Period Duesenberg advertising claimed it was the best car in the world, and their world-beating performance and extreme opulence tended to back that up.
The engine was a race-inspired version of polished aluminum, 265 horsepower, 32 valves, and a whopping 420 cubic-inches. Under 500 Duesenbergs were completed during the company's short life. Duesenberg owners were the wealthy and affluent-and those who wanted to look wealthy and affluent.
Marketing magician Eric Lobban Cord dubbed the Duesenberg 'The World's Finest Motor Car,' and auto engineering genius Fred Duesenberg made sure that every detail lived up to its publicity. Powered by a twin-overhead-cam straight-eight of 420 cubic-inches, the Model J had a top speed of over 150 mph. The bare chassis cost over $9,000, and custom bodies could easily double that price tag. This car was purchased in 1935 by Clark Gable and was originally bodied by Rollston as a convertible coupe. It was restyled by Bohman & Schwartz of Pasadena, CA, to sketches created to reflect ideas and shapes suggested by Gable himself. It was used by Gable during his courtship of Carole Lombard and was used during their marriage, then abandoned by Gable after her untimely death in 1942.
This Model J, with chassis number 2585 and engine J-560, was given to actor Clark Gable by Carole Lombard. It was initially a JN convertible coupe and Gable had it restyled by Bohman & Schwartz. The car carries many unique features including painted radiator and headlight buckets to accentuate the long hood to cowl line. Other details include a dramatically lower windshield, single bar bumpers, and two covered mounted rear spare tires. Although not supercharged, the car has external exhaust pipes, which were often added.
With its raked windscreen and lowered top, it is rumored that Gable had made sketches of what he wanted. He added on the fender skirts, the double spare, and the cut-down windshield. The car's breathtaking beauty and classic Bohman and Schwartz lines make a statement. Gable owned this car until his wife's death in 1941 with instructions that it should never be seen in California while he was still alive.
Duesenberg intended an initial run of 500 chassis for 1929, but the Great Depression changed the face of the luxury car market in an instant. Those individuals, who possessed the means and confidence to make the purchase for the expensive Model J, were truly societies elite.
Three years after the introduction of the Model J, Duesenberg began offering variants of the standard chassis in hopes of stimulating sales. The supercharged SJ appeared in 1932 and 36 examples would be purchased. By the mid-1930s, other luxury marques were offering updated styles and technology, while the Duesenberg was starting to look outdated and obsolete. In 1935, Duesenberg responded with the JN. Duesenberg commissioned Rollston of New York City to fashion a line of tasteful body styles. Rollston was one of Duesenberg's long-standing collaborators. In total, three body styles were offered and included convertible coupes and convertible sedans on the standard-length chassis, while sport sedans were produced strictly for the long-wheelbase chassis.
Styling cues included soft, sweeping curves, smaller 17-inch disc wheels, skirted front fenders, small dual taillights in place of the classic Duesenberg 'stop' light and carriage-body sills that brought the bottom of the doors very close to the running boards. All of the JN body styles included long, sloping rear decks.
It is believed that just 10 JNs were built and four examples were bodied as convertible coupes, style number 434. All of the Model JNs were delivered to Duesenberg 'in the white,' ready for trim and paint to customer preference.
This example was the last of four JN Convertible Coupes built. It was originally delivered to the factory's Los Angeles, California, branch in December of 1935. Following the New Year, this JN was sold to its first owner, Clark Gable. On January 25th, Gable drove this JN to the White Mayfair Ball in Beverly Hills, CA. At the Mayfair Ball, Gable and Carole Lombard took a drive in the new Duesenberg. Lombard was one of the highest-paid actresses in America, earning over $450,000 in one year for three movies and a series of popular radio shows.
Clark Gable soon had the Duesenberg updated with new coachwork by Bohman & Schwarts of Pasadena. Gable worked in cooperation with legendary designer Wellington Everett Miller. At the time, he was regarded as one of the most talented and influential automotive stylists of the 1930s. Miller had worked as the head designer for two of the most respected American coach-building firms, Locke and Murphy, and helped Packard create a series of elegant production bodies. Miller successfully updated many Duesenbergs and his designs for Bohman & Schwartz were among the very best of the mid-1930s automobile styling.
Gable worked in tandem with Miller to create the highly individualized coachwork. The car had a dramatically raked windscreen, rear-fender spats and a full-length hood that stretches past the firewall, terminating at the trailing edge of the cowl. There are 'continental-style' dual rear spares, each enclosed in a metal cover. Gable also requested rectangular mesh hood sides, scooped and V'd hood ventilators, single-bar bumpers and sun visors with a unique articulating hinge that allows for uninterrupted storage. Other additions include external exhaust pipes, painted radiator shell and headlights and a re-worked convertible mechanism that aides in giving the car a sleek, integrated look.
The car was finished in a light, monochromatic color scheme, and equipped with whitewall tires.
On March 29th of 1939, when Gable had a break in production of Gone with the Wind
, he married Lombard in Kingman, Arizona. On January 16th of 1942, Carole Lombard, along with her mother and Otto Winkler, boarded a TWA DC-3. 23 minutes after taking off from Las Vegas, Nevada, their plane crashed into Potosi Mountain, killing all 22 passengers aboard.
After Lombard's death, Gable fell into a deep depression. On August 12, 1942, he joined the US Army Air Corps and trained to serve in aerial gunnery. During the War, he flew five combat missions, including one over Germany as an observer gunner on a B-7 Flying Fortress.
With too many painful memories with the Duesenberg and Lombard, Gable sold his Duesenberg. It was consigned to a Los Angeles dealer - either Bob Roberts or Peter Satori - with orders to sell the car to someone outside California.
By the late 1940s, the car was in the care of Donald Ballard, a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. After some time with the Duesenberg, the car was sold to S.P. Motors of Albuquerque, New Mexico, operated by Alta and Earl Sanders and James Palmer. S.P. Motors acquired at least seven Model Js throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s. During this period, Sanders installed engine J-521 in the Gable Duesenberg, although the original bell-housing number, J-560, has always remained intact.
In August of 1951, G.W. Cleven of Albuquerque offered the Duesenberg for sale, asking $3,750. It was sold to professional wrestler Robert 'Hans' Hermann, who paid $2,500 for the car. From there, the Duesenberg was sold to Richard S. Luntz of Indianapolis, Indiana, who consigned it with Chicago, Illinois, Rolls-Royce and Duesenberg dealer 'Honest John' Troka. In October 1953, Troka sold the Gable Duesenberg to Paul V. Colianni of Arlington, Illinois, who paid a record price of $4,500. By this point in history, the car had been re-finished in maroon and equipped with a single rear spare.
The car was displayed at Troka's showroom before relocating to Joseph Kaufmann's shop in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. In late 1973, Charles H. Johnson, Jr., acquired the Gable Duesenberg after chasing it for many years. It was purchased for $75,000. Mr. Johnson treated the car to its first comprehensive restoration and displayed it with great success, earning a string of ACD, AACA and CCCA awards throughout the late 1970s. For three months in 1979, it was on display at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana.
In May of 1980, the car was purchased by Jerome Sauls of Pennsylvania. Two years later, it was sold to P.A. Parviz of London, England. In January of 1983, Tom W. Barrett, III discovered the car in a Beverly Hills garage and bought the car from Mr. Parviz. It soon joined the Behring Collection and was displayed as part of the Blackhawk Collection in Danville, California. In 1995, Chairman Lee purchased the Duesenberg. It remained a fixture at Blackhawk for the next decade.
In 2006, the current owner acquired the car and immediately began a restoration, entrusting the work to Stone Barn Automobile Restoration in Vienna, New Jersey.
Upon completion, the car was shown at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance where it won the Gwenn Graham Most Elegant Convertible Trophy. It has taken Best of Show honors at Amelia Island and Meadowbrook.
In 2012, this car was offered for sale at the Pebble Beach, CA auction presented by Gooding & Company. Bidding reached $6,400,000, but was not enough to satisfy the vehicle's reserve. It would leave the auction unsold.By Daniel Vaughan | Nov 2012