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Oxnard, California, November 2011

When visiting the numerous prestigious Concours d´Elegance around the world, like Pebble Beach, Amelia Island or the Villa d´Este, some names reappear regularly on the list of the award winners and one becomes aware that there are some serious collectors who never seem to run out of superb cars. Some of those names have been around for decades showing that they started to collect classic cars well before the boom time of the late 1980s and early 90s, when collecting cars was more a question of enthusiasm than of investment. Beside their outings on the lawn, some collections are rather private, but some are open to the public in private museums or foundations.

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One of these collectors is Peter and his wife Merle Mullin whose passion for French coach-built cars has been well known on the scene for many years. After numerous Best of Show awards in different concours and several Best in Class at Pebble Beach they were crowned this year with their first BoS at Pebble Beach, giving another good reason to take a closer look at their superb collection, the Mullin Automotive Museum.

The museum is located in Oxnard about half way between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles in an inconspicuous industrial park. The building was once owned by the noted Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler and housed his car and bike collection. After Chandler passed away in 2006 and his collection was sold off the hall was bought by Peter Mullin with the intention of setting up his own museum. Although the building had all the necessary infrastructure, including a car lift for the upper floor, the building was totally rebuilt according to the ideas of the new owner. The outside was designed by architect David Hertz and features large stainless steel signage and a new entrance with a glass roof made from windshields. The logo of the museum symbolizes an abstract front wing, the name “French Curves” was inherited from a display of French cars at the Petersen Museum in 2004 that featured some of the cars seen here today.

The inside was inspired by the Paris Motor Show at the Grand Palais. The Grand Palais was build at the end of the 19th century and features a glass roof with a riveted steel substructure that was state of the art in a period that had a foible for all technical innovations and it became a landmark beside the Eiffel tower. In the 1930s it was the cathedral of the French automobile industry which as on its zenith with marques like Bugatti, Delahaye, Delage or Voisin, whose names were hanging proudly from the ceiling during the show just the way they do in the museum today. Paris was the centre of design and fashion in the art deco era even more than it might be today, and cars from all over the world were graced with French coachwork ranging from the pure lines of French/Swiss Gangloff, the extraordinary design of Chapron or Saoutchik, to the flamboyant curves of Figoni & Falaschi. After WWII the car industry changed greatly, as the automobile became a mass product rather than a luxury toy for the wealthy. Expensive hand-built cars and bodies were not sold in sufficient quantities to keep the companies alive, so most of them disappeared in the 50s or early 60s, leaving the French Curves to be a short but exciting era. Wherever a prize is given at a concours, cars of this era are in the winning circle, and this is the focus of the Mullin collection.

The most important marque of this era is without doubt Bugatti and so it is not a surprise that several Bugattis are on display. Bugatti was famous for their racing success both in sports car and GP races and renowned for the beauty of their constructions. It is said that Ettore Bugatti was always anxious to make components not just efficient but also looking good as one can easily see when looking in the engine bay featuring a machine-polished firewall and hand-scraped block. This approach to craftsmanship might have been inherited from his father Carlo Bugatti, who was a famous art nouveau furniture designer and his influence on Ettore is documented by a special display of Carlos furniture at the entrance of the museum.

The Bugatti Type 57 was the touring car of the 1930s and many different coachbuilders designed different body styles but the most spectacular was an in-house design by Ettores’ son Jean, the T57 SC Atlantic. As weight was always an issue with race cars, new materials were tried for the body of the prototype, the so-called Aerolithe: Electron. As a magnesium alloy it cannot be welded, so the 2 body halves had to be riveted together giving the car the characteristic shape. Although the car was a sensation at the Paris Motor Show in 1935 just 3 further cars were built with this design (in alloy instead of electron) of which two have survived and both won Pebble Beach in the past. The car on display (Chassis 57374) became famous in 2010 by selling in a reported $35 million range, making this the most valuable car ever. The car is on loan at the museum and was displayed after the opening of the Museum in April 2011, and again during our visit in October, standing on a turntable in the middle of the museum still as immaculate as it was in 2003 when it won BoS at Pebble.

Another T57 was coach-built by Gangloff with a very attractive and rare Aravis body, and fitted with supercharger since its delivery to Bugatti racer Maurice Trintignant. This car (Chassis 57768) also won numerous prizes, for example the public referendum at the Villa Erba during the Concorso d´Eleganza at the Villa d´Este in 2006. But not all cars in the collection are restored to concours condition as the display spans the whole range from barn finds to 100 point cars. The green T57C (Chassis 57835) was built by Van Vooren very much to the design of the Atalante and is in well-preserved driving condition and might be one of the most original T57 in existence due to the fact that it was well maintained all of its life. As original, but far apart from being in driving condition, are the cars of the so-called “Schlumpf Reserve Collection”. When the famous collectors Fritz and Hans Schlumpf went into bankruptcy, their museum was taken over by the French government but beside the restored cars the collection also had two reserve collections that were intended to be restored one day by the Schlumpfs. One of these reserve collections became part of the National Motor Museum in Mulhouse but the other was part of a lawsuit of the Schlumpf family against their expropriation. After decades of standing in a barn in Malmerspach, the cars were given back to Fritz Schlumpf´s widow Arlette and some of them were sold after her death to the Mullin Museum, where it was decided to leave them in their original state as a special display.
Even worse is the fate of the small Bugatti Brescia that was in all car magazines in 2009, when it resurfaced from the ground of the Lago Maggiore were it had spent the last 73 years after being sunk by its then-owner due to tax problems. The car was quit a sensation when it was sold in January 2010 at the Bonhams sale at Retromobile in Paris. Today the car is carefully preserved and exhibited as a sculpture in its own room in the museum.
But there are many more important French marques of this era than just Bugatti, and Mullin is well known for having one of the most important Voisin collections. As mentioned above, Peter and Merle Mullin won this year’s Pebble Beach Concours with their Voisin C25 Aerodyne. This was only the second time ever, a Voisin had won there. The first one in 2002 might be described as a special, as it was a modified chassis with some feature changes later in its life, but the Aerodyne is a pure Voisin design. Some might say that this is not an elegant car, in comparison to some Delahaye or Delage, but it take its charm from the technical design, featuring elements of aviation combined with an art deco interior. Gabiel Voisin was an aviation constructor before WWI and many of these concepts went into the construction of the later cars. As previously mentioned, this era was eager for every technical advance, so even 10 year after Charles Lindbergh´s flight over the Atlantic aviation technology was still a big theme. Some of Voisins’ ideas might have been well ahead of their time but the BoS at Pebble is also an honor to the achievement of this small company. Although the C25 Aerodyne was not on display in October, seven more Voisins could be seen, including a 1923 C6 Laborataire that might be the most radical Voisin design ever to compete in a race.

The aviation theme is also very present at the displayed Hispano-Suiza Dubonnet Xenia which features a modified Hispano Chassis with Andre Dubonnet´s independent suspension and a body by Saoutchik. The small cabin is very much inspired by the cockpits of the fighter planes of the time.

Beside several Talbot-Lago, Delage and a rare Peugeot Eclipse (that features an all metal removable top, decades before this was reinvented) two Delahaye 145 V12 are to be mentioned. Both cars started as pure race cars entered by the factory winning at Le Mans and at the Grand Prix of Pau. It was a common practice at that time that race cars were converted to street cars at the end of their racing career and rebodied in the fashion of the time. This was not just done by Delahaye but also by Alfa Romeo, so the new owner had grand prix technology in a coach-built sports car, in this case both cars were rebodied by Chapron.

This also leads us to the second floor that features the race car collection of the Museum. Several Bugatti, Delage, Talbot-Lago and a Chenard & Walcker (being famous for the first Le Mans victory ever) are displayed in front of a Le Mans style pit lane. One of the stars of the museum was missing during our visit as the “Million Franc Car” was travelling and entered at the concours at Schloß Bensberg in Germany just a few days earlier. At a time when victories in motor sports were a question of national honors, a prize of one million Francs was set for the first French car to take the speed record back at Montlhery. This was achieved just in time by the new Delahaye 145 GP which was also dominant in the 1938 GP season, before the new supercharged 3 liter Silver Arrows of Mercedes arrived. This Delahaye shares the chassis with the two Chapron cars on the first floor, but stayed in the GP configuration proudly wearing a tricolor painted over both sides.
A small section is dedicated to the later history of Bugatti with the Italian built EB110 and several prototypes of the company, after they were taken over by Volkswagen. From here one enters the Bugatti salon with period interior to revive the flair of the 1930s rounding off the art deco experience of the museum. One can imagine the Paris society or some of the works drivers standing at the bar, taking a glass of champagne after racing their Bugatti.
The drive up from Los Angeles to San Francisco on the Highway 1 is a very popular trip for all visitors to California. As this takes one past Oxnard, it is very good advice to check the opening times (usually 2 Saturdays a month) and combine the road trip with a visit of this museum. The museum does has a constant flux in its exhibits, as some cars usually are somewhere around the world on a concours, a race or a rallye, so the museum is always worth a repeat visit. The selection of cars is second to none when you are interested in this era and the presentation is superb, as one can walk around most of the cars without a barrier. Due to the limited opening times there are always people around to tell stories about every car and who are willing to open a bonnet or a door to show the car to the visitors.

For all those who are not able to get there the museums’ cars are also featured in several books (3 at this time) photographed by Michael Furman, which are available in the museum shop on their website. This will not make up for being able to view the cars in person, but it’ll give an impression of what you’re missing.

For more information, please visit

Text & Photos ... Peter Singhof

Mullin Automotive Museum (2011-11-16)
1911 Hispano Suiza Type 15 Alfonso XIII Roadster s/n 814
1922 Bugatti Type 23 Brescia s/n 1361
1922 Voisin C3 Strasbourg Grand Prix s/n 2718
1923 Voisin C6 Laboratoire Racer s/n 5
1924 Bucciali Type B6 s/n C2401
1924 Chenard&Walcker Roadster s/n 11544
1925 Bugatti T22 Brescia s/n 2461
1925 Bugatti Type 35 C Grand Prix s/n 4634
1927 Bugatti T40 Shooting Brake Gangloff s/n 40485
1927 Cooper Miller Indy Racer s/n 2
1927 De Dion Bouton TKS Torpedo s/n 37
1927 Delage ERA s/n D3
1927 Renault 40CV Billancourt Tourer s/n 28927
1928 Bugatti Type 37 A GP s/n 37319/37129
1928 Voisin C11 Lumineuse Figoni Torpedo s/n 27136
1928 Voisin C14 s/n 28673
1929 Bugatti Type 46 s/n 46136
1929 Talbot Lago M75 De Vizcaya s/n 74868
1930 Bugatti Type 43 A Cabriolet s/n 43289
1931 Bugatti Type 40 A Roadster s/n 40902
1934 Voisin C27 Grand Sport Figoni Cabriolet s/n 52001
1935 Bugatti Type 57 Galibier Gangloff s/n 57338
1936 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic s/n 57374
1936 Bugatti Type 57 Ventoux s/n 57377
1936 Voisin C28 Clairiere Saloon s/n CG28917
1937 Auto Union Wanderer W25 Roadster s/n 180223
1937 Bugatti Type 57 Ventoux Gangloff s/n 57540
1937 Delage D8-120 Chapron Cabriolet s/n 51760
1937 Delahaye Type 145 V12 Chapron Coupé s/n 48772
1937 Hispano Suiza K6 Franay Shooting Brake s/n 15121
1937 Peugeot Type 402L Poutout Eclipse Coupe s/n 616787
1938 Delahaye Type 145 V12 Chapron Coupe s/n 48773
1938 Hispano Suiza Debonnet Xenia by Saoutchik s/n 103
1938 Talbot Lago T150 CS Teardrop by Figoni&Falaschi s/n 90106
1938 Tatra Type 87 4 Door Saloon s/n 46089
1938 Voisin C30 Dubos Cabriolet s/n 60007
1946 Delage D6 Grand Prix s/n 880004
1946 Delahaye Type 135 MS Coupe Chapron s/n 800494
1948 Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupé by Saoutchik s/n 110101
1949 Delahaye Type 135 MS Chapron Cabriolet s/n 800727
1950 Talbot Lago T26C Grand Prix s/n 110052
1998 Bugatti EB118
1999 Bugatti EB 18/3 Chiron
1999 Bugatti EB218
Art Deco Furniture
Bugatti EB 110
Bugatti Type 64 Competition Design Studies
Peugeot Type 19 Bébé
The Bugatti Salon
The Schlumpf Reserve Collection