Automotive beauty can be a subjective and inscrutable thing. But few question the aesthetic allure of French cars from the 1920s and 1930s—their luscious curves stand alone as being among the most transcendent in the four-wheeled world.
French automotive design peaked during a time when carrossiers (custom coachbuilders) served clients by creating one-off bodies and interiors based on rolling chassis supplied by manufacturers like Citroen, Hispano-Suiza, and Voisin. These unique creations were rolling sculptures, offering an entirely bespoke way for wealthy customers to express themselves.
Celebrating that fabled era is L’époque des Carrossiers, a new exhibit at the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, Calif. Peter Mullin’s lifelong attraction to French cars of the era is well documented in his collection, but his appreciation for the Art Deco movement is particularly notable because it marks the merging of art and science, a crucial moment in history when imaginative design married mechanized production.
Curator Brittanie Kinch traces the era’s pivotal inspirations to the 1925 Arts Decoratifs exhibit in Paris. “While it was a singular show,” she explains, “it had this impetus to create a modern aesthetic for the French. That’s really the legacy of the 1925 show, and that’s what we’re trying to bring to the exhibit: cultural context.”
Though it’s difficult to pluck standouts from this expansive array of automotive art, here are five favorites from the Mullin Automotive Museum’s newly opened exhibit.