Photos by Sue De Lapa
Gathered in a sleek showroom in Oxnard is a magnificent collection of luxury European cars of the 1920s and 1930s, now worth millions.
The Santa Barbara Independent toured the Mullin Automotive Museum last weekend, attracted by the new Voisin exhibit — gleaming examples of the genius of automaker Gabriel Voisin — from the big blue 1935 Type C25 Aerodyne sedan, fit for a prime minister and worth an estimated $5 million, to the classy yellow 1934 Type C27 Roadster, perhaps once a playboy runabout.
The 1930s were the heyday of Europe’s luxury-car era, sadly brought to an end by the Depression and World War II. Fortunately, collectors like Peter Mullin had the passion and money to find and preserve remaining princes of the wheeled world of yesteryear. Although Voisin built more than 10,000 cars in his factory outside Paris from 1918 to the late 1930s, fewer than 150 are known to exist.
The beautifully designed showroom, where former Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler, also a car enthusiast, once kept his collection, displays over 60 autos and a few classic motorcycles and race cars, and is harboring the Voisin exhibit of 17 autos through April 30.
Although Voisins are the star of the current show, you can’t take your eyes off the Bugattis, Delahayes, and some of the other beauties. Those admiring the 1939 D8-120 Delage might not be aware that it was seen in the 1951 film An American in Paris when Gene Kelly is being chauffeured around town with Nina Foch. A French general who collaborated with the Germans sent the car to California after the war but couldn’t get a visa to the United States. He sold the car to RKO studio and moved to Argentina.
After the movie, an RKO production team member took it in lieu of $15,000 severance. Now it’s owned by Peter Mullin.
One of the most eye-catching cars on display is the red 1939 Delahaye Type 165 Cabriolet convertible with swooping, racy fenders. Then there’s the streamlined silver 1938 Dubonet Hispano-Suiza “Xenia,” named by Andre Dubonet, heir to the Dubonet aperitif fortune, in memory of his late wife.
There is a swarm of famous Bugattis, but perhaps my favorite was the far more modest black 1939 Citroen 7c roadster convertible with a rumble seat.
The exhibit, through April 30, is open to visitors on certain Fridays and Saturdays on an advance reservation basis. The museum is at 1421 Emerson Avenue, Oxnard. Allow a couple of hours for the memorable visit. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors. Photography is okay but no tripods. Telephone (805) 385-5400 or go to Mullin Automotive Museum.