- A handsome example of one-off Murphy coachwork
- Retains numbers-matching chassis, firewall, engine, and body
- Originally delivered to Ben-Hur literary heir, Lew Wallace, Jr.
- Faithfully toured for decades all over the United States
- A Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) Full Classic
- Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Club Certified Category 1 (D-188)
One of the revered Duesenberg Model Js, J-360 was ordered as a long-wheelbase chassis and bodied as a convertible berline by the renowned Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena, California. While Murphy was the most prolific coachbuilder on the Model J, this body was an individual customer order, as identified by its “900-series” body number, rather than a stock order by Duesenberg. The body bears similarities to other long-wheelbase convertibles produced by the coachbuilder but all of its lines are subtly different throughout, making it unmistakable even when compared against its scarce brethren.
THE BEN-HUR DUESENBERG
The car was originally delivered on 24 June 1930 to Lewis “Lew” Wallace, Jr., of Rye, New York. Wallace was the grandson and namesake of Lewis Wallace, a lawyer who served as both a Union general in the Civil War, governor of the New Mexico Territory, and in numerous other political and diplomatic roles. His family’s lasting financial health was assured by his 1880 historical novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Ben-Hur was a massive bestseller, something of the Harry Potter of its era; it actually held the record for US all-time sales for a remarkable 56 years until the publication of Gone with the Wind in 1936. It has since been successfully adapted many times for film, stage, and television. Indeed, the original 1955 sale of the film rights netted Wallace’s descendants $600,000, over $11,300,000 adjusted for inflation—some of which, it is said, funded the acquisition of J-360.
William Noble Wallace, Lew Jr.’s son, later recounted, “The family chauffeur, Arthur Slaughter, was an auto expert. One time he was driving the Duesy alone from Burt Lake back to Rye, a 700-mile trip. The shortest distance was through southern Ontario, from Port Huron-Sarnia to Niagara Falls, New York. Enroute Slaughter was pulled over by a Canadian provincial policeman on a motorcycle. Slaughter, always careful to stay within speed limits, was startled. The officer told him the stop was one of curiosity. He’d never seen a Duesenberg before. Could he, maybe, drive it a bit? ‘Sure,’ said Art. And the officer stepped in and drove it around for a while. Art told that story to me, but I think he kept it from my father.”
A MODEL J ON THE ROAD
In 1934, Wallace signed over J-360 to Maurice Cleary of Beverly Hills, California, in payment for a debt. An early proponent of aviation and later business manager to Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, Cleary drove the car from New York to Chicago, stored it there briefly, and then finished the drive to California. For several months he drove it all over the West Coast, visiting family in Washington State and his mining interests in Nevada. After owning J-360 for about a year, he sold it to Alexander “Sandy” Hamilton of New York City; while Hamilton intended to keep and use the car in Beverly Hills, it apparently soon returned East with him.
Hilton Motors, a well-known New York dealer of used fine cars in this era, resold J-360 in 1936 to William E. Strong. It would change hands among owners in the New York Metropolitan area over the next 20 years, along the way being refinished in burgundy by the noted Reuter Coachworks of the Bronx. In 1964 it was purchased by Forrest Brenneman of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. From Mr. Brenneman it passed to the Quaker State collector Allen Bittner, then in 1972 to Earl Broyles, an enthusiast in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Mr. Broyles maintained the car’s cosmetic restoration aside from fitting Pilot Ray lights, 19-inch chrome wheels, and SJ-style external side exhaust and hood panels, trendy additions at the time.
In 1998, Mr. Broyles sold his prized J-360 to Jack and Drena Miller of Fayetteville, Georgia. Longtime collectors of fine Brass and Classic Era automobiles, the Millers are well-known for the fearlessly enthusiastic driving of their cars, and J-360 was absolutely no exception. It was accordingly prepared by noted Duesenberg specialist Brian Joseph of Classic & Exotic Service in Troy, Michigan, with its engine rebuilt using Carillo rods and Arias pistons; a new high-speed ring-and-pinion set; and reinforced American Arrow wheels. The interior was also reupholstered.
The Millers went on to make this one of the most driven of all Model J Duesenbergs in the modern era. In 2004, it was driven from Georgia to upstate New York; participated in a 900-mile CCCA CARavan; then dipped down to Auburn, Indiana, for the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival before returning to Georgia, all under its own power. That was nothing new, as the year before the car had crossed the Atlantic and toured 2,900 miles in Sweden, Norway, Scotland, and England. In 2013 the car’s adventures included, naturally, a stop at the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum, “The Home of Ben-Hur,” in Crawfordsville, Indiana.
Acquired by the present owner from the Millers several years ago, J-360 shows an appealing and well-earned patina throughout; still never fully restored, it continues to wear the finishes applied to its body in the 1950s, with its mechanical components still holding up well thanks to the thoughtful rebuilding and good maintenance provided by the Millers. Yet as a handsome convertible Duesenberg, it would also be ideally suited for restoration back to its original appearance. It offers a world of opportunities, appropriate for this most journeyed Model J.