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The Robb Reader: Peter Mullin

Bailey S. Barnard

In April, financial services entrepreneur Peter Mullin opened the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, Calif., to showcase his collection of more than 100 pre–World War II Bugattis, Delahayes, Talbot-Lagos, and other fine and rare vehicles. For Mullin, cofounder and chairman of M Financial and M Life, sharing his automobiles with the public is a natural extension of his longtime practice of sharing his success. The 69-year-old Los Angeles native’s many philanthropic undertakings include spearheading fund-raising efforts for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles—for which he has helped raise $100 million to provide scholarships to inner-city children—and for the city’s Music Center Foundation. Mullin and his wife, Merle, also follow their passions in the business world, as evidenced by the pet projects they are cultivating at their vacation villa in Umbria, Italy. —Bailey S. Barnard

What are you working on in Umbria?
My wife tells me that I’ve never met a business I didn’t like. At our villa, we make wine, olive oil, and honey, and raise a special breed of black pigs for making prosciutto. We grow a range of wine varietals there. Right at the house we have Merlot, and at another vineyard close by we have Sangiovese, Sagrantino, and Shiraz. But the one we’ve been making the longest and that I’ve had the most opportunity to test and enjoy is Merlot, which is a French Merlot.

 

You also love French cars.
I’ve loved cars since I was a boy, but the French cars of the late ’20s and ’30s were the apex of sculptural design, engineering, and performance. I don’t think it ever got any better than that.

 

Do you collect anything other than cars?
Merle and I primarily collect everything to do with the Art Deco period, so it’s furniture, glassware, sculpture, lighting, paintings, and all those things that speak of the tremendous breakthrough of design and innovation that surrounded the Art Deco movement—the idea of taking industrial things and turning them into beauty. People don’t realize it, but the automobile was kind of at the epicenter of Art Deco.

 

Do you have a favorite car in your collection?
I do, actually: the 1938 Talbot-Lago Teardrop designed by Figoni and Falaschi. It’s the ultimate in design and performance, and has absolutely the most beautiful sculptural shape. Almost all cars, no matter how beautiful they are, have an awkward angle, but this car has no bad angle, and its 4-liter engine has racing history, so it’s a combination of everything elegant about the Art Deco period.

 

You also race your cars.
Racing is certainly a passion. I guess for me it’s a combination of speed, handling the car, seeing what it can do, and being as precise as the car was made to be. It’s a rewarding experience all the way around, and also a great focusing device. If your mind wanders while you’re racing, you might be wandering right off the track.

 

Have you had any crashes?
No crashes on the track. The people who are involved in vintage racing are driving precious things. They know they’re never going to give up their day jobs to become professional racecar drivers, so they’re really out there just to enjoy and experience the car. I would say most of vintage racing is pretty gentlemanly.

 

What does it mean to live well?
If you’re blessed enough to enjoy a good life, it’s really not about how much you make but what you do with it. So, as you can tell by looking at the things I’m involved in, I very much believe that good news keeps coming your way if you know what to do with it, which means to give it back.

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