Never meet your idols, unless they are cars
I was recently in Los Angles for the first time, so naturally I made a trip to the Peterson Automotive Museum. The hall calls itself the country’s premiere automotive museum, and it’s displays make a persuasive argument. It currently features some rarities like the 1963 Chrysler Turbine car (1 of 9 left in the world), the ill-fated Bugatti EB 110, and a host of presidential limos from both the U.S. and Russia. It is truly impressive collection that deserves the attention of any car fan, and yet I felt disappointed with my tour. It took me a while to realize that the problem was not the museum but with me.
Only a couple of weeks earlier I hit a personal best that may make it hard to enjoy some exceptional cars. I was able to visit the General Motors Heritage Center. General Motors has over 600 cars that it has retained, and the Heritage Center is a rotating collection of around 100 of these cars in a non-descript warehouse outside of Detroit. This place is not open to the public, but I was able to have a tour with only a couple of other people.
I was a true professional for the entire ride to the collection, but the moment I entered a room full of my idols, I turned back into a twelve-year-old boy. I darted between concept cars, last production cars, and some odd design studies. I had access to cars I never believed I would see in my lifetime.
I love my job.
There were too many great concept and production cars to list individually, but some were truly exceptional. The 1951 Le Sabre concept was one of GM’s design chief Harley Earl’s best concept cars. It was the beginning of using aircraft design for use in cars. The tail lamp was built to look like a jet’s afterburner! Earl liked the car so much that he used it as a daily driver.
All three Firebird concepts from the 50s were sitting in a row. If the Le Sabre was the beginning of aircraft design on cars, then these were the extreme. All three cars were supposed to show the future of GM design, but luckily the 60s were a little more toned down than these outrageous concepts. These turbine powered cars used technology we are still trying to still refine today like the self-driving cars and regenerative braking.
Another favorite of mine from the collection is the 1961 Mako Shark (concept for the C2 Corvette Stingray). Not only is this a beautiful car, but also it has a great story. GM’s then design chief Bill Mitchell wanted the car panted to match the shark he had mounted in his office. After many unsuccessful attempts to get the paint on the car right, the designers secretly painted the shark to match the car. GM knows this story well but can’t confirm it for sure. Either way, Mitchell liked the car. In the same fashion of his predecessor Harley Earl, this concept was a daily driver for Mitchell.
There is an old saying that you shouldn’t meet your idols because they will only disappoint. I think I’m having the opposite problem, I’ve been so impressed by some of my idols that it is hard to appreciate what’s now in front of me. This isn’t a bad thing. I thought I may never top the experience of going to Germany to see Porsche’s “Number 1” or the first Beetle. Now after GM’s Heritage Collection, I look forward to what’s out there to top this new personal best.
In true after school special form: now that I’ve told my story, I challenge you to go out to your local museum and find your own personal best.