Earl Rubenstein and Stanley Zimmerman had more in common than a 40-year friendship and their love of classic cars. They disliked the “look but don’t touch” attitude many classic car owners displayed at shows and on driving tours.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if people could get close to the cars?” they wondered.
But Rubenstein and Zimmerman did more than just ponder that question. They started their own car museum, the Automobile Driving Museum, which lives up to its name every Sunday by offering museum visitors rides in several of the cars from the museum’s collection.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., and visitors on days other Sunday may not be invited to go for a ride, but they do get to see the cars up close and at least one of the cars is always positioned so those visitors can climb inside, feel what it’s like, and take some photos of themselves at the wheel.
The day ClassicCars.com visited, a Saturday afternoon, the climb-aboard car was a 1917 Overland 5-passenger tourer, with the top down for easier entrance and exit.
The museum was relatively quiet that afternoon, but it had been busy that morning with dozens of Cub Scouts staging their annual Pinewood Derby races in what the museum calls its Packard Ballroom, which is available for various group events.
“We’re the best-kept secret in El Segundo,” Rubenstein laughs as he talks about the museum, which annually attracts around 11,000 visitors.
The American Driving Museum is located in a former brake riveting plant just south of the runways at LAX, Los Angeles’ international airport.
When Rubenstein and Zimmerman founded the museum in 2000, it was located in West Los Angeles, where they had only 9,500-square-feet of space. They left there in 2005 and began renovations at the new location, which opened in early 2006 opened with nearly 30,000 square feet to show and store their cars.
“All cars are operational,” Rubenstein noted.
There are 70 on the floor at any given time, and a several dozen more dozen in storage.
The cars are displayed in chronological order, Rubenstein said, so visitors can see the evolution of the automobile. Each car on display is accompanied by a specs and information sheet and very knowledgable docents are on hand to answer any questions and to share the cars’ stories.
There also are snack and gift shops and a reference library that is open to visitors. The museum has its own research librarian and extensive files of automotive pamphlets, magazines and books.
While only a strand of rope — old parking meters are used as stanchions to hold the rope — separates visitors from most of the cars, a handful of very special vehicles are kept behind a wall of glass in a display that reproduces an elegant 1930s auto dealership.
When we visited, the room contained a 1937 Pierce-Arrow Town Car, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Brewster-bodied 1932 Plymouth Town Car, a 1935 Chrysler Airflow, the 1955 Packard Caribbean convertible that Howard Hughes gave to Jean Peters, a 1930 Stutz Monte Carlo sedan with Weymann fabric bodywork (one of only three such cars produced), a one-off 1935 Packard convertible touring car designed and built by Pinin Farina, and a 1956 Chrysler Imperial Parade Car that’s on loan from the Petersen Museum.
Speaking of parades, cars from the California Driving Museum often are seen in the cruising up Colorado Boulevard in the annual Rose Bowl Parade.
The museum also does special educational seminars with speakers. It has focused on vehicles designed by Darrin and by Dietrick, and this year had Gordon Wangers do a program on the Pontiac GTO and Peter Brock speaking on the Chevrolet Corvette.