Houston lawyer John O’Quinn, a well-known car collector who became well known for his legal work against the makers of breast implants, hazardous drugs and tobacco products, has died in a traffic accident. He was 68.
The Houston Chronicle quotes Houston police as saying O’Quinn was 1 of 2 people killed Thursday morning when a sport-utility vehicle skidded across the median of Allen Parkway and slammed into a tree just west of downtown Houston.
O’Quinn had amassed an astounding fleet of collector cars — more than 800 in all. His total collection has been valued by some observers at more than $100 million. Among his extensive fleet were many Duesenbergs, the 1911 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost featured in the film Titanic; John F Kennedy’s 1962 Lincoln Continental Bubble Top limo; and a 1937 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante. He also owned the Batmobile used in the filming of Batman Forever ($335,000), a 1941 Packard limousine used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt ($290,000), a 1938 Talbot-Lago ($3,350,000); and a 1938 Town Car used by Pope Pius XII ($250,000). He also owned a 1975 Ford Escort GL, once owned by Pope John Paul II.
O’Quinn was at the forefront of national litigation like the breast implant cases and was one of the lead lawyers in the state of Texas’ massive settlement from the tobacco industry. He also was prosecuted by the State Bar of Texas for how he obtained cases and found in contempt midtrial for sleeping in a jury room. – Old Cars Weekly Staff
A Tribute to John O’Quinn and Video Interview
By Greg Riley, OCW Contributor
October 29, 2009
The collector car world has lost one of its leading citizens; Houston, Texas attorney John O’Quinn. I didn’t know John O’Quinn as a wealthy attorney, or local philanthropist/celebrity. I knew John O’Quinn as a fellow car collector.
Although we only met on a couple of occasions his car collecting passion was always evident. In May of 2008 I interviewed O’Quinn at the Keels & Wheels Concours d’Elegance. Throughout the interview O’Quinn had a sardonic smile, and looked me unblinkingly straight in the eyes. The experience was by turns thrilling, and slightly hypnotic. We had only met briefly once before but he remembered my name.
During the interview he explained that the genesis of his car collecting passion came from his auto mechanic father. As a child O’Quinn’s father took him to a classic car show, and imparted a love of collector cars and Duesenberg’s in particular. Eventually O’Quinn amassed a collection of Duesenberg’s that is unlikely to ever be surpassed.
Someone once told me that O’Quinn had made his career from his legal opponents underestimating him. After meeting him in person it was hard to understand how that could be true. O’Quinn was a commanding presence standing over six feet tall. But his demeanor was an everyman. If you encountered O’Quinn casually I doubt you would surmise his tremendous career successes and wealth. Perhaps this casual countenance of the auto mechanic’s son is what was referred, too.
My first tour of the O’Quinn collection was a jaw dropping experience. I had spent my youth hearing of the massive collection amassed by Bill Harrah. I never thought anyone would have a collection to rival that one. In my opinion O’Quinn equaled Harrah, and in many ways exceeded him. The main showroom was resplendent with some of most noteworthy collector cars in existence and off to one side a lowly Ford Escort previously owned by John Paul II. The rear of the building was bumper to bumper of any and every kind of collector car you can imagine: Gas, steam, electric, Rolls Royce, Duesenberg, Packard, Pierce Arrow, Ferrari, Lamborghini, muscle cars, 50’s cruisers, COPO cars, movie cars, celebrity cars … those owned by the famous and infamous are all represented and many, many more. O’Quinn wasn’t just crazy for Duesenberg’s, he loved anything on wheels.
Since that first visit I was privileged to be invited back again and again. On several occasions I’ve shared some of O’Quinn wonderful cars with the readers of Old Cars Weekly; most recently the Rudolf Bauer Duesenberg [see video on the Home Page of Old Cars Weekly]. O’Quinn had recently purchased the world’s oldest operating automobile, a 1884 De Dion Bouton et Tre’pardoux steam car. Just this week an expert was slated to come from England to fire the De Dion, and I understand that O’Quinn was ecstatic at the prospect.
One can’t live a life as large as John O’Quinn without having some critics and detractors. I’ve heard criticisms of O’Quinn’s car collecting choices. I only saw that the man collected what he liked. When he began the collection many of the cars he purchased were rather mundane and the prices high. However, as he grew as a collector the cars changed, and O’Quinn’s purchases became much more considered.
In the last couple of years O’Quinn had begun purchasing significant un-restored cars, and then spending whatever was necessary to bring them to Concours condition. He did this last year with the Howard Hughes Rolls Royce, and most recently with the Father Devine Duesenberg Throne Car. It is obvious that O’Quinn didn’t believe he was merely collecting cars, but preserving history.
There were plans in the works for a car museum … and what a museum is was supposed to be. O’Quinn told me personally that it was his goal to create the greatest auto museum the world had ever seen. Had he lived, I have no doubt he would have achieved this just as he did with every other goal in his life.
We’ve lost one of the giants of our hobby, and today is a very sad one for Houston, Texas and the collector car world.
Rest in Peace John.
A video of the Bauer Duesenberg, owned by John O’Quinn, can be viewed on the bottom of the Home Page of Old Cars Weekly. CLICK HERE
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