We may be a bit biased at Hagerty when we say that the Petersen Automotive Museum is among our favorite museums in the country. We’ve had a relationship with the Los Angeles museum for years now, partnering to promote tours of its Vault. Still, the museum’s vast collection, fascinating exhibits, and excellent curation speak for themselves.
The latest exhibit at the Petersen, Extreme Conditions, focuses on off-road vehicles and includes a bit of everything from race to recreation. As far as Petersen displays go, this one is small—it contains about a dozen vehicles total—yet the variety is excellent. Here are five of our favorites.
1953 Dodge Power Wagon
This off-road brute has made appearances in the Petersen before and its perfectly weathered exterior and monster winch are hints that it’s seen its fair share of work, but those features tell only part of the story. This truck is equipped with a Willock Swivel Frame, which allows the front half of the chassis to rotate around a horizontal axis separately from the rear half, just behind the cab. The coupling is right at the bed/cab transition, allowing for the tremendous articulation to keep the wheels in contact with the ground and prevent the frame from cracking due to stress. Hopefully, the museum can highlight the bizarre aftermarket modification as it did in the past by raising one corner of the vehicle.
2013 Jeep Wrangler
The late multi-talented racer and fabricator Jessi Combs piloted this 2014 Jeep to a class victory in the King of the Hammers in 2014. The race features high-speed blasts across the desert as well as technically challenging rock-crawling that’s made even more intense when you’ve got competitors behind you that will literally drive over you if you’re in their way. Even without its race-winning pedigree, this Jeep would make our list; it represents a highly capable trail-and-rock rig that’s not too far from stock. This thing is actually achievable.
1958 Jeep FC-170
On the other end of the spectrum, this show-quality rig highlights that 4x4s can be a canvas for custom creativity and beautiful bodywork while retaining their functional nature. We first saw this Kelly green creation at SEMA in 2014. The tracks are a bit of a liability, since they limit top speed to about 45 mph, but they do make quite a footprint on snow. Originally powered by an unimpressive flathead inline-six, this truck now has 5.7 liters of late-model Hemi under the … well, under the doghouse, we suppose. There isn’t really a hood to speak of. The Willys FC is a rare sight these days but the cabover pickup managed to package a usable bed into a short wheelbase, and the Brooks Stevens design is a classic one.
Snortin’ Nortin Nova
This SCORE Class-6 competitor plied the desert in the mid-’80s and was restored to its vintage racing glory to compete in the NORRA Mexican 1000, where it won its class. You’ll see it referenced as a ’70 or ’71 model, and the original appears to be just that. This version, however, is a later model—perhaps the time it spent on the Gulf Coast wasn’t too friendly to its sheetmetal. Regardless, it looks amazing and has plenty of suspension travel and ground clearance to sail over just about any road you could throw at it. It’s powered by a Chevy 350 V-8 and Turbo 350 transmission. It turns its 35-inch tires by way of a Dana 60 rear end and has a 50-gallon fuel cell for long sprints through the chapparal and cactus.
1965 VW Bug
This Spartan, low-tech VW Bug is powered by a 1.6-liter air-cooled VW flat-four that produces roughly 90 hp and yet it’s tough enough to survive some of the worst the desert can manage. It’s the product of the husband-and-wife team of Ryan and Karibia Baillargeon and it has won its class in the 2017 and 2018 NORRA 1000 and 2019 NORRA 500.
You may notice an equally off-road-focused Porsche 911 in the background and wonder why we didn’t select it for our list. It’s simple: There are few better uses for a VW Bug than an off-road Baja treatment, whereas Porsche 911s are already perfectly suitable for a paved track. Of course, if you’d like to see the 911 up close, along with the rest of the exhibits the Petersen has to offer, you can do so at your leisure if you find yourself in Los Angeles.
Bonus: Zero South Hummer H1s
This pair of Hummer H1s (1996 and 1998 models) were built to drive to the South Pole without using any fossil fuels. They were both converted to hybrid power and each uses a Steyr inline-six diesel running on biofuel to turn an electric generator. They’re each fitted with the roof from a surplus HMMWV ambulance for increased interior room and 18-inch-wide rubber tracks to prevent sinking into the snow. The pair is parked at the entrance to the Petersen, so you can ogle them even if you just plan on hitting the gift shop.