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1930 Duesenberg Model J Sport Berline by Murphy
Quantity Views Date Posted
1 3153 3/30/2010
Asking Price Shipping Amount Condition
$1,705,000.00 None Auction Results
Description: 1930 Duesenberg Model J Sport Berline by Murphy
RM Auctions
Automobiles of Amelia Island Collector Car Auction
Amelia Island, Florida
March 13, 2010
AUCTION RESULTS: Lot 159 - Sold at a price of $1,705,000

265 bhp, 420 cu. in. four valves per cylinder twin overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed transmission, leaf spring and beam axle front suspension, leaf spring and live axle rear suspension, vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulically-actuated drum brakes. Wheelbase: 153"

George Whittell, Jr. was one of America's most colorful millionaires. Born September 28, 1881 in San Francisco, he was the sole heir to the marriage of two California fortunes. His grandfathers had earned their wealth in banking and gold mining, and his father added to it with investments in real estate and railroads. When his parents wed, it was seen as a society event, and the couple celebrated by building a mansion on Nob Hill in which to raise a family.

George Jr. was wealthy enough that he never needed to work and, consequently, never saw any reason to earn a living. A rebellious young man, he caused his parents a great deal of aggravation and more than enough embarrassment. Never one to do things by half measures, he charged through life at full speed, collecting beautiful women, fast cars and exotic animals while spending money at a rate that shocked his friends and family. A legendary playboy, his was a life of trysts, liaisons and marriages – often at the same time.

After graduating high school in San Francisco, he literally ran away to join the circus, moving to Florida to join Barnum & Bailey. While there, he developed a fascination for the animals and launched a safari business to capture and supply wild animals to the circus. He and his partner Frank Buck made several trips to Africa, journeys that fueled Whittell's love of exotic animals.

Finally, under pressure from his parents, he returned home to face an arranged marriage. In typical Whittell fashion, he fell in love and eloped with a chorus girl instead, adding to his parents' list of embarrassments.

This time, his father managed to bribe the necessary officials to have the marriage annulled and the story hushed up. Despite his efforts, the newspapers learned of it, and George Jr. was front-page news. None of this slowed him down, and soon he married Josie Cunningham, a rather prominent member of the dance troupe "The Floradora Sextets." His wandering ways – and a sharp cut in his allowance – soon put an end to his latest marriage.

George Jr. was in Paris in 1914 when war broke out. He had spent the past several years attending a variety of schools (and learning seven languages) and enjoying the social life between London and Paris. He decided to join the fight, so rather than see him enlist, his parents purchased him a captaincy in the Italian army, where he drove an ambulance at the front. Later he transferred to the French armed forces and finally to the U.S. Army when America entered the war in 1917.

Decorated for valor, he was also wounded near the end of the war. Recovering in a French hospital, he met a pretty young local nurse, Elia Pascal. They fell in love, and he brought her home, where to everyone's surprise, she met with his parents' approval. They were married in 1919 and moved into his parents' Woodside, California estate. In 1922, George Sr. passed away, leaving the couple an estate valued at more than $30 million. George Jr. proved an astute financial manager, growing the family fortune substantially over the next eight years. Without a doubt, his most important flash of insight came in early 1929 when he sold $50 million worth of stocks just months before the great crash of October 1929.

With so many fortunes wiped out over the next two years, George's move left him one of the richest men in America – just as Duesenberg launched the ultimate American automobile. Whittell immediately bought not one but two cars, a convertible coupe (which was a San Francisco Auto Salon show car) and a boattail speedster, both carrying coachwork by Murphy. They would prove to be the first of seven Duesenbergs he would buy, although three of them were purchased for the use of various lady friends!

A Singular Design

Only one, the example offered here, appears to have been an outright gift, purchased by Whittell and immediately transferred to Jessie McDonald of Los Angeles, California, to whom it was delivered as a new car in January of 1931. Known as the "Whittell Mistress Car," J287/2305 has a continuous history from new and is still fitted with its original body, engine and chassis.

The lovely sport Berline offered here is a one-off creation, built to Whittell's order by Murphy's brilliant young designer Franklin Hershey. From a design standpoint, J287 was years ahead of its time. Its compact, close coupled body featured a well integrated trunk and stunning center-opening doors that wrapped into the roof, a feature never before seen. With its striking slanted windshield, narrow pillars and sinister side windows, it was at once supremely elegant, tastefully restrained and a bit mysterious.

Perhaps the most revolutionary feature of the design is one the casual observer will never see – its all aluminum construction. Built entirely without structural woodwork, its strength was derived from the clever use of cast aluminum supports combined with fabricated aluminum reinforcements. It was a revolutionary concept – both in its lack of wood framing and in its exclusive use of aluminum – and one that would not be seen again in a production car for decades to come. Compared to ordinary wood framed classics, J287 delivers a more nimble ride and more responsive handling – with none of the ponderousness that typifies wood-framed carriage-style construction.

Outstanding Provenance

After Ms. McDonald, J287's second owner was Don Ballard, who bought the car in the late 1930s through Los Angeles consignment dealer Bob Roberts. James Foxley of Perris California became the third owner, keeping the car until the late 1950s when he sold it through dealer Mike McManus to noted collector J.B. Nethercutt of Gardena, California.

Sometime later, probably in the late 1960s or early 1970s, Nethercutt sold J287 to Bill Harrah, where it joined his legendary Harrah's Automobile Collection in Reno, Nevada.

After Bill Harrah's death, ownership of the collection passed to the Holiday Inn Corporation in 1980. When they liquidated the collection in a series of three auctions, J287 was sold (in the second sale, September 28, 1985) to Ralph Englestadt, where it briefly became part of the Imperial Palace collection.

Several weeks later, New Jersey collector Oscar Davis bought the car through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania dealer Mark Smith. Sometime later, Davis traded J287 back to Smith, who resold the car in the late 1980s to Paul Lapidus, a real estate investor from Long Island, New York. In the early 1990s, Lapidus sold J287 to Robert McGowan of Branford, Connecticut. Well known collector Lee Herrington of Londonderry, New Hampshire acquired J287 from McGowan in 1996 and commissioned Maine restorer Chris Charlton to undertake a comprehensive professional body-off restoration, which was completed in 1998. Meticulous storage and careful maintenance have preserved the restoration, and the deep blue-violet Duesenberg remains in stunning, high point condition.

Eventually deciding to take his collection in a different direction, Lee Herrington consigned the car to RM Auctions' Monterey sale in August of 2006, where it was acquired by John O'Quinn.

Very few Duesenbergs can claim to retain all their major original components. Fewer still have had the quality of restoration, care and maintenance that J287 has seen. Although some Duesenbergs are better looking than others, not many exhibit the beauty and grace of Franklin Hershey's Sport Berline. Only a handful of these can boast a known and continuous history from new.

But only one car – this one – was built to order for the legendary George Whittell, Jr. as a gift for what we may presume was a very special lady.
Keywords: 1930 Duesenberg Model J Sport Berline by Murphy


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