Lot 135

Amelia Island 2023

1931 Duesenberg Model J 'Disappearing Top' Convertible Coupe by Murphy

Offered from A Private Collection


$4,295,000 USD | Sold

United States | Amelia Island, Florida



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US Title
  • Retains numbers-matching chassis, firewall, engine, and coachwork; wonderful purity throughout
  • Formerly owned by Pacific Auto Rentals and featured in several classic Hollywood films
  • Well-preserved, multiple award-winning restoration
  • Sorted in current ownership by marque specialist Classic & Exotic Service, including fitment of high-speed rear end
  • Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Club Certified Category 1 (D-146)
  • One of the very finest and most famous examples of its kind

Undoubtedly one of the best-known and most beautiful body styles on the great Model J Duesenberg chassis was the “Disappearing Top” Convertible Coupe, a clean, elegant, and sporting creation of the Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena, California. Among the best-known survivors of the roughly 25 built, body number 921 was delivered to Duesenberg on 4 May 1930, and installed on chassis and firewall number 2414 with engine number J-395, tested that August. Significantly, the car has remained intact, with all of these components including the original numbered crankshaft 395, since new.

According to the records of Duesenberg historian Dwight Schooling, J-395’s earliest known owner was Blake Garner of Chicago, who possessed it in 1936. Cyrus “Blake” Garner was a young, wealthy investment banker who later moved to Hollywood, becoming well-known as a film producer and as a playboy frequently named in the gossip columns as a companion and would-be husband of actresses. It is likely that the Model J first moved to Glitter Gulch under his auspices. In 1941 it was photographed by contemporary Duesenberg owner Jim Talmadge at a Los Angeles gas station, finished in a distinctive pale yellow and green livery which it would retain for over 40 years.

Around this time the car was purchased by George Schweiger, Jr., for his company, Pacific Auto Rentals. Operating out of a rather nondescript warehouse at 310 South Berendo Street, Pacific Auto Rentals served a very useful purpose in Hollywood, the supplying of prop cars to film studios. Their catalogue covered virtually every imaginable type of vehicle; they supplied Norma Desmond’s Isotta Fraschini for Sunset Boulevard and Mercedes-Benzes for Hogan’s Heroes. The firm was, ironically, notably publicity-shy. George Schweiger, Sr., who succeeded his son following the former’s untimely passing, often told journalists interested in photographing his premises that “I get paid for photos of my cars.”

Pacific Auto Rentals sold J-395 in May 1949, but after two brief ownerships in Coalinga, California, it returned to the fold in 1956 and remained part of the fleet for the duration of the company’s existence. Its best-known appearance was in the 1962 psychological thriller, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? alongside Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, in which it serves as both a pivotal figure in the film’s opening scenes and as a symbol of diva starlet Blanche Hudson’s success. “I don’t get it,” one character says to another, admiring it on a film studio lot, “what do they make monsters like this for?” “For Blanche Hudson!” another answers.

Buxom Jayne Mansfield, a legendary sex symbol of the era, posed with the Duesenberg for publicity photos. During the 1970s it became a regular in the television series Bring ‘Em Back Alive, and in 1978 it made a cameo in the film Gable and Lombard. In August 1970 the car was even the subject of a feature article in Car Classics magazine, with photos for which, one would have to assume, Mr. Schweiger was well-compensated. Road-tester Alan Campbell noted that “the motor spins to life the minute the starter is touched, and on the road the massive machine hums like a locomotive...More than one policeman gave the Duesenberg a friendly wave of approval instead of a ticket. The speed creeps up on you. Driving at what I thought was 30 mph I was shocked to look down and see the speedometer registering 45 mph on Wilshire Boulevard!”

Following Mr. Schweiger’s passing, the whole of the Pacific Auto Rentals fleet was sold to the Imperial Palace of Las Vegas, which cherry-picked the cars and sold the remainder at a now-legendary auction on the lawn of the Ambassador Hotel on 18 August 1995. The late, renowned collector Oscar Davis successfully bid on J-395, which he had refinished by Mike Fennel in cream with a maroon chassis before, ironically, selling it back to the Imperial Palace, reportedly as the 50th Duesenberg in their vast collection. Soon thereafter it was inspected by the ACD Club and awarded Category 1 Certification.

Following the dispersal of the Imperial Palace fleet in 1998, J-395 was purchased by respected collectors and well-known friends to many, Chris and Kathleen Koch. The Kochs reportedly invested some $500,000 in restoration of the Model J, with a full mechanical rebuild undertaken by the acclaimed Duesenberg specialist Brian Joseph’s Classic & Exotic Service of Troy, Michigan, and cosmetic restoration and final assembly by noted craftsman Steve Cooley of Tavares, Florida. Afterward the car was judged First in Class at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2005, the first of no fewer than 18 victories it would achieve in the next two years. In 2008, the Model J became part of the legendary Andrews Collection in Texas, where it resided alongside several other outstanding Duesenbergs and many other superb Full Classics.

J-395 was acquired by the current owner in 2015, and it was soon submitted to Mr. Joseph’s Classic & Exotic Service for comprehensive mechanical sorting and cosmetic improvements, including proper adjustments of the valve and cam timing, ensuring that all gauges function, installing new front wheel bearings, and properly rebuilding the Watson Stabilators. Most importantly, the car was fitted with a high-speed ring and pinion, so that, true to the Duesenberg mystique, it is a car which likes to go fast. It remains in fine overall condition, with an impressive history file testifying to its provenance and to its excellence as one of the best surviving Murphy “Disappearing Top” Convertible Coupes.