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John O’Quinn (1941 – 2009)

Story by Leigh Dorrington

The late John O’Quinn and his partner Darla LexingtonHouston trial attorney John O’Quinn, who has recently emerged as a towering figure in automotive and art purchases for a proposed museum, was killed in an automobile accident in Houston on Thursday, October 30.

O’Quinn and his partner Darla Lexington, president of the O’Quinn Collection, have become known to auction participants and automotive artists but still remained relatively unknown to many. The collection began in only 2003 but already includes more than 800 automobiles.

Keith Martin of Sports Car Market was quoted as saying, “It was interesting for those of us on the inside because an outsider suddenly appeared and quickly made an impact.” “O’Quinn was a force previously un-witnessed in the classic car world,” wrote the Houston Chronicle. “In the sheer number of significant cars, I don’t think there has ever been one like this,” the Chronicle quoted Ken Dougherty, an early advisor to O’Quinn as saying.

Automobiles in the O’Quinn Collection represent a wide range of interests, including 25 Duesenbergs, an 1884 DeDion Bouton et Tre’partdoux steam car—the oldest running automobile in the world—and the largest collection of turn of the century electric cars in the world. Notable automobiles also include Presidential limousines, a Lincoln Model K limousine built for King George and Queen Elizabeth of England, a Rolls-Royce purchased by native Housonian Howard Hughes and others significant for their engineering, special bodies or history.

O’Quinn and Lexington had confirmed their intention to construct an automobile museum near downtown Houston. The collection is currently housed in a 128,000 private facility. A staff of 12 maintains all of the automobiles in running order and all are driven on a regular basis.

John O'Quinn CollectionThe 6-foot, four-inch O’Quinn was an imposing presence at automotive auctions and concours. Comparisons have been made with the collection of the late William Harrah and a number of automobiles in the O’Quinn collection were previously part of the Harrah Collection.

O’Quinn is understood to be the recent buyer of the Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Jaguar Special sold by Bonhams in 2009. Other historically significant artifacts such as the formal entrance to the former Packard Motor Car Company in Detroit have been purchased by O’Quinn. O’Quinn and Lexington have also been making large purchases of automotive art for the museum.

John O’Quinn, who was 68, was the son of a Houston garageman and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center in 1967. He was—literally—a legend in Texas courtrooms, who took cases other attorneys shied away from and won landmark oil and gas and tobacco settlements. He had recently embarked on a new case alleging stock fraud that influenced enormous losses in the recent financial collapse.

[Source: Mike Tolson, Houston Chronicle; Rebecca Maitland, Houston Lifestyles & Homes; Photo credit: Joe Aker]