Hollywood Dream Machines
The Petersen Automotive Museum
Los Angeles, California
I’ve been good. I haven’t written about cars in a while.
But that ends, right here, right now.
I love screen-used movie artifacts. If something was used in a film, handled by someone famous and respectable, and played a role critical to entertaining millions of people, then it holds tremendous value to me. I feel the same way about other artifacts too, it’s just that fewer artifacts from film and television are preserved and displayed in public, so it’s very special when entire exhibitions are curated around such items.
Case in point: right now, the Petersen Automotive Museum has on display and holy-prop-movie-cow, it is incredible. They managed to curate some vehicles from films that I absolutely idolize. Some of the cars had been in the Petersen collection for some time (the vault underneath the museum houses a staggering collection that is not on display except for separate paid tours or when cars are cycled through the main museum), but several were new to me there and were either on loan or recent donations/acquisitions.
The original screen-used Barris Batmobile on display at the Petersen
A screen used Barris custom driven by the Joker and a replica Batmobile
Cars from the existing collection included the non-screen-used promotional Keaton Batmobile (with bonus screen-used costume), a Barris Kustom hotrod from the 60’s Batman TV series, a replica Barris Batmobile, Tony Stark’s Ford Hot Rod from Iron Man (Jon Favreau’s personal car), and Black Beauty from the 60’s TV show, The Green Hornet. Other cars may also have already been in the Petersen collection, but I had not seen them displayed. Notably absent were the replica of Laurel & Hardy’s accordion compressed Model T, Professor Fate’s Hannibal Twin-8 and Leslie Special from The Great Race, (not displayed since the museum’s renovation) and the time-traveling custom convertible New Beetle from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. The photos to the right were taken by me in 2005 and 2017, and were not related to The Hollywood Dream Machines Exhibit. The Hog Wild replica may have been acquired from MovieWorld when it existed in the 70’s and 80’s.
Movieworld was an astonishing museum run by Jim & Ida Brucker that showcased cars from film and TV back in the 70’s, which was located in Buena Park California. It is also likely where the Petersen’s Leslie Special and Hannibal Twin-8 came from, although the museum closed in 1979 and the Petersen did not open until 1994, making the chain of title murky to people not in the know like me. I hold my parents personally responsible for not giving birth to me sooner so I could experience this amazing place. I also thank my parents for giving birth to me later because if I had been born earlier, odds are I would have started smoking cigarettes like every other kid at 14 and be dying of cancer, if not dead at this moment. While a fun piece, Laurel & Hardy’s Model T was not displayed because the museum had essentially let it rot since removing it from its diorama. It briefly surfaced from the vault in 2019 in terrible condition, and missing a wheel. While it was not the screen-used vehicle, and thus not as valuable, it is still unfortunate.
Cars that were new to the collection included selections from the following films and television:
It was, an incredible grouping of vehicles. It was also, essentially entirely Sci-Fi/Comic Book vehicles. Is that bad? No, because let’s be honest, sci-fi and comic book vehicles are really cool, but a more diverse curation, I feel, would have included the aforementioned missing vehicles above. The other thing to note, is that I don’t think (apart from one car we’ll get to), that this collection was very hard to curate, with all the vehicles coming from only two or three different collections. Watching YouTuber Tavarish’s podcast videos on YouTube revealed that the Blade Runner 2049 cars, as well as several of the other cars from competing studios, were in storage in an unrevealed location. I have not been able to verify this, but I believe the 2049 cars were built by Dennis McCarthy’s Vehicle Effects in Sun Valley, California. I theorize this as Tavarish purchased a Lamborghini Murcielago used in the film ‘The Fate of the Furious.’ The picture car coordinator and builder on all of the Fast & Furious films was Vehicle Effects, and the warehouse storing the Lamborghini also housed the 2049 cars, as you can see in two twitter posts from Andrew Howell (Tavarish’s podcast sidekick) on the right. If you visit Andrew’s twitter and view the pictures full size, you will see that these are the same cars that are featured in the Petersen, as evidenced by matching blemishes.
Below are photos of the 2049 cars on display.
You might notice that I didn’t refer to these cars as “Spinners” and that is because they are not. Spinner was a car brand in Blade Runner. K’s car, for example, was clearly a Peugeot. As for Luv’s car, I am unsure. For me though, the grail movie car moment was being reunited with the red police ground Spinner driven by Harrison Ford in the original 1982 Blade Runner film. For this, I will explain my nerdosity in a separate article. The short version of this is that I first saw two cars from Blade Runner in 1992 (when I was a young impressionable fetus) that I would never forget, and I’ve been a life-long fan of those cars and screen-used props, costumes, and vehicles ever since.
For me the red Spinner coupe is a grail prop. Driven by, or at least sat in by Harrison Ford, prominently featured in the film, fully functional(ish with no gauges of any kind), and in excellent condition, it was a joy to see again after so many years when I first visited it at that museum in Miami. The car had managed to hold up perfectly, despite the rigors of production, and several moves over the course of its life. When I originally saw it back in 2001, it had its steering wheel removed, (fun fact: it’s based on a Volkswagen super beetle), but now the steering wheel was back. Apart from that, the only other thing I noticed was the broken left-turn signal. I did not recall seeing the broken left-turn signal in Miami.
But before we continue…
A brief side bar. All of the photos and media on this article and that you have seen up to now have been taken by me (except for the screen capture of Andrew Howell’s twitter, so we’ll cover that here too).
The video above and to the right, while edited by me, does contain source material to which I do not own the rights. It is presented under the auspices of Title 17 of the US Code which makes allowances for “fair use” for the purposes of purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, and scholarship.
Both Blade Runners are spectacularly good films, and this article is also published with the goal of introducing people who have not seen the film, to it, and in turn, to buying and watching it.
You can do so by clicking HERE FOR MULTIPLE FORMAT OPTIONS.
Now let’s continue…
The Petersen had previously displayed a separate yellow “taxi” Spinner (above), alternately referred to as an “Everyman coupe” that original picture car builder Gene Winfield had, I thought, donated to the museum back in the mid 2000s when I saw it there as part of the then museum’s movie cars display. It turns out that it was only on loan, as I discovered it sitting out in the Mojave Desert at Winfield’s shop looking surprisingly none the worse for wear despite being 35 years old. Perhaps that dry arid climate is not that bad on vehicles, unlike Florida. Thankfully, the yellow spinner returned to the Petersen for this exhibit and I do hope it stays.
Back to the red Spinner.
There was also a what appeared to be a detailed body casting of one of the blue flying police spinners. It was, in a word, disappointing. I speculate that the Petersen probably tried to get one of the two remaining blue Spinners (one is at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, the other owned by a gentleman in Japan who knows the value of what he has) and when both declined, they turned to Winfield who had kept the molds, and hastily cast this thing up to have for display.
Outside was one of the personnel transports from ‘Prometheus’ and the description placard read that it was the only one built with a full interior. Unfortunately the truck’s massive gull wing doors were not open to view the interior. You could, however, peak through noticeable gaps in the bodywork for a limited view inside.
A very interesting car, I thought, was the Cadillac Cien from the movie ‘The Island.’ While two Ciens were built by Cadillac, which were fully functional and available to rent for film production, a separate and fully functional Cien was scratch-built for the movie. I guess that was cheaper? Perhaps GM’s attitude was that, for the right price, anything is for rent, but the film crew was able to make a copy faster and for less money, so GM lost out.
Speaking of branded sci-fi movie cars, the Audi RSQ as seen in I, Robot was also on display. The spherical wheels were of course, totally fake, and peering underneath the car revealed skinny little wheels and tires (probably of the emergency spare tire/wheel type) and jacks for when the car was on display. This way the car could be displayed without revealing the running gear underneath. It was a design study and would eventually give us the Audi R8, but there’s not much more to it than that.
Moving on to unbranded movie cars, in a bit of a twist, was the GM Ultralite as seen in Demolition Man. This car was, not used in the film Demolition man, but rather was the basis for the picture cars created for the film. Whereas the concept car featured here was made of advanced-for-the-time composites, the film versions were similar but relied on more conventional construction. I first saw one of the screen-used cars on display at the Orange County Auto Show in Anaheim California back when Demolition Man first came out. Parked next to the Ultralite were two vehicles from A.I. Artificial Intelligence. They appeared to have held up well.
There was also some armored transport thing from Hunger Games but you see these outside every military surplus store there is so who cares?
There were two cars from Mad Max: Fury Road on display as well. Of course, they had one of the Last of the V8 Interceptors displayed, and also Nux’s car, but if you’ve been to the Mad Max Museum in Silverton Australia (odds are you haven’t), then you’ve seen way more Mad Max awesomeness than this. Plus, replica Last V8s are a dime a dozen in Australia. However, if you haven’t been to Australia (or don’t live there), then these were a site to behold as well. One fun little tidbit about this car was just how effective the weathering on this vehicle was, relative to its mechanical condition. Peering inside the broken headlight, one could spot a pristine wiring harness with not so much as a speck of dust on it.
I will cover the Mad Max museum (which yes, I have been to), in a later article and then link to it here.
Another really cool vehicle to see was the actual KITT from the Knight Rider TV show. Much like the Last V8’s down in Australia, KITT “kit” cars are plentiful in the US. Look at just one on Instagram, and your Instagram feed will be flooded forever with replicas. And yet for some reason, I never see them on the road anywhere. The last time I saw KITT was as a child when it was parked at Universal and would have conversations with guests who sat in it, another formative life experience. I remember pressing buttons and flipping switches and activating and deactivating KITT’s polarization and my dad shifting the car out of park and into neutral and me in hindsight wondering if that would have caused KITT to roll into the lake he was on top of had my dad located the parking brake as well. This KITT was a later iteration from the one the Petersen display, which is claimed to be from the pilot. I wish the scanner and interior lights had been turned on, as was the case with the Back to the Future DeLorean, which is fully lit up and functioning in all its splendor.
Speaking of Back to the Future, produced by Steven Spielberg, there were cars from, you guessed it, the Back to the Future films, as well as several vehicles from two Spielberg-directed films on display: A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report. Technically, one of the vehicles from A.I. was a flying thing, not a car, but still, I’ll take it. There were two vehicles from Minority Report – the rotating people mover thing, and also the “Lexus” that gets assembled around Tom Cruise in the car factory before he drives away in it, escaping the authorities. As nearly as I can tell, Lexus paid a lot of money to have its name put on both vehicles, but it was a bit of a bad deal, because several additional identical cars were produced that weren’t badged as Lexuses and which were also seen in other films
It has me wondering if this wasn’t simply a futuristic picture car that could be rented out to film/television/commercial shoots possibly even prior to Minority Report. The Petersen had an additional convertible version of the same car parked in the lobby, and I know if at least two other coupe versions, one of which was seen in, coincidentally enough, The Island, and a silver coupe that was used in the background (without Lexus badges) in Minority Report. Obviously, these were all just cheaply made fiberglass bodies over some sort of welded up frame. The car used in The Island was powered by what looked like an old Buick V6 engine, and there was probably something similar in the “Lexus” variant as well. You can see it in an outdated listing on RM Sothebys’ website where it sold for $16,500 in 2013.
I’ve discussed the Keaton Batmobile in previous posts, but one cool non car thing there to see was the screen used Keaton Batsuit. I have only seen three of these in on display (I know, I’m a dork) and this one was clearly the most obviously used of the bunch. Another was on display at Disney Hollywood Studios in Florida, and times, all the Batman suits have been displayed together at the Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California. In bright light, the suit looks very poorly made and cheesy, but it didn’t have to look good since it was only used in dark underexposed and high contrast environments in the film. You cannot see it here, probably because the Petersen wants Batman’s costume to look dignified, but the pants of the Batsuit were basically just lycra leggings with what amounted to rubber briefs that had sheets of rubber extending down the thigh to above the knee and haphazardly glued into place. It is pretty odd looking in person.
All in all, the selection of vehicles was fantastic, surprising, and heartening given the excellent condition of everything there (Last V8 interceptor included since it was supposed to look that way). I also was optimistic that this exhibition only scratched the surface of what film and TV cars there are still out there waiting to be curated and displayed (and even other cars in the Petersen’s own collection in the vault) so I hope that this is the first of many exhibits on this topic to come.
I tried to cover as many of the vehicles displayed here as possible, and if you are reading this in the future after the exhibit has ended, I hope it’s a good reference for what was at the Petersen at the time. Never pass up an opportunity to visit this amazing museum, even if you have been before, as there is always something new on display to see.
Also, across the street from the Petersen, the Academy Museum is opening soon, and there will be not only screen-used cars, but all kinds of other things as well!