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This Gooding & Co. Pebble Beach Auctions Offering Is A Real Duesy

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On: Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 5:15PM | By: Andrew W Davis


This Gooding & Co. Pebble Beach Auctions Offering Is A Real Duesy

There was a time (not all that long ago, really) when persons of means could purchase a chassis of choice from a manufacturer and then deliver it to their custom coachbuilder to create the car of their dreams.

Nothing like that exists today, no matter how hard firms like Bugatti, Rolls-Royce, and Maybach work to make you THINK that’s what they’re doing. Sure, you can choose the exterior color scheme and have your choice of interior colors, upholstery, and accent materials.

But at the end of the day, all that “personalization” still leaves you with the same body riding on the same platform and stuffed with all the same mechanical and electronic doo-dads as the one bought by the person before you and the person buying after you.

Think not? Put them through my patented “Coachbuilt-or-Not?” test.

Draw the car of your dreams on a cocktail napkin and take it with you to your local Maybach, Rolls, Bugatti, or WHATEVER dealer and try to order it. Or, to be fair, tell them you just want to order the “platform” part—sans body, interior and the rest—so you can have someone else “body” it to your specifications.

One of two things will happen: If you’re the sort that can afford to have enough zillion-dollar properties that you can occupy them on a “seasonal” basis, have a priceless art collection good enough that museums ask YOU for “loaners”, and/or have a Bill Gates-caliber “portfolio,” they’ll go out and try to bring together a team of firms and artisans that can make your dream-car car-dreams—or nightmare, i.e. the monstrous Maybach “Excelero”—come true.

Otherwise, all they’ll show you is the door.

Still, in a best-case scenario, what can you really get? A classic-era re-pop? A pseudo-futuristic street-ship? Take the Bugatti Veyron (please!): Yes, it’s an incredible feat of cost-no-object engineering, but it looks like a squashed loaf of Wonder bread.

Worst of all, it looks like EVERY OTHER VEYRON, regardless of how “special” they try to make their special editions. No, the days when you could realize your car-of-my-dreams fantasies is over, leaving us to (at best) purchase the fantasy-metal-made-real creations of eras gone by.

Fortunately for all of us, the coach-built era featured some DAMN fine fantasies.

The Duesenberg Long Wheelbase Model J—known as the “Whittell Coupe” after its infamous commissioner/first owner—is one of them. Even when placed in a field full of Duesenbergs, the Whittell car stands apart, and there is NOTHING made now—or even in the intervening 70-plus years—that can hold a candle to it.

The good news—for those that can afford it, anyway—is that this "most elegant American Classic ever created" will be offered for sale by Gooding & Co. at their Pebble Beach Auctions in August.

What follows is the auction company’s description of this incredible Duesenberg, including the story of the vehicle’s famous creator—and Duesenberg’s “best customer,” Captain George Whittell Jr.:

The car was originally designed by Murphy Coach Builders under the direction of one of America's outlandish Roaring Twenties bad boys, Captain George Whittell Jr. Beautifully restored and boasting just 12,000 original miles, the car has a striking black, red, and chrome livery. Originally purchased in 1931 for $17,000 [that’s $231,431 today!], the Whittell Coupe is now considered to be one of the most extraordinary and valuable Duesenbergs in existence.

"Historically, Duesenberg Model J owners were among the most powerful and worldly of America's pre-war elite and, with six Model Js in his collection, George Whittell was Duesenberg's best customer of all time, even surpassing Clark Gable and Gary Cooper," said David Gooding, president and founder of Gooding & Company. "In my opinion, the Whittell Coupe we are presenting in Pebble Beach is the most elegant custom-bodied American Classic ever created and among the finest automobiles built prior to World War II."

Captain George Whittell Jr. was heir to an impressive California Gold Rush and real estate fortune—and the ultimate playboy of his day. Whittell famously liquidated his entire stock portfolio (approximately $50 million at the time [$641M now!]) just two weeks before the infamous stock market crash of 1929. A larger-than-life figure in San Francisco society, Whittell engaged in numerous escapades with women, reckless street racing and outrageous public appearances, such as the time he showed up to a local tavern with Bill, his pet lion.

The Whittell Coupe is the result of a unique collaboration between Captain Whittell and legendary automotive stylist, Franklin Q. Hershey, who began his career at Murphy Coach Builders just before Whittell commissioned the renowned Pasadena firm to create this Duesenberg. The Whittell Coupe was one of Hershey’s earliest projects, and its brilliance helped launch him on a successful design career. Recognized for his great influence in the automotive community, Hershey was elected to be an honorary judge at the Pebble beach Concours d'Elegance in 1988, a role he served for nearly ten years.

“The entire car is a masterpiece and one of the few automotive designs that is perfectly proportioned from every perspective,” said Gooding & Company Specialist David Brynan. “And the interior, in and of itself, is a work of Art Deco-era art, which is a key feature that makes the Whittell Coupe stand apart.”

The culmination of Whittell’s visionary ideas of proportion and detail resulted in one of the most exquisitely-executed Classic cars of all time. Under his direction, the powerful two-passenger, sporting coupe was constructed atop a long-wheelbase chassis, which added a dramatic 11 inches to the standard Model J frame. The most distinguishing feature of the Duesenberg is its low-slung, brushed-aluminum roof, designed with a complete folding top mechanism and exterior “bows”, to mimic the closed fabric top of a convertible coupe. The car is enhanced with numerous unique characteristics, including a chrome-plated gas tank, port and starboard lights inspired by the Whittell’s love of boats and a polished chrome “waterfall” adorning the rear deck. The Whittell Coupe also boasts a lavish black patent leather interior, decorated with a polished aluminum and black Bakelite cockpit, as well as a brilliant red undercarriage, just as it did when Whittell took delivery in 1931. With the turn of its key, the Whittell Coupe’s mighty 420-ci, inline eight-cylinder engine springs to life with a low rumble, and the gentleman’s car smoothly transitions from a still beauty to a powerful mechanical masterpiece.”

Gooding & Co.’s event is held at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, one mile from the Pebble Beach Concours grounds and one of the many awe-inspiring locations along Carmel’s famed 17-Mile Drive.

Lots are available for viewing starting Wednesday, August 17, at 10 a.m. and continuing through the sale itself, held Saturday, Aug 20, from 5 p.m. and Sunday, Aug 21, from 6 p.m.

Admittance for one person for “all events” is $40, though persons under 12 years of age are admitted free. Should you want to do more than stand around gawking in hopes of seeing the car(s) you’re interested in I recommend purchasing Gooding & Co.’s “catalogue” for the event.

Though $100 might seem steep, in addition to things like lot listings and scheduling information it’s a great take-away should you find yourself unable to bring one of the actual cars home with you. These guides are full-color works of art, and admission for you and another are included in the price.

Speaking of which, should you lead a life charmed enough to allow you to actually BUY one of the cars in the catalog, bidder registry for the event is $200. It includes the catalogue and admission for two as well, but in this instance it includes “reserved seats” as well, so you don’t have to bump elbows with the proletariat whilst bidding.

For more information on the event, consignments, bidding and more visit www.goodingco.com.


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