The Milhous Brothers — Cars, Clocks and Carousels

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 02/2012
  • posted in: Great Garages

This GreatGarage is really a great museum.

The Milhous Collection, collected by entrepreneurs Bob and Paul Milhous, will be auctioned Feb. 24 and 25 in Boca Raton, Fla., by RM Auctions, in association with Sotheby’s. The two-day special sale takes place in conjunction with the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance.

Representing 50 years of handpicking by the brothers, the collection includes more than 30 automobiles from Brass Era cars to a coachbuilt classics and Indianapolis racing cars; vintage motorcycles; mechanical musical instruments; hall and tower clocks, Tiffany lamps; petroliana such as double-cylinder gas pumps, neon and porcelain signs; late-19th-century firearms; and decorative arts pieces by Pierre Renoir, Louis Icart and Alphonse Mucha. The collection even has a 1946 Deere Model LA Tractor.

Approximately 100 theater, fair and dance organs are represented, including the original Wurlitzer Family Residential/ Theatre Pipe Organ, formerly in the Wurlitzer home in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a Gaudin 125-Key Dance Organ, finished with gold leaf and oil paintings.

In addition, the Milhouses amassed historic music boxes and orchestrions such as a Welte Wotan Brass Band Orchestrion, originally from the Bob-Lo Island Dance Hall in Detroit, and a Weber Maesto orchestrion, acquired by the Milhous brothers 15 years ago from Germany.

Requiring four years, they assembled a 46-foot custom carousel over several years — a menagerie of 42 hand-carved basswood animals, accompanied by a Wurlitzer 153 Band Organ.

The cars include a 1911 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost; a 1933 Chrysler Custom Imperial Tourist with LeBaron coachwork; a 1930 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Convertible Sedan; 1932 Marmon Sixteen Convertible Sedan; and a pair of Fleetwood-designed Cadillac Sixteens, a 1934 and 1937.

In business together since 1967, Paul originally collected musical instruments, Bob motor cars. In the mid-1970s, they combined their collections, eventually building the current 39,500-square-foot building in Boca Raton in the mid-1990s.

Bob and Paul invited us in recently to share their collection:

•1934 Cadillac Sixteen Custom Roadster — A design/ build by Strother MacMinn and Dave Holls and Chicago-area restorer Fran Roxas, this Series 452-D develops 185 bhp through its massive 452-cubic-inch overhead-valve V-16 engine.

Based on an original Fleetwood design concept, the 154-inch-wheelbase car includes a three-speed manual transmission, coil spring independent front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and four-wheel vacuum-assisted mechanical drum brakes. A rumble seat is included.

The chassis donor was a 1935 Cadillac Sixteen Seven-Passenger Limousine, and Roxas added the famed “bi-plane” bumpers from a previous model 1934 Cadillac.

The yellow-on-dark-green Caddy includes the banjo-spoke “Flex wheel,” the dashboard instruments have been restored and the carpeted luggage compartment is a tonneau cover for use when the top is down.

“This Cadillac Sixteen Custom Roadster is remarkable not only for its beauty but for its sophisticated and complex construction,” RM Auctions’ Alain Squindo says, noting that Bob and Paul acquired it in 1995 from Roxas. “The Fleetwood engineers and craftsmen of the 1930s could not have done it any better.”

•1939 Lagonda V-12 Rapide Sports Roadster — Featuring Vanden Plas coachwork and W.O. Bentley engineering, this classic road car was delivered new to actor Robert Montgomery.

With assistance from Stuart Tresilian, who, like Bentley, had come over from Rolls Royce, the 206-bhp single-overhead-cam V-12 is mated to a four-speed manual transmission and benefits from torsion bar independent front suspension, a live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. The wheelbase is 121 inches.

On Nov. 15, 1939, The Motor magazine confirmed that Montgomery had been at the Brooklands race track and, after road testing several models, decided on the Lagonda. This car was delivered to him in Beverly Hills. According to the book Vanden Plas by Brian Smith, chassis 14115 was the last Lagonda bodied by the firm before World War II.

The former president of the Screen Actors Guild, Montgomery holds two stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and later had an office in the Eisenhower White House, where he served as a media consultant. Bewitching actress, Elizabeth Montgomery, was his daughter.

After a restoration in the late 1990s, the car, blue and purple with a blue top, placed Second in Class for European Classics 1925-1939 at the 2001 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The Milhous brothers purchased the car in 2002, and it is fitted with year-of-manufacture California ‘World’s Fair’ license plates, Squindo says: “One of a very few Lagondas bodied by outside coachbuilders, this car is unique among its few surviving peers.”

•1912 Oldsmobile Limited Five-Passenger Touring — This magnificent 2002 Pebble Beach class winner is the only known surviving 1912 Oldsmobile Limited — one of 140 built.

Olds proudly announced in the 1910 catalog: “Such a car cannot be produced rapidly, therefore a limited quantity can be built.”

The Limited rides on a 140-inch wheelbase and has a 60-hp six cylinder. The car is particularly well remembered from artist William Harnden Foster’s painting, “Setting the Pace” in which the Olds, on a trackside country road, leads the New York Central’s Twentieth Century Limited.

This Oldsmobile Limited was delivered to Canada. The original owner donated it to a museum for display and then it passed through a number of owners until the Milhous Collection acquired it.

“This car is nothing short of stunning,” Squindo says. “Its production may have been limited, but its size is not. It stands some seven feet tall and is nearly 17 feet long.”

Dark blue, with a straw pinstripe, the five-passenger vehicle has brown buttoned-leather seats and a tan canvas top. The dashboard is finished in varnished wood and is equipped with a Jones speedometer and an Oldsmobile-logo clock as well as oil and fuel gauges. Up front are rare nickeled Castle gas headlamps, and the car rides on Westinghouse shock absorbers.

•1934 Packard Eight Convertible Victoria — Believed to have been owned new by actress Marie Dressler, this Dietrich-designed five-passenger, this Series 1101 was delivered by W.H. Collins, Inc., the Hollywood dealer, on Nov. 18, 1933.

With a 120 bhp, 319.2 cu. in. L-head inline eight engine, the 136.25-inch-wheelbase car has a three-speed manual transmission, solid front axle and live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel power-assisted mechanical drum brakes. It includes Trippe driving lights, a rear-mounted accessory trunk with fitted luggage and California black plate registration tags.

With butterscotch and brown moldings and pinstriped orange and a tan canvas top and brown leather interior, the car was probably owned new by the Academy Award-winning Dressler, who appeared in more than 40 pictures, including Tugboat Annie in 1933. She died the following summer, willing the car to her maid, Mamie Cox, and her husband Jerry, the family butler.

Packard, which had attained 40 percent of the luxury car market by this time, was emphasizing ride control and silencing: The company advertised that Packard Twelve owners could “drive a thousand miles a day without fatigue.” The car, that is.

“This has been in the Milhous Collection since the 1970s, more than three decades,” Squindo explains, noting that following its restoration in the mid-1970s, the car has won seven total Best of Show awards in eight concours and car show appearances — including Pebble Beach 1975.

•1949 Rounds Rocket Race Car — Sportsman Nathan Rounds, commissioned race car constructor Lujie Lesovsky and metalworker Emil Diedt to build a mid-engine roadster for the ’49 Indianapolis 500.

The result — the first mid-engine, rear-drive car in the Brickyard: 350 (est.) bhp from a 270-cubic-inch Meyer-Drake Offenhauser DOHC inline four-cylinder engine, with a two-speed manual transmission and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes.

After testing at Bonneville at a reported 140 mph, the blue-on-red-leather # 51, was driven by Bill Taylor, later racing director for Mobil Oil and head of USAC’s stock car effort. He maxed the car at 124 mph but did not qualify. Sam Hanks and rookie Bill Vukovich also drove it.

Rounds trailered the racecar back to California and stored it in his mother’s Beverly Hills garage. It made a cameo appearance in the 1949 film The Big Wheel starring Mickey Rooney — perhaps because of Rounds’ reported friendship with Howard Hughes.

Car aficionado Bill Harrah discovered and bought it in 1969, and it later appeared at the 1993 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

“An important stepping stone to the mid-engine rear-drive cars that have dominated Indianapolis since the mid-1960s, the Rounds Rocket stands as a bridge between the Indy roadsters and the March Cosworths,” Squindo says. “The fact that it constitutes yet another Howard Hughes mystery only adds to its intrigue.”

If you or someone you know has a GreatGarage and would like it to be considered for an upcoming issue, e-mail us at