Gooding & CompanyThe Pettit collection. At left, the 1929 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton, known as the Blue J.
A dozen classic cars will do more than find new owners this weekend at the Gooding & Company auction on the Monterey Peninsula. Their sale will help provide free medical care to children.
The 12 cars are from the collection of the late William A.C. Pettit III, and they include a 1931 Stutz, a 1940 Darrin-bodied Packard, a pair of 1920s Rolls-Royces and the unrestored star of the collection, the 1929 Duesenberg Model J known as the Blue J.
Simon ClayWilliam A.C. Pettit III.
Before his death this year, Mr. Pettit made arrangements for the sale of his cars to benefit the Shriners hospital on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where he retired in 2002.
The Blue J was prepared for Rudolph Bauer, the German-born abstract artist, in 1938, but his acquisition of the car was delayed when he spent several months in a Gestapo prison. His release and emigration to the United States were secured in part by Solomon R. Guggenheim, Bauer’s patron in New York, and the car, wrapped in burlap and Cosmoline, was received by Bauer in the spring of 1940, according to Gooding. Pettit bought the car from the painter’s widow in 1955.
Gooding expects the cars to sell for as much as $5.7 million, with the Duesenberg alone contributing up to $2.75 million. For rather personal reasons, however, I’m hoping the collection brings much more.
Suspending for a moment a journalist’s commitment to dispassionate, objective reporting: I can walk because of Shriners hospitals.
I was born with both hips dislocated, which no one realized until, like other toddlers, I attempted to walk. With my father, a veteran of World War II like my mother, just beginning his postwar career, we were directed toward the Shriners hospital nearest our home. There they were assured my care would be second to none, and provided at no charge.
I spent several months in the hospital, wearing what they called a frog cast: a waist-down cocoon that held my hips in their sockets.
Even after my hips learned to stay in place on their own, I would return to the hospital every few months for a checkup. At one, X-rays indicated the ball of my left hip was no longer a ball, but a nearly flat expanse. I had Perthes disease.
Again, the Shriners provided for my treatment, which this time involved wearing a bent knee brace and walking on crutches for nearly two years.
Though I distinctly remember feeling sorry for myself, a sixth-grader who’d just been handed a leg brace and a pair of crutches, the self-pity was short-lived. I had two good arms and two fairly good legs, and I had spent time at the hospital with children who were born without or had lost these limbs, but who would not allow their handicaps to slow them down.
There have been roughly one million Shriners children who have received free treatment since the first hospital was founded in 1922. Being able to walk, run and pedal a bicycle were not the only benefits I received. We Shriners children learn to be grateful, whatever our blessings, and to focus not on disabilities but on making the most of whatever abilities we have.
So, yes, I hope the cars brought by Pettit cause a stir at auction. I also hope other collectors might consider the example he set.