Sold for $1,320,000 at 2013 RM Auctions - Arizona.
Chassis #: 2440
Engine #: J423
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 in 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 to win 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 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 was 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.Sources:
'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