Bruce Meyer, a founding father of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California, is the car-guy’s car guy. His automotive collection contains everything from hot rods to classics to sports cars, but is heavily populated with retired racing cars. For a new exhibit at the Petersen, entitled Winning Numbers: The First, The Fastest, The Famous, Meyer has chosen 10 stand-out cars from his garage — all with a competition history — for display.
The oldest car in the exhibit is a 1929 Ford roadster, driven by Meyer to a top speed of 204 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2012. Though already a member of the 200-mph club, this was the first roadster driven by Meyer (then age 71) above 200 mph on the salt. The car wears a 1929 Ford roadster body on a stretched chassis with a ’32 Ford front end, and is powered by a 427-cu.in. Chevy V-8.
The 1934 Ford Pierson Brothers Coupe from Meyer’s stable is one of the most significant cars in all of hot-rodding. Purchased by Dick Pierson as a clapped-out daily driver (reportedly for $25), it ended up being the fastest closed car in America, earning the reputation as “the coupe that beat the roadsters,” the open-air cars then considered the only “real” hot rods. The roof chop and raked windshield — at 50 degrees — was the suggestion of Bobby Meeks, who creatively interpreted rules that required a windshield to be 7 inches high, without defining maximum rake.
Belly tank “Lakesters” were a common sight at Bonneville and on the dry lakes in the years following World War II, since surplus fighter aircraft fuel tanks were cheap, plentiful, and ideally shaped for high-speed runs. Perhaps the most famous of all was the white and red belly tanker built by Alex Xydias of So-Cal Speed Shop fame. Xydias drove this car — then powered by a 296-cu.in. flathead Mercury V-8 — to a single-pass top speed of 198.34 mph at Bonneville in 1952, a record that still stands for a normally aspirated, flathead-engined car.
This 1957 Ferrari 625/250 Testarossa didn’t always have a 3.0-liter V-12 between its front fenders; when purchased new by John von Neumann, it was powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, itself an upgrade from the standard model’s 2.0-liter four. Even as a four-cylinder, von Neumann and Richie Ginther enjoyed success behind the wheel, but for the 1958 season von Neumann dropped in a spare V-12 supplied by Ferrari for a different car. The “hot rod Ferrari” had some teething pains, but overall won more than 50 percent of the races it entered (counting all drivetrains). Meyer purchased the car in 2001, later reuniting the chassis with the same V-12 installed in 1958.
The 1960 Chevrolet Corvette owned by Meyer is one of three Corvettes campaigned by Briggs Cunningham and team at Le Mans in 1960. Though this car suffered a race-ending fire 20 hours into the event, its sister car (number three) delivered a class win, the first for a Corvette on the Circuit de la Sarthe.
The 1961 Ferrari 250GT Short Wheel Base (SWB) Berlinetta was built with a singular purpose in mind — to win the GT Constructors Championship for the Maranello automaker. Chassis 2689GT, the car from Meyer’s collection, contributed greatly to achieving this goal, winning its class at the 1961 24 Hours of Le Mans and finishing first overall at the Coppa InterEuropa at Monza. The following year, it won the Coupes de Bruxelles, finished second at the Grand Prix de Spa, and finished second-in-class at the Nürburgring 1000km.
Meyer found his 1962 Shelby Cobra at Retromobile in Paris in 2006, an unlikely location to run across the very first production Shelby Cobra. As if being the first wasn’t significant enough, chassis CSX2001 has a racing history of its own, having been prepared for the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans (but run only in the race’s trials, which take place in April) and raced throughout Europe by its American owner in 1964-’65.
The 1962 Greer-Black-Prudhomme dragster predates Don Prudhomme’s days as “The Snake,” but this front-engine digger delivered an almost unbelievable (at least by modern standards) string of wins. Prudhomme drove it in a total of 241 races, winning 237 of them. If that isn’t utter domination, we’re not sure what is.
Meyer’s 1965 Bizzarrini was entered in the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans as an Iso Grifo A3C. Powered by a 327 V-8 liberated from a Chevrolet Corvette, the stylish supercar delivered a class win and a top-10 finish overall in the hands of drivers Régis Fraissinet and Jean de Mortemart.
Bruce describes his 1979 Kremer Porsche 935 K3 as “one of his favorite cars,” and it, too, is a Le Mans winner. In the hands of drivers Klaus Ludwig, Don Whittington, and Bill Whittington, the heavily modified Porsche finished first overall in 1979, completing 307 laps in 24 hours, eight more than the second-place 935/77A of Dick Barbour Racing. Meyer advises that Kremer Racing made more than 100 modifications from stock in its 935 K3, yet managed to retain the reliability needed to complete the world’s most prestigious endurance race.
Also expected to be on display (raising the total to 11, not 10) is the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette C6.R GT1 that won its class at Le Mans in 2009, finishing 15th overall with drivers Johnny O’Connell, Jan Magnussen, and Antonio Garcia. Per Meyer, the car has remained untouched since coming off the track, giving visitors a unique opportunity to see the effects of 24 hours of flat-out competition.
Winning Numbers: The First, The Fastest, The Famous is the first of a three-part series entitled “California Collecting,” focusing on a trio of prominent regional collections. The exhibit opens on Saturday, February 23, and runs through January 19, 2020. For additional details, or to purchase tickets in advance, visit Petersen.org.