Paul Huizenga: The Petersen Museum Celebrates 60 Years of Corvettes

The Petersen Automotive Museum anchors one end of Los Angeles' famed 'Miracle Mile' at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Farifax Avenue.

This past weekend, I got a chance to visit the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California during their two-day celebration of the Corvette’s 60th anniversary. For those who have never been (and up until now, I was in that group, sorry to say…), the Petersen is a 300,000 square foot temple to all things automotive, with 150 or so vehicles on display at any given time in rotating exhibits.

Publishing titan Robert E. Petersen founded the museum with the intention of creating a very different sort of experience for car lovers, and no matter what the current theme might be, a visit to the Petersen is worth taking time for as a part of any visit to SoCal. The two-floor museum breaks the “nice cars in a big room” mold with displays tailored to the era of the vehicles being presented, and a “gallery” format that is more like an art exhibit than a typical automotive museum.

How much better, though, was it to be able to also experience a car show filling a large part of the Petersen’s multi-story parking garage with Corvettes of all generations, and get a first close-up look at the C7 Stingray on the West Coast? Among the honored guests were speed parts legend Vic Edelbrock, Jr. and Mid America Motorworks founder Mike Yager, who brought along three cars from his extensive collection of significant Corvettes.

The C7 Stingray in the Flesh – Sort of…

While there have been preproduction mules running around on public roads in the southwest in Arizona and southern California, the car on display at the Petersen was actually not a runner, though it did have a unique provenance of its own. This was the mockup that was presented to the GM Board of Directors in 2011 for final approval before production.

As a styling model, the Stingray on display had an interior that ended just below the armrests in a flat plane of black upholstery. That didn't dampen enthusiasm in the crowd, though - the car was surrounded by Corvette fans all day, with many of them posing for pictures with the car. You're never too young to be a 'Vette fan!

Vic Edelbrock, Jr. (in red) and Mike Yager spent hours talking to fans and signing autographs at the car show on Saturday. Both men are true enthusiasts, and they always have time to share their passion with fellow car lovers.

Wish These Were in MY Garage!

At the request of the Petersen Museum, Mike Yager brought out a sampling of the cars that can be seen in his “MY Garage” museum at Mid America Motorworks headquarters in Effingham, Illinois. Out of the dozens of significant Y-bodies Yager has collected over the years, the Petersen staff picked two in particular to have on hand for the celebration – the 1964 New York World’s Fair Mitchell Styling Corvette, and Chevy Engineering Research Vehicle (CERV) 1. The third car, the 1969 Elliott Forbes-Robinson #8 Corvette Race Car, was selected by Yager himself due to the car’s successful west coast race history.

The 1964 World's Fair Corvette was intended to showcase styling ideas and mechanical features destined for future production. 6 larger taillights replace the standard 4, the front grille opening is enlarged and contains a special eggcrate aluminum insert, and the hood is cut away, a la the current ZL1, to show the fuel injection cover. The most obvious styling difference is the sidepipes, which were originally non-functional chrome plated plastic but were later replaced with the working stainless steel system currently on the car.

The CERV 1 was built as an engineering testbed for the geometry of the 1963 Corvette's independent suspension, but went on to play host to no fewer than seven different engines over its testing career. The current, and final powerplant is one of just a half-dozen all aluminum 377 cubic inch GS engines ever made - reputedly the blocks for these engines, which were specially cast by Alcoa in 1963, cost a total of $284,000. This engine powered the CERV 1 to a top speed of over 204 MPH on Chevy's Milford Proving Grounds oval track.

This L-88 Convertible was one of four cars that were the first to receive open chamber cylinder heads as part of a factory optional 'service package.' Purchased in January of 1969 by Herb Caplan, known as the 'Jewish Kamikaze' (it was a much less politically correct time back in 1969), he picked it up in St. Louis, and drove all the way home to Sacramento with his wife Alice alongside. He earned the Northern Pacific Division Championship in SCCA A-production three years running, from 1969-1971 before selling the car. In all, Caplan won an amazing 46 races in 49 starts behind the wheel of this historic Corvette.

The car show next door in the museum's parking garage was wall to wall Corvettes.

The Estrus Racing Beach City Chevrolet 1968 Corvette Roadster AA/Funny Car is a reproduction of the original, built by Don Kirby, which was lost in a fire at the legendary Orange County International Raceway. Power is provided by a 500CI Keith Black HEMI topped by a 6-71 blower pushing 95% nitromethane.

Registered car show participants received a cool commemorative medallion courtesy of Mid America Motorworks.

In case you can't quite place it, this is an AC 378 GT Zagato, built in South Africa by Hi-Tech Automotive. Sharing a lot of DNA with the C6 Corvette, this car will set you back a cool $118,880. And that's just for the chassis - if you want a Chevy Performance LS3 crate engine and Tremec T56 gearbox to actually make it go someplace, budget another $26,500 or so.

For those who missed the event, there’s still time to catch the Petersen Museum’s ongoing Corvette exhibit, which runs through the end of March. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10AM to 6PM, and for tickets, directions, and more information, visit them on the web at

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About the author

Paul Huizenga

After some close calls on the street in his late teens and early twenties, Paul Huizenga discovered organized drag racing and never looked back, becoming a SFI-Certified tech inspector and avid bracket racer. Formerly the editor of OverRev and Race Pages magazines, Huizenga set out on his own in 2009 to become a freelance writer and editor.
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