1934 Duesenberg Model SJ

Convertible Berline
Coachwork: LeBaron
Chassis Num: 2515
Engine Num: J-494
Sold for $1,567,500 at 2014 RM Sothebys.
Very few American automakers present the deftness and quality of pre-World War II construction than Duesenberg. Anchored by the ever-popular Model J chassis, Duesenberg offered fine coachbuilders of the early 20th century a platform to produce truly beautiful pieces of mechanical art.

While LaGrande was fictitious and meant to help Duesenberg's profits, there were other coachbuilders that were every bit real and highly-skilled in the art of building fine coaches for the Model J chassis. One of those talented builders was Thomas Hibbard and Raymond Dietrich's LeBaron.

When Duesenberg became a part of E.L. Cord's conglomerate, August and Fred were given free-reign to once again build some of the best cars in the world. This is just what the brothers needed as, less than two years later, the Model J chassis would be birthed.

At about the same time, Hibbard's and Dietrich's Lebaron Carrossiers would merge with Briggs coachbuilding. Dietrich had come from Brewster & Co. after he started out, at the age of just 12 years old, as an apprentice engraver with American Bank Note Co. Though Dietrich was quite interested in drawing and baseball, he would not have any ambition for automobiles. Thomas Hibbard, however, would. In fact, from a very early age he knew he wanted to be an automobile designer.

The two men would meet via an acquaintance and they would soon begin the lay the groundwork for their own company. This news would lead to Willie Brewster firing Dietrich, despite the fact he really wanted to keep him around.

While the Model J would be incredibly popular, there would be one particular chassis that would be considered greater than the rest, the SJ. Combining a centrifugal supercharger to the inline eight-cylinder engine, the SJ was capable of around 320bhp, and therefore, even greater performance. This allowed a top speed of around 140mph. However, most of the SJs would come with the short-wheelbase chassis. Chassis 2515, then, would combine a number of rare elements to create a truly wonderful piece of Duesenberg history.

Completed in 1934, chassis 2515 would be remarkable in that it would be one of a very few long-wheelbase Model SJ chassis. Furthermore, the coachbuilt body would be from LeBaron and it would be a convertible sedan, one of about eight such sedans believed to be produced by the company for either the long or short wheelbase SJ chassis. What's remarkable about the LeBaron sedan design is that it has the look of a convertible Phaeton in that it could be argued it looks as good with the top up as it does down.

Completed, the car would be first owned by Edith Ludwig, a member of the Cudahy meatpacking family. She would take delivery of the car in October of 1934. By 1938, while still owned by Ludwig, the Model SJ would appear in Out West, a film that featured Mickey Rooney.

After passing from Ludwig to Art Kiel, the Duesenberg would spend twenty years amongst a number of different owners throughout the California area. During this period the car would appear in The Mightiest American Motor Car, and would even spend some time as the property of Ray Nelson.

Eventually, the car ended up in the hands of Paul Polk of New York who would take on the task of having the car restored. Following the restoration the car would be lent to Ken Purdy. Purdy would be writing articles at the time about Duesenberg and would use the experiences with the Model SJ as some inspiration and experience.

In 1964, the Duesenberg would be sold again. This time its new owner would be none other than Edmund Lynch Jr. Edmund Lynch Jr. was the son of the co-founder of Merrill-Lynch. Interestingly, Edmund would be following in his father's footsteps as he too would own a Model J at one point in time. In fact, it would serve as the inspiration for Edmund to begin his search to own one.

The twenty years in which 2515 remained with Lynch marks the longest period in the car's history with one owner. Lynch would sell the car in 1984 and it would continue to change hands a couple of times. Michael Calore, of Rhode Island, would own the car and would commission yet another restoration of the car. One of the final touches of the restoration was to refinish the car. A deep maroon finish would be given to the car, the very same finish it retains to this very day. Another addition includes what amounts to a reproduction of the dual-carburetor Walthers unit that had been installed on the famous Mormon Meteor. This means the car now produces some 400bhp, making it a truly remarkable example of a Model SJ.

Later sold, 2515 would remain with its present owner for more than a decade and would make appearances at events like the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club's Annual Reunion.

Considered to be one of three LeBaron convertible sedans known to exist, 2515 remains a remarkable amalgamation of talent, performance and style. Distinguished in so many ways, the LeBaron Convertible Sedan is a real Duesy.

'Lot No. 174: 1934 Duesenberg Model SJ Convertible Sedan by LeBaron', (http://www.rmauctions.com/lots/lot.cfm?lot_id=1064885). RM Auctions. http://www.rmauctions.com/lots/lot.cfm?lot_id=1064885. Retrieved 10 February 2014.

'1934 Duesenberg Model SJ News, Pictures, Specifications and Information', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z14355/Duesenberg-Model-SJ.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z14355/Duesenberg-Model-SJ.aspx. Retrieved 10 February 2014.

'Alphabetical Index: LeBaron', (http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/l/lebaron/lebaron.htm). Coachbuilt.com. http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/l/lebaron/lebaron.htm. Retrieved 10 February 2014.

'1929 Duesenberg Model J News, Pictures, Specifications and Information', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z13531/Duesenberg-Model-J.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z13531/Duesenberg-Model-J.aspx. Retrieved 10 February 2014.

'How Duesenberg Cars Work: Duesenberg Model J', (http://auto.howstuffworks.com/duesenberg-cars1.htm). HowStuffWorks. http://auto.howstuffworks.com/duesenberg-cars1.htm. Retrieved 10 February 2014.

By Jeremy McMullen
Continental Touring Berline
Coachwork: Rollston & Company
Chassis Num: 2543
Engine Num: J-514
High bid of $800,000 at 2015 Keno Brothers. (did not sell)
Founded in 1919 on the engineering and racing experience of Fred and August Duesenberg, the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company was eventually bought by E.L. Cord. Cord's challenge to Fred was to build an American luxury car that could compete with the best that Europe had to offer.

The result was the iconic Model J, which boasted a 420 cubic-inch double overhead-cam engine with four valves per cylinder that produced 265 horsepower. The supercharged, dual-carburetor SJ form produced up to 400 horsepower and had a top speed of around 135 miles per hour.

This example is one of only thirty-five produced that were produced from the factory with the supercharger, and one of only five to be built with a closed body. The original owner, socialite Mrs. Henry Evans, was a Duesenberg enthusiast: J-514 was her third Duesenberg. She traded in J-315, a Rollston limousine, for this example from dealer J.S. Inskip, which had a price of $18,000. The roof-mounted luggage rack had an 800 lb. capacity. Mrs. Evans used this car on several European trips. It is believed that the supercharger may have been removed from the car at an early stage, perhaps while being used abroad to increase reliability.

She special-ordered the car with this unique Continental Touring Berline body by Rollston, who produced a total of 57 bodies for the J and JN chassis. Mrs. Evans paid $18,000 (around $300,000 today) for this exceptional car, and took it with her aboard the Queen Mary to go on several tours of Europe.

In October of 1944, Mrs. Evans took J-514 back to Inskip, where it was later sold to Herbert Waller, whose widow sold it to Charles Kyner in June of 1948. The car remained with Mr. Kyner until his passing. In 1987, his widow sold it to Jim Hoe in partnership with Judge John C. North II. A short time later, they sold it to Robert McGowan.

The current caretaker purchased the unrestored Duesenberg in mid-2013 and then commissioned a highly detailed, concours-quality restoration. Part of the work included a color change from two-tone brown to a two-tone maroon color scheme. A Zapon fabric-covered roof was also installed as originally specified. A proper Brian Joseph-built supercharger was also fitted, returning the car to its original mechanical specification.

This Duesenberg has a rare mesh heat-shielding underhood and could be the only Model J to have this feature.

After the restoration was completed, the car was shown at the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and participated in the Pebble Beach Tour. It was then shown at the St. Michaels Concours d'Elegance where it won the 2014 Honorary Chairman's Award.

With its matching numbers, low mileage, and status as the last un-restored Model SJ, this Duesenberg is a rare look into the era of truly luxurious classic cars.
LaGrande Phaeton
Designer: Gordon Buehrig
Chassis Num: 2131
Engine Num: J-107
Duesenberg created the fictitious coachbuilder LaGrande to offer its customers a coachwork style body while helping to increase its margins. This supercharged example with chassis number 2131 and engine J-107, features dual carburetors, a rear cowl and distinctive sweep panel styling on a long wheelbase chassis.
Convertible Berline
Coachwork: LeBaron
Chassis Num: 2515
Engine Num: J-494
Sold for $1,567,500 at 2014 RM Sothebys.
Just two years after the Duesenberg Company had been purchased by E.L. Cord in 1926, the first Duesenberg Model J was announced. This example, with engine number J-494, is powered with the optional supercharger on the straight-eight engine. The base engine produces 265 horsepower and with the supercharger delivers 320 bhp. These supercharged Duesenbergs, known as SJs, have tremendous torque.

This car has a convertible sedan body from the coachbuilding firm of LeBaron, founded by Thomas Hibbard and Raymond Dietrich. LeBaron is believed to have built eight of these sedans on both long and short wheelbase chassis. This is one of three known to survive.
Torpedo Convertible
Coachwork: Rollston & Company
Engine Num: SJ-517
E.L. Cord unabashedly advertised his Duesenberg as 'The World's Finest Motor Car,' and the only copy used in many of the company's advertisements was simple, 'He or She drives a Duesenberg,' without even an image of a car. Duesenberg owners included some of Hollywood's biggest stars, along with captains of industry.

This car, engine number SJ-517, was first purchased by Miss M.L. Flick, later to become Mrs. Margaret Hoffman of New York City. The car has known history from new and became part of the current caretaker's collection in 1986.

There were four similar bodies built by Rollston, this one with unique front fenders and painted in its original color of Roosevelt Maroon. Power is supplied by a 420 CID, 320 horsepower OHC supercharged straight-eight with four valves per cylinder - quite heady technology in the 1930s. Its interior is fitted with dual glove compartments in the instrument panel, a reclining rear seat, and a rare banjo-style steering wheel.


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
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