By John Gunnell
This is the story of how Joe Kaufman of Manitowoc, Wis., became acquainted with the first and last Duesenbergs owned by a mysterious Maryland millionaire named Glenn Stewart. After you read the story, we’ll leave it to you to decide whether it all happened either by complete coincidence, or if it was just destiny.
Kaufman bought his first Duesenberg in the early 1950s from a salesman who lived in Milwaukee. Whenever he got near Manitowoc, the salesman would stop at Kaufman’s gas station, where many Auburn owners took their cars to be repaired. Kaufman became friends with the salesman and offered to buy his Duesenberg. Finally, in 1954, the man called and said, “Joe, come and get the car.”
The car appeared to have been modified and was in a shed covered with lawn furniture, awnings, water hoses and garden equipment. “As far as I could tell, it had a Packard body,” Kaufman recalled recently. About the same time Kaufman bought the car, he met Duesenberg historian Ray Wolff for the first time. “We checked the records and the Packard body was correct,” Kaufman explained. “Apparently, Glenn Stewart had originally planned to buy a Packard with a custom body he liked. He then changed his mind and ordered a Duesenberg chassis, but he wanted the same body on it. Things like that were done quite a bit back in those days by automobile makers anxious for sales.”
Wolff’s records showed original owner Stewart later traded the Duesenberg in when the 810/812 Cords came out. “As I heard the story from his secretary later on, he got caught with a new Cord between two trucks and the Cord got squeezed a little bit,” said Kaufman. “So Stewart said, ‘I think I need some more iron around me’ and he bought his second Duesenberg, which was a Murphy convertible sedan.”
Stewart is believed to have put a lot of miles on his second Duesenberg and it was later rebuilt. “If you read the history of Duesenbergs as I know it, that car became J-588, the dark blue car that shoes up at Auburn,” noted Kaufman. “And I was called into the project when it became available out in Maryland."
Perched on Maryland’s eastern shore is Cape Centaur, an imposing structure known to locals as the “Pink Castle,” because of its coral pink color. Cape Centaur is located in Tunis Mills, a small town across the river from St. Michaels. The large and mysterious tile-roofed, Spanish style villa is set on 275 acres that wrap around five miles of Leeds Creek and the Miles River. Cape Centaur is said to have many secret passageways — and many secrets.
“Wye Island,” a book written by Boyd Gibbons in 1977, documents that Cape Centaur was built by Stewart in 1922. Stewart is a man once described by a cousin as “a liar, a womanizer and a no-account.” He smoked cigarettes with a gold cigarette holder and once, while studying at Yale, attempted to blow up a section of train tracks to get back at some pretty girls who turned down an invitation to one of his parties. The bomb blew up prematurely, blinding him in one eye and scarring his face.
“Wye Island” describes Stewart as a United States diplomat who grew convinced someone was trying to kill him. According to the book, that is why he and his estate manager and bodyguard, Adolph Pretzler, slept with Colt-.45s under their pillows. Pretzler is the man who sold the J-588 Duesenberg.
Stewart’s first wife was Greta Hostetter, who died after four years of marriage. His second wife was Jacqueline Archer Stewart, a wealthy Irish dog lover and godmother of Gloria Vanderbilt. The are stories that Jacqueline dyed her French poodles to match the interior of her cars, but her former secretary Ello Pretzler denies this. Ello Pretzler became the youthful wife of Adolph Pretzler. When Glenn Stewart’s widow died in 1964,
Pretzler inherited the property. When he died in 1992, Ello Pretzler inherited the estate.
In order to get the estate in his name, Adolph Pretzler had to raise money for inheritance taxes and so he decided to sell Duesenberg J-588. It was put up for sale and Pete Warvel, of Green Bay, Wis., asked Joe Kaufman to go to Maryland to bring back the car. “Pete was from Indiana, but he lived most of his life on the East Coast until he bought a wood products company in Gillett, Wis.,” Kaufman noted. “Pete and I became good friends after I gave him a ride in my Duesenberg town car when he came to this part of the country.”
Warvel had bought the Duesenberg at an auction, having a representative bid for him, but he had not seen the car in person. At that time, the Classic Car Club of America held its annual meeting a Buck Hill Falls, Pa., in the Pocono Mountains. Kaufman and Warvel went to the event and attended, then left to travel to Cape Centaur to see the car.
“Pete Warvel didn’t really know what he had bought until we got there,” Kaufman recalled. “And when we arrived at the Pink Castle we found this beautiful old, totally original J-588 Murphy convertible sedan and I had to call Ray Wolff to tell him how we made out, because J-588 is a famous number; it is the highest number and the last number of the Duesenberg engines. It is not the last Duesenberg built, but it does have the highest number of any cars built."
Wolff, of course, kept records of Duesenbergs back then and was more tuned into the history of the cars than restoring them. He left the repairs to mechanical wizards such as Kaufman, but he reveled in tracking the ownership history of each car. An old newspaper editor, Wolff was always sharp thinking and quick on his feet and he immediately asked Kaufman, “Did you tell Mr. Pretzler that your first Duesenberg (the one with the Packard body or J-323) was Mr. Stewart’s first Duesenberg, and that you’re back there now to pick up his last Duesenberg, which actually was the last Duesenberg by number?"
More than 40 years have passed since that day. Wolff and Pete Warvel are gone. But Joe Kaufman, who just recently turned 90, still has his memories. “It was quite an experience to go to that estate — I think it was 1,200 acres along the Chesapeake Bay — and pick up that car in the late 1960s. I will never forget it.”
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