Mar. 6th 2012 – Auto of the day – THE AUTO OF THE DAY
Lot No: 334
1929 Duesenberg Model J Convertible Sedan
Coachwork by Walter M. Murphy Co.
Chassis no. 2225
Engine no. J355
*420ci, DOHC Straight Eight
*Desirable, open coachwork
Few names in motoring are as redolent of wealth and power as ‘Duesenberg.’ The company’s advertising for its Model J said it all—soft charcoal drawings of a man in evening dress, seated in front of the fire in a great hall with a minstrels’ gallery dominated by a huge pipe organ, or the silver-haired skipper of an America’s Cup-type yacht, above a single line of script: “He drives a Duesenberg.”
The company’s catalog was more eloquent:
America took the new model to its heart and a new superlative was added to the language: to this day the phrase “It’s a Duesy” is a universal term of ultimate approval, just as the Model J has become the ultimate collectors’ automobile.
Duesenberg unveiled its Model J—the embodiment of company owner E.L. Cord and chief engineer Fred Duesenberg’s vision of “The World’s Finest Motor Car” at the New York Auto Salon in December 1928. Among its remarkable features was a twin-cam straight-eight engine whose massive crankshaft was balanced both dynamically and statically, with sealed cartridges containing mercury to damp out vibrations.
A ‘timing box’ on the side of the engine contained trains of precision gearing that automatically triggered lights on the comprehensively-equipped instrument panel to warn the driver when it was time to change the oil and service the battery.
Moreover, every 75 miles the timing box opened a spring loaded valve to force oil to all the chassis lubrication points. More indicator lights showed the driver that the system was in operation and that the lubricator still contained oil.
The press ran out of superlatives describing this wonderful new luxury automobile which combined advanced technology with glorious styling. The society magazine Country Life was typically ecstatic:
The Duesenberg’s race-bred engine was certainly out of the ordinary—a purpose-built 32-valve Lycoming 6876cc straight-eight said to develop 265bhp. There might have been a touch of exaggeration in the claim, but the actual output was certainly more than double the output of the previous claimant to the title of ‘America’s most powerful car,’ the 112bhp Chrysler Imperial 80.
Moreover, this remarkable power unit endowed the Duesy with breathtaking performance; it was possible to achieve 90mph in second gear, with a maximum speed in the region of 110mph in high gear. Ride and handling were exceptional for the period, matched by 15 inch hydraulic brakes all around.
Fred Duesenberg had tempered his engine-designing skills in the crucible of competition, designing racecars that had garnered some of the greatest laurels in motor sport. The young marque had achieved international fame in 1921 when a Duesenberg racer driven by Jimmy Murphy had won the French Grand Prix against stiff opposition, giving the company a proud slogan “Built to outclass, outrun and outlast any car on the road.”
Duesenberg has also won America’s premier race, the Indianapolis 500, three times before the arrival of the Model J announced its claim to supremacy in the luxury car field.
To underline the Model J’s competition-based credentials, every chassis built was tested for 500 miles on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before being handed over to a leading coachbuilder for the construction of custom bodywork.
Duesenberg was more than usually mindful of the quality of the coachwork erected on its chassis, for in June 1929 the company opened an in-house body-design department whose mission was to create new body styles for individual clients and to liaise between the factory and the various coachworks. Between 1929 and 1933 this department was headed by Gordon Buehrig, who subsequently achieved fame as the designer of the ‘coffin-nose’ Cord 810/812.
Though they were built during the Great Depression and cost more than a Rolls-Royce or a Hispano-Suiza, the Model J Duesenbergs had no problems attracting customers. Among the rich and famous who drove Duesenbergs were film stars Greta Garbo, Mae West, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, and Dolores del Rio, whose husband Cedric Gibbons, famed film art director and creator of the ‘Oscar’ statuette, was also a keen Duesy owner.
Millionaires like William Randolph Hearst and Howard Hughes, and royalty like King Alfonso XIII of Spain, Queen Marie of Yugoslavia, the King Vittorio Emmanuel III of Italy and Prince Nicholas of Romania (who bought three and raced one at Le Mans) were all members of the exclusive Duesenberg set: fewer than 500 Model J’s were built.
This actual car, chassis 2225, is fitted with Murphy Convertible Sedan bodywork as is built on the ‘short’ chassis (which, as 142.5 inches wheelbase, is ‘short’ only by Duesenberg’s superlative standards). Some 55 years ago this car’s original engine, J-204, was replaced by engine J-355, which came from a Duesenberg formerly owned by film producer Walter Wanger, maker of such classic movies as Stagecoach, Foreign Correspondent and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Since Duesenbergs are normally known by their ‘J’ numbers, some confusion was caused when engine J-204 was fitted in the ex-Wanger chassis # 2374, another Murphy-bodied car, which appeared in the 1956 James Dean movie Giant. But the movie connection is entirely appropriate, for from the early 1920s the Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena, California, had many clients in the burgeoning movie industry. It bodied more Model J Duesenbergs than any other custom coachbuilder—around 140 of them, a remarkable tribute to the company’s uncompromising standards of excellence. The company founded by Walter Murphy, a nephew of one of Henry Ford’s original backers, was originally the Californian dealership for the mighty Simplex automobile, later adding Lincoln and Duesenberg to its list of agencies.
Its debut in the coachbuilding business was almost accidental, for when Henry Leland introduced the first Lincoln models, the staid styling of the factory bodywork was just too conservative for fashionable West Cost purchasers. The Murphy Company transformed these ugly ducklings into custom-built swans by lowering the lines of the topes and repainting the cars in bright colors.
Realizing the potential in the custom coachwork business, Murphy took over the equipment and many of the staff members of the illustrious New Jersey-based Healey company, which was concentrating on bus building, and moved the whole lot West to create its own bodybuilding shop.
The Murphy Company’s hallmarks were ‘dash and innovation.’ And its bodies reflected the sunny nature of its Pasadena home, with ample glass and an emphasis on convertible coachwork. The company was an integral part of the Model J scene right from the start, with a Murphy-bodied chassis one of the exhibits at that epoch-making New York Salon in December 1928. Murphy also built custom coachwork on Hudson chassis as well as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Bugatti and Packard. The company bodied all of the superlative Series-E Doble Steam Cars.
Murphy’s skilled design staff included such renowned stylists as Franklin Q. Hershey and Philip Ogden Wright. The Convertible Sedan was among its most successful designs for the Duesenberg Model J chassis, with some 25 variations on this lithe and elegant theme being created.
Coming from long-term display in a prestigious European automobile museum, this most handsome ‘Duesey’ has the desirable external exhaust pipe option and twin side mounts among its many outstanding features. Finished in red with black fenders and a tan top, this magnificent automobile is, in the unmatched words of the Duesenberg company, “as beautiful as it is powerful.”
Estimate: US$650,000 – 750,000
Contact the Specialist to discuss this lot or selling in a future sale
Not sold at Bonhams Scottsdale 19/1/2012 at Estimate US$650,000+
Value: $500,000 – 1.0 mil.
Comment: A great looking car, and a great price, so why didnt it sell. A deserved car of the day, and a DUESY