6-7 October 2016

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Lot 253

1930 Duesenberg Model J Dual-Cowl Phaeton by Murphy

  • Chassis no. 2366
  • Engine no. J-347

Sold for $2,090,000

Please note that Internet bidding is not available for this lot. Interested parties that are unable to attend the sale may register to bid by telephone or place a commission bid online at rmsothebys.com.

265 bhp, 420 cu. in. DOHC inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed Warner Hi-Flex manual transmission, beam-type front and live rear axles with semi-elliptical leaf springs, and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5 in.

  • 54 years of single-family ownership
  • One of only three original Murphy Dual-Cowl Phaetons
  • Original chassis, body, firewall, and engine
  • Formerly owned by renowned Duesenberg historian Raymond Wolff
  • Wonderful patina, purity, and presentation


Franklin Q. Hershey was a brilliant young stylist who would later relocate to Detroit, where he was responsible for adding the “Silver Streaks” to Pontiacs, and led the creation of the 1955 Ford Thunderbird. More than any other designer, Hershey was responsible for creating California coachbuilder Walter J. Murphy’s “look” for Duesenbergs in the early 1930s, distinguished by elegantly curved cowlings with windows that disappeared into “cuts” in the doors, giving convertibles the appearance of a fleet roadster or touring car, and minimal ornamentation.

Hershey’s Duesenberg dual-cowl phaeton design incorporated a Murphy signature, a vee’d rear windshield mounted on a two-piece tonneau, hinged in the middle. Adjusting one side of the windshield allowed the tonneau on that side to be lifted so that one passenger could get out without disturbing the other—solving a common problem of the dual-cowl design. A bonus was that the so-called “butterfly” windshield, combined with Hershey’s gorgeous detailing, gave the Murphy dual-cowl phaeton a lightness of line that few other Model Js could equal.

Three original Murphy dual-cowl phaetons were produced for the Model J, all on short-wheelbase chassis, along with a fourth long-wheelbase car that was restored with a second cowl in the late 1950s. Of the three short-wheelbase dual-cowl phaetons, it is the car offered here, J-347, which has the best and purest ownership history, known back to the first caretaker. It has never been damaged, nor had any of its original major components replaced. Most importantly, it has remained with the same conscientious owners for nearly 55 years.


According to the records of the late ACD Club Duesenberg Historian Raymond J. Wolff, Model J chassis number 2366 and engine number J-347 was bodied by Murphy as a dual-cowl phaeton and delivered to John F. Howard. Typical of the interesting men who owned Duesenbergs, Mr. Howard was famous as “the Mayonnaise King,” having made millions from a line of salad dressings produced to his wife’s recipes in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He subsequently relocated to Mexico, where he secured a divorce from the same wife, and it was there that the Model J was sent from its birthplace in Southern California. It would be the first of two Duesenbergs that the Mayonnaise King purchased, the second being a Willoughby-bodied Model SJ limousine which, alas, no longer exists.

Each of the three Murphy dual-cowl phaetons differed in its detailing. Howard’s car featured windows in the front doors, which, when raised, served as “wind wings” for high-speed driving. When lowered, the windows hide completely from sight, under metal shutters, as on the famous Murphy convertible coupes.

In February 1945, J-347 passed to its next known owner, Antonio Llegoreta Gonzalez, via a Mexico City dealership. A succession of short-term Mexican owners followed over the next several years, ending in 1950 with its acquisition by the ALTA film studio. In this ownership, the car was reportedly featured in the film Corazon Salvaje (“Savage Heart”).

The car’s next Mexican owner elected to put it into storage, in his own unusual way—in the parking lot of the airport in Mexico City, surrounded by a short brick wall, roughly the height of the car. Crude though this arrangement may have been, it did preserve the car from theft, and the car was still walled up in the parking lot when discovered in 1962 by Raymond Wolff, the Duesenberg historian, during one of his business trips in Mexico.

As is documented by copies of letters on file, Wolff shortly arranged to purchase the car and bring it back to the United States, via Monterey, as an excellent, complete original automobile with 43,832 miles. Not long thereafter, Wolff sold the Duesenberg to the father of the current owner, and it has remained in their family now for a remarkable 54 years.

The car still wears its original restoration by John Griffin, which the family displayed at Hershey in October of 1963. The dark purple finish and red leather interior are both well-preserved but have a rich patina, which is appealing rather than detracting, as are the low-slung lines of the convertible top. The interior retains a wooden steering wheel from a Mercedes-Benz of the 1930s, a feature the car has had for decades, and which has become something of a signature.

Over the years, the Duesenberg has made several appearances at concours d’elegance and at the ACD Club National Reunion in Auburn, Indiana. It also spent time on display in the ACD Automobile Museum as part of their Gallery of Classics. Not merely a display piece, it was also driven on the Duesenberg Tour to Kerrville, Texas, in 2010, without a single problem. It has been detailed for the sale and would be an ideal basis for further freshening and a renewed show career, or for enthusiastic driving in ACD Club events, CCCA CARavans, and the Duesenberg Tour.

A wonderfully pure and well-preserved example of a stunning open design, rarer than its contemporaries from Derham, LeBaron, and LaGrande, “the Mexican Duesenberg” awaits a happy new home where it will be enjoyed as it has by the current owners for over half a century. From the “Mayonnaise King” to Mexico City, it has led a fascinating existence, one that is bound to continue for decades to come. It is a magnificent beauty with a savage heart.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver


+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat


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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht


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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig


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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose


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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould


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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff


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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach


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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry


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California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut


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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire


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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn


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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin


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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill


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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher


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Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers


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California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden


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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more