The Amazing Cars of the Petersen Automotive Museum’s “Supercars” Exhibit

On display now on the third floor of the Petersen Automotive Museum is Supercars: A Century of Spectacle and Speed, a collection of high-performance vehicles dating back to the early 1900s. Beginning with the 1913 Mercer Type 35-J Raceabout and closing out with the 2005 Maserati MC12, the exhibit highlights some of the most iconic roadgoing supercars of the past 100 years.

Characterized by performance, limited production, outlandish styling, and speed, the Petersen’s supercars display showcases many of the cars that put “ultimate” in “ultimate dream-car garage.” While the Petersen Automotive Museum remains closed to the public pending a change to California’s pandemic restrictions, we compiled a preview gallery for you to explore here. And because we didn’t want to waive the opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of our favorites, below are nine supercars from the exhibit that really got our imaginations racing. (To see the rest of the amazing machinery on display, don’t forget to go into the photo gallery!)

1956 Jaguar XKSS

Originally featuring a white exterior paint finish with a red interior, this 1956 Jaguar XKSS once belonged to American actor and race car driver Steve McQueen. The King of Cool had the car painted in British Racing Green, and he often referred to it as the “Green Rat.” Limited to 16 examples, this one is owned by the Petersen. The Jaguar XKSS was the street-legal version of the Jaguar D-Type race car built to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

1967 Ford GT40 Mk III

Occasionally driven by famed Austrian conductor and original owner Herbert von Karajan, this left-hand-drive 1967 Ford GT40 Mk III is one of seven examples built for road use. With a history that includes Le Mans, the Ford GT40 Mk III was the well-behaved version of the Le Mans-winning GT40. One of four in the left-hand-drive configuration, the 306-horsepower Mk III got its power from a 4.7-liter V-8 engine paired to a ZF-sourced five-speed manual transmission.

1968 Lamborghini Miura P400

Making its official debut at the 1966 Geneva Auto Show and limited to 764 builds, the V-12-powered mid-engine Miura was unlike any car on the road. As the story goes, when Ferruccio Lamborghini pulled up to the Casino de Monte-Carlo in Monaco in a Miura, the crowd went bonkers. All die-hard movie fans will never forget the 1968 Lamborghini Miura P400 from the opening sequence of the 1969 British film The Italian Job, featuring Matt Monro’s timeless voice.

1981 BMW M1

Developed in collaboration with Lamborghini (a deal that later fell apart) and designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the fiberglass-bodied BMW M1 was the 3.0 CSL replacement intended for the track as a Group 4 race car. But before BMW could move forward with building a race car, homologation requirements tasked the German automaker to produce 400 roadgoing M1s. In production from 1978-81, not quite 400 M1 road cars were produced, with another 53 manufactured as race cars that were at the end used for the Procar series.

1985 Ferrari 288 GTO

Engineered by Nicola Materazzi and designed by illustrious Ferrari designer at Pininfarina Leonardo Fioravanti, between the 250 GTO and F40 was the low-production Ferrari 288 GTO. What began as a homologation model aimed to compete in the FIA Group B race series, the mid-engine 288 GTO featured similar styling found on the 308 GTB. Restricted to 272 copies and sold as a road car following the cancellation of the Group B series, a longitudinally mounted, twin-turbo V-8 mated to a five-speed manual transmission was the recipe for a 400-horsepower 288 GTO.

1988 Porsche 959 S

Getting in on the action to meet a homologation requirement just like Ferrari and BMW, Porsche developed the 959 in 1981 as a Group B rally car. Unveiled at the 1983 Frankfurt show, the 959 was produced at Karosserie Baur and constructed on a steel monocoque chassis with a lightweight body made of aluminum and reinforced fiberglass. Wide fender flares, a massive rear spoiler, and the big air dam up front were essential in making the 959 aerodynamically functional.

An air and water-cooled, turbocharged flat-six was good for 444 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, and in the 959 S, larger turbochargers increased power to 508. The 959 S featured a PSK all-wheel-drive system, a height-adjustable suspension, and ventilated disc brakes. Of the total 345 Porsche 959s created, only 29 examples were of the Sport variant.

1998 McLaren F1 LM-Specification

Designed by Gordon Murray, the F1 was the world’s fastest production car with a recorded top speed of 221 mph in 1993, and only 64 out of the 106 F1s that McLaren built were for road use. The McLaren F1 was radical in that it could seat three passengers, with the driver positioned in the middle seat. One of five ever produced to commemorate the McLaren F1 GTR’s win at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans, power to the beastly McLaren F1 LM-specification model came through a naturally aspirated V-12 making 680 hp and 520 pound-feet of torque.

2006 Saleen S7 Competition

Debuting at the 2000 Monterey Historic Races and the only other American-made supercar on this list, the Saleen S7 featured butterfly doors and a carbon-fiber body. In production until 2009, the Saleen S7 Competition came equipped with a twin-turbo, 7.0-liter V-8 producing an eye-watering 1,000 hp, coupled to a six-speed manual. Noted for its long wheelbase, all-around air vents, scoops, and squared-off rear wing, the Saleen S7 with the competition package was an aerodynamic masterpiece. The dream car in the 2003 film Bruce Almighty, the Saleen S7 was built by Saleen Automotive.

2005 Maserati MC12 Stradale

Produced between 2004 and 2005, a limited batch of 50 street-version MC12s paved the way for the race car variant, the 745-hp MC12 Versione Corse, which would mark Maserati’s return to racing after 37 years. Riding on the Ferrari Enzo’s chassis, the long-tail, mid-engine 2005 Maserati MC12 Stradale was powered by the Enzo-derived 6.0-liter V-12 rated at 624 hp. Reception of the MC12 Stradale mostly consisted of mixed reviews due to its size, driving dynamics, lack of a rear window, and inflated price tag.

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