The museum was founded in 1994 by the late auto enthusiast and publishing tycoon Robert E Petersen, the son of a truck mechanic who launched Hot Rod magazine during the 1940s and went on to build a publishing empire that he sold 50 years later for $450m.
The 140-lot RM Sotheby’s sale has been curated to reflect the golden era of Petersen’s magazine activities, with one particular section entitled “Kustom Kulture” featuring 60 lots to be mostly offered at no reserve. They include original artwork for a series of custom car T-shirt designs that sold in huge numbers during the 1960s and 1970s (estimates from $2,000 to $11,000), a metal sign promoting celebrated Californian pin-striper Von Dutch ($80,000 to $100,000) and one of the artist’s best-known paintings, Goodbye Cruel World, a macabre 1965 canvas depicting someone passing themselves through a mincing machine (also $80,000 to $100,000).
Perhaps most redolent of Petersen’s love of custom-built vehicles is a superb replica of a car called “Mysterion”, the original version of which was created by top hot-rod builder Ed Roth in 1962 and became so famous that the Revell toy company reproduced it in scale model form. The car itself was subsequently dismantled, but the accurate recreation on offer features two V8 engines, two gearboxes and a faux-fur-lined interior with built-in television set, just like the original.
Also up for grabs is a Ford “Deuce” Coupe that was the Hot Rod magazine cover car in October 1957 ($400,000 to $500,000), while a section dedicated to “American Icons” spans lots ranging from a beige 1975 Dodge Coronet station wagon originally owned by the late Hollywood star Ginger Rogers ($15,000 to $20,000) to a superbly restored 1964 Shelby 289 Cobra ($850,000 to $950,000).
“Continental Legends”, meanwhile, includes a 1972 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona that was discovered in 2011 with just over 11,000 miles on the clock, having been in storage for 30 years. It is tipped to realise $725,000 to $825,000, while a 1971 Lamborghini Miura SV could realise up to $2.5m.
A so-called “Brexit” section dedicated to British cars is highlighted by a 2015 McLaren P1 at $1.3m to $1.7m, and a 2018 Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato, one of 99 built and estimated to go for $600,000 to $800,000.
The absolute star of the show, however, will appear as the last lot in the sale, under the heading “Grand Finale”: a 1956 Ferrari 290MM that served as an official works racer during the 1956 and ’57 seasons in the hands of star drivers including Peter Collins, Louis Klemantaski, Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill and Alfonso de Portago. With a string of blue-chip racing successes to its credit, it is expected to sell for $22m to $26m – which will buy its new owner virtually guaranteed entry to some of the most prestigious historic car events in the world.