State AG Wants to Know Why Famed Car Museum Is Making Questionable Sales

Monday, July 29, 2013
The museum has already sold a 1995 Ferrari F50 for $1.375 million

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is preparing to sell Herbie the Love Bug in August, and it’s not just fans of the 1968 Disney movie who are upset.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris wants to know why the famed museum is selling 119 cars from its collection of 400 vehicles, at least 10 of which were either donated or loaned to the Petersen by the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. Members of the attorney general’s staff met with museum officials last week.

The museum was founded in 1994 by Robert E. Petersen, the head of a publishing empire that included Motor Trend magazine. Petersen died in 2007.

The Los Angeles Times flagged the sales, which began in March, a couple of weeks ago. The money raised is to be used for renovation of its building while reducing the cost of maintaining the vehicles. The museum has already sold 12 vehicles, including a 1995 Ferrari F50 for $1.375 million, a 2006 Bugatti Veyron for $924,000 and a 1990 Ferrari F40 for $715,000.

A major auction of 107 of the vehicles is scheduled for Thursday. Sally Yerkovich, head of the Institute of Museum Ethics at Seton Hall University, told the Times that sales like these are generally done as part of updating a collection, not financing capital improvements. Nonprofit museums like the Petersen generally follow those guidelines because they hold the vehicles in trust for the public, she said.  

The Petersen denies that it is changing the museum’s mission and selling off its “crown jewels,” and blames two disgruntled former employees for the stories. In a statement on its website, Chairman Peter Mullin and Co-Vice Chairman Bruce Meyer wrote:

“We are culling the collection for the first time in nearly 20 years, selling cars that can easily be procured on loan or vehicles that were never intended for exhibition. Just to be clear, the ‘crown jewels’ of the collection are not being sold, only vehicles that we have in multiples or are not in show-worthy condition.”

They denied allegations that they are changing the focus of the museum from its mission of preserving Southern California’s automotive history in favor of showcasing motorcycles and highbrow classics, like prewar French motor cars.

The museum has not released a list of the vehicles going on the auction block, but it’s not only vintage car aficionados who will be waiting with bated breath to see what disappears into private collections. Fans of “The Dukes of Hazzard” will want to know who drives off with the wrecked 1968 Dodge Charger “General Lee” that was featured in the 2005 movie based on the 1980s television show.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

A Furor over Sales by the Petersen Museum (by Aaron Robinson, New York Times)

Atty. Gen. Harris Probes Petersen Automotive Museum Car Sales (by Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times)

Petersen Automotive Museum Takes a Major Detour (by Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times)

The Petersen Sets the Record Straight (Petersen Chairman Peter Mullin and Co-Vice Chairman Bruce Meyer)

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