In 1900, Iowa bicycle makers August and Fred Duesenberg began playing with gasoline engines and in 1906, began to manufacture cars. Their company failed, but they developed an engine that did well in the Indianapolis 500. During World War I, they built aircraft engines for the military and after the war they used this experience to design their famous straight-eight engine which they used in a new car. Their company became part of E.L. Cord's empire in 1926.
Cord gave the Duesenberg brothers carte blanche to build the finest car in the world and the result was the Model J in 1928. It featured a 420 cubic-inch, straight eight-cylinder engine producing 265 horsepower, more than double that of any other contemporary car. The chassis sold for $8,500 and the buyer had to spend another $2,500 to $8,000 for a custom body.
The LeBaron Company was created in 1920 by Ralph Roberts, Thomas L. Hibbard, and Raymond H. Dietrich. Dietrich and Hibbard both had a history together working as draftsmen for one of the most prestigious American coachbuilders, Brewster of Long Island. They chose the name LeBaron to invoke the grandeur and prestige of French design. The initial vision for their new company was not a coach-building company, but rather a design-consulting firm. They would create designs and engineering plans from which a number of coachbuilders could perform their craft.
In 1923, the company merged with the Bridgeport Body Company, giving them the ability to construct the very designs it created.
By 1927, both Hibbard and Dietrich had left the firm they had created, though the company lived on, becoming one of the country's premier custom coachbuilders. They would create 38 bodies on the Mode J Duesenberg chassis. Of all the coachbuiders of the era, only LeBaron, Murphy, and Holbrook were selected to build bodies for the first Model Js, which were displayed at the model's 1929 debut in New York.
One of LeBaron's most memorable design and their specialty was the Ralph Roberts-designed Dual Cowl Phaeton, which would prove to be their most popular style for the Model J chassis. These phaetons are divided into two main types: the sweep-panel and the barrelside. The sweep-panel section bears an initial resemblance to the phaetons later produced by LaGrande, though with softer curves.
The Duesenberg Model J, with engine number J-129, is a Phaeton Sweep-Panel riding on a short-wheelbase. The car was originally owned by John Duval Dodge, the son of Matilda Dodge. It is believed that this example is the only Duesenberg delivered new in the city of Detroit. It had a purchase price of nearly $20,000. The car was sold through Duesenberg's Chicago dealership in black with a yellow sweep panel.
Introduced at the December 1928 New York Automobile Salon the Duesenberg Model J quickly established itself as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the luxury grand tourer world. The LeBaron Dual Cowl Phaeton was one of the best and most luxurious bodies that could be built upon this chassis. LeBaron Carrossiers was founded in 1920 by Thomas L. Hibbard and Raymond Dietrich in New York City. They chose the LeBaron name because it sounded French and would lend a sophisticated air. They also chose to have only a design office, without coach-building facilities. This changed in 1927 when the company merged with the Briggs coach-building company and began building bodies. The chief designer of this and many other Duesenberg Js was John Tjaarda, father of Tom Tjaarda, who is a renowned designer in his own right.
J-129 was sold in 1932 to Bert Schmidt of Chicago, who passed away soon after his purchase. The Duesenberg was then stored for all of 1934 in a workshop on Michigan Avenue. After being held in Chicago dealer Joe Neidlinger's inventory, the car was purchased in 1939 by Ken and Genelle Gibbs of Chicago. They would retain the car until 1948, when it was acquired by B. Goldberg of Libertyville. While in Mr. Goldberg's care, the rear end of the body was modified with a subtle forward slant, incorporating a lower top line. Dr. N.R. Joffee owned the car briefly in 1952, selling it in 1953 to Bernard Berger, who changed the sweep panel cove to red and sold it the following year to E.A. Wente of Ohio.
Leo Gephart purchased the car in 1971 and reversed the Goldberg's body modification and sold it to George Wallace in 1972. Mr Wallace added the SJ-style external exhaust pipes and updated the radiator with chrome shutters before selling it to Ray Lutgert, who kept it until 1977. That year, the car joined the Richard Kughn collection where it would spend the next three decades before being sold to a Grand Rapids, Michigan collector.
Near the end of 2008, the car entered the care of its current owner, who immediately began a 4,600 hour, full restoration that was conducted by Fran Roxas' Vintage Motor Group. The work was completed in time for the 2010 Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance, where it was awarded Best in Show, American. At Pebble Beach that same year, the car earned Second in Class behind the Best in Show nominee Graber-bodied Model J Duesenberg. In 2011, the car was shown at the Art of the Car Concours at the Kansas City Institute, where it won the People's Choice Award, and it received the Hagerty Children's Award at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance.
The car is currently finished in navy blue with crimson sweep panels. Inside, there is red leather and the engine is in the correct green enamel paint with polished aluminum components. The car rides on 19-inch, 78-spoke, snap-ring chrome wire wheels.By Daniel Vaughan | Feb 2014