In the 1920s, Fred Duesenberg was at the top of his game. With the help of his brothers, he setup one of America’s great companies in 1913. They would go on to break America’s land speed record in 1920 with with a twin-engine special built for Tommy Milton. The following year, Jimmy Murphy won the French GP driving a Duesenberg which was the first ever American GP victory. This set the trend for many more stateside accolades including taking the 1924 and 1925 Indianapolis 500s.
While the Duesenberg brothers were world-class engineers, their slumping sales led the Duesenberg company to financial difficulties. Their first real production car was the Model A passenger car and while it was advanced, it didn’t sell well.
Enter the Model J
In the early 1920s, racing efforts and the Duesenberg Model A caught the attention of Errett Loban Cord. He purchased Duesenberg Inc. of Indianapolis in bankruptcy court then set out to revive the marque. His first major step was commission one of the brothers, Frank Duesenberg, to design a grand touring chassis that would be American alternative to Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini, Mercedes-Benz and Minerva.
First seen at the 1928 New York Auto Show, the Model J was displayed as a bare chassis. It was rather bulky in size, weighing around 2000 lbs without the body or interior which would be custom crafted for it. At such a large size, the Model J was grand enough to capture the intended market, America’s rich and famous. The chassis alone sold for $8 500 USD which would have been $90 000 in 2002. Duesenberg sold bodied cars for at list double that figure.
Most Model Js were sold as a bare chassis to be fitted with an interior and body by a third party. Such artisans included coachbuilders LeBaron, Murphy and Derham with Rollston and LaGrande bodying later cars. Gordon M. Buehrig became the chief designer at Duesenberg and standardized the Duesenberg design language. His work included designing standard hoods, lights, radiators and bumpers. Duesenberg often ordered several bodies from a coachbuilder, and sold complete cars.
Especially among the press, initial impression of the Model J chassis was favorable. With the boisterous figures released with the car, it was the fastest and most powerful American passenger car. It was also one of the first American cars to have an engine compartment as finely detailed and worked over as it’s exterior.
Model J In Detail
As the technical highlight of the Model J, the engine was one of Duesenberg’s, and America’s, best . When Fred Duesenberg started the Model J project, he used developments learnt with the successful Indianapolis cars including engine refinements such as four valves per cylinder and twin camshafts. Fred’s engine was far more powerful than any passenger car unit built in America, with little roads that could satisfy the cars 265 horse power. In fact, the closest rival engine to Duesenberg’s was the 115 horse power Pierce Arrow unit.
It should be noted that the power figure of the Model J was based off a factory experimental car which was timed to offer a decent amount of peak horsepower. Most of the chassis received a conservative timing favoring low end toque and engine reliability. For most applications the Model J was a 205 to 210 horsepower vehicle with an impressive torque output of 335 ft lbs (454nm) at low 500 rpm! More specifics on the output can be found in Robert Dearborn’s Technical Ramblings found in the 1953 May Road & Track.
Introduced in 1932, a supercharged variant of the Model J was offered called the SJ. This forced induction version raised power to 320 horses and increased the 116 mph top speed to 129 mph. The supercharger itself offered eight psi of boost @ 4000 rpm. Because the supercharger sat in the way of the exhaust manifold, all supercharged cars featured the well distinguished external exhaust system. This exhaust system featured chromium flex-pipe headers which could be ordered as an option on the standard Model J for $927 USD.
Both the chassis and suspension were quite conventional in design. Two deep pressed chassis side members, measuring eight inches tall, were sufficient to support any custom coachwork that would adorn it.
Special attention was paid to the handling and braking of the Model J. Specifically, the spring rates were equalized to provide a smooth ride and hydraulic assistance on the braking made stopping an ease. A knob on the dashboard could modify the level of assistance based on dry, rain, snow or ice conditions. For the period, these featured were remarkable technology.
472 Model Js were produced, supporting the firm through the depression until the Cord empire collapsed in 1937. Of these almost half were open-air convertibles with 116 Walter M Murphy cars.
1930 Duesenberg Model J Torpedo Berline Convertible J391 – sold for $1,425,000 ACD Certified Category 1 Original. Coachwork by Murphy
– Engine J-391, Chassis 2315. Used as a demo for the LA factory branch. Formerly owned by actor Tyrone Power. Sold new 1930 to rear admiral Gene Markey, the undersecretary of the Navy and movie producer. Owned in the 1940’s by Wilfred Graham Hudson, C. Allen Yeagle, Roger V. Shields, Lassiter Hoyle and James Talmadge the son of Buster Keaton and Norma Talmadge. Talmadge traded the car to Tyrone Power for a new 1952 MG. Power owned the car until his death in 1958 when it was sold to J.B. Nethercutt and then to Bill Harrah’s Auto Museum in Reno, Nevada. Sold in 1986 to Joseph Folladori of Indianapolis who restored it to its present color. Sold in 1991 to the Imperial Palace Collection. 420 CI DOHC straight-8 engine. Standard 3-speed transmission. Auction Source: Monterey 2014 by Mecum Auctions
1930 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Torpedo Berline Convertible – did not sell for $1,400,000 ACD Certified Category 1 Original. Coachwork by Murphy. Engine J-391, Chassis 2315. Used as a demo for the LA factory branch. Formerly owned by actor Tyrone Power. Sold new 1930 to rear admiral Gene Markey, the undersecretary of the Navy and movie producer. Owned in the 1940’s by Wilfred Graham Hudson, C. Allen Yeagle, Roger V. Shields, Lassiter Hoyle and James Talmadge the son of Buster Keaton and Norma Talmadge.
Talmadge traded the car to Tyrone Power for a new 1952 MG. Power owned the car until his death in 1958 when it was sold to J.B. Nethercutt and then to Bill Harrah’s Auto Museum in Reno, Nevada. Sold in 1986 to Joseph Folladori of Indianapolis who restored it to its present color. Sold in 1991 to the Imperial Palace Collection. 420 CI DOHC straight-8 engine. Standard 3-speed transmission. Auction Source: Kissimmee 2014, #WhereTheCarsAre by Mecum
1930 Duesenberg Model J Fran Roxas Torpedo Phaeton J255 – did not sell for $1,100,000 Engine Number J-255 Serial Number 2276. Originally fashioned in Judkins Limousine Coachwork. Known history and great provenance. Used by E.L. Cord’s wife as a limousine by 1935. Joined Pacific Auto Rental in Hollywood in 1937. Possibly the most filmed Duesenberg ever. Featured in movies like: 1940 The Great McGinty, 1951 Pocketful of Miracles, 1955 Al Capone, 1958 Party Girl, 1977 Howard Hughes, 1981 The Gangster Chronicles and 1984 City Heat.
Sold in 1985 to Fred and Dave Weber. The Webers commissioned Fran Roxas of Chicago to upgrade the coachwork in the style of a Walker LaGrande Torpedo Phaeton. During the build, the car retained its complete rolling chassis, running gear and numbered firewall. Formerly part of the Blackhawk Collection. Most Outstanding Open Car, 1921-1930 at the 2008 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance. Auction Source: Kissimmee 2014, #WhereTheCarsAre by Mecum
1930 Duesenberg Model J Torpedo Phaeton J255 – sold for $950,000 Engine Number J-255 Serial Number 2276. Originally fashioned in Judkins Limousine Coachwork. Featured in movies like: 1940 The Great McGinty, 1951 Pocketful of Miracles, 1955 Al Capone, 1958 Party Girl, 1977 Howard Hughes, 1981 The Gangster Chronicles and 1984 City Heat. HIGHLIGHTS – Engine Number J-255 Serial Number 2276 – Originally fashioned in Judkins Limousine Coachwork – Known history and great provenance. Auction Source: The Daytime Auction in Monterey by Mecum
1929 Duesenberg Model J Disappearing-Top Convertible Coupe J108 – sold for $2,365,000 Considered the Prototype Disappearing-Top Roadster. “One-off” Custom Coachwork and the First Model J with This Body Style. ACD Club Level One Certification (Number D-065). Concours-Level Fran Roxas Restoration Completed 2010. Fascinating Early History and Well-Known Ownership. Appears in 1934 Oscar-Winning Ginger Rogers and Fred Estaire Movie The Gay Divorcee. Displayed at 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Three-Time Best in Show Winner. Class Winner, 2012 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Depicted in Respected Duesenberg Texts. Auction Source: Gooding & Company’s 10th Anniversary 2013 Pebble Beach Auction
1929 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Cabriolet J219 – sold for €1,036,344 Terry Radey of Ontario, Canada was J-219’s next recorded owner. Mr. Radey acquired the car in 1977 and immediately commissioned a further restoration, this time to Concours d’Elegance standards. This restoration took three years to complete and was carried out by Mr. Harry Sherry, of Warsaw, Ontario. In 1980 J-219 won the Best in Show award at the ACD (Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg) meeting in Auburn, Indiana. The following year J-219 was judged Best in Show at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance receiving the highest award a Classic automobile can achieve.
In 1991, J-219 was acquired by enthusiast, Mr. Bruce Meyer, of Beverly Hills, California, winner of the Meguiar’s ‘Person of the Year’ award in 1999 and a founding member of The Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. During Mr. Meyer’s ownership, the car was maintained by Duesenberg expert Mr. Randy Ema. J-219 subsequently came to Europe into the ownership of the famous and respected Belgian collector Mr. Bob Lalement and again once while in Europe won many more Concours events including People’s Choice at the Luis Vuitton Classic in Paris, France in 2002; Best of Show at the Essen Motor Show, Germany in 2006; and Best of Show at the Antwerp Classic Show, Belgium in 2007. J-219 was acquired by the current owners, a Dutch collector in 2008 from Mr. Bob Lalement’s estate. Auction Source: Artcurial Motorcars à 2013 Rétromobile
1930 Duesenberg Model J Willoughby Limousine J383/J306 – did not sell for $350,000 ACD certified Category 1 Original. Original frame, number 2402. Original body, number 2402. Original engine, J-306 – Long wheelbase chassis. Coachwork by Willoughby. 7-passenger limousine with quarter windows. Chassis was born with engine J-383. J-383 was defective and factory replaced with J-306. Schebler model S carburetor. Tan leather interior. Dual side mount spares. Dual horns, spotlight. Luggage rack. Auction Source: 2012 Daytime Auction by Mecum
1929 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Disappearing Top Convertible Coupe J108 – sold for $1,897,500 First chassis-only purchase from Duesenberg Inc. Bespoke coachwork for Mr. & Mrs. Harry Robinson. True custom coachwork; ACD certified. Recent concours restoration by Fran Roxas. As-restored, it shows a mere 73 miles on the odometer and is finished as it originally was, in white with matching white chassis, and sports a flawless, highly attractive, light camel leather interior with tan carpeting. Auction Source: Monterey 2012 by RM Auctions
1931 Duesenberg Model J Long-Wheelbase Limousine J430 – sold for $330,000 Exclusive, High-Quality Formal Coachwork. Well-Documented Chain of Ownership. Low-Mileage Example with Impressive Character. Certified Category One Model J with Original Chassis, Engine and Coachwork. Part of the Famed Fitterling Duesenberg Collection for Three Decades. Best Duesenberg and Best Original at the 2004 ACD West Coast Meet. An Ideal Model J for CCCA and ACD Shows and Tours. Auction Source: 2012 Pebble Beach Auctions by Gooding & Company
1929 Duesenberg Model J LeBaron Dual Cowl Phaeton J270 – sold for $1,980,000 One of The Finest Unrestored Model Js in Existence. Wonderful, Rich History with Fascinating Provenance. Exceptional Character and Patina. Distinctive Styling with Singular Features and Design Elements. Unusually Genuine Model J with Original Chassis, Engine and Bodywork. Former ACD and AACA Award Winner. An Important Part of the Pettit Collection for Nearly 60 Years. Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity for Discerning Collectors. Auction Source: 2012 Pebble Beach Auctions by Gooding & Company
1930 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Town Car J381 – sold for $1,045,000 The first owner was Mrs. Nanaline Duke of New York City, who took delivery on Halloween in 1930. Mrs. Duke was the widow of American Tobacco Company founder J.B. Duke and was noted for a spectacular gem collection which accentuated the image provided by the stately couachbuilt town car.
Several owners later, Judge Pat Ferchill acquired the car for his collection in 1958 and it then passed from his estate in 1985 to Bill and Aniece Lassiter who commissioned its restoration. The Lassiter restoration was and remains exceptional to this day due to the extreme level of care provided by them and subsequent owners. Complete known ownership since 1940. From the Blackhawk Collection. Auction Source: 2012 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction
1937 Duesenberg Model J ‘Throne Car’ Limousine Landaulet J587 – sold for $400,000 Formerly the property of Reverend Major Jealous “Father” Divine, AKA “The Messenger”, the penultimate Duesenberg chassis and engine and the largest example ever built. The 1937 Duesenberg Model J “Throne Car” by Bohman and Schwartz is absolutely and without qualification unique, one of the most famous automobiles ever built and one without parallel even in the annals of the legendary Duesenberg Model J. Auction Source: 2011 Quail Lodge Sale by Bonhams
1934 Duesenberg Model J Brunn Riviera Phaeton J521 – sold for $990,000 Bought new by Frank W. Fuller of San Francisco. One of three Brunn Riviera Phaetons built. Recent restoration by Fran Roxas and Brian Joseph to its original configuration. Since its restoration in 2006, the Duesenberg continues to present very well. It offers the dual benefits of a weather-tight convertible sedan with the top raised and a very handsome close-coupled open Phaeton, for wine country tours and summer concours d’elegance. Its provenance is complete and well known, and its condition is of concours-quality throughout. Auction Source: 2011 Monterey Auction by RM
1936 Duesenberg Model J Convertible Victoria J538 – sold for $902,000 From the Estate of Paul Chamberlain, who owned it for 60 years. Unusual short-wheelbase Rollston Convertible Victoria. Believed to have been sold new in Los Angeles in December 1935. Black over red, with black leather interior and cream top. Retaining original engine J538. Auction Source: 2011 Monterey Auction by RM
1931 Duesenberg Model J Long-Wheelbase Murphy Coupe J460 – sold for $10,340,000 Originally Owned by Captain George Whittell, Jr. An Early Frank Hershey Design Masterpiece. One-Off Coupe Coachwork by Murphy. An Abundance of Bespoke Features. Part of The Whittell Duesenberg Collection for Two Decades. Outstanding Documented Provenance. An Exceptionally Correct and Genuine Model J. Only Five Owners and 12,500 Miles from New. Pebble Beach Class-Winning Restoration Auction Source: 2011 Pebble Beach Auctions by Gooding & Company
1930 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Convertible Coupe J331 – sold for $962,500 This Model J Murphy convertible coupe was sold new to Mrs. Louise K. Jenney of Montchanin, Delaware on September 27, 1930 by the Duesenberg Factory Branch in New York City. Mrs. Jenney kept the car for almost three years before selling it to the second owner, Albert Ely Ives of Wilmington, Delaware, on May 10, 1933. Ives kept the car for nearly ten years before selling it to Clyde Ayrand of Chicago, Illinois in March 1942 via local dealer John Troka. Auction Source: 2011 Amelia Island Auction by RM Auctions
1930 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton J237 – sold for $363,000 Beginning about 15 years ago, Leo Gephardt and Ed Lucas purchased a package of Duesenberg parts from a Canadian collector. Included in this package were the remains of engine J520, along with the repaired bell-housing from J237. It should be noted that the balance of engine J237 is with its original chassis – a restored ACD-certified car that remains in private ownership. Auction Source: 2011 Amelia Island Auction by RM Auctions
1933 Duesenberg Model J Rollston Torpedo Victoria J384 – sold for $979,000 From the Estate of John M. O’Quinn. One-off Gordon Buehrig design with numerous special features. Ownership attributed to Hopalong Cassidy. Authentic restoration, well-cared-for. With a continuous history from new, a short list of owners and retaining all its original components, the car has a near perfect record in terms of authenticity and provenance. Auction Source: 2011 Amelia Island Auction by RM Auctions
1930 Duesenberg LeBaron Dual Cowl Phaeton J243 – sold for $1,485,000 It is believed that this Model J was the first of approximately seven such Phaetons originally built by LeBaron on the standard-length chassis. While immediately distinguished by its sculpted cowl, pivoting windscreens, distinct moldings and specially designed trunk, the barrelside Phaeton features a unique curvature throughout the bodywork that has earned the design its popular designation. Auction Source: 2011 Scottsdale Auction by Gooding & Company
1931 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Convertible Sedan 693000 – sold for $693,000 An older restoration, this car retains a nice patina and has no major flaws. The tan leather interior looks its age but has no significant issues or flaws, and the damascened instrument panel is nicely detailed. The instruments are well restored, with the odometer showing just under 71,000 miles. The engine compartment is tidy, while the undercarriage is similarly presented. The car has been certified by the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club with number D-150. Auction Source: RM Auctions’ 2010 Sports & Classics of Monterey
1929 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Convertible Sedan J262/2284 – sold for $825,000 Perhaps the most popular of Murphy’s designs was the convertible sedan. Highly practical, it was ideally suited for almost any purpose. The convertible top made the car comfortable in the summer, while the four-door layout made it easy to accommodate two couples or a family. Although other companies offered convertible sedans, the genius of Murphy’s design was that it looked truly light and elegant. The Murphy convertible sedan offered here is one of the best-known examples. Auction Source: 2010 Vintage Cars of Meadow Book by RM Auctions
1932 Duesenberg Model J Rollston Torpedo Berline J546 – sold for $726,000 The Rollston coachbuilding firm of New York City provided bodywork for some of the finest marques during the 1930s, with their ultimate creations reserved for Mercedes-Benz and Duesenberg. Just 57 Rollston bodies were created for the Duesenberg Model J and JN chassis, with only one Style 342 Torpedo Sedan or Berline among them, being the very car offered here, J546. With its steeply raked windshield, modern, rakish roofline and built-in trunk,… read more Auction Source: 2010 Vintage Cars of Meadow Book by RM Auctions
1932 Duesenberg Model J Convertible Coupe by Murphy J340 – sold for $825,000 The original owner of J340 was Henry Lockhardt, Jr., who maintained homes in both New York and Easton, Maryland. In 1934, the car was traded back to the Philadelphia Duesenberg agency, where it was resold to Mr. Arthur Parker of Chester, Pennsylvania. Parker sold the car to R.S. Anzalone of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in June of 1953. He put twin downdraft carburetors on the car and then advertised it for sale in October of 1953, selling it … read more Auction Source: 2010 RM Automobiles of Amelia Island Auction
1930 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton J243 – sold for $1,760,000 Originally a factory demonstrator, J243 was sold to a Mr. A.E. Archbold by the Duesenberg New York City branch in the autumn of 1930. It changed hands a few times during the following decade. Then, just before World War II, it was purchased by Jim Hoe, who was to become perhaps the most renowned Duesenberg mechanic of all time. The car was sold at auction during the dispersal of Rick Carroll’s estate in 1990 for the unimaginable price (at … read more Auction Source: 2008 Monterey Preview
1929 Duesenberg J Convertible Coupe by Murphy 2154 – sold for $748,000 J132 began life as a Derham sedan, sold new to William E. Schmidt, an undertaker from Chicago. Schmidt later sold the car to Mr. H. S. Kehn, also of Chicago who in turn sold it to Paul S. Johnson, a Chicago-area plumber who removed the rear portion of the body, planning to build a truck. He never completed the conversion, however, and eventually sold the car to Keith Brown of LaPorte, Indiana in October of 1957. The Murphy Convertible Cou… read more Auction Source: 2008 Meadow Brook Concours
1929 Duesenberg J Willoughby and Criteser Convertible Sedan 2253 – sold for $502,000 This car started as a Willoughby-bodied Sedan/Limousine and was sold new to one Charles Wieland of Chicago, Illinois. It was subsequently owned (still in Illinois) for a number of years by Charles D Turek, who acquired the car in 1958. At some point in the 1950s (pre-Turek) the vehicle had been converted to open coachwork, in which state it was acquired in the mid-1980s by Don Criteser of Oregon, who dismantled and totally rebuilt the car to a… read more Auction Source: 2006 Monterey Preview
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