Sold for $1,320,000 at 2013 RM Auctions. Today, luxurious sportscars are not all that uncommon. In many respects, the luxuriously-appointed sportscar is practically a must. However, in the early 20th century there was certainly a separation of the two, that is, until people like Fred Duesenberg came along.
Recalling such names as Bentley or Duesenberg, the mind almost naturally strays to thoughts of comfort and luxury. However, like Bugatti and Bentley, Fred Duesenberg's Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company would be as much about performance as it would be about luxury.
Throughout the nineteen-teens and the 1920s, Duesenberg would make a name for itself on the racetrack, particularly Indianapolis. In 1914, the future World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker would drive a Duesenberg to a 10th finish in the Indianapolis 500. By the mid-1920s, Duesenbergs were the car to have winning the race in 1924, 1925 and 1927.
But the success wouldn't just come in the United States. In 1921, Jimmy Murphy would pilot a Duesenberg to victory at the French Grand Prix. The race would actually be held at the Le Mans racetrack.
Success on the racetrack was a very important focus of Duesenberg's company. Though founded in Des Moines, Iowa, Duesenberg would see his company in Europe competing against the best machines of the day, cars like the Ballot and Mercedes-Benz. In the case of the 1921 French Grand Prix, the experience gained motor racing led to Murphy having an advantage with his Duesenberg. The braking system on the car was better than any of its competition and allowed Murphy to carry more speed deeper into the corners. He would use this advantage gained through competition to his advantage and would go on to take the victory.
Racing was certainly Duesenberg's test bed. However, when the company unveiled its Model J at the New York Auto Salon in December of 1928, Duesenberg's reputation for luxury and opulence would be firmly cemented.
When the car went on sale in 1929, prices for the Model J started out at $8,500. By 1931, and despite an ever-worsening Depression, the starting price for the Model J would increase to $9,500. Complete with their custom-built coach bodies, the Model J would be selling for around $16,500 and certainly represented the 'upper' price range in the luxury car market.
The coachworks employed to build bodies to fit atop the Model J chassis would be numerous and would include Murphy, Holbrook, Rollston, Bonham & Schwartz, LaGrande & LeBaron and others. One of the others was Derham.
Derham Body Co. would be established in Rosemont, outside of Philadelphia, in 1887. Over the course of their existence, Derham would build custom coachworks for such notable people as President Eisenhower, Gary Cooper, Pope Pius XII, King Farouk and even Joseph Stalin.
It would be easy to understand why Derham had such a wide range of affluent clientele when Derham first produced its Tourster for the Model J. Gordon Buehrig would design the Model J Tourster, and he would come to consider the Tourster as his absolute favorite.
Each coachbuilder put their own reflection upon the original inspiration. Therefore, Derham, the exclusive builder of the Tourster, would end up taking advantage of the length of the Model J chassis and would actually design bodywork that would sit even lower than the original design. The length of the bodywork and the chassis would then actually exaggerate the lower look of the car. But, as a result of the longer chassis, Buehrig and Derham were able to build a coachbody that actually offered more room to the rear passengers as a result of the seats being moved ahead of the rear axle.
The result would be perfection in the eyes of Buehrig. And, in his autobiography, Buehrig would aptly describe his emotions concerning the Tourster Model J saying it was 'severely plain in ornamentation and having the unusual virtue of being equally handsome with the top in the raised position or when it is lowered.'
Buehrig wouldn't be the only one that would be taken back by the simple beauty of the Derham-bodied Tourster. Butler Hallanan was a part of Philadelphia's elite of which Derham intended its Tourster. Hallanan would become intrigued by the Tourster and would soon order one, car 2440/J-423.
Like a life-long friend, the Model J Tourster would end up accompanying Hallanan on a number of adventures including a handful of grand tours of Europe. The car would see regular use but would suddenly face separation from its owner in 1939 as Hallanan escaped Mussolini's Italy. Hallanan would make it back to the United States, but the Duesenberg would not.
Alone and in a foreign land, the Duesenberg faced an unknown future. However, its charm and appeal would lead to someone hiding the car away in a haystack for nearly the whole of the Second World War.
Piles of haystacks dotted the European landscape throughout the Second World War. Undoubtedly, thousands upon thousands of troops passed by the occupied haystack without any even so much as a clue as to what lay hidden underneath. All of a sudden, the phrase 'needle in a haystack' took on a new and literal meaning.
And, towards the end of the war, an American officer would, for some reason, decide to check that particular haystack. The surprise of finding a Duesenberg Model J Tourster must have defied reason, and certainly could have caused a moment of shock. However, the officer would get over the surprise of the moment and would have the car rescued from its natural camouflage.
Unable to list the car among his personal effects, the officer would be forced to leave behind the Duesenberg when he left to return to the United States. However, 2440/J-423 would eventually sell in 1946 to a Duesenberg enthusiast from Milan by the name of Dore Leto di Priolo. It would remain in his care for the next couple of decades and would undergo some restoration work.
American Anthony D. 'Tony' Pascucci had a passion for classic-era automobiles and particularly enjoyed collecting and owning Duesenberg Phaetons. However, Pascucci desired and sought-after the most desirable. This would lead him to owning a number of Duesenbergs, including a LeBaron 'Sweep Panel' Phaeton and a LeBaron 'Barrelside' Phaeton. Constantly hunting and seeking the best, it wouldn't be too long before Pascucci would become aware of the Derham Tourster in Milan, Italy. He would make the trip to go and see the car. And when he returned, the car would come with him.
Finally, the Model J Tourster had made its way back home. Pascucci had managed to purchase an example of every Duesenberg Phaeton with the acquisition of the Tourster. And to be able to take its place amongst such a collection, Pascucci would commission Ted Billing to fully restore the car.
Al San Clemente, a friend of Billings, would be surprised by the character and makeup of the car after years in hiding in a haystack. He would recall the Tourster as 'a solid, mostly original car…All the specialized Derham hardware was still there. I was impressed with the car's presence, even with the amateur paint.'
The body of the car found to be in excellent condition, the restoration to concours quality would not take very long. Still sporting its original wood framework, the restoration would be complete in 1971. The original condition of the car would be so good that the only major original part known to be missing from the car was its headlights. They would be replaced with period-correct headlights.
Now passed on to his son, the Tourster is rarely driven and is only showing minor signs of aging. Only occasionally shown to the public, a glimpse of the 1931 Model J Tourster is certainly a real treat to behold, and, at the 2013 RM Auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona, chassis 2440, engine number J-423 would emerge from its relative obscurity to be offered for purchase.
In the hands of the Pascucci family for nearly 50 years, this Model J Tourster is certainly one of the highly coveted Duesenbergs and remains a fine example of the simple elegance Buehrig originally designed and came to fall in love with.
Hidden away and protected throughout its lifetime, 2440/J-423 is a veritable time capsule to a bygone era. The Tourster itself reflects the same uncertainty, danger and adventure through which it survived.
Prior to auction, the 1931 Duesenberg Model J Tourster by Derham was estimated to garner between $1,200,000 and $1,600,000.
'Lot No. 141: 1931 Duesenberg Model J Tourster by Derham', (http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=AZ13&CarID=r163). RM Auctions. http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=AZ13&CarID=r163. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
'1931 Duesenberg Model J News, Pictures and Information', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z14238/Duesenberg-Model-J.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z14238/Duesenberg-Model-J.aspx. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
'Duesenberg Model J History', (http://www.automobilemuseum.org/about/History/Pages/DuesenbergModelJHistory.aspx). Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. http://www.automobilemuseum.org/about/History/Pages/DuesenbergModelJHistory.aspx. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
'1930 Duesenberg Model J', (http://www.supercars.net/cars/468.html). Supercars.net. http://www.supercars.net/cars/468.html. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
'Derham Body Co.', (http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/d/derham/derham.htm). Coachbuilt. http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/d/derham/derham.htm. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Duesenberg', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 December 2012, 11:54 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Duesenberg&oldid=529820981 accessed 14 January 2013
Wikipedia contributors, 'Gordon Buehrig', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 October 2012, 20:28 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gordon_Buehrig&oldid=516881444 accessed 14 January 2013By Jeremy McMullen
High bid of $430,000 at 2006 RM Auctions. (did not sell) On December 1, 1928 at the New York Auto Salon, the Duesenberg Model J was unveiled to the world. It was easily the highlight of the show. Duesenberg quickly ordered enough parts to build 500 Model J's with the first customer receiving their vehicl [Read More...] By Daniel Vaughan | Feb 2007
Gordon Buehrig referred to his design for this Duesenberg with chassis number 2450 and engine J-437, as a tapertail speedster. This sleek design is accomplished without running boards or step plates. The addition of the sweep panel styling on the s [Read More...]
The Wrigley Corporation was a prominent business and very popular when Phillip K. Wrigley, heir to the fortune, purchased chassis number 2479 for the sum of $15,450. It was delivered on November 28th of 1931. While in his ownership, the Duesenberg [Read More...] By Daniel Vaughan | Apr 2009
High bid of $600,000 at 2009 RM Auctions. (did not sell) This Duesenberg Model J Roadster is very unusual. It has a Duesenberg chassis with a custom Packard body. Since Duesenberg did not offer a true, wind-in-your-hair, roadster, the original owner of this vehicle selected a Packard body. The roadster [Read More...] By Daniel Vaughan | Apr 2009
Sold for $1,320,000 at 2013 RM Auctions. This car, chassis number 2440 and engine number J-423, was delivered in January of 1931 to Bob Hallahan. it was purchased in Milano, Italy, by the current owning family in the spring of 1968, from Count Carlo Letodi Priolo. The restoration work was c [Read More...]
There were only 470 Duesenberg Mode J chassis produced, and in the case of the short wheelbase Convertible Victoria, just three were created. This example wears coachwork by Rollston Company. This Duesenberg was built with a Holbrook body for the deb [Read More...]
Brothers Fred and August Duesenberg were born in Germany and settled in Des Moines, Iowa. They were self-taught engineers and began producing cars in 1913. Eddie Rickenbacker placed 10th in the 1914 Indianapolis 500 behind the wheel of a Duesenberg. [Read More...]
Sold for $330,000 at 2012 Gooding & Company. After final testing at the Duesenberg factory in the fall of 1930, J-430 was delivered to Willoughby Company of Utica, New York, for coachwork. Willoughby specialized in closed, formal coachwork and over the years, they would create approximately 45 [Read More...] By Daniel Vaughan | Nov 2012
'Its a Doozy!' Within a short period of time after the debut of the Model J Duesenberg at the 1928 New York Automobile show, a newly-coined exclamation became part of the American vocabulary: 'It's a Doozy!' The phrase was generally used t [Read More...]
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Duesenberg J 396 is a re-bodied Weymann La Grand Torpedo Phaeton, which is said to be the ultimate expression of the Model J in all its glory. The original design was penned by stylist Gordon Buehrig, and built by Brunn. Only five original Torpedo [Read More...] By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2007
This LeBaron Phaeton was sold new to big band leader Paul Whiteman in May of 1930. This body was initially on a short wheelbase chassis, but in 1932, Mr. Whiteman returned the car to the factory branch in New York or Philadelphia, where the body was [Read More...]
Figoni built three bodies for Duesenberg chassis. This car, with chassis number 2509 and engine number J-465, is a true speedster without side windows. This Figoni Speedster was driven by E. Z. Sadovich in the Nice to Paris Rally, and shown in the [Read More...]
High bid of $600,000 at 2009 RM Auctions. (did not sell) This car, S/N 2410, was originally purchased by George Tucker Smith, a U.S. Navy Surgeon, in late 1930. It was originally fitted with a Derham Sport Sedan body. [Read More...]
Convertible Sedan Coachwork: LeBaron Chassis Num: 2350 Engine Num: J-338
Sold for $462,000 at 2013 Gooding & Company. William S. Rupert of Philadelphia, PA took delivery of this Model J Duesenberg which had previously been used as a factory demonstrator. Originally, the car wore an Arlington sedan body built by Derham. In 1933, the car was purchased by William Fergu [Read More...] By Daniel Vaughan | May 2013
Sold for $1,485,000 at 2007 RM Auctions. Sold for $825,000 at 2013 RM Auctions. This Duesenberg Model J with chassis number 2456 and engine number J-444 rests on a large, 153.5-inch wheelbase. The long chassis was exaggerated by the car's lowered proportions, created by moving the rear seat ahead of the rear axle and the footwel [Read More...] By Daniel Vaughan | May 2013
This car featured not only great mechanical engineering but inspired design and quality coachwork as well. This Duesenberg was delivered to Charles Groff on November 20, 1931 in Philadelphia, PA. It is powered by a Straight-8, overhead valve configur [Read More...]
Sold for $1,320,000 at 2016 RM Auctions. This Duesenberg is one of the eight original Toursters. It was built on March 23rd of 1931 and given Derham body number 2323. The first owner was David G. Joyce of Chicago. In 1935, Gerald Morava of Chicago acquired the car, and subsequently traded i [Read More...] By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2016
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.
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