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Arriving In Style

The Petersen Automotive Museum's newest exhibit

Andy Bolig - April 01, 2014 03:47 PM

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1928 Mercedes-Benz by Murphy

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1898 Benz Mylord

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1915 Pierce-Arrow by Kimball

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Liberace's 1962 Rolls-Royce Phantom V Town Car

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While today, the name “Town Car” is almost exclusively associated with Lincoln, the term’s first use in 1907 referred to a vehicle of any manufacture that was fitted with a body having an open chauffeur’s compartment and an enclosed passenger area.

As the evolution from horse-drawn carriage to the automobile was underway in the early 20th century, Town Cars quickly became a pillar of luxury, sophistication and an illustration of one’s status – a counterpoint to the average, mass produced Ford Model T.

Known as “Mr. Showmanship,” it’s no wonder that Liberace not only owned a town car – a vehicle designed around status and opulence – but took it to the next, flashy level by covering the exterior with etched mirror tiles that certainly make a statement.

While today, the name “Town Car” is almost exclusively associated with Lincoln, the term’s first use in 1907 referred to a vehicle of any manufacture that was fitted with a body having an open chauffeur’s compartment and an enclosed passenger area. Elegant and dignified, town cars were built to project an air of regal sophistication in an era when decorum and ceremony influenced one’s preparations for even the most basic of outings. The newest exhibit at the Petersen, Town Cars: Arriving in Style, open through Fall 2014, will tell the story of this time in early car history, focusing on the elite’s demand for luxury– and of course will feature Liberace’s over-the-top example.

Like most practices involving the early automobile, the idea of a driver sitting in the open while his master sat in enclosed comfort began with the horse-drawn carriage. Serving as a personal backdrop for owners to showcase their status and place in society, passengers enjoyed a plush seating area trimmed with expensive fittings while the driver was obliged to sit on stiff leather upholstery and was provided no top for protection from the elements.

Although all town cars share the same basic open-in-the-front, closed-in-the-rear body configuration, it was rare for any two to be exactly alike as most were built for demanding customers who were wealthy enough to have their vehicles made to their own specifications. Available customizations included crystal bud vases, ladies and gentlemen’s vanity and smoking sets, cigar humidors, jewelry storage compartments and even instrumentation to let the passengers know how fast the chauffeur was driving, what time it was and other information.

After World War II the demand for town cars throughout the world plummeted. The body style was not completely forgotten by Detroit though, with concept vehicles built later on configured as ultra formal town cars.

Cars on display include a 1898 Benz Mylord, 1915 Pierce-Arrow by Kimball, 1916 Scripps Booth, 1927 Rolls-Royce by Hooper, 1928 Mercedes-Benz by Murphy, 1931 Lincoln by Willoughby, 1932 Plymouth by Brewster, 1938 Packard by Brunn, 1949 Cadillac by Schwartz, 1959 Scimitar by Reutter/Stevens, 1962 Rolls-Royce Phantom V Town Car (Liberace), and a 2009 Chrysler 300 Hollywood.

To find out about upcoming events at the museum or for more information, visit www.Petersen.org. The Petersen Automotive Museum Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charity. The Museum is located at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax) in Los Angeles, California 90036.

Admission prices are $15 for general admission adults, $10 for seniors, $10 for students with ID, $5 for children ages 3 to 12. Museum members, active military with ID and children under three are admitted free. Vault tours are available for an additional $25, and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Parking is free for the first 30 minutes and $2.00 each additional 30 minutes. One hour validation with purchase of $10 or more in the Museum Store or Johnny Rockets located in the museum lobby. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm. For general Museum information, call (323) 930-CARS.

 

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