Peter Mullin's Museum is unveiled
May 2010
Peter Mullin's Museum is unveiled

By Julius Kruta

On 15th April 2010, Peter Mullin’s Automotive Museum was opened in Oxnard, California. Everybody who knows Peter expected something spectacular, but the whole setting and layout of the museum plus the cars and art on display are way beyond imagination. The invited guests from all over the world were blown away at the inaugural evening.

The theme of the museum is French automotive and Art Deco culture. So this is far more than a museum of rolling art, especially as there are different approaches to automotive custodianship to be witnessed. From perfectly restored Pebble Beach cars to the untouched Schlumpf Reserve Collection and the Bugatti rescued from the deep, no other museum dares to display cars from perfect to beyond deteriorated.

The centrepiece is an imaginary Paris Salon of the 1930s where every prestige French marque is represented with its name proudly shown in Art Deco lettering on large panels hanging from the ceiling. There are - to mention just a few – one-off bodied Delahaye 165s and 145s (Peter actually owns three of the existing four cars) and the fantastic Bugattis which are – at least to me – the absolute highlights of the Salon display, favourites including a Type 43a Roadster in original condition and the ex-Maurice Trintignant Type 57C Aravis by Gangloff which won its class at Pebble Beach in 2005. To mention just a few of the other marques: Avions Voisin, Hispano-Suiza, Delage, Talbot-Lago and many others showcase what many historians and collectors consider to be the ultimate expression of automotive coachbuilding. “These cars are the apex of rolling art, with graceful, swoopy, curvaceous lines,” explained Peter Mullin.

The museum logo celebrates Art Deco style
The museum logo celebrates Art Deco style
Guests flew in from around the world to witness unveiling
Guests flew in from around the world to witness unveiling

And the thoughts of presentation don’t stop with the cars and the art; the whole building has its own, characteristic French touch, as if you are entering a different world. The interior lamp posts and the portico are of Eiffelesque style; upstairs you find the Bugatti Club with Carlo Bugatti furniture and artwork (one of the biggest collections in the world) including Rembrandt Bugatti sculptures and a Lydia Bugatti painting, Art Deco furnishings like glass vases by Lalique and Gallé in display cases adding the finishing touch. The wonderful Art Deco bar was discovered by Peter Mullin in a Chicago hotel being demolished. He even tracked down ‘Le PatronEttore Bugatti’s brown brogues which he made from saddle leather and his son Jean’s silver cigarette case.

A 1930s Le Mans pit lane has been recreated with the lighting just as I always imagined it for a Le Mans race at dawn. The racing cars are logically on diplay here. 

The Schlumpf cars from the museum’s reserve store which Peter Mullin bought two years ago have been liberated from a humid Alsatian barn to a much better home. They have now their own display area and can be appreciated in their untouched charm.

Finally, there is a separate corner for the 1925 Bugatti Type 22 Brescia which was dumped in Switzerland's Lake Maggiore 75 years earlier because its owner had failed to pay customs import duties. The Brescia was recovered from the lake last year by members of a local diving club to benefit a charity established in memory of a young fellow diver who had been tragically killed; the car was bought by Peter Mullin at Bonhams’ Retromobile auction in Paris three months ago. It illustrates exactly how nature has reshaped man’s creation.. “I’m going to keep the Brescia in this state,” Peter reassures us. “It would be criminal to do anything but celebrate it in this form.”

There's a whole room devoted to Carlo Bugatti's furniture
There's a whole room devoted to Carlo Bugatti's furniture
The lady of the lake: Bugatti 'immerge' has pride of place
The lady of the lake: Bugatti 'immerge' has pride of place

All the lights are Art Deco style and the furniture in the cinema is – logically – of Marcel Breuer design. Even the elevator is housed in an Art Deco steel structure, found in Argentina. Not to mention the vintage enamel signs indicating the restrooms – they of course read ‘Messieurs’ and ‘Dames’ rather than ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’…

But the museum is not only about the past. Two further themes are the work of students of  the world-renowned Pasadena Art Center College of Design for the museum’s Bugatti Type 64 of 1939. This chassis never had a body and Peter has sponsored a scholarship to reward the student who comes up with the most appropriate design.

Complimenting the numerous vintage models on display, recent Bugatti history is also represented by four modern era Bugatti show cars: the EB 118, EB 218, EB 18/3 Chiron and the Veyron 16/4. Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S. loaned these unique show cars to chart the course which led to today’s benchmark Veyron supercar.

Central display recalls 1930s Paris Salons
Central display recalls 1930s Paris Salons
Ex-London Show Talbot Lago was originally owned by 'Bentley Boy' Woolf Barnato
Ex-London Show Talbot Lago was originally owned by 'Bentley Boy' Woolf Barnato

The great and the good of the collecting world overcame travel difficulties to fly in from around the globe- guests of honour were the Bugatti family from France (including Ettore’s son Michel) and the parents of diver Damiano Tamagni, founders of the charity founded in their late son’s memory. All gave emotional speeches which were received with rapturous applause. 

It is the attention to detail that makes the Mullin Museum so special. It is a jaw-dropping experience and worth the trip even to the non car aficionado. It is simply the definitive Automobile and Art Deco museum.

Julius Kruta is a world renowned Bugatti author and Head of Tradition at Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S.

Images: courtesy Guy Van Grinsven

Simon Kidston meets the Bugatti family
Simon Kidston meets the Bugatti family
Bugatti expert Julius Kruta and his daily driver
Bugatti expert Julius Kruta and his daily driver