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1931 Duesenberg Model J Murphy news, pictures, specifications, and information

Convertible Coupe
Coachwork: Murphy
Chassis Num: 2478
Engine Num: J-284
 
Sold for $10,340,000 at 2011 Gooding & Company.
Duesenberg's iconic Model J was introduced to universal applause in December of 1928. E.L. Cord, who had acquired the company two years before, had directed Fred and Augie Duesenberg to design 'the world's finest motor car,' and, by most measurements, it was exactly that. The Lycoming engine was built to Fred's design, and featured twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Brakes were hydraulic and vacuum-assisted, and extensive use was made of aluminum and other light alloys, so despite its massive size, the Model J weighed only about 5,200 pounds. The bare chassis sold for a stupendous $8,500 in 1931, and the body on this example cost another $3,500, or the equivalent of the cost of 50 Model A Fords. Only 470 chassis and 480 engines were built between 1929 and 1936, so the clientele was fairly exclusive. A stock example could easily top 80 mph in second gear and 120 in top gear.

This Long Wheelbase Convertible Coupe was Captain Whittell's final commission for the Walter M. Murphy Company. It was purchased as a chassis from Duesenberg in 1929 and completed in 1931. It is a one-off coupe that is fitted with personal themes established on Whittell's earlier purchases plus several unusual features, including a second taillamp, an exhaust cutout and a rare freewheeling device. Power is from engine J-460 offered 265 BHP at 4200 RPM.

The design for this car was done by Franklin Q. Hershey and was given a low, raked windshield, elegant flowing fenders, fixed roof, roll-up windows and cavernous integrated trunk where a rumble seat would usually reside. When completed, it was finished in black and chrome with a brushed aluminum top, bespoke details and a red undercarriage. There is a non-functional section of piano hinges that begins at the end of the hood and ends at the base of the windscreen. There is polished molding that runs the length of the beltline, terminating at the radiator in a harpoon motif. This is the only Model J with this feature.

Chrome is used throughout the vehicle, including the wheels, spare covers, toolboxes, and gas tank. There are six chrome strips on the rear fenders where one would usually find five. The running boards continue the lines forward to the base of the spare-mounted spares. A waterfall of chrome strakes, 12 in total, cascade down the rear deck creating a crisp, pinstripe effect from the rear.

The doors, which are usually hinged at the front, are attached to wind wings on an ingenious sliding mechanism. In keeping with the captain's nautical pursuits, navigation lights are below the sills and ahead of the courtesy lights. The starboard side emits a green glow while the port side has a lurid red color.

Perhaps the most prominent feature on the car is the brushed aluminum top. It is evenly contoured to resemble the look of a fabric convertible top, with faint ridges to give the illusion of top bows. The simulation continues inside with a folding mechanism in place, complete with chrome hinges, wooden bows and a mohair headliner. The overhead dome light reminds the occupants of the true nature of the roof.

The cockpit features a continuous curve from the base of the windscreen over the top surface of each door through the deck area behind the seat. This contour is finished in brushed aluminum, and features hinged, polished covers to conceal the window channel when the glass is rolled down. The doors are paneled in black Bakelite with chrome strips. The two seats are upholstered in black patent leather. Behind the seats, integrated into the brushed aluminum trim, is a lockable compartment that can also be accessed from a panel in the trunk. The four original glass visors, finished in a chic green tint, fold down from the roof.

This coupe is well equipped with a state-of-the-art Philco Transistone cathedral radio.

There are marbled knobs and machined-turned aluminum fascia outfitted with Duesenberg instruments, including the scroll type gauges, altimeter and chronograph.

Mr. Whittell's impressive, one-of-a-kind Duesenberg cost him a staggering $17,000, making it one of the most expensive Duesenbergs ever constructed. The car would remain with its original owner for nearly two decades.

After serving Mr. Whittell for many years, it was purchased by a mysterious young woman - who required a booster seat to pilot the vehicle. A short time later, it was sent to Bob Roberts' famed sports car dealership in Hollywood where it was traded in for an MG TC. The car was then sold to Dr. Glenn Harrison, of Illinois. After several years, it was sold to Homer Fitterling who had the largest Duesenberg collection ever assembled, totaling several dozen examples. The Whittell Coupe was the crown jewel of the collection and remained with him for a lengthy period of time. During that time, it was put on display at the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Indiana.

When Mr. Fitterling passed away, the car was purchased by Ed Weaver of Dalton, Georgia. Mr. Weaver suddenly passed away in 1995 and his widow immediately liquidated his automobile collection. The fifth owner of the car was an East Coast connoisseur who treated the car to professional, no-expense-spared restoration. Upon completion in 1996, it was awarded Best in Class at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

This elegant vehicle is believed to have covered just 12,500 miles from new. All of the features specified by its original owner remain intact and it appears just as it did when it was delivered to Mr. Whittell Jr. in 1931. One of six new Duesenbergs bought by the elusive George Whittell, this Model J with chassis number 2478 and engine J-284, was built specifically to his order with a polished aluminum solid top.

In 2011, the car was offered for sale at the Gooding & Company auction held in Pebble Beach, CA. As bidding came to a close, the car had been sold for the sum of $10,340,000 including buyer's premium.
Clear Vision Sedan
Coachwork: Murphy
 
Clark Gable and Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes and Jay Paul Getty - how's that for a list of customers? From the roaring twenties through most of the thirties, the Duesenberg Model J was the choice of movie starts, millionaires, magnates and royalty. Both huge and elegant, its chassis flaunted long, swept wings and oversized bumpers, scuttle and dashboard, bonnet and grille. Only the Depression could ground such a dream car. Back in the days when a Model T Ford sold for $300, a Duesenberg chassis alone went for a whopping $9,000. The last Duesy was made in 1937, a final gasp from an earlier era of wealth and excess. This Clear Vision Sedan is one of six originally built and one of five known to still exist. The 420-cubic inch inline eight-cylinder engine, with four valves per cylinder and double overhead camshafts, develops 265 horsepower. The chassis rides on a wheelbase of 142.5 inches.
Clear Vision Sedan
Coachwork: Murphy
 
When Duesenberg unveiled the spectacular Model J at the 1929 New York Auto Salon, a disappearing top roadster by Murphy was one of the three cars shown. The Murphy design proved popular with Duesenberg buyers and cemented a relationship between the Pasadena, California, coachbuilder and the Indianapolis super luxury car builder that would result in approximately 25% of the Model J Duesenbergs built being equipped with Murphy bodies.

Frank S. Spring, Murphy's design director in the late 1920s, had lived in France and brought 'Clear Vision' design to America, adapting it from Salon cars he'd seen overseas. The concept placed thin pillars at the windshield and doors to enhance driver visibility, while also providing a pleasingly light, airy appearance.

Three Duesenberg Clear Vision sedans were built by Murphy with a 6-window body featuring a styled rear quarter window shape. This contributed to an especially racy appearance. The belt line was accented with polished aluminum, which, combined with the steeply raked (for the time), thin-pillar windshield, further emphasized the sleek lines. The list price was $13,500. This Clear Vision Sedan features optional chrome wheels and bands for the side-mounted spares that compliment the body's polished aluminum accents.
Convertible Sedan
Coachwork: Murphy
Engine Num: J-131
 
The Duesenberg brothers, Fred and Augie, first entered the auto industry making business with a car called the Mason, which gained regional fame by winning a number of races and hill climbs with Fred at the wheel. This model was made from 1929 through 1936.

The Model J arrived with a 420 cubic-inch straight-eight built by Lycoming to Fred's design. Horsepower was advertised as 265; this was mind-boggling for the time, and easily over twice the power of the industry's previous best, Chrysler.

Interiors were opulent but functional. Instruments were the most numerous yet seen in an automobile; the usual speedometer (calibrated to 150 mph), ammeter, and water-temperature and oil-pressure gauges, plus tachometer, brake pressure gauge, split-second stopwatch, and altimeter/barometer. Warning lights reminded the owner to add chassis oil (the chassis lubricated itself every 75 miles), change engine oil, or replenish battery water.

Model J's didn't weight much over 5,200 pounds, which helped them do a staggering 89 mph in second gear and around 115 in high.

This car was first purchased at the 1931 Los Angeles new car show. It was reported to be the first four door convertible sedan built by Murphy Company. It was restored in 1992, and the current owners have owned it since 1997.
Convertible Coupe
Coachwork: Murphy
Engine Num: J-330
 
This 1931 Duesenberg Murphy Convertible Coupe, also known as a Disappearing Top Coupe, is powered by engine number J-330. The engine is a Lycoming 'Straight 8' that produces 265 horsepower. The car can achieve 88 mph in second gear. The chassis price in 1931 was a staggering $8,500. The total sales price reached $16,500.

This Duesenberg is one of only 481 built with 378 still in existence today. It was built for film producer Shirley Burden, the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbuilt.
Convertible Coupe
Coachwork: Murphy
 
The Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena, California built more than 140 bodies for the Model J Duesenberg. They produced more bodies for the Model J than another other body builder. A Murphy designed body was part of the first Duesenberg offering at the Auto Salon held in New York in December, 1928. Murphy's most popular body style was the Convertible Coupe, of which sixty examples were produced with fifty-tow of them mounted on the 142.5-inch platform.

The most famous variation of the Murphy Convertible Coupe body was the 'disappearing top.' This restored vehicle rides on the long wheelbase chassis with the disappearing top. When the top is down, it is stowed under the deck lid so that none of the fabric or folding mechanics is visible.

By Daniel Vaughan | Jul 2010
Convertible Coupe
Coachwork: Murphy
Chassis Num: 2414
Engine Num: J395
 
Sold for $2,640,000 at 2008 RM Auctions.
The Duesenberg J395 was born in 1931 and mated to chassis 2414. This is how the car remains today, with all its original components intact.

In the late 1930's this car was acquired by Pacific Auto Rentals whose business it was to supply 'movie cars' to the motion picture industry in Hollywood, California. This car appeared in countless movies including 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane' and 'Gable and Lombard.'

This Convertible Coupe body, by the Walter J. Murphy Company of Pasadena, California has the rare 'disappearing top' option and is mounted on the short wheelbase chassis.

This car has won numerous awards and Best of Shows. It won 'Best of Show' at the Vintage Weekend and Lake Mirror Classic in 2005, Best of Class at the Pebble Beach concours in 2005, 'Best of Show:Fit and Finish' at Amelia Island, 'Best of Show - Classic' at the Indianapolis Concours, and Best of Show at MeadowBrook Concours in 2006. These are but a few of its achievements.

In 2008 this very rare automobile was brought to the Automobiles of Amelia presented by RM Auctions where it was estimated to sell for $1.6 - $2.0 million. Those estimates proved to be very low, as the winning bid was an astonishing $2,640,000 for this sporty Duesenberg.

Many believe Murphy best designs were the convertible coupes. Their trademark designs were the 'clear vision' pillar. On the convertible coupes, the windshields were made to be as slim as possible to accent the cars sporty appeal and improve visibility for the driver. The result were pillars that were 'narrower than the space between a man's eyes.'
Beverly Berline
Coachwork: Murphy
 
The body was finished May 31, 1930 and was installed on the chassis in late 1931. This long wheelbase chassis carries one of the Gordon Buehrig designed Beverly Berline sedan bodies built by the Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena, California. The Chicago Brand sold it to William Hibbard of Hibbard, Spenser, Bartlett & Company. The car has had 20 owners including the famous Duesenberg dealer John Troka who owned it twice.

Hibbard and Darrin designed convertible sedans influenced the unique sloped windshield with triangular sidelights as well as the shape of the door windows, which create a vee section in the area between the doors. The built-in trunk has interesting styling elements with the side bar trim and hinge design and the side bar design in repeated inside the body on the cabinetry behind the driver's seat. Within this cabinet is a radio with speaker and tuner hidden behind doors. The rear seat is the armchair type with a removable center arm rest to create a bench seat.

Background

The Duesenberg Company produced high-end, luxury automobiles and racing cars from 1913 through 1937. It was created by the Duesenberg brothers, Fred and August, who formed the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company, Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa with the intent on building sports cars. Just like many of their time, they were mostly self-taught engineers and had only constructed experimental cars up to this point.

Duesenberg's place in history was officially solidified in 1914 when Eddie Richenbacker drove a Duesenberg to an astonishing 10th place finish at the Indianapolis 500. Duesenberg later went on to win the race, capturing overall victories in 1924, 1925, and 1927. A Duesenberg was used as a pace car for the Indianapolis 500 in 1923.

Starting with the companies first appearance at the Indianapolis 500 in 1913 and continuing for a consecutive 15 years, there were a total of 70 Duesenberg racing cars entered in the race. Thirty-two of the cars finished in the top ten. In 1922, eight of the top ten cars were Duesenberg-powered. Many great racing names, such as Eddie Rickenbacker, Rex Mays, Tommy Milton, Peter DePaolo, Albert Guyot, Ralph DePalma, Fred Frame, Stubby Stubblefield, Ab Jenkins, Ralph Mulford, Jimmy Murphy, Joe Russo, and Deacon Litz raced in a Duesenberg.

Duesenberg's racing pedigree was not just reserved for the United States; in 1921, Jimmy Murphy drove a Duesenberg to victory at the French Grand Prix at the LeMans racetrack. This made him the first American to win the French Grand Prix. It also made the Duesenberg the first vehicle to start a grand prix with hydraulic brakes.

The Duesenberg headquarters and factory was relocated in July of 1921 from New Jersey to Indianapolis. Part of the purpose for the move was to focus more on the production of passenger vehicles. The Company had a hard time selling their Model A car. This was a very advanced car with many features not available on other vehicles being offered at the time. The engine had dual overhead cams, four-valve cylinder heads and was the first passenger car to be equipped with hydraulic brakes.

The Duesenberg Company produced 667 examples of the Model A, making it their first mass-produced vehicle. The Model A was powered by a 183-cubic-inch single overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder engine. The strain of racing, moving, and lack of selling automobiles sent the company into receivership in 1922. After a few years, it's debts had been resolved, thank in-part to an investor group. The company re-opened in 1925 as the Duesenberg Motors Company.

In 1926, Errett Lobban Cord purchased the Duesenberg Company. The company appealed to E.L. Cord, owner of the Cord and Auburn Automobile Company, because of its history, the engineering ingenuity of the products, brand name, and the skill of the Duesenberg Brothers. The purpose was to transform the company into a producer of luxury automobiles.

Duesenberg Model J and Model SJ

Fred Duesenberg was a master of creating engines and was a creative designer. He had a talent for conceiving new ideas and ways of doing things. The engines he constructed were beautiful, mechanically sound, and advanced. E.L. Cord gave him one task: 'Create the best car in the world.' This was a very tall order and came at a very difficult time in history. The onset of the Great Depression and the Stock Market crash was just around the corner. Competition in the luxury car segment was fierce and involved all facets of the automobile. The cylinder wars that began in the 1920s and continued into the 1930s had marque's trying to outdo each other on the bases of their engines output, number of cylinders, and the speed of their ultra-luxury automobiles. Styling continued to be very important and often outsourced to the greatest designers and coachbuilders of the time. Maruqee's such as Cadillac, Packard, Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta Fraschini, Bugatti, and others were all trying to out-do each other and continue in business during this difficult point in history.

The Duesenberg Model J was first unveiled to the public at the New York Car Show on December 1st of 1928. Only the chassis and engine were shown and it still impressed enough to make front page news. The wheelbase was 142-inches making it nearly 12 feet. The chassis had a six cross-members made it very sturdy and able to accommodate the heaviest of bodies. The engine had dual overhead camshafts and eight-cylinders with four valves per cylinder. It displaced 420 cubic-inches and produced an impressive 265 horsepower in un-supercharged form. The engine had been designed by Fred Duesenberg and constructed by the Lycoming Company, which had been recently acquired by E.L. Cord. There was a brilliant lubrication system which automatically lubricated various mechanical components after sixty to eighty miles. Two lights mounted on the dashboard indicated when the lubrication process was transpiring. After 750 miles, lights mounted on the dashboard would light-up indicating the oil required changing. After 1500 miles, the lights would illuminate indicating the battery should be inspected. Top speed was 119 mph and 94 mph in second gear. With the use of a supercharger, the top speed increased even further, to nearly 140 mph. Zero-to-sixty took around eight seconds with 100 mph being achieved in seventeen seconds.

Each chassis was driven at speed for 100 miles at Indianapolis before being delivered to the customer or coachbuilder.

The coachwork was left to the discretion of the buyer and the talents of the coachbuilders. Prominent coachbuilders from North American and Europe were selected to cloth the Model J and Model SJ in some of the grandest and elegant coachwork ever created.

The cost of a rolling chassis prior to 1932 was $8,00. The rolling chassis usually included all mechanical components, front fenders, radiator grille, bumpers, running boards, dashboard, and sometimes a swiveling spot-light. After 1932, the price was raised to $9,500. After the coachwork was completed, the base price was $13,500 with a top-of-the line model fetching as much as $25,000 or more. To put this in perspective, the entry level Ford Model T in the early 1930s cost around $435 with the most expensive version selling for about $650. Many individuals in very prominent careers, such as doctors, made around $3,000 annually. The Great Depression meant the number of individuals capable of affording an automobile of this caliber soon dwindled. Those who could afford one often bought modest vehicles to avoid public uprising and ridicule. The pool of marques who catered to the upper-class of society did all they could to attract buyers; prices were lowered and incentives were made just to attract another sale. Needless to say, competition was fierce.

After the New York Show, Duesenberg ordered enough components to build 500 Model Js. Specifications and drawings of the chassis had been sent to prominent coachbuilders six months prior to its unveiling at the New York Show. This had been done to guarantee that a wide variety of bodies were available after its launch. Duesenberg ordered bodies in small quantities and offered the completed cars to have on-hand incase the customer wanted to take delivery immediately. The first customer took delivery of their Model J in May of 1929. This was just five weeks before Black Tuesday.

The Model SJ, a supercharged version of the Model J, produced 320 horsepower. The supercharger was located beside the engine with the exhaust pipes beneath through the side panel of the hood through creased tubes. The name 'SJ' was never used by the Duesenberg Company to reference these models.

Even though the Model J had received much attention from the press and promotional material was well circulated, sales were disappointing. The Duesenberg Company had hoped to construct 500 examples per year; this figure was never matched with a total of 481 examples constructed throughout its lifespan. Duesenberg did find customers such as Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and James Cagney. Monarch, kings, queens, and the very wealthy accounted for the rest of the sales.

Production continued until the company ceased production in 1937. Little changed on the Model J over the years. The four-speed gearbox was replaced by a unsynchronized three-speed unit which was better suited to cope with the engines power. The last Model SJ's produced had ram-horn intakes and installed on two short-wheelbase chassis. Horsepower was reported to be as high as 400. These examples are commonly known as 'SSJ' in modern times.

In 1932, Fred Duesenberg was involved in a car accident which claimed his life. Development on the Model J had come to a halt which was not a problem at the time, but within a few years had become antiquated in comparison to the competition. An entirely new design and updated mechanical components were required for the Duesenberg name in 1937 in order to stay competitive. The cost and development time was too much for E.L. Cord to consider, and so he withdrew his financial support and the company dwindled.

August Duesenberg tried, unsuccessfully, to revive the Duesenberg name. Fritz Duesenberg tried again in the mid-1960s but again without success.

By Daniel Vaughan | Feb 2007
The Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company, Inc was founded and operated by Fred and August brother's who began their company in 1913. From the start their company has been a US based luxury automobile company with a standard to build the very best hand-built vehicles during the time period. Duesenberg vehicles lived up to this standard until 1937 when the company closed.

Created to build sports cars, the Company began its life in Des Moines, Iowa by two men who were self-taught engineers that produced various experimental vehicles. Unfortunately the brothers did have much selling capability, and due to this the company claimed bankruptcy and closed in 1922.

Purchasing the Duesenberg Company in 1926, Errett Lobban Cord, the owner of Cord Automobile, Auburn Automobile and several other transportation companies acquired the Duesenberg Brothers' engineering skills along with a brand name. Setting out to produce the Model J, Cord hired Fred Duesenberg to design both the engine and the chassis that would eventually be the best in the world.

Displayed at the New York Car Show of 1928, the Model J (Judkins) Duesenberg was indeed impressive. While only the engine and chassis were put on display at the show, the body and interior of the vehicle would be eventually custom-made by an extremely experienced coachbuilder to the owner's specification. Coachbuilders in both Europe and North America were responsible for the extensive bodywork. The finished product was the grandest, largest and most beautiful vehicle ever before created. The base model cost around $13,500, while the top of the line model sold for an extreme $25,000.

With a lack of supercharged form, the Model J was renowned for it incredibly 265 horsepower, straight-8 engine, and dual overhead camshafts. Able to reach an impressive top speed of 119 mph, and 94 mph in 2nd gear, the Model J was a success.

While other top of the line vehicles of the time period could barely reach 100 mph, the Duesenberg models were definitely turning some heads. The 1932 SJ was estimated to reach 104 mph in 2nd gear, a top speed of 135-140 mph in 2rd, and turned around 0-60 in 8 seconds. The supercharged Model J came with 320 HP and the supercharger placed alongside the engine, with creased exhaust pipes to make room it. The SJ models were easily recognizable due to their shiny creased tubes, a trademark by E. L. Cord. Weighing around two and a half tons, due to the large array of custom coachwork available, the Duesenbergs were not any heavier than their fellow competition.

Rapidly becoming of the most popular vehicles in the world, the Duesenberg was a status symbol for the elite. Such famous owners of the Duesenberg were Clark Gable, the Duke of Windsor and Gary Cooper.

Advertised to be the ‘best car in the world', Duesenberg's have held up to their status for numerous years. Following world-beating performance along with high regard and standard for quality, the Duesenberg continued to hold the reputation for opulence.

A total of 481 Model Js and SJs were produced between 1928 and 1937. Following E. L. Cord's financial empire collapsing, Duesenberg ceased production in 1937. It is estimated that approximately 50% of these classic cars are still on the road today. Both Duesenberg Model J's and SJ's are among the most desired collectible classic cars in the world.

Jay Leno owns four Model J Duesenbergs.

By Jessica Donaldson
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Grand Prix Racers
Model A
Model J

Image Left 1930 Model J MurphyImage Left 1930 Model J LeBaronImage Left 1930 Model J1932 Model J LeBaron Image Right1932 Model J Murphy Image Right1932 Model J Image Right
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