagonaire, scooter for bopping around town and luggage on the garage shelves.



The Petersen also features special exhibits in its upstairs galleries.  The current crop includes a Hot Wheels retrospective, a selection of alternative-power cars, a Hollywood Gallery of movie cars, and the amusing “What Were They Thinking?” display of failed and wrong-headed automotive anomalies through the years, which ran through late September.


This exhibit ranges from commonly-known failures like the Edsel and AMC Pacer to one-offs you’ve probably never heard of, like the 1908 Scripps-Booth two-wheeler and the 1957 Liberty Mutual Survival Car.  A couple of cars were familiar, too:  the Survival Car was on loan from the Henry Ford Museum, and the 1932 Helicron and 1947 Gregory are cars that we’ve seen multiple times at the Lane Motor Museum.  I wonder if Jeff Lane drove his Helicron all the way to California?


The Petersen Museum is right downtown, on Wilshire Boulevard.  Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and students.  Don’t forget to cruise around the Petersen’s parking garage, too.


There are vehicles on exhibit, like the Vagabond–the first fifth-wheel travel trailer, complete with purpose-built tow vehicle–and there are usually a few interesting guests as well.


We found a derelict ’58 Buick and an MGA parked among the ordinary commuters in the garage (the Buick looks like it might be a permanent resident, actually).

Less well known, but equally cool, is the Mercedes Classic Center down in Irvine.  The Classic Center is tucked away in a small industrial complex, but for Mercedes owners, enthusiasts, and car people of all stripes it’s a must-see.  This unassuming building is like Mary Poppins’ bag for Mercedes-Benz vehicles.  If you’ve got a Mercedes of any vintage, you can get any factory part you need from the Classic Center–literally.  They’ll even restore your old Benz to its original specifications.  Since we’ve got a classic Mercedes in storage back in Michigan, this place was of great interest to us.


The Classic Center acts much like a dealer with an unusually extensive service department.  They’ll do everything from routine maintenance to ground-up rebuilds.


Parts for anything Mercedes has ever built can be found, and those that aren’t on hand either in the Classic Center’s massive parts department or in Germany can be reproduced, as the Classic Center has access to the original designs and specifications for all of Mercedes’ cars.  “We can get anything for anything,” says Mike Kunz, manager of the Classic Center.


The focus is on authenticity, and the Classic Center keeps massive stores of OEM hose clamps and bolts on hand, never making do with off-the-shelf parts from an auto parts store.  Some parts have been upgraded–old horsehair seat cushions, for instance, are now made with a material that looks and feels the same but is produced from ground coconut shells for a more durable and environmentally-friendly product.  Parts can be had in one day from the Classic Center, and three days in the rare event that they have to be ordered from Germany.


The Classic Center’s activities are split mainly between parts sales and restoration, but there’s also a mini-museum out front, and there are a few cars on sale as well.


A garage off of the main showroom features cars representing most of the marque’s history, displayed on two-tier vehicle lifts.  Some of the cars for sale have been restored by the Classic Center, and others are consignment vehicles; either way, it makes for an interesting showroom.  Vehicles are also provided for concours events.


We lucked into a quick tour of the facilities, where several restoration and repair projects were ongoing.  The Classic Center has about nine “restoration specialists” on staff, and we saw a variety of vehicles getting the treatment, from a 600 Pullman in for extensive hydraulic repairs to a 1961 330D Adenauer in the midst of a two-year full restoration.  MercCC-17


Not far from it was a Pontoon sedan that was also getting the same treatment; the Classic Center will do a back-to-original restoration on any Mercedes, not just the rare or special vehicles.   It’s not inexpensive, of course:  a ground-up restoration from the Classic Center carries a six-figure price tag.



Most of the center’s “patients” are Mercedes products from the 1950s and ’60s, but we saw everything from a 190 convertible to a fully restored 280SE 3.5 on the shop floor.


The yellow SLK/G-Class hybrid that circumnavigated the globe almost a decade ago was even hiding in a corner (it’s been there since at least 2006 in fact), awaiting repairs before joining the Classic Center’s museum.

The Mercedes Classic Center is a worthwhile stop, whether you’ve got a Mercedes in your garage or not.  It’s located on Whatney Street in Irvine, and the showroom is open to the public.


  • Nice pictures. I didn’t know about these attractions. Next time I get to LA I’ll visit.

  • Thanks for the pic’s and write-up on the Classic Center.

    A friend who deals in M-B’s particularly early SL’s sold(On eBay) an extremely nice 280 SL to the Classic Center, their buyer flew up to Portland, Or., to inspect the car and ultimately rejected it. Their standards are very high indeed.


    • Based on what we saw there, that doesn’t surprise me at all. The restoration jobs were beyond amazing.