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Al Engel’s Eclectic Automotive Legacy: A Journey Through History at the Petersen Automotive Museum

Contributed By Petersen Automotive Museum

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The Petersen Automotive Museum is dedicated to the exploration and presentation of the automobile and its impact on American life and culture using Los Angeles as the prime example. Encompassing more than 300,000 square feet, its exhibits and lifelike dioramas feature more than 150 rare and classic cars, trucks and motorcycles.

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One of the most unique things found at the Petersen Automotive Museum is the eclectic collection of Al Engel. Al’s fascination with vintage motors began modestly, but expanded into an impressive assortment of engines and vehicles, each with its unique backstory and significance in automotive history.

Among Engel’s collection is a diverse range of engines starting from a Ford Cammer motor, famous for its racing heritage, to a GMC 6 and a rare V8 60 Ardun Heads. Highlighting Engel’s penchant for both performance and rarity,this variety displays technological evolution and design philosophy across different eras and manufacturers.

One notable piece is the Merlin V12, a powerhouse used in both aviation and armored vehicles during WWII, showcasing the crossover between automotive and aerospace engineering. Similarly, a 59AB Ford Flathead represents the fusion of traditional design with performance enhancements, giving us a glimpse into the early days of automotive customization.

Engel’s automotive treasures aren’t limited to engines, however. His collection boasts many rare and classic cars, each telling its own story of automotive history and design innovation. From a 39 Plymouth convertible Coupe (celebrated as the first American car with a power top), to a 41 Ford pickup modified into a street rod, and even a 53 DeSoto used as both a family car and a funeral parlor vehicle, Engel’s collection is a unique journey through time.

One of the highlights is the 33 Plymouth Cabriolet, adorned with an original campaign sticker for President Hoover, connecting the vehicle not just to automotive history but to American cultural and political history as well. Another standout is the 53 Chevy, which once housed a 303 hot rod rocket engine renowned for its performance in drag racing, illustrating notable moments in the car culture of mid-20th century America.

The collection also features a variety of makes and models, such as the Plymouth Prowler, a 71 Jag, and a 55 Chevy with a factory stick, further emphasizing the breadth and diversity of Engel’s collection. Each vehicle not only represents a chapter in automotive history but also reflects Engel’s personal journey and passion for cars.

Engel’s collection is more than just an assembly of rare and vintage motors and automobiles; it’s a living museum that narrates the evolution of automotive design, engineering, and culture. Through vehicles like the 39 Ford Deluxe, showcased in Rod and Custom magazine in 1959, and the meticulously restored 33 Wilys Sedan Delivery, Engel’s collection bridges the gap between the past and present, offering a tangible connection to the golden age of automobiles.

As Engel walks through his collection, it’s clear that each vehicle and engine is not just a piece of machinery but a piece of history, each with a story to tell. From the cutaway Rover and Stag motors used for educational purposes, to the Rolls-Royce jet engine, Engel’s collection celebrates the innovation, artistry, and spirit of the automotive world.

In essence, Al Engel’s collection at the Petersen Automotive Museum encapsulates the technological advancements, design innovations, and cultural shifts that have shaped the automotive landscape over the decades. Through his meticulous preservation and restoration efforts, Engel ensures that these stories, and the legacy of automotive pioneers, continue to inspire and educate future generations of car enthusiasts.