Duesenbergs were expensive cars and only the most wealthy could afford them. At a time when a new family sedan could be purchased for about $500, a coachbuilt Duesenberg often cost $20,000 or more. To today's standards this would be like an avarage sedan costing $25,000, while a Duesenberg would cost more than $1 million.
The Duesenberg was tailor-made for the custom body industry. It had the power and stance to carry imposing coachwork, and the style and grace of the front end's factory sheet metal was ideally suited for the execution of elegant custom coachwork. Murphy is generally recognized as the most successful coachbuilder on the Duesenberg Model J chassis, both because of its timeless designs and its impeccable craftsmanship.
The Sport Berline in this gallery (J287/2305) is a one-off, designed by Murphy's young designer Franklin Hershey, built to Captain George Whittell Jr.?s order. Whittell would claim the honor of being Duesenberg's best customer, purchasing not one or two but seven new Duesenbergs.
George Whittell, Jr., the sole heir to the marriage of two California fortunes, was one of America's most colorful millionaires. His grandfathers had earned their wealth in banking and gold mining, and his father added to it with investments in real estate and railroads.
George Jr. was wealthy enough that he never needed to work. A rebellious young man, he caused his parents a great deal of aggravation and more than enough embarrassment. Never one to do things by half measures, he charged through life at full speed, collecting beautiful women, fast cars and exotic animals while spending money at a rate that shocked his friends and family.
The Duesenberg pictured here appears to have been a gift to Jessie McDonald of Los Angeles, to whom it was delivered new in January of 1931 and became known as the "Whittell Mistress Car". From a design standpoint, J287 was years ahead of its time. Its compact, close coupled body featured a well integrated trunk and stunning center-opening doors that wrapped into the roof. With its slanted windshield, narrow pillars and sinister side windows, it was at once supremely elegant, tastefully restrained and a bit mysterious.
Perhaps the most revolutionary feature of the design is one the casual observer will never see - its all aluminum construction. Built entirely without structural woodwork, its strength was derived from the clever use of cast aluminum supports combined with fabricated aluminum reinforcements. It was a revolutionary concept - both in its lack of wood framing and in its exclusive use of aluminum. Compared to ordinary wood framed classics, J287 delivers a more nimble ride and more responsive handling - with none of the ponderousness that typifies wood-framed carriage-style construction.
After Ms. McDonald, J287?s second owner was Don Ballard, who bought the car in the late 1930s. Third owner, James Foxley of Perris California, kept the car until the late 1950s when he sold it to noted collector J.B. Nethercutt of Gardena, California. Sometime later, Nethercutt sold J287 to Bill Harrah, where it joined his legendary Harrah's Automobile Collection in Reno, Nevada.
After Bill Harrah's death, ownership of the collection passed to the Holiday Inn Corporation in 1980. When they liquidated the collection in a series of three auctions, J287 was sold to Ralph Englestadt, where it briefly became part of the Imperial Palace collection. Several weeks later, New Jersey collector Oscar Davis bought the car through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania dealer Mark Smith. Sometime later, Davis traded J287 back to Smith, who resold the car in the late 1980s to Paul Lapidus, a real estate investor from Long Island, New York. In the early 1990s, Lapidus sold J287 to Robert McGowan of Branford, Connecticut. Well known collector Lee Herrington of Londonderry, New Hampshire acquired J287 from McGowan in 1996 and commissioned Maine restorer Chris Charlton to undertake a comprehensive body-off restoration, which was completed in 1998. Eventually deciding to take his collection in a different direction, Lee Herrington consigned the car to RM Auctions' Monterey sale in August of 2006, where it was acquired by John O'Quinn. The car came back on the market, again through RM Auctions, in 2010.
Source: RM Auctions.
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