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THE GOODING & Company auction this Sunday, August 19, features a car immensely rich in wonderful tales, a fabulous 1935 Duesenberg Model JN Convertible Coupe. Not just any JN Convertible Coupe (though only four were built), but the one originally owned by Clark Gable, car enthusiast extraordinaire.
Like any Duesenberg, the JN Convertible Coupe is luxurious, elegant—and grand. Stretching to some 18 ft. overall, this two-seater is powered by a 420-cu.in. straight 8 producing locomotive-like torque. Its 3-speed gearbox was typical of the era; its hydraulic brakes were an advanced feature when lesser cars still depended upon cable actuation.
Delivered to Clark Gable in December 1935, the JN Convertible Coupe originally carried coachwork by Rollston, but not for long. And thus begins my favorite story of this wonderful automobile, as described in the Gooding & Company catalog for its Saturday and Sunday Pebble Beach auctions.
On January 25, 1936, Gable drove his new Duesenberg to the White Mayfair Ball in Beverly Hills. There, a co-star relationship with actress Carole Lombard blossomed into rather more than this. It’s said later in the evening Gable invited Lombard to visit his nearby digs at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
“Who do you think you are?” she said, “Clark Gable?”
Less than a week later, on a real date during a California downpour, they both experienced the car’s extreme lack of weather protection. This—and other aspects of Gable’s car enthusiast nature—prompted him to have the car completely refurbished by renowned coachbuilder Bohman & Schwartz of Pasadena.
The rebodied JN Convertible Coupe was to be ready on a Friday, but when Gable and Lombard provided the Bohman & Schwartz staff with lunch, including champagne, the project was delayed. Instead, Chris Bohman, son of the coachbuilder and a local college student, delivered the car to Gable’s hotel the next day, as conveniently enough Chris and his date were attending a party there in its ballroom.
During the dinner, the ballroom door opened and in came Clark Gable to thank Chris for his help. Then Gable joined the Bohman table for dessert and asked Chris if he could have the first dance with his date. Clark Gable stayed on to dance with every girl in the room. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012