More than half of all the Model Js produced were closed and were generally more expensive and popular than the sporty, open cars. Styling was mostly both very conservative and conventional. However, Murphy of Pasadena, California, was an exception among Duesenberg coachbuilders, for their unique sedans were sporting.
George Whittell Jr. bought more new Duesenbergs than anyone else. He was one of America’s most colorful millionaires, sole heir to the marriage of two Californian fortunes. His grandfathers had gained their wealth in banking and gold mining, and his father added to it with investments in real estate and railroads. When George Jr. was 40, George Sr. passed away, leaving an estate valued at $30 million. George Jr. proved an astute financial manager, growing the family fortune over the next eight years. And his moment of genius came in 1928, when he sold $50 million of investments months before the October 1929 crash.
This flash of brilliance left him one of the richest men in California-just as Duesenberg launched the ultimate American automobile, the Model J, at the New York Auto Salon in December 1928. Whittell took delivery in 1929 of two new Murphy designs, a convertible coupe and a one-off Berline sedan designed by Franklin Hershey, J218. Today’s equivalent cost would be $1.1m each. These two were the first of seven new Duesenbergs he would buy, three of them for the use of various lady friends.
The third Duesie, this Sport Berline, was an outright gift, and it was delivered new in January 1931 to Jessie McDonald of Los Angeles. Known as the “Whittell Mistress Car,” it has a continuous ownership history and is still fitted with its original body, engine, and chassis. It is a one-off creation by Murphy’s brilliant designer, Hershey. J287 was ahead of its time. Its close-coupled body featured doors that wrapped into the roof, especially favorable to 6ʹ 4ʺ Whittell. With its slanted windshield, narrow pillars, and rear “suicide” doors, it was elegant, but tastefully restrained.
Perhaps the most interesting feature is its all-aluminum body construction. Built without any structural woodwork, its strength was derived from the use of cast aluminum supports united with fabricated aluminum reinforcements. It was a revolutionary concept. Compared to ordinary wood-framed classics, J287 delivers a more nimble ride.
New Hampshire collector Lee Herrington acquired J287 from a collector in 1996 and commissioned Maine restorer Chris Charlton-who restored collector Bob Bahre’s award-winning group of Duesenbergs-to undertake a comprehensive restoration, which he completed in 1998. Following that, it was sold to the O’Quinn Collection. With its deep blue-violet color, chosen by Herrington, it remains in stunning condition.