Petersen Archive: Driving Towards the Future - Milestones in Learning

A 1960s Japanese Hino Renault at a U.S. hot rod drag race event.

A 1960s Japanese Hino Renault at a U.S. hot rod drag race event.

Having been raised in a family of aviation enthusiasts, I’ve been playing serious catch up learning about how these film transparency files contain the contents of automotive history.  Sure, I’ve gathered my share of automotive history here and there: read a couple books, watched a few documentaries, visited some car museums… yet as I’ve processed these files I’ve realized that I’m mostly clueless on the automotive content these files contain. Everything from drag races, renowned hot rods, famous drivers… everything is a historical blur to me. I mean, I know about Evil Knievel’s canyon jump, Richard Petty’s No. 43 Superbird, “Big Willie” Robinson, and a little background history about NASCAR, but otherwise a majority of the files I’ve processed have been gigantic question marks that I intend to further research as we continue forward with this project.

We’ve processed nearly 700,000 transparencies, and to date I’ve studied a handful and written about a couple. I do, however, have to tell you about one particular frame in the umpteenth file about hot rod drag racing that caught my attention in an unusual way, yet shined a moment on my career path as an aspiring historian and archivist.

The image featured a dilapidated vehicle with broken suicide doors, incredibly damaged paint, mismatched wheels, a decayed interior, and a serious case of abandonment issues. Nothing special, nothing outwardly historic, and almost seemingly irrelevant in a file containing drag racing hot rod transparencies. Something about the image struck my curiosity though, as if the pictured vehicle was connected to me somehow, or maybe I had maybe seen the car somewhere before.  

Then, the light bulb clicked on.  

I have seen this car before.

                  Recently, the Petersen Automotive Museum opened an exhibit called “The Roots of Monokuzuri: Creative Spirits in Japanese Automaking.” The exhibit explores the synthesis of Japanese and American automobile manufacturing and features an assortment of vehicles from Datsun, Nissan, Honda, and a few other notable automobile companies that became dominant forces in the United States during the 1970s. When the gallery opened, I studied the exhibit and was mesmerized by the informative content, the interesting history, and the beautiful vehicles that traveled across the Pacific Ocean to grace the museum. I knew a little history about these vehicles as my father owned a Datsun and a couple Nissans that he occasionally reminisced about, so seeing these cars on display helped me understand my why my father enjoyed these classic Japanese cars.   

                  I thought the pictured vehicle looked considerably familiar to a vehicle in the exhibit. After ruling out a few choices with research, I went to the second floor and wandered around the exhibit looking for that sense of familiarity stuck in my head. When I saw the exhibit’s 1962 Hino Renault, the recognition was instantaneous: the front wheel, the rear-engine air vents, and stylish lines from the transparency definitely matched the Hino Renault on display. I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment identifying the film transparency from the museum’s exhibit… and although identifying a vehicle in a film negative may not seem relatively important to the outside world, this particular moment solidified how I felt about my career choice.

                  Historians and archivists thrive upon knowledge about the past, and artifacts are physical objects that help us develop knowledge and build a better understanding of prior people and events. Considering I’m studying to become a historian and aspiring archivist, developing an internal catalog of knowledge to recognize artifacts is a critical part of the museum collections business. Historians and archivists have a responsibility to be capable of identifying different artifacts, understand their historical relevance, and preserve their integrity. Every kind of artifact including art, textiles, documents, photographs, and technology become engraved into an archivist’s mind to help understand how physical pieces of history gradually construct a massive historical puzzle of how the past built a foundation for the present.

                  Although I have identified a handful of cars throughout this digitization project, this particular image solidified how passionate I feel about wanting to develop as a historian and archivist. Identifying the vehicle based upon knowledge I read about made me genuinely feel like a true historian while simultaneously preserving the film transparency emphasized my passion for becoming an archivist. Recognizing I’m on the correct path to accomplishing my career ambition is an overwhelming sense of achievement, like I reached a milestone in my journey that started those years ago when I discovered how important history and artifacts truly are. The moment felt like my education and archiving experience came full circle and reassured me that archiving and artifact preservation is indeed where my heart lies.

                  However, a circle is an endless loop, which means there is still much learning to be done. It’s only a matter of time before I circle around to the next milestone, with endless milestones still to discover. Who knows what other learning experiences I’ll come across as the processing continues.  

By: Andrew Kopp