Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


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.

Clark Gable’s 1935 Duesenberg Model JN Convertible Coupe takes on a unique rakishness in its Bohman & Schwartz coachwork. Photo from Gooding & Company catalog.

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 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.

An avid and knowledgeable enthusiast, Gable took an active role in his Duesenberg’s refurbishing at Bohman & Schwartz. Studio publicity photo from Gooding & Company catalog.

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,, 2012


  1. Terry Parkhurst
    August 18, 2012

    This wonderful old car made me think of the late, great Strother MacMinn, who used to regale we who took his class in Transportation Design, with stories about his time designing true classics; but back in those heady days of the late 1960s, when the Art Center was still located in that old girl’s school in the city of Los Angeles, we young guys (and the one woman in the class), were more interested in either American muscle or the swoopy Lamborghinis up Wilshire at Otto Zipper’s place.

    But as time passed, and we gained some insight into what Mr. MacMinn was onto, we came to understand that sometimes the best way to get a handle on the future, is to look back in time to what’s been done by others.

  2. James
    December 25, 2018

    When Lombard was killed in a 1942 plane crash Gable could not bear to look at it anymore because it reminded him of her. This was her favorite of Gable’s cars. Gable gave it away and it spent some years in Canada until Bill Harrsh bought it in 1961 and it was put on display in Las Vegas for many years.

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This entry was posted on August 18, 2012 by in Classic Bits and tagged , , , , .
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