Here’s a quick thought experiment: Can someone be considered a car collector if their collection includes just one car? Certainly, if you owned only the Mona Lisa, that would be sufficient art to justify building a museum. So, it follows that if Peter Mullin decided to downsize and sell everything but his signature blue 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic, one could still call him a collector.
Not convinced? Imagine this theoretical one-car collection survives the next 100 years. The tourists of 2117 will be unaccustomed to human drive and a gasoline-powered car from the 20th century, even if this “museum” is really just your “garage.” A century from now, a late-model automobile from the 1900s will appear ancient and obsolete — a lurching dinosaur — which is why my pick for a one-car collection already looks much like that: a Citroën 2CV Camionette.
According to the parking lot attendant at the fancy mid-city L.A. bakery where I arrived at this realization, this 2CV Camionette (or Fourgonette, French for: “small truck”) belongs to a regular customer. This explained why it was surrounded by traffic cones and hinted the Citroën is used regularly. I’m guessing the model year is 1974 or later given the grille, steering wheel, and modern speedometer. Something about the rear cabin’s corrugated sides and modern-looking rear side windows looked like fiberglass to me, indicating a modern conversion; I didn’t have the guts to do a knock check to confirm my suspicions.
As I drove home, I thought about how the two-toned Camionette would be perfectly suited for a museum. It has a fascinating history, but it’s also a practical choice. If an exhibition of a (single) automobile is going to survive the oncoming apocalypse, the car in question should be economical and easy to repair. It’s unlikely the coming autonomous revolution will inspire greater quantities of young people to work on older cars. You will likely have to maintain your own one-car collection, so it makes sense to choose an air-cooled car with mechanicals that are easy to understand as they are to teach to someone else.
As a native of the southeastern Michigan suburbs, I readily admit I could use further education when it comes to French cars. So, I visited Mullin’s museum in Oxnard to learn more about Citroën’s history. One of the first insights I received from expert docent Tessa Crane was the 2CV was not exactly rare — Citroën sold over 3.8 million copies of the standard sedan from 1949 to 1990, and 1.3 million Camionette versions. From the beginning, the 2CV’s design was meant to motorize the masses. Within months of its debut at the Paris Salon in October 1948, there was a three-year waiting list. Foreign buyers were given first dibs on the 2CV, followed by domestic farmers, rural doctors, priests and those who could prove they would use the car for work. The Mullin even displayed period ads for the Camionette featuring French farmers and filmmakers, all with the same moustache.
I learned the 1960 2CV Camionette in Mullin’s collection took three years to acquire from its first owner, and the purchase inspired a whole Citroën exhibit. The Camionette is now parked in a place of honor, between three Traction Avant coupes and a Henri Chapron-bodied DS coupe. After waiting three years to purchase the original-condition 1960 2CV Camionette, Mullin restored it, painted it burgundy, and filled it with select wines, olive oil, and prosciutto from Agriturismo Mullin, his farm in the south of Italy. Mullin presented the Camionette to his wife Merle on their wedding anniversary, a fact that forced me to redefine my idea of a gift basket after I read it on the museum’s placard.
Los Angeles can be a fickle city sometimes, obsessed with class and status. To drive here during rush hour is to often feel the apocalypse has already occurred. But rough roads and expensive gasoline don’t much hinder the two L.A.-based 2CV Camionettes I spotted. Though one is housed in a prestigious permanent collection, and the other merely appears regularly at a bakery on La Brea, I appreciate how they are both still put to use. May they survive the next hundred years.
Photos of 2CV Camionette by author; photos at Mullin Automotive Museum by Brynner Batista.