I spent several hours last Friday looking at cars. From replicas of the 1886 Benz Patent Moterwagen, one of the first “practical” cars (as its placard insists), to the 2017 Ford GT, cars were everywhere I looked – and I loved it. I was at the Petersen Automotive Museum attending media day, where several excited staff and board members were on hand to showcase the museum’s $125 million renovation. It’s strange for me to think that, despite being born and raised in Southern California, I’d only been to the Petersen museum once. And that was for a work trip.
Nonetheless, I think my time on Friday made up for much of the lost opportunities I had during my childhood. I loved learning about the cars of yesteryear, seeing rare and exotic race cars and sports cars, and picturing myself piloting them. I enjoyed trying to put myself back in time, because, to me, trying to understand the past helps me put the present (and the future) in context. Imagine turning a crank to start your car, or double clutching to change gears. We’ve come a long way since then and yet, somehow, the rear end of my Toyota Tundra is suspended on leaf springs not too dissimilar from those seen on cars from a century ago. Progress?
By and large, the Petersen is a car museum. And I know plenty of motorcyclists who couldn’t care less about cars. Some even get pretty testy with their disdain (hatred?) towards four wheels. There’s a mantra floating around the internet that goes “Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul.” While I can certainly understand the passion motorcyclists have, I don’t quite understand the animosity towards cars.
Basically a motorcycle with a cage and two extra wheels, the mechanics of automotive engineering intrigue me, and the experience of driving brings its own set of pleasures. For example, the burble of a V-8 is distinct, and getting pushed back in my seat at the flinch of my right foot brings a similar pleasure that twisting the throttle on a Hayabusa does. Likewise, driving a Mazda Miata through New Zealand while the wife and I were on vacation brought its own rewards. The light and nimble sportster was perfect for the twisty roads that define the Kiwi landscape, and though those roads would have also been great on two wheels, my better half wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much. The experience was made a little more special when I looked under the hood to find the rental company I went with installed an air intake, headers and exhaust. On my rental.
What does this have to do with motorcycles, you ask? Not a lot, I’ll admit, but the trip to the Petersen wasn’t a complete waste for the moto lover in me, as there is a small area on the second floor dedicated to the impact two wheels have had on the transportation landscape. The display featured some bikes I personally think are iconic, like the Ducati 916 and Britten, but also bikes I’ve come to expect as museum pieces: a Brough Superior, Vincent Black Shadow, and Harley-Davidson Model K, just to name a few, but once you’re lucky enough to visit the Barber Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, nothing else compares (I once roamed the Barber museum for so long a staff member finally had to inform me the place was closed for the day.)
Number of wheels aside, I’m a fan of mechanical things and, as it turns out, museums too. And while a Toyota Prius doesn’t interest me in the slightest, I can appreciate the brainpower that went into creating it. Cars and motorcycles will always coexist, and sometimes it’s interesting to take a peek at what’s new in the car world, as car tech has a way of trickling down to two wheels at some point. Twin turbo V-4 hybrid, anyone?