One of the more unusual cars in Californian Peter Mullin’s collection is a rusted-out hulk dredged up after spending 70 years at the bottom of an Italian lake.
But there are 100 nice shiny ones too, including the 1934 Avions Voisin C25 Aerodyne he buffed up to an even higher gloss and took to this summer’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. And which, after the traditional gold tinsel storm had subsided, he drove off in with the Best In Show blue rosette stuck on the windscreen.
Mullins, a car guy among other things who obviously has a quite a lot in his life to be happy about, was particularly pleased with this win over 227 rivals. It was a case of 27’s a charm. He’d tried that many times before to drive away with top honours at the legendary Pebble Beach event.
Mullins was sitting in the “bullpen” with his rivals awaiting the final decision when a judicial finger was pointed his way. He thought it meant third place, but “then the fireworks went off.”
For this businessman, philanthropist and owner of one of the world’s great collections of curvaceous French classics – cars he has a deep and abiding passion for and which have won many prestigious awards over the years – taking top honours at Pebble Beach was nevertheless the high point.
“Winning with the Voisin is the most special, significant and rewarding thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s the ultimate thrill.”
That his Voisin won was actually something of a surprise to the concours cognoscenti on hand who hadn’t expected a four-door to take away the top prize, but apparently this superlatively restored example of a little-remembered French make resonated with the judges as well as the crowd.
This year’s Pebble Beach star was the creation of aviation pioneer and later luxury car builder Gabriel Voisin. Born in 1880, Voisin was coming of age as the century began and after studying fine art began working for an architectural firm. But he became fascinated by flight after seeing his first aeroplane at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and he and his brother built their first aircraft in 1905. They were soon making them commercially and continued to do so through the First World War.
At war’s end, with order books blank, the switch was made to producing cars designed around aeronautical practices, employing lightweight materials and powered by engines based on the unusual Knight sleeve-valve system.
During the 1920s, he produced vehicles with four-, six-, eight- and 12-cylinder engines. His cars featured many novel and advanced ideas including semi-monocoque construction, automatic jacking systems and a small propeller to drive the water pump.
Like all car makers, Voisin struggled as the depression took hold in the early 1930s but still managed to introduce new models including the C25, first displayed at the Paris auto show in 1934. It is seen by some as the signature model of the Voisin marque.
This low-slung, lightweight and angularly-aero machine was powered by a 3.0-litre, 100-hp, inline-six-cylinder sleeve-valve engine with four-speed gearbox, leaf springs and drum brakes.
Only 28 C25 chassis were produced between 1934-37 and just seven fitted with Aerodyne bodywork. They sold then for the modern equivalent of about $90,000 and today change hands for up to $700,000 or so. Voisin was forced to close his factory doors in 1937.
The Pebble Beach Voisin is one of 15 of this make in the collection housed in the Mullin Automotive Museum opened last year in Oxnard, California. Mullin is chairman emeritus of Mullin TBG and founder and chairman of M Financial.
The Voisins are part of his “French Curves” collection that includes examples of legendary marques such as Bugatti, Talbot-Lago, Delahaye, Delage and Hispano-Suiza, along with an eclectic assortment of Art Deco items. Mullin sees his museum as an homage to both Art Deco and the machine age, and a legacy that captures and preserves a historic movement embodying both sublime style and superb engineering.
In the Bugatti display area, for example, cars from the famed Schlumph collection in France are found along with furniture created by Ettore Bugatti’s father Carlo, bronze sculptures by his brother Rembrandt and drawings by his daughter Lidia.
Most of the cars in the collection, which includes coach-built luxury models along with Grand Prix and Le Mans winners, are restored to an exceedingly high level, but some are “barn finds” that have been left in their as-found state.
And there’s that unique “lake find” –the 1925 Bugatti Brescia hauled up from the bottom of Lago Maggiore in Italy and purchased by Mullin at auction last year for $365,000. Little more has been done to this one than hosing the lake-bottom mud off.
Back in 1934
Frank Capra's It Happened One Night debuts, starring Clarke Gable and Claudette Colbert and not only is it a major hit but wins all five major categories in the Academy Awards in 1934.
It was a bad year for bad guys and gals with Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd all gunned down in blazing shootouts with the coppers.
American boxer Max Baer hammers giant 275-lb Primo Carnera to the canvas to win the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship. His son, Max Baer Jr., later plays Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies TV show.
Woman Haters, the first of 190 “shorts” made for Columbia Pictures featuring The Three Stooges is released. The Stooges play travelling salesmen who join the Women Haters Club, but Larry breaks ranks and gets married.
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