1930 Duesenberg Model J Convertible Sedan by Murphy
| Amelia Island, Florida
5 March 2022
- 12% of the hammer price up to and including $250,000
- 10% of the hammer price in excess of $250,000
- One of the finest restored examples
- Formerly owned by Ralph Lehtola, Dr. Richard Clements, and David Kane
- Original frame, firewall, engine, and coachwork
- Best in Class winner at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
- Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) Full Classic
Among the most famous body styles produced for the Model J Duesenberg was the elegant convertible sedan by the Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena, California. Murphy was a great promoter of this design, variations of which were used on most all the great chassis of the Classic Era, perhaps because it was so well-suited to the sunny Golden State lifestyle. It was a beautifully proportioned work, with simple, classic lines, including the coachbuilder’s signature narrow Clear-Vision windshield frame. Duesenberg’s customers were very fond of the style, ordering some 45 examples before Murphy’s operations were shuttered in 1932.
According to the records of the late Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Club historian, Ray Wolff, J-269 was delivered on 28 February 1930 to Robert Grant, Jr. of New York City. It remained there until 1939, passing through a handful of other short-term owners. In 1940 the car was purchased by Kalman Dirhan of Pennsylvania. Wolff notes that Dirhan used the car for five years before more or less putting it into storage; although mechanically rebuilt in 1957, it largely remained off the road until 1966, when it was sold to pioneering dealer M.H. “Tiny” Gould of Milford. Gould sold the Duesenberg shortly thereafter to Ralph Lehtola, an active early collector in Massachusetts, who kept it for nearly six years.
In 1972 the Duesenberg was bought from Mr. Lehtola by Dr. Richard K. Clements of New York City and Leominster, Massachusetts. “Doc” Clements was a selective and thoughtful collector, but with an excellent eye for fine automobiles in general. While well-known to East Coast collectors of his era, his small collection was quietly maintained and the automobiles within not frequently shown. In fact, at the acquisition of J-269, the ACD Club Newsletter reported the news with the note that Clements was not yet a member of the Club, but that hopefully someone would be able to persuade him to join! In late 1985 the Duesenberg was handed over to Ted Billing of Massachusetts, one of the most respected Model J restorers of his era, to be returned to original condition—but on “Doc’s” terms: whatever work could be done at $500 a month. Accordingly, work progressed, steadily but very slowly, for nearly two decades.
Upon Doc’s passing in 2004, the Model J was purchased from his estate by respected collector and enthusiast David Kane of New Jersey. Paint, bodywork, and mechanical finishes were completed by Billing’s successor Byard Libbey, who continued operating out of Billings’ old shop, to an extremely high standard. Final assembly was completed by the highly respected Stone Barn of Vienna, New Jersey, including upholstery and top, as well as a great deal of authenticity detailing, including sourcing the correct bolts for securing trim and the proper drip channels for under the hood. The engine was rebuilt with Carrillo rods and new pistons. Flamboyant side exhaust, of the type fitted to supercharged Js, were mounted as a finishing touch, after being sourced from Mr. Kane’s longtime friend and fellow enthusiast Frank Kleptz.
The result was showstopping and, undoubtedly, the finest restored Murphy convertible sedan extant, as evidenced by its Best of Class award in the Duesenberg Class at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance—an achievement of which Mr. Kane remains justifiably proud. Not long thereafter, he decided that the car was far too nice to use as he intended, and so sold it to the current owner who has continued to meticulously maintain its condition, both cosmetically and mechanically.
Today, J-269’s restoration remains exceedingly well-maintained, with its rich plum leather interior nicely contrasting with the rich, extremely dark blue shade of the coachwork. Further, it features numerous distinctive features of this particular Murphy design, including the folding armrest in front and rear seats and the lockable “umbrella cabinet” at the feet of rear seat passengers. Not shown competitively in recent years, but regularly exercised, the Model J offers an unparalleled selection of still-unconquered concours for its new owner, and would equally be welcomed to CCCA and ACD Club events. It is offered with both the mounted set of wire wheels, shod in blackwall tires, as well as a second set fitted with wide whitewall tires, and is also complete with an impressive file of invoices and photographs from the exhaustive restoration.
This is undoubtedly one of the finest restored Murphy convertible sedans in the world, a superb Duesenberg with excellent, well-known history and outstanding presentation from top to bottom—a fabulous motorcar worthy of the name.