CLOSED AND CLASSY: 1929 DUESENBERG TAKES FIRST-IN-CLASS AT PEBBLE BEACH

Updated: Sep 27, 2018

A rare event indeed when a closed vehicle captures center stage at Pebble Beach, let alone the four-door variety!


Our judging task this year at Glass G included some mighty fine iron. All were exceptional examples of the Model J Duesenberg output; to many, American's finest automobile. Yet the freshly restored 1929 Duesenberg J Murphy Town Limousine brought by Sam Lehrman and restored by Chris Charlton earned the coveted Best in Class award.


What's more, this mighty beast was among the top 3 nominated for Best in Show!


Pebble Beach Concours, August 26, 2018: Sam Lehrman (center) with son Max at left, and the Charlton family: Chris, Heidi and Natalie

To understand just what made J-218 so special, one must consider the original owner's custom requirements and the man himself: Captain George Whittell. Documentation from the restoration team describes the intricate details of the vehicle's unique features:


  • A sports a design that allows the doors to curve upward into the roof. While essentially standard on every modern car, this feature originated on J-218 and was carried onto several significant future Franklin Q. Hershey designs for Murphy, including a second Whittell Duesenberg and the Peerless V-16 prototype.

  • The most striking features of the body are its sharply raked windshield and companion livery.

  • A classic Art Deco color scheme, the lower half is black, with the upper portion painted white. Dividing the two colors and completing the Deco look is an aluminum beltline polished to a deep mirror finish. The front door is suicided, thereby allowing back-to-back placement of the four pairs of door hinges, additionally providing horizontal and vertical symmetry.

  • Whittell signatures include: additional trim on the front fenders and the

  • chrome finish on the tool and battery covers.


Clockwise from top left: J-218 under restoration at Chris Charlton's shop in Oxford, ME, at Pebble Beach 1971, fresh from Murphy coachbuilders showing the dramatic yet restrained two-tone effect, rear compartment detail.


  • More subtle differences abound such as the hood, which incorporates vent doors instead of louvers.

  • A faux piano hinge built into the cowl gives the appearance of a de Sakhnoffsky hood years before it was introduced on Packards and Cadillacs.

  • The running boards are covered with a black laminate sanded to a high lacquer-like appearance. This ebonized finish is contrasted by solid chrome strips used on early Model Js.

  • A set of nautical port and starboard lights is mounted above the running boards, and even the hub medallions have custom paint detailing.

  • Lastly, the typical “Duesenbird” mascot, cowl band and cowl lights are omitted, the latter necessitating adaption of parking light bulbs inside the headlamps and hub medallion detailing.

In 1972, collector William Harrah was offered J-218 for a firm price of $40,000. His response: "Buy."

  • Inside, the rear compartment has a deep floor, typically provided to accommodate jump seats. In this case the space simply provides extra legroom. Vanities were provided for both rear seat passengers, along with a Dictograph microphone that, with the division window raised, would direct commands to the chauffeur through an intercom mounted at his left ear. The cream cloth upholstery is used both front and rear, indicating versatility as an owner-driver conveyance.


A larger-than-life personality, Whittell kept a pet lion.

Whittell had the means, spirit and inclination to live large even after the calamity of 1929's stock market crash—he sold $50M of stock just before that fateful day.


A total of seven Model J Duesenbergs were commissioned by Whittell in conjunction with the brilliant partnership of Walter M. Murphy & Co. coachbuilders and the highly talented designer Frank Q. Hershey.


What a privilege—both as judge and enthusiast—to stand in the tall shadow of this majestic motor car. Memo to team: Well done!



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