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A tour of the San Diego Automotive Museum

Check out these pictures of a record-setting endurance Cadillac, sidecar Bimmers, Jags, Jeeps, Jetfires and more.

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Geoffrey Morrison
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1 of 43 Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

San Diego Automotive Museum

Located in the beautiful Balboa Park, the San Diego Automotive Museum houses a rotating collection of classic cars and motorcycles. 

For the story behind this tour, check out V16 Caddys, V12 Lambos, V8 Fords and more at the San Diego Automotive Museum

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Steampunk

During my visit, the museum featured several steampunk-inspired creations. This one was designed by Baron Margo.

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Not steam powered

This 1928 Model A is powered by a 327ci/5.4L V8 with around 625 horsepower. The design is by Wizard Sleeve Designs.

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V12 of Truth

The "Flaming Sword of Truth," designed by Michael Leeds of the Blastolene Brothers, is powered by a re-purposed supercharged V12 aircraft engine.

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Bikes

Away from the special exhibit area are rows of motorcycles from different eras and regions, like this 1995 Aprilia Moto 6.5. It was designed by Philippe Starck.

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High mileage

Underneath the Matt Guzzetta-designed aerodynamic shell is a Suzuki, with two fuel tanks. In 1983 this bike made it from San Diego, California to Daytona, Florida, on 11.4 gallons of gas. That's 214 miles per gallon, or 1.1L/100km.

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Brit bikes

There's a handful of British bikes too, like this 1930 Velocette KSS. The 19hp 1-cylinder engine got the Velocette up to 70mph or 113km/h.

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Sidecar Chief

A 1948 Indian Chief with the factory sidecar.

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Sidecar Beemer

A 1965 BMW R69S. The 42hp flat-2 could get the R69S up to 109mph or 175km/h, less with the sidecar.

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Evel-cycle

Evel Knievel's own Harley Stratocycle, a heavily modified Sportster. Like several other vehicles at the museum, this one was used in a movie: "Viva Knievel." 

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Did you lose weight?

From the side this looks like a fairly normal, if small, car. From this angle however. It's a 1999 Commuter Cars Tango electric car prototype. How far electric cars have come in 20 years. The art car paint job was done by Romero Britto.

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Jetfire

There are more traditional classics too, like this Olds F-85 Jetfire from 1963. One of the first turbocharged production cars, few exist today with this rare engine. This is one of between 20 to 50 thought to exist with its original engine. 

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Cabbie

An Austin FX4 taxi. It's from 1967, though they looked like this for a looooong time, and largely still do.

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His way

Unexpectedly, this FX4 was purchased in 1968 by Frank Sinatra, and allegedly he'd drive his friends around Vegas in it. 

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Fast Jag

Such a beautiful car, and fast. The XK120 was one of the fastest production cars of its day, thanks to its 180hp inline-6.

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Ready to ride

The interior is impressively immaculate. 

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No replacement for displacement

In case your tastes desire a few more cylinders, how about this 1972 Mustang Cobra?

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Rare

This is the only convertible of this color, options and with the 351 cu in/5.8L engine. 

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Roar

The first owner had this car for 30 years. The second owner restored it, and sold it to the current owner in 2017. Not bad for a car this age. It still has its original engine and 4-speed manual transmission. 

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Firebird

Keeping with the theme, a 6.6L, 185hp '77 Pontiac Firebird

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One family

This example has been owned by the same family since new. It's unrestored, with only 67,000 miles on the odometer and with only its second set of tires. 

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Marine

This '42 Ford GTBC, also known by its supply number G622, saw service in the Pacific during WWII. 

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Bomb hauler

The 1.5-ton truck has a 3.7L inline-6 good for 90hp and enough torque to haul around a lot of gear. 

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Jeep (of course)

Speaking of WWII 4X4 vehicles, here's the ubiquitous Jeep.

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3-speed

Given how famous these are, and rightly so, it's surprising to realize how much they were not built for any kind of speed. The 3-speed transmission and 60hp engine were made for go-anywhere and do everything, but definitely not highway cruising. 

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Barn find

This 1928 Studebaker was found in a shed, where it had sat for 40 years. It's an exhibit talking about barn finds. 

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Morgan

Now we're talking. A 1932 Super Sport three-wheeler. They're making these new now too. I checked them out at the factory and did a full photo tour.

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Cord

The Cord L-29 Brougham is a rare car not just because not many were made, but also for its layout: an inline-8 with front wheel drive. The restoration of this car took a father/son team 31 years. It's one of only 4 restored L-29s in the world. 

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Big Caddy

A Cadillac from the same era, in this case a 1931 V-16. One of only a handful of V16 cars ever produced. In today's money, this car cost around $57,000, £43,000 or AU$80,000.

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V16 in a V-16

The big 7.4L engine produced 185hp.

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Roads?

In the early days of the automobile, roads were an optimistic thought. This exhibit shows what some roads were like in the days before endless tarmac. In this case, a plank road that existed for about 15 years near Yuma, Arizona.

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Marty!

What car museum would be complete without a DeLorean?

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Gray on gray

Like most car people my age, I wanted one of these so bad as a kid. Then when I got older and understood cars a bit more, I begrudgingly realized that as gorgeous as they are, they're pretty mediocre as a car. Maybe just to park in my driveway to look at?

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Louie Mattar's Fabulous $75,000 Car

One of the most interesting, and certainly unique, cars at the museum is Louie Mattar's Fabulous Car. A highly modified 1947 Cadillac, it drove nonstop from San Diego to New York and back, as well as from Alaska to Mexico City. He claimed it cost him $75,000 to create, no small sum for the early '50s. That's about $714,450, £551,055 or AU$1,010,803 in today's money.

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Maintenance on the go

Coolant and oil changes could be done on the move. 

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Creature comforts

Inside there's some non-standard options like an electric stove, refrigerator, washing machine, chemical toilet and more. 

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Endurance

Everything including a kitchen sink. Also an ironing board. Can't break world endurance records with a wrinkled shirt. That'd be absurd. 

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Running boards and more

Fuel fill-ups, tire changes and so on were done with the aid of running boards all around the car. For more info, check out this great video.

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Easy Rider

Another famous movie bike, in this case Easy Rider. Except... not exactly. Of the four bikes made for the film, one was destroyed and three were stolen. This and a twin were built for publicity purposes by the studio after production wrapped. 

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Angel of angles

Certainly one of the most beautiful cars of all time. Apparently this is the very car that Walter Wolf had the factory install the big (and aerodynamically detrimental) rear wing, 5L engine and flared fenders that would later become iconic aspects of this car in the 80's. 

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Curvaceous

Fitting to end with one of the better looking, and certainly rare, vehicles at the museum. This Ferrari-esque roadster is a 1966 Bizzarrini P538.

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8+4

Rarest of the rare, this is the only P538 powered by a 4L Lamborghini V12 instead of the "more common" Corvette V8. Top speed for this lightweight racer was around 170mph or 274km/h. 

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Back in time

It's not huge, but the San Diego Automotive Museum definitely has some cool cars. Perhaps not worth a trip by itself, it's in the same parking lot as the excellent San Diego Air and Space Museum, and together they are an afternoon well spent. 

For more details about this visit and about many of the cars, check out V16 Caddys, V12 Lambos, V8 Fords and more at the San Diego Automotive Museum.

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