Sold for $4,510,000 at 2013 RM Auctions - Amelia Island.
Chassis #: 2405
Engine #: J-530
Duesenberg Model SJ Convertible Coupe by Walker-LaGrande
There are times when creations take on a persona and an identity never given to them by their creators. Perhaps one of the best reflections of this notion would have to be Duesenberg. Such was their quality and extraordinary character that it would obtain its own word from the English language that would forevermore be associated with the company. However, even within Duesenberg there would be a couple of initials that would be never uttered together that would come to take on a life of their own and that would help to solidify Duesy's reputation. Those initials would be—SJ.
It's hard to change an icon, especially when it has already created a vocabulary all its own. By the 1930s things were really beginning to change. Aerodynamics was becoming a very serious part of engineering and design. Propelled by advancements in aviation, aerodynamics and much more efficient designs were beginning to take precedent over artistic styling and stately designs. But to take away such elements would be to take away the heart and soul of many of the custom-built coaches, especially the Duesenbergs.
Duesenberg had approached the difficulty from the standpoint of continuing to build cars boasting of far-superior reliability instead of merely building cars with designs reflecting the times. However, this would change somewhat when J. Herbert Newport took over as Duesenberg's designer.
Duesenberg had always had a reputation for performance. In fact, a Duesenberg had won the Indianapolis 500 in 1924, 1925 and 1927. Jimmy Murphy would pilot a Duesenberg to victory in the French Grand Prix in 1921. So, it was clear Duesenberg had the performance. There would be a saying, in fact, that went, 'The only car that could pass a Duesenberg was another Duesenberg—and that was with the first owner's consent.'
What gave the Duesenberg its incredible power was another innovation that would come to take on a name of its own—introducing the SJ.
Built by Lycoming, the straight-eight model J motor was based off of the racing engines of the 1920s. But then Fred Duesenberg would introduce a factory supercharged unit that would dramatically see the engine power increase until the two initials 'SJ' would become synonymous with performance and speed.
Newport knew he had a lively, energetic engine upon which he could build for the future. However, the Duesenberg design, its lines, were showing its age and were in terrible need of a face-lift. Therefore, Newport would set about designing a body-style that still encapsulated everything Duesenberg Model J, but with a modern approach that welcomed in streamlining and considerations of aerodynamic efficiency. The result would be what many would consider 'arguably the most beautiful convertible coupe on a Duesenberg chassis.'
Production being handled by the Indianapolis-based A.H. Walker Body Company under the pseudonym 'LaGrande', Newport's convertible coupe would have to be considered an instant classic. Still obviously a Deusenberg with the bright chrome exhaust pipes porting out of the right side of the car and still sporting a tall, stately radiator, the convertible coupe would be an incredible blending of classic and modern as the fenders would make use of deep skirts and the steep waterfall design at the back of the car would instantly blend took the car into a more modern age.
However, one of the greatest achievements and innovations would come with the convertible top. Instead of being cumbersome and rather difficult, Newport would design a new 'semi-automatic' top that would easily detach and retract, all with the help of a hand crank positioned inside the car. One of the most innovative and forward-thinking features of the convertible top that would show how Duesenberg was moving into the modern age would be the fact the entire top disappeared underneath a flush-mounted metal lid. In an instant the car could transform from coupe to a modern open-top convertible.
This exquisite convertible design, however, would come while the nation was still gripped by the Great Depression. Duesenberg's sales continued to struggle. This would lead to Walker-LaGrande producing just three of these remarkable Model J Convertible Coupes. Already, these three cars would be a remarkable band of brothers, carrying the rank of their station proudly. However, amongst these three there would be one that would stand a head taller than all of the others.
At RM Auctions' Amelia Island event there would be presented one of the three 1935 Duesenberg Model J Convertible Coupes by Walker-LaGrande. However, this particular one is of special note.
Of the three Duesenberg Model J Convertible Coupes produced by Walker-LaGrande in 1935, just one would earn the 'SJ' moniker. That one chassis would be 2563 with engine number J-530. And it would be this particular Model SJ Convertible Coupe, still believed to have its original supercharger, that would be made available for sale in March of 2013.
The story of this particular Model SJ would begin in 1935 when John Nichols traded his Duesenberg Murphy Convertible Coupe for the supercharged, 320 horsepower, Model SJ. It would be plainly obvious that Nichols enjoyed the car while he owned it, for it would arrive at the South Shore Buick of Chicago in early 1937 having more than 50,000 miles on it. Over the course of the next decade the car would remain around the Chicago area and would even spend a period of time under the ownership of John Troka.
It would be at this time that the story of chassis 2563 and 2405 become merged. Sometime in 1940, the car would become involved in an accident. The frame would be damaged to such an extant that 2563 would be removed and replaced with 2405. Still, the original engine would remain, even as it does to this very day.
By the late 1950s the car would make its way out to Inglewood, California where Thomas Magee would come to notice it and buy it for a sum of just $1,500. Having purchased the car, Magee would set about having the car restored. Amidst the restoration effort Magee would be forced to sell the car to Nathan Derus.
Ownership of the car would pass on to Harold Orchard in 1970 whereupon he would set about finally completing the restoration. Considered one of the foremost restorers in the area at the time, Orchard would go to great detail cataloging and recording the entire restoration effort.
Following completion of the restoration the car would continue to pass amongst different owners until it wound up in the hands of General William Lyon. The car would remain a part of Lyon's extensive collection for a number of years before it would be sold again.
Shown at the 1998 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the car would receive First in Class honors, as well as, the Gwenn Graham Award for the Most Elegant Convertible. Steve Babinsky's Automotive Restorations would be contracted to perform a fresh restoration to the car, and for good reason, as it would continue to take part in a number of tours, including the Duesenberg Tours in Wyoming and Texas.
As presented for auction, the 1935 Model SJ Convertible Coupe has been painstakingly maintained in working order as part of a private museum. Sporting Newport's ideal special blend of beauty and aggressiveness, the extraordinary 1935 Model SJ Convertible Coupe, chassis 2405/J-530, would draw estimates from between $3,500,000 and $5,000,000.Sources:
'Lot No. 137: 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Convertible Coupe by Walker-LaGrande', (http://www.rmauctions.com/lots/lot.cfm?lot_id=1057774). RM Auctions. http://www.rmauctions.com/lots/lot.cfm?lot_id=1057774. Retrieved 5 March 2013
'1935 Duesenberg Model SJ News, Pictures and Information', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z10992/Duesenberg-Model-SJ.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z10992/Duesenberg-Model-SJ.aspx. Retrieved 5 March 2013.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Duesenberg', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 February 2013, 00:36 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Duesenberg&oldid=540420771 accessed 5 March 2013 By Jeremy McMullen