Everyone in the automotive and publication worlds was sad to note the recent passing of Robert E. (Pete) Petersen at age 80 on March 23. He succumbed after a short battle with cancer.
A veteran of WWII, he launched Hot Rod magazine in 1948. He became a familiar figure at Southern California events hawking mimeographed copies for 25 cents each. The magazine grew and was soon joined by Motor Trend and other specialty automotive publications. Eventually, his empire became America’s leading publisher of special-interest consumer magazines and books. Among other titles are Teen, Sport, Rod & Custom and Guns & Ammo.
During the fifties, Pete was a familiar figure at Southern California sports car races. He served as a steward at a number of Palm Springs events during 1951 and 1952. In 1994, the 300,000 square-foot Petersen Automotive Museum opened as part of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum complex. It was the result of Petersen’s suggestion and donation of $5 million to get it started. Subsequently, Los Angeles County issued $26 million in bonds to the museum as security and charged the interest to the museum as rent. The museum income couldn’t support the amount charged so the County proposed to sell it. Petersen stepped in with an additional $28 million to pay off the bonds and the museum became the property—debt free—of the Petersen Automotive Foundation.
By Art Evans
Petersen is survived by his wife, Margie. A funeral mass was held on March 29 at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.