Our themed exhibitions rotate every three to four months. With each exhibit rotation, we must say goodbye to vehicles loaned to the San Diego Automotive Museum from private collections and other prestigious automotive museums. We have been fortunate to house specially curated collections throughout the years.
01/12/2023 - 04/02/2023
While certain cars are cemented in public memory as classics due to their exceptional craftsmanship, mechanical reliability, or aesthetic beauty, others garner disdain at their very mention. The negative reputation of these vehicles typically stems from things like mechanical or design issues, radically new exteriors, or just bad publicity. Cars such as the Ford Edsel or the Pontiac Aztek are prime examples of cars that were disappointing to or poorly received by consumers.
Many of these automotive "failures" were the result of circumstance, media hype, or rushed production, with notorious mechanical issues quickly ironed out as production continued. Unfortunately, bad first impressions are hard to undo. Yet despite their poor reputations, these vehicles were typically genuine attempts at innovation that were often ahead of their time; some, like the Corvair, sold quite well considering the bad press.
Each such example of "unpopular mechanics" has a similar origin story. While these vehicles were misfires at the time of their release, modern vehicles incorporate similar design philosophies, some of which are now seen as industry standard or even cutting-edge. As so many of these ground-breaking but infamous cars are interesting innovations in retrospect, many are appreciated by contemporary car enthusiasts, garnering significant cult followings due to appearances in museums, films, television, and other media. With time, these vehicles were seen as critical steps in the automotive industry's road forward and certainly will not be the last cars of their kind.
10/08/2022 - 01/08/2023
Supercars combine technical sophistication, exotic looks, a high top speed, quick acceleration, and a commanding presence, offering drivers a unique and exhilarating experience. Rare, exclusive, and expensive, supercars feature far more power and performance improvements than are necessary for everyday motoring, yet this very impracticality only heightens their appeal.
Cars With Character
07/15/2022 - 09/25/2022
Cars With Character showcases the distinct looks and abilities of an amazing variety of cars that are used in films and TV. Cars and motorcycles on display play many roles in TV and film, acting as characters, settings, plot devices, or backgrounds. These iconic vehicles are featured in a wide variety of movie and show genres, reflecting characters and letting filmmakers tell stories in relatable ways.
Vision vs Reality
06/08/2019 - 10/12/2019
Vision. Engineering. Process. Experimentation. Reality.
Dreams are hard to bring to life. The original vision is almost always different from the final reality. Taking a delicate and dramatic design and fashioning that vision info a functional vehicle requires numerous adjustments, refinements, and compromises. Some for the better, some for the worse. It is fascinating to see the original vision side-by-side with its ultimate reality.
Come see the vision ... and the reality.
ICONS: Cars that Drove Our Imagination
02/02/2019 - 06/01/2019
Icon: A person or object that is revered. Iconic vehicles set new standards in technology, design, and popularity, inspiring deep feelings and esteem in their adherents.
In some cases, a vehicle becomes iconic for its accessibility, affordability, reliability and endearment to the masses. "Cars of the people" are iconic in that they have stood the test of time and hold special places in public's heart. Certain models are etched in the public psyche for what they brought to the industry.
The vehicles featured in ICONS: Cars that Drove Our Imagination pay homage to automotive excellence and reverence.
Three Decades in the Rearview
10/13/2018 - 01/26/2019
The San Diego Automotive Museum opened in December of 1988 with the exhibit Power and Glory, the Evolution of Racing. For the following 30 years it would go on to exhibit vehicles from all around the globe, cars and motorcycles of all makes, models, and styles. Most importantly, the museum celebrated the culture surrounding automobiles. Focusing not only on the technology, but also on the romance surrounding every vehicle whether they be race cars, hot rods, muscle cars, coaches, customs, lowriders, off-road, or even vehicles of the two or three-wheeled variety.
We of the San Diego Automotive Museum have encapsulated this rich 30-year history in our Three Decades in the Rearview exhibit. Trying to distill 30 years of automotive culture, excellence, and excitement in one building and in one exhibit is a challenging task, but we hope you enjoy the variety and uniqueness of the vehicles displayed here and we trust that each vehicle will inspire you to learn more about the genre of automotive culture it represents.
06/08/2018 - 10/07/2018
Generally defined as a subgenre of speculative fiction, Steampunk is science fiction and fantasy where early industrial technology is steam-powered and based in Victorian and Edwardian eras as epitomized in the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Steampunk incorporates fashion, design, art, music, vehicle creations, literature, and more into its sensibilities: a stunning view of what could have been.
Glorious Rat Rods
02/01/2018 - 06/03/2018
A custom of rust. Instead of loathing rust and the degradations of time, as many do in the car scene, the Rat Rodder welcomes and embraces it. Time and life may have taken their toll, but Rats see beauty in what is often discarded and left to disintegrate. Resurrecting the old and making something new, with no rules or boundaries, is the Rat Rodder's goal. While the majority of Rat Rods seem to be born of vehicles from the ‘20s and ‘30s, vehicles of any make, model, or time are fair game. All Rats, No Mercy! Some Rat Rodders have even developed methods to bring about rust and stylized decay to add to their creation's appearance. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, indeed.
06/03/2017 - 09/17/2017
The history of Japanese car manufacturing is rich with practicality, innovation, and exuberance. Like all auto development, the initial goal was simple transportation. This then blossomed into innovation and performance.
To put a spotlight on the variety of Japanese automotive expertise, the San Diego Automotive Museum has gathered a unique collection of Japanese classic cars, many of which were not originally sold in the United States.