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Inside the O'Quinn Collection

Future of 800-car 'super collection' unclear

Darla Lexington and John O’Quinn put together one of the
country’s most impressive car collections. Some of those cars have
already been sold at auction following O’Quinn’s death in a traffic
accident, and it seems likely most of the remaining cars in the
collection will also find new owners in the near future.


Old Cars Weekly readers may recall that “super-collector” John O’Quinn and Darla Lexington assembled one of the world’s greatest car collections with lightning speed beginning in 2003. Sadly, O’Quinn died on Oct. 29, 2009, in a traffic accident, leaving the hobby to wonder what the future would bring for the cars.

O’Quinn had stated to us on previous occasions that he planned to build the “greatest car museum in the world.

“We want to build, as always for Houston, the perfect museum,” O’Quinn previously told OCW. “We’re doing a lot of studying of what are the perfect museums of the world. We want to plan the best museum we can.” When asked about his collecting philosophy, O’Quinn said, “To have some of everything. We will be able to show the best of the best.”

His untimely death has now placed those plans on indefinite hold.

“At this juncture, we don’t yet have a handle on all the possible claims against Mr. O’Quinn’s estate,” said Dale Jefferson, a personal friend of O’Quinn and a representative of the executor of the O’Quinn estate, T. Gerald Treece. “Until we have a handle on the possible liabilities, and completed a full accounting of John’s assets, discussion of further sales or a museum are premature. Let me also say that he only died about 90 days ago, and it sometimes takes months or years to settle an estate of this complexity.”

Recently, Treece, who was also O’Quinn’s best friend, said in a statement to Business Week, “Part of me is sad to see the collection broken up because these were my best friend’s favorite things. But John’s debts were significant, because he lived pretty big. I’ve already had somebody call me offering $150 million to take the whole collection. But the experts told me the worst thing I could do was sell the cars as a whole or flood the market with them all at once.”

After we had previously been allowed to visit the collection and see featured individual cars, OCW recently was allowed a more extensive tour.

The tour was conducted by Lexington and Jefferson. Lexington was O’Quinn’s significant other and an almost constant companion at auctions and concours events. Now, some of those cars Lexington watched being purchased will return to market.

Fifty-five cars were consigned to RM Auctions Automobiles of Amelia Event on March 13. Another 140 crossed the block at RM Auctions’ Collector Cars of Fort Lauderdale event March 26-28. These included a 1930 Duesenberg Model J Sport Berline known as the “Whittell Mistress Car” and numerous others. These cars represent just a portion of the collection, which is believed to house approximately 800 vehicles.

Upon entering the collection’s reception area, one is immediately struck with a stunning display of 14 Duesenbergs in the area O’Quinn dubbed the “Duesenberg Room.” Twelve of the cars are displayed in a row to the right, with the incomparable Rudolf Bauer Duesenberg and the world’s oldest-operating automobile, the 1884 De Dion Bouton ex Trepardoux, to the left. Off to one side is a display of vintage motorcycles, including some of the oldest in the world. On the wall at the rear of the room is a large display of vintage pedal cars.

A corridor leads to the main display area. But even the corridor is lined with Classic cars, including a Duesenberg Judkins limousine reported to have been used in more movies than any other. Immediately behind that car sits a stunning Mercedes 300SL “gull wing,” resplendent in dark gray with red leather. Once the corridor opens to the main display area, one hardly knows where to look first. Hundreds of cars are displayed in an array that would make a concours chairman salivate.

Immediately ahead is a group of muscle cars, including an original Cobra, Yenko Camaro, Mach 1 Mustang and even the original Dodge Charger concept car. Hard to the right is an array of French cars, including several Bugatti automobiles and Figoni et Falaschi-bodied Talbot Lagos.

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O'Quinn had this 1926 Rolls-Royce Springfield Silver Ghost,
originally owned by Howard Hughes, meticulously restored.

Facing the French cars is an array of Rolls-Royces, including 12 Silver Ghosts. One was commissioned for the Maharajah of Mysore for the coronation of King George V. Another is known as the “Corgi,” as it was used by Corgi Toys as the model for the ubiquitous toy many had as children. One of our personal favorites was a Rolls-Royce Springfield Silver Ghost originally owned by Howard Hughes. O’Quinn purchased this car as a basket case and had it meticulously restored and returned to Houston.

To the left of the huge room is an array of vintage electric cars, which is reportedly the largest in the world. Tucked behind a custom-bodied Chrysler is a non-descript Ford Escort formerly owned by Pope John Paul II. The pope must have been a less-than-careful driver, as the right side of the car shows some evidence of a minor fender bender. O’Quinn’s purchase of this car also included a number of original items formerly owned by the pope.

The rear area of this section includes an amazing array of brass-era cars — too numerous to list. We also saw the Lincoln formerly of the White House fleet used by Jackie Kennedy, as well as a 1938 Cadillac V-16 presidential parade vehicle used by Presidents Eisenhower, Roosevelt and Truman. Beside it is a very rare Tucker Torpedo 48.

Off to one side is one of the most elephantine Duesenbergs ever commissioned, the so-called “Father Divine Throne Car.” This car was recently restored for O’Quinn and was publicly shown for the first time since its restoration by O’Quinn at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. When the car was finished for Divine, it was reportedly so heavy the original wire wheels collapsed, necessitating they be reinforced to handle the tremendous weight.

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There were a number of Rolls Royces in the collection including
this 1911 40/50 Ghost Victoria.

One of our personal favorites was several cars and memorabilia from the Batman TV shows and movies. O’Quinn had numerous other movie and celebrity cars from virtually every era. One particularly outrageous Pontiac Bonneville convertible was customized for Hank Williams Jr.

A rarely opened storage warehouse at the rear of the facility contained even more cars parked bumper-to-nose. It is difficult to even estimate how many cars are in this warehouse, given the number of vehicles tightly confined. However, there were more cars of virtually every type. O’Quinn had two additional warehouses where even more cars are stored.

Lexington was especially proud of the research library established by O’Quinn. An entire wall is filled with binders containing details large and small on every car in the collection. O’Quinn also had begun sending teams to interview significant automotive figures of today, and the ancestors of those now gone. Upon a brief inspection, it is clear the research materials are amazing in their scope.

Our tour was, by turns, thrilling and somewhat sad. One can only imagine the type of museum envisioned by someone as flamboyant as John O’Quinn. Thanks to Ms. Lexington and Mr. Jefferson for our tour.

Reported by RM Auctions

The top-seller of the entire auction was a 1930 Duesenberg Model J Sport Berline from the estate of John O’Quinn. One of 54 examples offered from the collection at the sale, the ‘Whittell Mistress Car’ attracted strong interest on the block, exceeding its pre-sale estimate and selling for an impressive $1,705,000;

March 14, 2010 12th annual ‘Automobiles of Amelia Island’, Amelia Island, Florida

A second Model J Duesenberg from the collection – a restored 1932 Convertible Coupe – realized a final sale price of $825,000;

Other highlights from the O’Quinn Collection included a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL “Gullwing” Coupe, finished in graphite grey with red leather interior for $687,500;

A 1935 Auburn 851SC Speedster for $418,000

And, illustrating O’Quinn’s diverse collecting interests, a 1964 Pontiac Bonneville “Hank Williams Jr.” Custom Convertible, built as a promotional vehicle for Hank Williams Jr. by Nudie Cohn, the famed ‘Rodeo Tailor to the Stars,’ attracted spirited bidding to sell for $225,500.

Collector Cars of Fort Lauderdale
March 26-28, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

A total of 138 O’Quinn motor cars, all offered without reserve, crossed the block in Fort Lauderdale, representing $6,843,000 million in sales.

The top-seller of the weekend was a well-documented and restored 1935 Auburn 851 SC Convertible Sedan, from the O’Quinn estate, which brought $211,750.

A 1935 Packard Twelve Convertible Sedan went for $165,000;

And, a high-quality 1969 Ford Boss 429 Mustang, from the O’Quinn estate, for $151,250


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