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A Classic Affair Comes Home : Fancy Dress, Vintage Autos and All Things French Are What Pasadena's Concours d'Elegance Is All About

October 15, 1997|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a 19-year-old engineering student at the University of Redlands, he took a summer course in Europe and with new friends made a vacation detour to Le Man--just in time for its famed 24-hour sports car race.

"We ended up on the pit crew of a private Ferrari entry," he recalls. The parties, the cool of the drivers, the elan of the women, were "nothing like the people I'd grown up with in Orange County. But I also remember our lunches eating French bread fresh that day, and a big round chunk of cheese with a bottle of red wine."

This was his entre to French automobiles.

"At a time when all other cars were boxes, the French were testing aerodynamic shapes," he says. "Seductive. That's a good word for their flowing lines. Where we would cut fenders off, the French would move doors back, solving a fabrication problem by extending and flowing the lines."

While poised to teach urban design at USC, Hull met a group of English architects who were designing Paris' Pompidou Center. He visited their controversial gerbil run for humans.

"I really liked it, all the ducts and huge tubular elements of it," he says. "It was a brave new world of architecture, as the Eiffel Tower had been years before, and a concept I really believed it.

"And the French had the courage to allow it."

Hull was soon hooked. On trips to France and three-hour lunches that contemplated life and times. On French citizens who care for language and traditions. On the architectural plan of Paris that has seen two millenniums and will survive the next as "an elegant statement within a functional city."

He is a member of the Talbot-Lago and Delahaye clubs of France. He has driven near-priceless antiques in vintage grand prix across Alsace and at Angouleme. Two years ago, he piloted his 1948 Talbot-Lago from Paris to Monte Carlo and tied for first place in the Ranier Invitational.

Of course he has considered a home in France.

Yet he remains an American by roots, doesn't speak good French, and the geography of Provence isn't much different from inland Malibu--where he has decided to build a home.

Still, part of Chez Hull will be a stone barn with arched doorways, high ceilings, and very, very French. Right down to the dead Citroen 2CV parked outside as a piece of yard sculpture.

"My piece de resistance," smiles Hull.

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