Duesenberg J-151

1929 Duesenberg Model J Sport Sedan by Murphy

Offered by RM Auctions | Monterey, California | August 17, 2012

By this point, you should know that every Model J Duesenberg came with a 265 horsepower straight-8 engine. If you’ve been coming to this site often, you might also recognize that the name “Murphy” seems to appear on more Dusenbergs than not.

So how about a little history of the Walter M. Murphy Co.? Walter Montgomery Murphy was born in Detroit, but the company that bore his name was based in Pasadena, California. Although the family business was lumber, automobiles ran in their lines as well, as Murphy’s father was an investor in Henry Ford’s first attempt at automobile production with 1899s Detroit Automobile Company, which failed a year later. The firm was reorganized as the Henry Ford Company in 1901 and eventually Ford was replaced by Henry Leland and it was renamed Cadillac.

The Leland and Murphy partnership would be a crucial step toward the development of the Murphy coachbuilding company. After WWI, Henry Leland founded Lincoln and Walter Murphy realized that these new grand cars would need magnificent bodies. The new class of Hollywood elite would be the perfect customer base, he thought, and set up shop as the Walter M. Murphy Company in Pasadena.

And movie stars did end up being a major part of Murphy’s customer base. Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Gary Cooper, Rudolph Valentino, Howard Hughes and many more all owned Murphy-bodied cars. Murphy did cars for Lincoln, Bentley, Bugatti, Cord, Packard, Marmon and more. They also bodied more Model J Duesenbergs than anybody else (about 140 of them). In 1931, Murphy saw the demand for custom-bodied cars dwindling and sold his interest in his company in 1932. The new owner could only keep it afloat for six months before it closed for good.

This car, with engine J-151 was one of the earliest Model Js built and one of the first two bodied by Murphy. It spent its life until 1985 with the family that originally purchased it. It has had two owners and a restoration since, being shown at Pebble Beach in 1986 and 1994, winning a second-in-class award in 1986.

The estimate on this car was $800,000-$1,000,000. For the complete lot description, click here.

Update: Sold $990,000.

Update: Sold, RM Sotheby’s Monterey 2022, $1,710,000.

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