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Petersen Automotive Museum showcases 'the grown-up world of children's cars'

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The Petersen Automotive Museum is showcasing "Sidewalk Speedsters." It's all about cars that are for kids and what it feels like for them to get behind the wheel.

Cars are in the DNA of Southern California, where automobiles aren't just a means of transportation. They're often a personal statement. 

That idea of expression conventionally has to wait until someone is old enough to get a driver's license. But the Petersen Automotive Museum has a new exhibit that showcases how kids can get in on the fun of car ownership.

It's called Sidewalk Speedsters: The Grown-up World of Children's Cars.

Some of the cars on display in the Sidewalk Speedsters exhibit.
Julian Burrell
Some of the cars on display in the Sidewalk Speedsters exhibit.

"They're little tiny vehicles that are powered by either gas or electric motors," said Leslie Kendall, chief curator for the museum. "The vehicles are only the size [for] kids. Adults cannot fit in them, although some try."

The cars cover as many styles, designs and manufacturers as their regular-sized counterparts. Some were built at homes by families using kits and parts, while others were put out by big car companies like Harley-Davidson.

"They're so beautifully engineered, they're so nice to look at and even the ones that are not so pretty, you can tell a lot of personal ingenuity went into those," Kendall said. "You just appreciate them so much for what they are and what they must have meant to the kids after they just built them."

Leslie Kendall, Petersen Museum's chief curator, sits in front of the car he and his parents built when he was a child.
Julian Burrrell
Leslie Kendall, Petersen Museum's chief curator, sits in front of the car he and his parents built when he was a child.

Kids who attended the opening weekend of the exhibit got to appreciate the idea of children's cars with some hands-on experience. On the third level of the Petersen Museum's parking lot, there were three red go-karts along with a track to drive them on.

Lewis Oliver prepares to go driving in a go-kart at the Petersen Automotive Museum
Julia Burrell
Lewis Oliver prepares to go driving in a go-kart at the Petersen Automotive Museum

"Some of them are a little bit timid at first," Kendall said of the kids. "They go around the cones really, really slowly and then they start feeling and start feeling good about the amount of control they have over the little machine."

That feeling of control and feeling like a grown-up with this powered vehicle is what Kendall says is at the heart of this exhibit. Kids who grow up in this part of the world constantly see the value and appeal of driving a car. The Sidewalk Speedsters exhibit lets them have a taste of that value, even if it's only for a five-minute drive.

"In LA, more than any other place in the world, cars are what you put on. You wear them like an outer layer of clothing,"  Kendall said. "And there's no reason that kids can't do the same thing."

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