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Lot 244

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

  • Chassis no. 2414
  • Engine no. J-395
  • Body no. 921

Sold for $3,520,000


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.

  • One of about 25 original Murphy Disappearing Tops built
  • Original chassis, engine, and body
  • Painstakingly restored and a multiple award winner
  • ACD Club Certified Category 1 (D-146)


The Walter M. Murphy Company, of Pasadena, California, produced roughly 100 bodies for Duesenberg, which was more than any other coachbuilder, and it more or less served as the de facto Model J body maker on the West Coast. Their most popular body style was the two-passenger convertible coupe with a rumble seat, of which about 60 were made, but not all of these were equal.

Murphy initially produced the convertible coupe with a top that folded down into a low pile and was exposed behind the driver’s seat, in the fashion of most convertibles of the time. Roughly 25 of these were produced, followed by a series of interim cars, mostly one-off designs, in which the top folded down into a well behind the seat and was covered by a low leather snap-on tonneau. This eventually evolved into a true “disappearing top” model, in which a flush-fitting metal lid replaced the tonneau, creating a smooth, flat line that ran from the edges of the hood to the doors and down over the rear deck. This top, coupled with Murphy’s signature thin “Clear-Vision” windshield pillars and disappearing side windows, gave the convertible coupe the sporting appearance of a true roadster.

Unlike the standard convertible coupes, which were often produced for Duesenberg factory stock, the disappearing top models were all fully custom, as recognized by their 900-series body numbers, and they were built for their original owners. This special status, along with their spectacular lines, has made them perhaps the most iconic bodies on the Model J chassis.

A HOLLYWOOD MODEL J

Body number 921 was installed on a short-wheelbase Model J chassis, number 2414, and featured engine number J-395, which, according to the notes of late Duesenberg historian Ray Wolff, had been tested on August 12, 1930. The body was delivered to the Duesenberg company on May 4, 1930, and it cost the original owner $2,130.

According to the records of Duesenberg historian Dwight Schooling, the earliest owner of J-395 was Blake Garner, who owned the car in Chicago as of 1936. Despite much research on the part of RM Sotheby’s, little is known about Mr. Garner. The car is likely to have been originally primrose yellow with apple green fenders, as this is the color scheme it wore for many years.

By 1941, the car had come to Los Angeles, where, at a gas station, it was photographed in its yellow and green livery by Jim Talmadge, the son of silent film stars Buster Keaton and Natalie Talmadge and a well-known Model J enthusiast himself.

The car had been purchased by George Schweiger Sr., a dentist who was also a part owner of an auto rental company. Pacific Auto Rentals, as it was known, specialized in a very useful business in Hollywood: supplying prop cars for the film studios. The company operated out of 310 South Barendo Street, in what is now Koreatown, in Los Angeles, and it boasted an enviable inventory of just about every imaginable vintage vehicle, from Model Ts to Mercedes-Benzes to Isotta Fraschinis and even a few Duesenbergs. If you see a great car in a 1930s Hollywood film, chances are that Pacific Auto Rentals was behind it, and the firm has become a legendary name to Southern California car enthusiasts, equating them with the fabled hordes of the Brucker Family and Art Austria.

According to a February 1951 Popular Mechanics article on the Pacific Auto Rentals fleet, “a very fine Duesenberg Convertible Coupe became ‘camera shy’ and was sadly sold to a Duesenberg enthusiast.” In May 1949, J-395 was sold by Schweiger to John Guthrie, a man with homes in New York City and Coalinga, California. By October 1950, it had passed to H.D. Carmichael, also of Coalinga.

In 1956, J-395 rejoined the Pacific Auto Rentals fleet. It would remain with PAR for the next three decades, during which time it became a considerably well-known automobile in West Coast ACD circles, as well as one of the most widely known Duesenbergs by the public. In 1962, it appeared alongside Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in the famous thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? In the 1970s, it was a regular in the television series Bring ‘Em Back Alive, as well as a featured player in the 1976 film Gable and Lombard. The car was also the subject of a feature article in the August 1970 issue of Car Classics magazine.

Following the passing of George Schweiger Sr. in the early 1980s, the entire Pacific Auto Rentals Collection was sold to the Imperial Palace of Las Vegas, which cherry-picked the cars and sold the remainder at an auction on the front lawn of the Ambassador Hotel on August 18, 1985. Here, J-395 was sold to renowned Philadelphia collector Oscar Davis, who had it refinished in all-over cream with a maroon chassis.

In 1993, J-395 was sold back to the Imperial Palace, reportedly as the 50th Duesenberg in their vast collection. When the collection dispersed in 1998, it spent time in the Blackhawk Collection, and then it was acquired by Chris and Kathleen Koch, of Palm Coast, Florida.

The Kochs reportedly invested more than $500,000 in the Duesenberg’s present restoration, which included a full mechanical restoration by Brian Joseph’s highly respected Classic & Exotic Service, of Troy, Michigan. A cosmetic restoration and final assembly were handled by a talented Florida-based restorer, Steve Cooley Jr., of Tavares. After three years of painstakingly rebuilding virtually every component, the car was presented at its first concours, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it was awarded a Best in Class. It went on to be shown a further 17 times in a two-year period, and it won nothing less than first place each time.

Today, as a long-term resident of the Andrews Collection, there is no doubt that this car remains one of the finest Disappearing Top Convertible Coupes extant, and it is still capable of winning many more times on the concours field. Its restoration still appears fresh, even after participation in two 1,000-mile Duesenberg Tours, with the first one being in Texas in 2010 and the second in Virginia in 2014, and it shows no significant signs of wear and tear. With its impeccable provenance, its original chassis, engine, and body, and its ACD Club Category 1 Certification, as well as an important file of history and photographs, it is surely the preeminent example of what may well be the greatest Duesenberg body style.

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

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+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

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
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

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
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

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
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

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
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

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
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

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
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

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
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

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
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

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
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

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
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

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
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

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
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

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
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

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
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

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
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

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
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