1930 Duesenberg Model J Dual-Cowl Phaeton by Murphy
Sold For $2,090,000Inclusive of applicable buyer's fee.
Lot Location: Hershey, Pennsylvania
RM | Auctions - HERSHEY 6 - 7 OCTOBER 2016
- Offered on Friday
- 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
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.
THE MURPHY DUAL-COWL PHAETON
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.
J-347: SAVAGE HEART
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.