San Diego Automotive Museum
by Steven Chupnick
When General Motors decided to close down the Pontiac brand, there were a lot of unhappy fans. Just what do you do with 85 years of performance history? Well, you put it in a museum for everyone to enjoy. We sent our Over The Edge guy Steven Chupnick to check out one such tribute to Pontiac history. And, what he found is a California car collection that would make the bandit jealous.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: For most Americans, owning a car is a necessity, and that necessity is on display at the San Diego automotive museum in one eclectic collection.
It’s all about the California culture here in San Diego, and this 1955 Shasta trailer really represents, even today, what it meant to drive along the pacific coast.
One marquee that had a huge impact on the California lifestyle was Pontiac. The museum now has a collection looking back at the rise and fall of this American icon.
PAULA BRANDES: We had wanted to do a manufacturer that’s no longer around.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: The moment you walk in, you enter a wonderland of Pontiac past – 85 years of performance history. The cars they have represent each age and size of the brand...from a 1932 six sedan, which at the time cost 795 dollars, to one of the very last to come off the Pontiac assembly line – the 2009 Solstice GXP coupe, all 30,000 dollars of it.
Today, everybody cares about the size of their trunk, but in 1932, they took the word trunk literally.
There’s a 1962 Tempest, a 1941 Super Streamliner Torpedo, a 1955 Star Chief Safari wagon, complete with its Indian head airplane hood ornament...and a 1952 Catalina – Paula’s favorite of the collection.
PAULA BRANDES: My dad had a 1952 Catalina, it didn’t look like that, but it’s got that heart connection – that memory thing. That’s why these cars are meaningful.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: A new exhibit arrives every 4 months to keep the San Diego collection fresh, but just like this 1909 international Harvester Model A auto wagon, the permanent vehicles are a strong reminder of automotive progression.
PAULA BRANDES: Up until several years ago, the permanent collection didn’t change much. But now, we’ve given that a focus as well. And that’s also part of our cars and society exhibit now. And we’re moving the permanent side a lot.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: And, it’s a lot more than just American cars. There are vehicles from Italy, Germany, and Britain, including a three-wheeled and four-wheeled Morgan.
This 1966 Bizzarrini, only three in the world, with the spider body, were made – and of those three, this is the only one with a Lamborghini V-12. It's the museum’s prized possession.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: A signature car at the museum - San Diego native Louie Mattar’s 1947 Cadillac series 62. In 1952, Louie drove six-thousand twenty miles on a non-stop cross country adventure.
It has everything you could possibly need on a long trip. And when Louie said non-stop, he meant non-stop.
No, really, Louie built a platform so you can change the tire - while the car was still moving.
SOT: It looks like Louie’s getting ready to work on that wheel.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: But what would Louie Mattar say about electric vehicles? The museums parking lot is equipped with 7 EV charging stations, matching the Southern California region’s efforts of going green.
Inside this Romero Britto specially designed Tango is just the beginning of their future EV plans.
PAULA BRANDES: In our exhibit plan, in the next several years is to build what we’re calling the garage of the future. So what is your house going to look like when you have a car like this?
STEVEN CHUPNICK: The San Diego Automotive museum is definitely not just for gear heads, it’s for the entire family.
PAULA BRANDES: This is a place where you can learn, you can have fun, you can experience, and you can enjoy.
You know, we’re converting from a car guy place to a museum of automotive art.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: And that art shines in the rise and fall of Pontiac and throughout the entire museum, securing its place in the American pages of history.