One of California’s Greatest Car Collections Will Sell Dozens at Auction

Car collector Peter Mullin’s passing in September of 2023, and the subsequent closing of the Mullin Automotive Museum this past February, have been hard hits for the motoring community. Yet the loss is obviously felt most profoundly by his wife, Merle Mullin. Commenting on how the museum’s closure is bittersweet, Merle tells Robb Report, “I feel sad. I love this museum so much, and I look around and see everything we brought together. But on the other hand, it’s good because they’re going to move on,” she says of the classic automobiles. “That’s what legacy is.”

Peter was well into establishing his automotive legacy, one defined by his lifelong passion for Art Deco–era cars, when he met Merle on a blind date in 1996. While the pair got along swimmingly, he didn’t realize the extent of their alignment until he invited the platinum-haired UCLA grad on a driving adventure. He asked her: “You know so much about Italy, how would you like to go on a rally there? You drive a manual transmission, don’t you?” The rally in question was the famed Mille Miglia.

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The Mullin Automotive Museum.
The Mullin Automotive Museum, in Oxnard, Calif., closed this past February.

Merle certainly could drive stick, but she was a tad hazy on the follow-up query about her ability to double clutch. “I suffer from overconfidence, so I just jump in and drive everything,” she says, “but as soon as our conversation ended, I had to call [Bugatti mechanic] Jim Stranberg and ask, “How do I double clutch?”

Her lengthy days piloting the right-hand-drive Bugatti Type 35 in left-hand-drive Italy established a solid foundation for the two bon vivants. “Peter hated to drive, and I loved to drive,” she says. “I drove every rally after lunch, because Peter loved to have wine at lunch.” Interestingly, despite his rarified assemblage of Bugattis, Delahayes, Voisins, and the like, Peter’s daily driver in Los Angeles was a Mini Cooper finished in a custom shade of green.

Peter and Merle Mullin at the 2015 reopening of the Petersen Automotive Musuem in Los Angeles.
Peter and Merle Mullin at the 2015 reopening of the Petersen Automotive Musuem in Los Angeles.

The couple’s tastes also intersected on aesthetics. The two collaborated on restoration projects, often discussing color combinations for vehicles since the configurations of many French Art Deco-era cars were not necessarily documented from original. One such opportunity arose with a barn-find 1930 Bugatti Type 46, a car that formerly belonged to actress Melina Mercouri, who also served as Greece’s Minister of Culture late last century. Peter gifted the entirety of the restoration project to Merle, who envisioned the vehicle’s eventual two-tone, burnt-orange finish and Bottega Veneta–inspired woven-leather interior. Fittingly, Mercouri’s “MM” monogram on the door was replaced by “MMM,” for Merle May Mullin.

Peter Mullin getting ready to compete in a day of historics racing.
Peter Mullin in the cockpit of one of his historic racers.

When Peter opened the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, Calif., in 2011, Merle’s nephew David Hertz transformed Otis Chandler’s 45,000-square-foot car-storage facility into an homage to the 1937 Paris Auto Salon. The reimagined space included elevators inspired by vintage doors that the couple purchased in Argentina, and an entry canopy constructed entirely of car windshields.

The crown jewel of the Mullin Collection, this 1939 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic will be kept by co-owner Rob Walton.
The crown jewel of the Mullin Collection, this 1939 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic will be kept by co-owner Rob Walton.

There has been much conjecture about the future of the unprecedented collection of historically significant vehicles. “Peter was very, very specific and always said, ‘We are not the owners of the cars, we are their stewards,’ and that ‘We want to ensure they are well looked-after, preserved, and shared,’” says Merle. “Those are the things that really meant a lot to him . . . I am not a kid, and we don’t have offspring who are in a position to oversee a collection.”

The Mullin Collection's 1937 Talbot-Lago T150 CS “Teardrop” on display.
The Mullin Collection’s 1937 Talbot-Lago T150 CS “Teardrop” on display.

To that end, the museum’s crown jewel, a one-of-two 1939 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic, remains with Rob Walton, whose ownership stake in the car is 51 percent. Additionally, the museum announced in January that four flagship vehicles from the collection—a 1937 Talbot-Lago T150 CS “Teardrop,” the one-of-a-kind 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia, a 1939 Delahaye 165, and a 1938 Delahaye 145— have been sent to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

The one-of-a-kind 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia
The one-of-a-kind 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia will have a new home at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

When asked if any additional vehicles will be transferred to the Petersen, its executive director, Terry Karges, says, “Nothing beyond the four cars is promised or looked at. In fact, I’ve told our team, ‘Folks, if this is the gift we receive from the Mullin Collection, we’re going to be joyous . . . just because of the quality of those four cars.’”

Other examples, including a 1925 Bugatti Type 35C Grand Prix and a 1965 Citroën DS19 Majesty sold at Gooding & Company’s 2024 Amelia Island Auctions, while another 115 lots will go on the block through Gooding on April 26.

Merle Mullin poses with her class-winning Delahaye at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
Merle Mullin poses with her class-winning Delahaye at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

In the aftermath of losing the love of her life, Merle says that she takes solace in knowing that her late husband’s beloved automobiles will be in good hands. “He was concerned about preservation for future generations to enjoy them,” says Merle. “It would’ve been Peter’s wish to live forever, of course. But if that didn’t happen, his dream was that they’d be taken care of and not sequestered somewhere and never shared with the public. He just wanted the cars to be enjoyed.”

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