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From Royales to Jags, 'Million Dollar Cars' Exhibition Will Offer an Exciting Ride

June 12, 2002|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They are the creme de la creme, the top of the heap: automobiles worth $1 million or more, often much more, to today's collectors.

There aren't all that many, and the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has gathered 28 of them, with a total value of $125 million, for a special fifth anniversary exhibition.

Opening night Thursday will be a $200-per-person affair expected to attract 1,200 or more of Southern California's leading auto enthusiasts, including celebrities such as "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno and racing greats such as Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby.

The exhibition, which opens to the public Friday, offers a galaxy of vehicles, including the only Bugatti Royale that made it to the U.S.--one of six Royales ever built and valued at about $12 million.

Typical of the cars in the exhibition are the 1956 Jaguar XKSS once owned by actor and driving enthusiast Steve McQueen; the 1934 Dusenberg "Mormon Meteor" race car that set numerous land speed records on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats; and the 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster the late Jack Warner, head of Warner Bros. Studios, used for several decades. Warner bought the car, one of only three built, off the Mercedes-Benz stand at the Paris Auto Show.

The youngest car in the show is an aluminum-bodied 1964 Ferrari GTO, one of just 39 built as dual purpose road-and-race cars.

The oldest is the 1901 "Sweepstakes" race car built by a guy named Henry Ford. He raced it once, but that was enough. His winnings and the public acclaim from his first and only race gave him the help he needed to start a little business in 1903 that he called Ford Motor Co.

If you can afford the $200 tariff to rub shoulders with the auto world glitterati, you'll not only come home with some celebrity sighting stories to tell, you'll also get a preview of the "Million Dollar Cars" exhibition and the thanks of museum benefactors Robert E. and Margie Petersen.

Thursday's gala is the largest annual fund-raiser for the nonprofit museum and its children's programs.

"Last year we had over 1,200 guests and we raised over $700,000, and this year we expect even more guests and are hopeful of making over $1 million," said Margie Petersen, co-hostess of the gala.

Tickets can be purchased at the museum at 6060 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, or by calling (323) 964-6366.

If your bank account won't stretch that far, you still can catch the "Million Dollar Cars" show. It opens to the public Friday and runs through January. Museum admission for adults will be $10 instead of the usual $7 during the run of the exhibition. The $5 fee for students and seniors and the $3 fee for children between 5 and 12 won't change.

Thursday's gala and exhibition opening are part of the California Classic Weekend, which includes a Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. sale of hot rods and collector and celebrity cars Friday and Saturday (www.barrett-jackson.com, or (480) 421-6694).

The weekend wraps up with the annual Concours on Rodeo car show, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday on Rodeo Drive at Wilshire Boulevard.

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