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Retired Doctor Steers Museum

An ex-neurosurgeon turns his passion for antique autos into a public showcase in Ventura.

September 13, 2003|Suzie St. John | Special to The Times

After 30 years of practicing medicine, Dan Murphy traded his surgical scrubs for driving gloves.

The result was the Murphy Auto Museum, where visitors can view Murphy's 12 Packard automobiles dating from 1927 to 1958, along with 50 other vintage cars.

"I've been interested in Packards for about 25 years, and thought how great it would be to have them on display so the public could come and appreciate them too," Murphy said.

The 63-year-old Murphy decided to turn his hobby of collecting automobiles into a new venture after retiring as a neurosurgeon in 2000.

"But it takes a few elements to make it come together," said the Ventura resident. "You need a building big enough to house the cars, you need the cars, and enough money to make it happen. Ventura has lots of collectors, so I contacted them about getting their cars out of the garage and showcasing them at the museum."

The upshot is a collection that anyone, including people who aren't car buffs, would appreciate, Murphy said.

"Everyone enjoys [Packards] for different reasons, but they are art in a functional form and they are beautiful to look at," he said. "You experience what it was like to drive in the '20s or the '30s. Driving them just gives you a sense of the era."

Carol Mauck of Santa Ana describes the Packard as the Rolls-Royce of America.

"It is such a prestigious automobile," said Mauck, who has served as secretary of the Packards International Motor Car Club since 1973. "Most people don't know that it outsold the Cadillac 3 to 1 in the 1930s. Everyone wanted one."

She and her husband own six Packards dating from 1930 to 1953, and both continue to drive the classic cars to work every day.

John Masterson, a Ventura resident who hosts a radio show called "Talking Cars," suggested to Murphy that he start the museum.

"I'm thrilled at how well Dan put it together," Masterson said. "It's neat that Ventura has it because it provides another cultural niche."

Among the museum highlights are a 1927 Packard Model 343 seven-passenger touring car, which will be driven in the 2004 Rose Parade by Murphy; a 1928 Packard Model 443 Dietrich coupe, possibly the only one left; and a 1931 Cadillac V-16 dual cowl Sport Phaeton convertible.

Some of the newer cars include a 1960 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron, a 1973 V-8 Porsche, a 1964 Jaguar XKE and a 1964 Mercedes 300 SE convertible.

A longtime member of the Packards International club, Murphy will be the host for its annual driving tour, which begins Sunday at the museum.

More than 40 Packards are expected for the five-day event, which will include stops in Santa Barbara, Solvang, Lompoc and San Simeon.

"Every year, we do one big drive for a week," Murphy said of the 40-year-old club, which boasts more than 2,000 members.

For this year's event, the owners will display their autos for public viewing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the museum, at 2340 Palma Drive.

Although Packards were made from 1899 to 1958, the ones built before 1930 were not really made for freeway driving. So most of the cars in the national tour will be from the '30s, '40s and '50s, Murphy said.

He isn't sure which of his cars he will drive.

"All of my cars are road ready and I try to drive one every day," Murphy said.

He admits owning a newer car, a Volvo, but said the modern model is tricky to drive after handling the big steering wheel of the Packards.

Mauck said the Packard club was rare in that money raised from events such as the driving tour goes into producing parts for the vintage Packards.

"We produce manifolds, engine gaskets and hood ornaments," the 64-year-old Mauck said. "It can be really hard to find a part for a classic car, so it's rewarding to help people find the parts they need and it ensures that the Packards will keep thriving."

The museum is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under. For more information on the museum or the national tour, call 654-0731 or visit

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