Mullin Automotive Museum


French Flair on Four Wheels


Financial services entrepreneur Peter Mullin, long a fan of all objects from the art deco period, opened the Mullin Automotive Museum nearly three years ago to display his collection of more than 100 pre-World War II Bugattis, Delahayes and Talbot-Lagos. The museum’s permanent collection of these French luxury cars was reason enough to make the trek to its unlikely setting—a business park heavy on utility and low on design in this unremarkable coastal community an hour northwest of downtown Los Angeles. But now there is even more reason to come.

7-545internal view of the museum


There are probably no more luxurious examples of art deco’s ground-breaking marriage of utility and design than the French automobiles of the 1920s and ’30s. And Gabriel Voisin was a visionary in that field, building handmade cars that were highly prized by the likes of Rudolph Valentino and Man Ray. “La Vision de Voisin” claims to be the largest display of the ultraluxe automobiles ever assembled. Sixteen of the 17 cars are owned by Mr. Mullin, while the other is on loan from the collection of fellow California vintage-car buff Arturo Keller.


The exhibit opens with a half-dozen wall panels and display cases that tell Voisin’s story through original design drawings, scale models, notebooks and diaries, some of which are on loan from his family and being seen by the public for the first time. Like many automotive pioneers, Voisin got his start in aviation; he was a contemporary of the Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss. But when he learned of the human carnage caused by his World War I bombers—a scale model is on display here—he switched to cars.


The 1919 Avions Voisin Type C1 limousine shown at the Mullin was one of the first cars sold in France after the war. It’s no knock to say it is perhaps the most stylistically bland of the Voisins, since its creator was initially more focused on engineering than style. Nonetheless, it broke ground with its four-liter, four-cylinder sleeve-valve motor that was nearly silent, a perceived sign of quality during the art deco period. The C1 also had a four-speed transmission and one of the first examples of four-wheel brakes.


By 1923, Voisins had evolved and were very much in Vogue. A cover for that magazine, drawn by noted art deco illustrator Georges Lepape, featured a Parisian flapper leaning up against a Voisin, easily identifiable by its distinctive double-winged hood ornament.


“The whole idea of the art deco period was that there was no reason a utilitarian object couldn’t be beautiful,” Mr. Mullin said. “And that’s very much what these cars stand for.”


While all of Voisin’s creations, chronological model numbers C1 through C30, are highly collectible, a favorite is the 1934 Avions Voisin Type C27 Aerosport, which came in coupe and roadster models. On display is a gorgeous yellow C27 roadster with tan leather interior that was first owned by the shah of Persia.


Other notable models include one of only two known surviving Type 28s. It was originally delivered to an officer in the French Embassy in Berlin in 1938 and later displayed in the Cité de l’Automobile National Museum. There’s also a one-of-a-kind 1938 Type C30 Cabriolet, and a 1939 Type C30 S Coupe, one of only five surviving from the original 30 that were built. This is the first time that C30 is being seen in public outside of France.

Mullin Automotive Museum

Many of the later models are so scarce because of the Nazi Occupation and the changes it wrought in French life over the next five years. Production at the Voisin factory ended in 1939. But much of what Voisin did create in the years leading up to the war survives, including his futuristic test car, the C6 Laboratorie, which Voisin used to test both mechanical advancements and design changes.


“I had conceived a chassis-less design, constructed solely from fabricated panels, to which the engine and suspension could be mounted directly,” Voisin wrote in one of his diary entries featured here.


He also developed one of the first monocoques, the revolutionary car design in which the majority of a vehicle’s weight is carried by the skin. His 1923 C3 model was one of the first to feature leaf-spring suspension.


Voisin was not shy about his accomplishments. In one of his salon catalogs, shown at the Mullin, a page carries just these words: “Our 18 world records in all categories have never been beaten.”