Car Awards

2015 Man of the Year: Peter Mullin

Visionary collector pushes to advance automotive design.

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Slightly late for a photo session, Peter Mullin pulls up in the unique MINI Cooper S he drives around Los Angeles. It’s the medium green of an Aston Martin DB4 and carries that marque’s winged emblem on the nose. License plates bear the coined name Vanquet. Mullin’s wife, Merle, had encouraged him to buy an Aston, but instead of a Vanquish, he said, “I’ll just do this and save a couple hundred thousand for a Bugatti.”

The photo session is on the rooftop garden of one of Art Center College of Design’s south campus buildings in Pasadena. The school’s transportation programs disperse about 50 graduates each year throughout the industry. Notable alumni are Franz von Holzhausen of Tesla and Miguel Galluzzi of Piaggio’s Advanced Design Center, nearby on Colorado Boulevard. With students moving beyond scale models to full-size prototypes, TransDesign has crowded out Illustration, Fine Art, and other programs from the main hillside campus. Mullin, the 73- year-old grandfather of 12, donated $15 million—the largest gift in Art Center’s history—for the purchase of another south campus building. President Lorne Buchman describes the gift as “transformative” and says it not only helps to ease the space crunch but also “takes philanthropy to a new level.”

In enthusiast circles, Mullin, who built his fortune in the insurance industry, is most renowned for his discriminating collection of French cars. Can’t make it to the Mullin Automotive Museum, in coastal Oxnard, for “The Art of Bugatti” to see what he calls “the genius artistry of that whole family”? (The exhibit runs through March.) The museum’s new website allows virtual visits; as it develops, additional features will let you design a car, paint it, and eventually print it through rapid proto­typing for display on your own desk. “The technology today allows you to virtually be there with a fly-through of the whole museum,” he says after the photo shoot. “It’s insane not to use it to enhance the visitor’s experience, whether they’re (there) in person or online.”

What’s developed in Oxnard will soon extend to the Petersen Automotive Museum, on L.A.’s Wilshire Boulevard. The Petersen closed in October for a remodeling and “reiteration” that Mullin, who pushed for change as board chairman, expects will place it among the top three car museums anywhere. Doing away with quaint dioramas, the new Petersen will feature cars as art and emphasize L.A. car culture. To acquaint patrons with the intricacies of automotive design, the museum will include a real-time studio staffed by Art Center students, strengthening the nexus between institutions. Meanwhile, some of his own cars will be displayed in a gallery at the school’s new building.

Not a bad year for Mullin. Attending boat races at Long Beach Marine Stadium as a boy, he listened to his father, a chemical engineer for Mobil, discourse about oil viscosity and the coefficient of friction. “I was more interested in speed and design and results,” he says.

Here’s our result: Man of the Year.

Read about the 2015 AUTOMOBILE All-Stars:

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