Sunday, July 30, 2017

Concours d'Elegance of America, Plymouth, Michigan, July 30, 2017: Part Nine--Murphy of Pasadena

The Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena, California, was a coachbuilding firm that constructed bodies for some of the best cars in the world from 1920 until 1932.  It is particularly noted for its spectacular work on Duesenberg Model J chassis, producing around 125 bodies for that make, or around one-quarter of all that were produced.  Given the high survival rate of Duesenbergs, many of the Murphy-bodied cars still exist.

The "Class MP" at the Concours d'Elegance of America was a tribute to Murphy's work and included other luxury brands as well although the full range of Murphy products would merit a car show by itself.  According to, "Murphy is known to have built on Bentley, Bugatti, Buick, Cadillac, Cord, Crane-Simplex, Doble, Dorris, Duesenberg, Essex, Ford, Hispano-Suiza, Hudson, Isotta- Fraschini, Lincoln, Locomobile, Marmon, Mercedes-Benz, Mercer, Minerva, Packard, Peerless, Pierce-Arrow, Rolls-Royce, and Simplex chassis."  We were fortunate as we arrived to see many of the cars being driven.

1929 Duesenberg J Sport Sedan
One of the rarest bodies built by Murphy, this short wheelbase Sport Sedan is one of two built in 1929, with both still extant.  Murphy generally did not use the "V" windshield, which is typical of coachbuilt sport sedans of this era.  The body makes extensive use of aluminum, with only the fenders and side aprons being of steel.  There is a wood internal structure and the trunk and top are leather dyed to match the colour of the car.

1930 Duesenberg J Roadster
This classic Duesenberg is owned by publishing magnate Keith Crain and we spoke with the gentleman driving it and his wife who were dressed for the end of the Jazz Age.  He looks after Crain's extensive car collection but said that the owner has issues now with shifting a heavy clutch like that on the Model J.  And as beautiful as the Duesy is, he said it drives like a heavy truck.

1932 Duesenberg J Boattail Speedster
We had previously seen this car in Auburn, where it had pride of place at the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum.  J-476 was originally purchased by Cliff Durant, the colourful son of General Motors founder Billy Durant.  Cliff was a racing driver, pilot, businessman and a talented musician, owning a Cremona violin, a Guarneri del Gesu.  He was married four times.  Durant sold the Duesenberg after only brief ownership to oil tycoon John Paul Getty, who eventually sold it to novelist John O'Hara.  The car wound up with a collector who drove it over 100,000 miles and donated it to the museum.  The Murphy body is one of only a few examples of boattail styling on a Duesenberg, extravagant but particularly massive.

1932 Lincoln KB Dual Cowl Phaeton
This car was the Murphy display car at the Los Angeles Auto Show when new and was sold through a distributor in Long Beach, California in 1932.  The car, in the current owner's possession since 1995, has not been shown publicly for two decades.

1932 Packard Twin Six Convertible Sedan
Brought from America's Packard Museum in Dayton, Ohio, this Twin Six marked the return of the 12 cylinder engine to the Packard line-up as the original Twin Six was made from 1916 to 1923.  In 1933 it was renamed the Twelve.  The engine made 160 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque.  This car was owned by noted speedboat racer Gar Wood, the first man to exceed 100 miles per hour in a boat.

1932 Cadillac 452 Convertible Sedan
This magnificent V16 Cadillac was built for Charles Howard, a successful Buick dealer in California who also served as a General Motors Vice President.  He is perhaps better known as a prominent breeder of thoroughbred horses and owner of the great racehorse Seabiscuit.  There was no bare chassis V16 available when Howard wanted one, so he bought the least expensive factory car and had Murphy discard the body in favour of this one-off, which includes an extra rear passenger windshield, giving the effect of a dual cowl phaeton when the top is down.

1932 Duesenberg J Convertible Victoria
1931 Duesenberg J Beverly Sedan
The Beverly was designed by Gordon Buehrig, and is believed to have been his personal favourite.  The windshield design is unique to the Beverly and only eight Murphy-bodied examples were built.  This is one of only four that retains the original body and drivetrain.  The engine block, crankshaft and rods are marked as J-468.

1929 Duesenberg J Dual Cowl Phaeton
The dual cowl phaeton is considered one of the most ostentatious styles of the great era of coachbuilt autos due to its requirement for exceptional length and limited seating.  This car was first owned by Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel, the cinema tycoon famous for his movie palaces, including the Radio City Music Hall. The current owner purchased the car in 1954, negotiating the price down from the initially requested $4,000, and drives it regularly.  It was recently underwent a full restoration.

1929 Duesenberg J Clear Vision Sedan
Murphy built five Clear Vision Sedans, employing the distinctive bronze windshield frame used on the company's open cars, with the thin pillars allowing for excellent forward visibility,further enhanced by the large rear and rear quarter windows.  All five of the Clear Vision cars (of which four still remain) were different and this particular car was owned by aviation pioneer Harold Pitcairn, a founder of what became Eastern Airlines and a developer of rotary-winged aircraft with his autogiros.  The Duesenberg is one of the few from the factory equipped with overdrive.

Continue to Part Ten here

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