Phoenix Resident Johnny Rosen’s 1961 Pink Imperial Crown Coupe, Rare Tibetan Thangka & More in J. Levine Auction
3-Day auction set for June 23-25 and features multiple fine estate collectibles
By Lynette Carrington and Photos by Amanda Dickey. Photo of Johnny Rosen with ‘Prudence’ by Antoine Gedroyc
No one can ever say Johnny Rosen lacks passion. The 70 year-old north Phoenix resident and former Israeli paratrooper has traveled the world, much like an adventurer, and has accumulated rare collectibles along the way.
Now Rosen’s 1961 pink Imperial Crown Coupe, a rare Tibetan Thangka that he bought in Kathmandu and other collectibles will hit the auction block during the first day of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal’s high-end, three-day auction of multiple fine estates, set for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 23, 24 and 25. Doors open at 9 a.m. each day with live bidding starting at 11 a.m. The auction house is located at 10345 N. Scottsdale Rd., in Scottsdale, on the southeast corner of Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road.
Born in Capetown, South Africa, Rosen became an Israeli citizen at age 14. He was a freelance reporter during the Vietnam War and volunteered to join the Israeli army one week before the Six-Day War began. In the 1980s, he owned a successful classic car shop in San Francisco before moving to Phoenix 22 years ago.
Rosen has always been one to seek adventure or maybe it just finds him! He was one of two passengers aboard the ill-fated MSC Flaminia in July 2012. During the routine voyage from the U.S. to Europe, a massive explosion crippled the container ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. “I’ve always had a passion for and have friends in Sweden. The summer of 2012, I decided to go there and visit them and have fun and I happen to hate flying,” Rosen explains. “Anything I can do to avoid getting on an airplane, I will do.”
After doing research about getting across the Atlantic Ocean without going near an airport, he found and booked passage on the massive cargo ship, MSC Flaminia, which could only carry its crew and a scant few passengers. During the journey, the ship caught fire and burned. Of the 22 crew members, three were killed and several others were wounded. Russian and Filipino crewmembers from a nearby oil tanker saved Rosen and the other survivors who were floating in a lifeboat. “The chances of that happening are 1 in 100,000. I just happened to pick the right container ship at the wrong time,” adds Rosen.” He had been a seaman back in his teens and 20s and he worked his way around the world on various ships, in addition to serving in the Israeli Navy. The fire aboard the cargo liner left him shaken, not stirred. “To me it was just another adventure, but the sad part was the three guys who died,” says Rosen. He was unaware of the deaths until the incident was over. Luckily, not all of Rosen’s passions ended in disaster. His love of classic cars and art continue to inspire him.
“It’s a great honor to bring Johnny’s collectibles to auction,” said Josh Levine, J. Levine owner and auctioneer. “He embodies the spirit of a true collector…someone who appreciates rarity, marvels at fine craftsmanship and is so driven to discover new treasures, he’ll take the path less traveled to find them.”
The romance of the classic American cars from the 1950s and 1960s fueled Rosen’s passion for collecting. “It all started in the 1950s when I was cruising around San Francisco in a 1962 Oldsmobile Starfire convertible I had picked up,” explains Rosen. “I had just arrived here in America and instantly become impassioned with old American cars. They’re highly addictive and every one of them is a work of art!” While driving around and buying up classic cars and putting them in various garages, it became fun hobby and another adventure. “At one point, I had 50 or 60 classic cars and I named them all after chicks,” Rosen states. “Each one is an extraordinary work of art. You can’t help but fall in love with them.”
Known affectionately as “Prudence,” the pink Imperial has been one of Rosen’s prized possessions for nearly 40 years. With 123,080 original miles, the classic beauty has been pampered to keep its Malibu black interior and other features in mint condition. The ordinary deck trunk lid has been replaced with the optional, much more desirable "flight sweep". The car also comes with the original deck lid as well. J. Levine estimates its value to be between $40,000 and $60,000. “Believe it or not, I found Prudence at the Barrett Jackson. She wasn’t being auctioned off, but rather, she was just parked there in the parking lot,” Rosen says. “I hung out and waited for the owner to show up! She was pink and beautiful and laden with chrome. And I said, ‘I will trade you my Oldsmobile for your Imperial.’ To my delight and astonishment, he said, ‘Let’s rock. Let’s do it!’” Since that time, Prudence has been a “garage queen,” lovingly cared for and garaged with minimal mileage added to her.
During the auction at J. Levine, Rosen is also selling a rare Tibetan Thangka painting that he bought in Kathmandu in 1970. “I found it rolled up under a bed in an antique shop. The owner said he kept his best items under the bed, and I was astonished at the clarity of detail,” he said of the historic piece, which will be auctioned on Friday, June 24.
“I was a wild hippy, once upon a time,” Rose states. “I traveled all over the world, hitchhiking everywhere on the cheap, on a shoestring. It was the dream of every hippy to go to Kathmandu. So I flew to India and hitchhiked from there up to Nepal. While flirting around in Nepal in Kathmandu, I went on a shopping spree, looking for things to buy that I could bring back to the States and sell. Of course, there were lots of trinkets and bobbles to acquire and old costume jewelry. But in a tiny, hole-in-the-wall shop and there were a number of Thangkas, temple paintings which all reveal the story of Buddha. I looked at the pile of the rolled-up paintings.” He fell in love with one particular Thangka and he bought it. At the time Rosen was living in London and a good friend of his was a fine art restorer. The Thangka was painstakingly restored to its original beauty and to ensure it would last lifetimes.
Thangkas tell the story of Buddha’s life and are often used as teaching tools. Rosen’s Thangka is one of 31 in a series and is believed to be more than 200 years old. J. Levine estimates it to be worth between $10,000 and $20,000!
Rosen is preparing to move across the country, and he admits that parting with “Prudence” is bittersweet. He will be moving to Alabama and he sees this as the start of just another adventure in his life.
“It’s been a labor of love caring for her, but it’s time for someone else to enjoy her flamboyant ways,” he said, adding that he still owns a dozen other classic cars, though his daily drive is a 1967 Chrysler Town & Country station wagon.
J. Levine’s June three-day auction features rare collectibles, furnishings and more on Thursday, June 23, fine and decorative art on Friday, June 24, and jewelry, silver and other collectibles on Saturday, June 25. “Prudence” will go up for auction on Thursday, June 23 and Rosen’s Thangka will be auctioned on Friday, June 24. For more details or to register to bid, visit www.jlevines.com or call (480) 496-2212.