Extremely Rare Car Survived WWII by Hiding Under a Haystack Now Heading to Auction
Duesenbergs are like a Picasso; there is no such thing as a cheap one. No matter the model, condition, or anything else, these cars are rare and expensive. At the 2022 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance – arguably the fanciest car event in the world – a 1931 Duesenberg J Figoni Sports Torpedo took home Best in Show. In fact, multiple Duesenbergs won awards last year. Now a newly-discovered Duesenberg is hitting the scene. However, this uniquely heroic 1931 Duesenberg Model J Tourster is a WWII veteran, and it is heading to auction at RM Sotheby’s.
The Duesenberg classic car that Survived the War
Fancy cars have no place in a war—especially giant, garish ones such as a 1931 Duesenberg Model J Tourster. According to the RM Sotheby’s listing, this WWII Duesenberg was owned by a socialite and playboy from Philidephia, Butler Hallahan. Hallahan spent his inherited wealth bouncing between NYC and Europe. His antics were described in an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1941, saying, “for years [Hallahan] maintained a pretentious apartment in New York, and commuted between there and Europe with a $17,000 automobile among his baggage in countless escapades from Manhattan to California.”
The $17,000 car was none other than the Duesenberg. Hallahan routinely took his prized whip on his travels, even to Europe. On a trip to Italy in 1939, Hallahan had to leave to flee the country quickly as the War began taking shape in Europe, forcing him to leave his car behind. Leaving your favorite car in a K-Mart parking lot might be stressful; imagine leaving your car in fascist Italy as our species’ greatest armed conflict is about to occur. Yikes.
The 1931 Duesenberg Model J Tourster was hidden
An unnamed Italian helper agreed to keep Hallahan’s Duesenberg safe for him by hiding it in his barn under a stack of hay. The car never left its scratchy hidey hole until the war concluded. However, Hallahan wasn’t the one to retrieve the exquisite car. Paperwork cites Brigadier General Niblo for discovering the hidden car. Later on, American Captain R.W. Schreck sold it in 1946. Schreck to the pioneering Milanese enthusiast Dore Leto di Priolo. It was under Priolo’s ownership that the car was repainted.
After owning the car for 20 years, Priolo sold the Duesenberg to Anthony D. “Tony” Pascucci of Meriden, Connecticut. Sotheby’s notes Pascucci as a collector ahead of his time. He was well into his Model J collecting when he bought the WWII survivor in 1968.
How well did the car do in the war?
Pascucci eventually brought the car to Ted Billing of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. Billing knew his way around these cars. His well-respected shop had restored many Duesenbergs over the years. Despite the war and the repainting by the hands of Priolo, the car was in mostly decent shape when it arrived for restoration.
Upon arrival at the shop, billing’s friend Al San Clement recalls the car as “a solid, mostly original car, with poor paint and some incorrect pieces. The doors shut well, and the wood was original and in good shape. All the specialized Derham hardware was still there. I was impressed with the car’s presence, even with the amateur paint. I had bought my Murphy-bodied Model J from Tony and tried, in vain, to get him to sell me this car.”
Some cosmetic bits needed replacing, like the original headlights, paint, and upholstery. In 2013, after 45 years, Pascucci finally sold the WWII Duesenberg classic car to Terence E. Adderley, where it has been since then. Now the veteran Duesenberg is ready to make its next journey.
Check out the RM Sotheby’s listing for more photos and more details about this special vintage car. Or check out another famous Duesenberg Model in the video below: