“Reclaimed Rust: The James Hetfield Collection” Opens at the Petersen

Metallica front man donates 10 of his custom cars to the Petersen Automotive Museum, inspires a new generation of car lovers.

It’s not every day that you get to see a rock star up close in person, or that said rock star donates not one but 10 of his incredibly impressive and expensive custom cars to the Petersen Automotive Museum. And yet that’s exactly how my regular work day ended, at the Petersen which as you know is my “happy place.” After fighting LA’s infamous traffic I was rewarded with the opportunity to admire Metallica founder and front man James Hetfield’s personal collection in the Bruce Meyer Family Gallery before the throng of adoring metal heads downstairs who lined up all the way from the parking garage to catch a glimpse of their idol.

Enter Sandman

A quick primer for those of you whose musical tastes lean more on the pop music side of the radio dial. Metallica is one of the most badass heavy metal bands ever. I’m sure the crowd that came out last night would argue lead singer and guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich are the absolute best heavy metal musicians of all time.

Hetfield grew up in Downey in a home full of musical instruments, with a dad tinkering in the garage “learning what it is to be a man,” and brothers with rides representative of 70s and 80s SoCal car culture ranging from a 67 Barracuda to a VW. His love of cars started with the pursuit of “anything loud that bothered my parents” and the freedom to go out and hang out with his friends.

“It spoke to me and it spoke about me, and it wasn’t going to leave me. Music was my best friend.”

By his 16th birthday, Hetfield’s father had left the home and he had lost his mother. In the face of such hardship, he turned to music. “It spoke to me and it spoke about me, and it wasn’t going to leave me. Music was my best friend.”

Fast forward a few decades and several chart-topping albums and Hetfield found himself at the top of the music industry. He began buying and customizing vehicles and becoming entrenched in the custom car scene in Northern California. He ultimately joined the renowned Beatniks car club and found an automotive family that ultimately inspired his fantastic collection.

Ride the Lightning

Whether you are a metal head or not, this is one exhibit you do not want to miss. Hetfield collaborated with respected builders including television personality Rick Gore and others to bring his visions to life. Each of his cars has a theme, like his 1937 Ford Coupe “Crimson Ghost” which was inspired by 1930s mobsters who utilized Ford coupes extensively in their illicit activities.

Other key vehicles on display will include the 1948 Jaguar “Black Pearl,” the 1934 Packard “Aquarius,” the 1953 Buick Skylark “Skyscraper,” the 1937 Lincoln Zephyr “VooDoo Priest,” the 1936 Auburn “Slow Burn,” the 1936 Ford “Iron Fist,” and the 1932 Ford Roadster “Black Jack.”

The exhibit is amplified (see what I did there) by Metallica memorabilia including ESP guitars and Mesa amplifiers, a documentary video on the collection, and photos of the band on tour.

Wherever I May Roam

What compels a person to donate their beloved automotive collection to a place like the Petersen? For Hetfield it was the idea of having more people see the automotive art that was sitting in his garage. “I love that you are keeping them together and that they are going to tour around the world. Young kids are going to see them and get inspired to build one,” said Hetfield. When asked by Karges how you follow this act, Hetfield replied simply: “Knock off the rust and continue the story.”

“Reclaimed Rust,” sponsored by ESP Guitar Company, will run through October 2020. To purchase tickets to the exhibit opening event, please visit the exhibit website. For more information about the Petersen Automotive Museum visit the museum website.

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