With one of the largest collections of classic Citroëns in the world, businessman and philanthropist Peter Mullin recently popped them into a museum of their own. He told Smith Journal about his passion for the “glorious art deco era” of French automotive history.
How did you catch the car bug?
A friend asked me if he could use my driveway for a photo shoot with a car. The car, as it turned out, was a Chapron-bodied Delahaye. I looked out the window and saw that car sitting there and thought, ‘That is a work of art.’ I knew I had to learn more about this incredible era in the history of the automobile, where cars were both mechanical marvels and rolling sculpture at the same time.
What captivates you, and so many others, about the Citroën?
The first one I ever saw was a 2CV. To this day, it remains the most utilitarian car ever produced, yet it also incorporates the French curve and is a beautiful design in its own right. That quirkiness is what intrigued me. The beauty of Andre Citroën’s vision is that he refused to compromise or conform. From hydropneumatics to front wheel drive, and from unibody construction to advertising on the Eifel Tower – Citroën was a risk-taker, and I admire that.
The French have this incredible dichotomy where they’re tough and steadfast, having borne the brunt of two world wars, yet through it all, their elegance and style is unparalleled. The belle epoch and art deco movements both came from France. Their automobiles reflect their culture; speed and ingenuity wrapped in stunning coachwork. There is a unique harmony between form and function that’s rarely seen anywhere else, and I think that’s what fascinates people.
If you had to choose your favourite model, what would it be?
The Citroën DS is the quintessential example of how the French balance form and function. They’re almost impossible to break, yet they have a subtle beauty. The post-war fascination with aviation was a wonderful influence on automotive design. Cars like the DS, which looks almost like a spaceship, were the first attempts at aerodynamics in cars, and although they may not have had the same technology as today, their designs are unparalleled. Furthermore, even compared to modern automobiles, they are reliable. Every part works in perfect harmony.
Read more about the Mullin Automotive Museum in California here.