On Display: Petersen Automotive Museum Extreme Conditions Exhibit

History is a fascinating subject. It shows how innovation and evolution shape our world and the things we have in the present day. As famous contemporary author Jonathan S. Foer once said, “Everything is illuminated by the light of the past.”

As it happens, the “light” of off-road past is now on display. Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California, a new exhibit has arrived – Extreme Conditions. It showcases a good selection of vehicles that fit into off-roading, from racing to heavy duty to outdoor exploration applications.

The Extreme Conditions exhibit is now at Petersen Automotive Museum. It showcases several unique builds highlighting the off-road hobby in all its forms, from racing to utility to recreation.

Since COVID lockdowns are still in effect, however, the museum is operating at a limited capacity. We at Off Road Xtreme were lucky enough to receive an invitation. We gladly accepted and made the trip to the City of Angels just this past week. What follows is our recap of what we saw at the Extreme Conditions exhibit.

Extreme Conditions Exhibit

We arrived at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Associate Curator Autumn Nyiri greeted us at the door and led us to the exhibit. Here, we saw 10 vehicles arranged in the exhibit, beautifully kept after. Some of them still bore the hallmark “scars” of off-roading.

Sponsored by Land Rover, the exhibit was intended as a showcase of the many walks of off-road life. “Since this exhibit is part of our Customs gallery, we wanted to look at vehicles that demonstrate how that applies to off-roading,” explained Nyiri. “It’s examining how road-going vehicles can be modified to take on driving in rough terrain.”

The exhibit was laid in three sections – Racing, Utility, and Recreation. “Each of these sections showcases vehicles devoted to a particular purpose,” said Nyiri. “Racing is all about vehicles modified for desert and rock-crawling competition. Utility focuses on vehicles that are work-oriented. And Recreation specializes in past and present modifications for adventuring and getting out there.” In their own ways, each vehicle represented distinctive approaches to off-roading and would give visitors a wide spectrum to learn more from.

Racing Section

The Racing section of the exhibit highlighted six racing rigs of various types. These included a Baja Bug, Jeep Wrangler, and more.

We started on the Racing section, which contained over half of the exhibited vehicles. Here, we saw a modified Jeep Wrangler, a Baja Bug, and a vintage “Scoop” Vessels F-100. Also, three heavily modified cars – a Chevy Nova, a Triumph TR-3, and a Porsche 941 – were included in this section.

The Wrangler, also known as “Goldie Rocks,” once belonged to Jessi Combs, the fiery vixen of automotive culture. Though we sadly lost Jessi in August 2019, her memory lives on in the vehicles she owned, and this Jeep is a monument to her love for off-road.

Jessi Combs’ “Goldie Rocks” racing Jeep Wrangler featured at the Extreme Conditions exhibit.

“She drove this Jeep and took first place in her class in the 2014 King of the Hammers,” explained Nyiri. “That race combines desert and rock-crawling into one competition, and you can see how those factors affected this build. Beadlock wheels, 35-inch tires, front winch, things like that.”

“We’re proud of the legacy Jessi left behind as an industry figure and woman,” continued Nyiri. “Featuring her Jeep here was part and parcel of that. Off-roading is a passion that anyone can participate in, and representing Jessi’s role in that was important to this exhibit.”

Other racing vehicles included these three cars-turned-off-roaders – a 1965 Volkswagen Baja Bug, 1989 Porsche 911 Type 964, and 1970 Chevy Nova. Stay tuned here on Off Road Xtreme for more in-depth features on these epic cars!

Utility Section

A 1949 Dodge Ram Power Wagon and 1958 Jeep Forward Control demonstrated the utility side of off-road.

In the Utility section, the vehicles chosen were a Dodge Ram Power Wagon and 1958 Jeep Forward Control. Besides being of a vintage era, both vehicles were radically different in their presentation.

“This section focuses on vehicles that can do work,” explained Nyiri. “Both the Power Wagon and Forward Control can go just about anywhere thanks to their drivetrains and suspension.”

Both vehicles used interesting technology. The Forward Control was fitted with Mattracks rubber track conversions, while the Power Wagon showcased its two-piece Willock swivel frame, capable of achieving incredible suspension articulation.

The Jeep was outfitted with Mattracks, which gave the appearance of tank treads. “These treads replace the tires and give the Jeep excellent traction,” said Nyiri. Clearly the Jeep was given a makeover at some point, and some digging revealed that it was a display vehicle at Daystar’s SEMA booth in 2014.

The Power Wagon showcased its particular skill set of incredible articulation thanks to its rare Willock swivel frame. “It was invented in 1944 by a man named Harry Willock,” explained Nyiri. “Basically, it separates the chassis into two pieces that can move independently from one another. You can see here the extreme angles it’s capable of achieving.”

Recreation Section

Finally, we came to the Recreation section. Here, we saw two Land Rovers telling the stories of past and present SUVs – one a rugged and spartan classic, the other a modern-day lap of luxury. It was interesting to compare these two vehicles and see how it once was and how it is today.

“These Land Rovers exemplify the recreational spirit,” said Nyiri. “The older one is a 1966 Series IIA and uses a Dormobile conversion kit. This was basically for overlanding, back before that trend was really recognized like it is today. It has a pop-up tent as you can see, and inside, it has a built-in stove, sink and wardrobe.”

Two sides of the Land Rover coin. The 1966 Series IIA's Dormobile conversion kit was its most noticeable feature, showing the early adoption of overlanding into SUVs. Its younger sibling, the 2020 Defender 110, carried on this legacy with sleek modifications including a roof rack, ladder, snorkel intake, and more.

The newer Land Rover, a 2020 Defender 110, carried on the legacy of its older sibling in a streamlined package. “This Land Rover is made more capable with just a few minor modifications,” Nyiri pointed out. “It showcases a raised air intake, a front winch, a deployable roof ladder, things that make it a little more hardy for off-road.”

Cherishing Off-Road History

With this fine assortment of vehicles, the Extreme Conditions exhibit does justice to the off-road hobby. As of this writing, lockdown has made the exhibit viewable by invitation only, but things are looking up for 2021 as things are turning around.

“We plan to keep this exhibit open until September 12, 2021,” said Nyiri. “Once the museum is open to the public again, there will be plenty of time for visitors to come and check out the show.”

We hope things return to normal again soon, if only so everyone can take the opportunity to come check out this awesome exhibit. To find out more about the Petersen Automotive Museum and its exhibits, be sure to check out their website and follow them on Facebook.

About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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