Pebble Beach: Best of Show 2011
Peter Mullin's 1934 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne takes top honors at the world's premier classic car show.
Many of the cars in Peter Mullin's renowned collection are housed in his eponymous automotive museum in Oxnard, California. On Sunday, however, one standout model — a 1934 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne — occupied the podium on the 18th green at Pebble Beach as the Best of Show winner of the 2011 Concours d'Elegance.
The Voisin, a first-time entry which first took top honors in the 1932-1937 European Classic category, is a stunning example of vintage French design from a manufacturer, Avions-Voisin, that began its life building planes. The company's first vehicle, the C-2, was unveiled at the Paris motor show in 1920, and the C-25, with its Art Deco curves, unique fender struts, mechanized roof and playful interior print, was likewise launched in Paris more than a decade later. Only 28 of the C-25s (which include the Cimier and Clariere design variants in addition to the Aerodyne) were produced, each powered by a 3.0-liter inline-6 with an output of just over 100 horsepower.
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The car's provenance makes it a favorite: "I'm a total French-car nut," says Mullin, who has in the past called French cars of the 1920's and '30's "the apex of sculptural design, engineering, and performance," and who has 15 more Voisins as well as models from classic French marques like Talbot Lago and Delahaye in his personal collection. A collection, it should be noted, that gets its share of use.
When asked how the Voisin responds to a road-going workout, Mullin responds with a laugh: "It's fabulous to drive ... once you figure out its complicated transmission, gearbox, et cetera, et cetera then, of course, it's a dream to drive."
And all that complication doesn't even factor in the powerplant, which is a story unto itself. The mill in the C-25 Aerodyne is a sleeve-valve engine, which Mullin calls "one of the most complicated things of all time, because the cylinders move up and down. It's very quiet, but if you don't have it right you really don't have it right; someone said to me 'Peter, if you have a Voisin that doesn't smoke, there's something wrong with the engine.'"
Despite the quirks, Mullin has nothing but praise for the car that brought him victory at this year's Concours, which the eminent collector describes as "the ultimate thrill" at "the greatest venue in the world."
"You either love Voisin or you don't, but when you love it you get hooked — and I'm hooked on Voisin," says the collector.
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Would anyone today drive an Aerodyne? Probably not. Is it still a piece of history? Absolutely. That's what makes it best in show. Heck, it's a miracle that thing survived in one piece, and in relatively good condition.
I'm no classic car enthusiast, but I'd rather drive down the road in a '76 Corvette Stingray than a sparkly blue 2011 Ford Prius.
The styling is great, the interior, a bit over the top. The sleeve valve engine, well Willys tried it, Stearns tried it. It was an interesting alternative before they had the materials to make a decent long life poppet valve. Man did they use oil. I remember as a child seeing our neighbor head off to work in his Willy Knight, it took about twenty minutes for the air to clear of oil smoke! We never had a mosquito problem during the summer months.
Best in show at the Concours is judged on the condition, quality of the restoration, rarity and several other criteria. Aesthetics is just one of those criteria.